General Issues About Islam

Some Misconceptions about Jihad in Islam

Salman Ahmed Shaikh

Jihad is a broad term and it encompasses academic, diplomatic and moral support and contribution to the righteous causes. In the specific meaning of armed struggle, Qur’an says that Jihad in the meaning of armed struggle can only be undertaken for the sake of eliminating injustice and persecution (Hajj: 39-40). The translation of the verse is as follows:

“Permission to fight is granted to those who are attacked, because they have been wronged-God indeed has the power to help them. They are those who have been driven out of their homes unjustly, only because they said, ‘Our Lord is God’. If God did not repel the aggression of some people by means of others, monasteries, and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of God is much invoked, would surely be destroyed. God will surely help him who helps His cause – God is indeed powerful and mighty.”

Thus, it is not a fight against non-Muslims. It is a fight against injustice and persecution. It can only be undertaken as a last resort to eliminate injustice and persecution. It can only be undertaken by the government and cannot be done privately. Jihad cannot be undertaken for the expansion of the state, against innocents, against non-combatants and against the contract of peace if it has been signed.

According to Islamic worldview, Allah sent His messengers who invited mankind towards Tawheed (belief in no Creator except one), belief in afterlife accountability and to adopt righteous conduct in all spheres of life. Some of these messengers were sent as Rasool, who could not be subjugated or denied without consequences (Al- Mujadilah: 21). The struggle of these messengers sent as Rasool goes through i) propagation, ii) conclusive establishment of truth (Itmam- e-Hujjat), followed by a iii) divine appraisal. Itmam-e-Hujjat refers to the situation where truth is explained in its complete sense and whereby, further denial of the truth could only remain due to prejudice, pride or communal interests. After Itmam-e-Hujjat, the direct recipients have to accept the message received. If they refuse the truth, then they have to face divine appraisal in this world.

According to the Islamic worldview, this world is a place for a test where the objective of the creation of man is obedience to Allah. Those who disbelieve without any reason and remain disobedient and thankless to their Creator, they will not be successful in the afterlife. Those who will be obedient, steadfast and morally upright, they will be successful and rewarded in the afterlife.

The direct recipients get the message of truth first-hand, so if they deny the truth after Itmam-e-Hujjat, they get the divine appraisal in this very world as well. Establishment of this divine justice becomes a way of remembrance for all human beings who are to come in this world that they have to face accountability in the afterlife for all their actions. This scheme of providing divine appraisal in this world as an experimental proof was not just specific with progeny of Prophet Ismail (pbuh), but also happened consistently with nation of Noah, nation of Aad, nation of Thamud, nation of Lut, nation of Shoaib, nation of Younus, nation of Moses and nation of Jesus before Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Non-believers of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) were also dealt in the same way by Allah. The only difference was that in the case of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), this divine punishment came in the form of the defeat of non-believers in the armed struggles with the believers. It is because in the case of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), there were enough followers and these armed battles also became a way to distinguish true believers from Munafiqun (hypocrites) (Al- Anfal:17).

As a matter of fact, less than 800 non-believer combatants died altogether who fought in actual wars with the believers in the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). In the pact of Hudaibia, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) accepted even those unfair terms which were one-sided against Muslims in order to welcome and ensure peace. At the time of entering Makkah as the victor, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) forgave all those who persecuted Muslims and who banished Muslims from their native lands.

Thus, in various time periods, messengers of Allah came with undeniable signs to their nations. When their nation decided to not accept the message which was received directly and conclusively with undeniable signs, then the non-believers were punished by Allah in the form of natural calamities if the believers were fewer in numbers or through the triumph of the believers over the non- believers as in the case of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The specific verses in Qur’an describing Jihad in the meaning of armed struggle against non-believers of those times are clear from the context that they refer to this particular scheme of divine justice as explained above. This history is the common heritage of all Abrahamic religions which represent almost two-thirds of all human population. Qur’anic verses about Jihad specifically with non-believers are often misunderstood by West and also misunderstood by some minority Muslims as well when they generalize them out of context.

In only the twentieth century, more than 200 million people lost their lives in wars. So, 5,500 humans lost their lives each day on average in the twentieth century in wars. That’s like having a pandemic like Corona Virus taking more than 5,000 lives every day of every year in the whole twentieth century. Some estimates suggest that communist repression in the twentieth century killed around 100 million people. This current century has seen colossal persecution of Muslims in Myanmar, Kashmir, Palestine and Xinjiang.

Yet, Sam Harris who apparently denies free will still has this to say about a community of 1.6 billion Muslims and about Islam. In his 2004 book, Harris says (p.131):

“While it would be comforting to believe that our dialogue with the Muslim world has, as one of its possible outcomes, a future of mutual tolerance, nothing guarantees this result– least of all tenets of Islam. Given the constraints of Muslim orthodoxy, given the penalties within Islam for radical (and reasonable) adaption to modernity, I think it is clear that Islam must find some way to revise itself, peacefully or otherwise. What this will mean is not all obvious. What is obvious, however, is that the West must win the argument or win the war. All else will be bondage.”

And in specific reference to the Afghan war, Harris adds (p.53):

“There is in fact no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified killing them in self-defence. This is what the United States attempted in Afghanistan, and it is what we and other Western powers are bound to attempt, at an even greater cost to ourselves and to innocents abroad, elsewhere in the Muslim world. We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas.1

He further goes on to say in public that “if an Islamist government acquired nuclear weapons, then ‘a nuclear first strike of our own’ may be ‘the only course of action available to us’”.

With such extreme and fundamentalist position, Atheism, the way it is presented by New Atheists appears very much like a religion. In political landscape, Atheism has shown tremendous atrocities in communist regimes. The imperialism by secular democracies to wage transnational and proxy wars since the dawn of twenty first century has also jeopardised world peace. As an example of political assertiveness in atheistic worldview, Article 37 of the Albanian constitution of 1976 stated: “The State recognizes no religion, and supports and carries out atheistic propaganda in order to implant a scientific materialistic world outlook in people.”

Even though Dr. Michael Ruse is an atheist, he is critical of the methods and approach of New Atheists to confront faith and faithful in a violent way. He writes in an essay that Prof. Dawkins speaks on faith and philosophy while having no knowledge and reading of the subject. He further says: “I am indignant at the poor quality of the argumentation in Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and all of the others in that group.2” He considers New Atheism’s approach as disaster and he admits that Prof. Dawkins’s ‘God Delusion’ makes him feel ashamed as an atheist.

Jonathan Sacks also feels discomfort with the non-academic approach of New Atheism. He writes:

“Atheism deserves better than the new atheists whose methodology consists of criticizing religion without understanding it, quoting texts without contexts, taking exceptions as the rule, confusing folk belief with reflective theology, abusing, mocking, ridiculing, caricaturing, and demonizing religious faith and holding it responsible for the great crimes against humanity.3

It is deeply saddening that from a community of 1.6 billion people spreading in 7 continents of the world, individual instances from a small minority of deviants are picked in an effort to embarrass and tease peaceful mainstream Muslims. Close to 100 million Muslims now live in developed countries alone. There has to be acknowledgement and understanding of this fact that Islam and Muslims are two different things.

There can be a difference of opinion, but selectively picking particular types of arguments, people and actions and generalizing it over 1.6 billion people is unjustified. The primary objective of the religion of Islam is not its political enforcement. The basic thesis of religion is to inform people about their role and relation with the Creator and what moral attitudes, behaviour and actions can lead them to success in the life hereafter.

Faith must never be studied from the followers’ actions. Christianity is not to be studied in the light of holocaust, colonization, slavery in Africa and crusades. In the light of the teachings of Jesus (pbuh), these events were wrong and in contradiction with the true teachings of Jesus (pbuh).

Likewise, we shall not judge liberal democracy or secular humanism based on world wars, invasions, transnational wars, undue sanctions, embargoes, political interference to topple democratic governments elsewhere, advancement in race to produce ever more destructive weapons of mass destruction, and paying lip service to thousands of people suffering from persecution in Myanmar, Gaza,

Kashmir and at other places. Indeed, these actions by the particular authorities do not represent the aspirations, values and views of a common man in the West.

Qur’an says that there is no compulsion in religion (Al-Baqarah: 256). This is the universal stance of Islam in the contemporary world. Islam does not teach hate and violence. It is a source of spiritual contentment and fulfilment for a quarter of the world’s population. It is what teaches a believer in Islam to never tease, hurt or inflict any harm with hands or tongue no matter whether there is any law about it and whether it is being enforced or not. As per Islamic worldview, all people will be accountable on the Day of Judgment for all their intentions and actions.

There are also several misconceptions about the rights of non- Muslims in an Islamic socio-political framework. Non-Muslims can worship at their worship places. Furthermore, the government is responsible to safeguard their worship places. No non-Muslim can ever be forcibly converted to Islam. In Islam, Muslims believe in all Prophets sent by Allah including Ibrahim (pbuh), Moses (pbuh) and Jesus (pbuh).

In Muslim Spain, Christians and Jews lived together. With the advent of Islam, it became possible that people could choose to hold on to their beliefs which could be different from the state religion. Thus, Islam is against all forms of religious and socio-political persecution and discrimination. In the early Islamic period, non-Muslims in routine socio-economic milieu owned property and engaged in businesses. Non-Muslims who could not earn their livelihood received assistance from Bait-ul-Maal (national funds managed by the state) as well as enjoyed access to services of Islamic public endowments. In routine engagement and relation with people of different ideologies, Qur’an describes the manner of presenting its message as follows: “Call men to the path of your Lord with wisdom and kindly exhortation and debate with them in the most befitting manner…” (Al-Nahl: 125).


  1. Harris, S. (2005). “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason”. New York: WW Norton & Company.
  1. Ruse, M. (2009). “Why I Think the New Atheists are a Bloody Disaster”. Interview on Beliefnet, August, 2009.
  1. Sacks, J. (2011). “The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning”, New York: Schocken.

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