A Different Jihad

The word jihad’s literal meaning is to strive, for any thing good including striving for peace, for welfare humanity. If the Qur’anic verses in Qur’an are read with its oft repeated command that the believers should enforce what is good and forbid what is evil (ya’murun b’il ma’ruf wa ynahauna ‘anil munkar) the whole meaning of jihad assumes a new significance.

All those who are serving humanity in different ways by promoting a morally clean and non-corrupt society, are real mujahids. It is for this reason that the word jihad was interpreted differently by different sections of society. For rulers and political class it meant war and conquests to expand Islamic rule, for Sufis it meant to conquer ones own desires and greed and for theological class it meant efforts to enforce shari’ah law and to mould ones behaviour within shar’i limits (hudud).

And for Usama bin laden it meant again very different thing and he used it for retaliation against USA and gave rise to what is totally unacceptable phenomenon of terrorism. However, when the political class in medieval ages used jihad for territorial conquests, it was how the rulers expanded their regimes in those days. Even Ibn Taymiyyah had some justification for issuing fatwa for jihad after Mongol hordes sacked Baghdad.

But what Usama did was very different. It is neither an acceptable way in the contemporary world nor does he belong to a political or ruling class. No head of the Islamic state has approved of what Usama did nor has any army of a Muslim country invaded any other non-Muslim country. Usama is neither head of any country nor has he backing of any regular Muslim army. Thus his jihad has neither scriptural backing, nor political nor of Ulama. It is nothing more than personal and hence totally unacceptable.

Coming back to root meaning of jihad i.e. to strive for good of the society and for enhancing welfare of humanity as a whole, today one of the best ways of waging jihad would be to struggle and strive for saving our earth and its environment. This form of jihad has multiple levels of meaning of jihad: Firstly it is most ma’ruf (desirable and most acceptable) activity; secondly, it also has the sense in which the Sufis used it i.e. controlling ones desire and greed and exercising self control on ones inner self and fourthly it is also in keeping with the Prophet’s sunna as there are repeated commands of the Prophet to protect trees and crops and respect Allah’s creation.

Also, the very opening chapter of the Qur’an Surah Fatihah describes Allah as Rabb al-‘Alamin (i.e. Lord of the Universe) and the word rabb in Arabic means to look after carefully and take some thing through various stages of perfection. And if Allah is Rabb of entire universe and we worship him it is our duty to strive to look after it carefully and not to destroy it otherwise our worship of the Lord has no meaning, if we do not respect His creation.

Also, we must realize that global warming is the result of our greed for consumption. We are plundering the precious resources of earth for our greed. It is high time we realize the dangerous consequences of our reckless consumption and wage a jihad against our own greed as Sufis did. As political class has greed for more territories and do not care for shedding blood of innocent people, we as citizens in a modern capitalist consumer society, are plundering the scarce resources of the earth and do not care for the consequences and are making lives of our future generations difficult to live.

So, as Muslims (which means surrendering to the will of Allah) and as m’umin (which means believer, believer in the values enshrined in Qur’an and respecting the creation of Allah) we must strive i.e. wage jihad against all those who indulge in needless consumption and destroy our earth.

This form of jihad has to be both individual and collective: Individual in as much as we have first to struggle against our own greed and reduce our consumption to environmentally acceptable levels and collectively in as much as we have to make efforts to bring down consumption levels of entire world to acceptable levels through constant awareness campaigns and building pressures on the ruling classes and especially developed nations of the west whose consumptions of natural resources are far more than what is warranted by their population.

Many Arab countries have the rich oil resources and when used generates high carbon emissions which leads to global warming. When the Prophet was asked what the best form of jihad is, he replied telling the truth in the face of a tyrant ruler. Can these Arab rulers tell the truth to western and other nations, especially to USA to reduce their oil consumption and face the consequences? It would be a great jihad.

The Jihad For Our Times

A great deal of misunderstanding exists about the concept of jihad in Islam among not just non-Muslims but many Muslims as well. ‘Jihad’ is a term that has many different shades of meaning. It refers to all efforts, undertaken to the limits of one capacity, for any noble purpose. Fighting against external enemies is only one form of jihad, for which the term qital is used in the Quran. Truly speaking, it could be said that qital is just an exceptional form of jihad, and not the rule. Qital, or armed jihad, is permissible only in defence, in the face of aggression on the part of an enemy.

There are numerous references in the Quran and in the corpus of Hadith that mention jihad in its general sense of determined effort made for any noble cause. Thus, for instance, the Quran says:

‘And those who strive in Our [cause]—We shall certainly guide them to Our paths: for verily God is with those who do right’ (29:69)

In a similar vein, the Quran speaks of engaging in jihad with one’s wealth (49:15) and with the Quran itself (25:52). The Prophet is said to have termed serving one’s parents and the pilgrimage to Mecca as forms of jihad. Likewise, numerous hadith reports refer to the struggle against one’s baser self (nafs) as jihad. The Prophet is said to have declared, ‘The highest form of jihad is to utter the truth before an oppressive ruler’ (afzal ul-jihad kalimato adlin ‘inda sultanin ja‘ir).

All this clearly indicates that jihad does not necessarily or always mean fighting against an external enemy, unlike what is commonly imagined. As Hasan Basri, the famous scholar from among the generation that came after the Prophet’s companions, said, ‘Some people never use a sword but still engage in jihad.’ This is in accordance with the Quranic injunction:

‘Therefore, listen not to the unbelievers, but strive against them with the utmost strenuousness, with the [Quran] (jihadan kabira)’ (25:52).

Obviously, this exhortation to engage in jihad with the Quran implies a struggle at the intellectual level to appeal to and convince non-Muslims about the truth of Islam, by providing them with adequate proofs.

It is crucial for us to seriously ponder on what form of jihad is required in today’s context for Muslims to engage in and focus on. Such jihad must be in consonance with the aims and spirit of the Quran, the Prophet’s practice (sunnah) and with the general interests of Islam and its followers.

For this purpose, it is crucial to bear in mind that today we Muslims live in a state similar to that of the Prophet and the early Muslims in Mecca. At this stage the Prophet focused all his energies only on da‘wah or inviting others to the path of God, tabligh or communicating God’s word to others, and providing moral instruction and training to his followers. At this time, the Prophet and his followers were instructed by God to restrain themselves in the face of the extreme oppression that they were subjected to, and to establish worship and help the poor and the needy. The Quran refers to this when it says:

‘[T]hey were told to hold back their hands [from fight] but establish regular prayers and spend in regular zakat’ (4: 77).

Under such circumstances, when the Muslims were subjected to extreme oppression, God commanded them to refrain from violence, and, instead, to strengthen their faith, determination and their own morals. In this context, it can be said that, today, radical self-styled Islamists who are seeking to provoke Muslim youth to engage in terrorism in the name of jihad are totally ignorant of the principles of Islamic mission that are exemplified in the above-mentioned Quranic verse. Nor do they possess the capacity to seriously analyse today’s complex political context.

According to a well-known hadith, on his way back from a battle the Prophet is said to have declared, ‘We are returning from a lesser jihad (al-jihad al-asghar) towards the bigger jihad (al-jihad al-akbar)’. The latter form of jihad is the jihad against one’s baser self. In this regard, the noted classical Islamic scholar Ibn Qayyim classifies jihad into 13 different types, of which four are directed against the baser self. He was of the view that the jihad against the baser self is more important that the jihad against external enemies.

The noted contemporary Islamic scholar Allama Yusuf al-Qaradawi writes in his Fi Fiqh al-Awlawiyyat (‘Fiqh of Priorities’) that while jihad in the sense of qital is temporary and need not be engaged in at once, jihad through the Quran, that is the work of inviting people to the path of God (da‘wah) and guidance (nasiha), is to be engaged in at all times. In this regard, it is crucial that we ask ourselves what precisely we are doing with regard to this latter form of jihad. How are we, if at all, seeking to reach out to others, in a spirit of peace and goodwill, with the message of Islam? How are we seeking to counter, using peaceful means, the wrong images and claims put forward by the critics of Islam? How are we countering the misunderstandings that many non-Muslims, and even a large number of Muslims themselves, have about Islam? These are all crucial forms of jihad that must be engaged in at all times.

It seems, however, that we are doing little, if at all, on this front. It is crucial that we take up the work of peacefulda‘wah with all the seriousness it deserves, using modern means of communication to reach out to people across the globe. Some groups and individuals are doing this in their own ways and their work and success have been remarkable. This is the jihad that we must engage in. This is the major jihad for today’s age. As Allama Yusuf al-Qaradawi perceptively remarked on launching what became an immensely popular Islamic website (which, lamentably, seems to have closed down now), ‘This is today’s jihad. Today, offensive jihad is not desirable.’

To reiterate, the real jihad for our age is peaceful Islamicda’wah work and practical efforts to establish and confirm Islam at the intellectual plane and to counter the intellectual and cultural imperialism that the entire world is presently a victim of. This work must also aim at countering the spread of immorality, selfishness, corruption and moral decay that are an inevitable result of the revolt against religion that is wrongly seen as inseparable from modernity. Alongside this, there is another jihad that we need to wage: against widespread illiteracy, poverty, ill-health, conflict, civil war, inequality, dictatorship, and exploitation in the name of religion among Muslim communities and in Muslim countries. To ignore all of these and, instead, to focus simply on combating other real or imaginary external enemies is pointless. It is like watering a dead plant that cannot be revived.


(Maulana Waris Mazhari is the editor of the New Delhi-based monthly Tarjuman Dar ul-Uloom, the official organ of the Graduates’ Association of the Deoband madrasa. He can be contacted onw.mazhari@gmail.com

(Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand)

Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion at the National Law School, Bangalore.)

India Is Darul Aman, Mr. Singhal

Sikkim, IndiaThe ulama in medieval ages had broadly divided the world into two categories: Darul Islam and Darul Harb i.e. abode of Islam and abode of war. In those days there was no democracy and there were monarchs and autocrats everywhere. There was no concept of citizenship but the ruled were treated as subjects. Continue reading India Is Darul Aman, Mr. Singhal

Price Of An Indo-Pak War

Jinnah Mausoleum, KarachiIn the after-effect of Mumbai terror attacks, while India and Pakistan seem to sit at the threshold of a possible war and hawks in both the countries talk of ‘final battle’ terrorists thrive on the growing conflict between the two nations. Two-way communication has been riddled with knee-jerk reactions, war of words, hatred, misunderstanding, and eventually war hysteria. India wants Pakistan to act while Pakistan is aggressive in denial. Historically, the rivalry between India and Pakistan resembles the traditional family hostility of two brothers of the same mother. Already we have fought three major wars, in addition to countless skirmishes during the last 60 years of our existence. Continue reading Price Of An Indo-Pak War

Compassion In Islam – Theology And History

ama Masjid, New DelhiIslam is generally associated with Jihad. But it is more due to its history than its theology. It is interesting to note that while jihad in Islam is more historical than theological, compassion, on the other hand, is more theological than historical. The very opening of Qur’an, the holy book of Islam is with Bism Allahir Rahmanir Rahim i.e. I begin in the name of Allah who is Compassionate and Merciful. Continue reading Compassion In Islam – Theology And History

Taqlid, Ijtihad And Democracy

Quran This is a translation of a portion done by Yoginder Sikand from a chapter titled Taqlid Aur Ijtihad in Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s book Din-o-Shariat: Din-e Islam Ka Ek Fikri Muta’ala [Goodword Books, New Delhi, 2003, pp.224-228].

In the wake of the industrial Revolution in Europe, Western countries established their political and cultural domination over much of the rest of the world, leading to the establishment of European colonial empires. This posed a new and major challenge for Muslims. Continue reading Taqlid, Ijtihad And Democracy

Jihad? But What About Other Verses In Qur’an?

Quran PageThe terror attacks in India as well as abroad has created an impression as if jihad is central to Qur’anic teaching. First of all, as we have asserted repeatedly, jihad does not mean war in Qur’an as there are other words for it like qital and harb for war. Jihad has been used in Qur’an in its root meaning i.e. to strive and to strive for betterment of society, to spread goodness (ma’ruf) and contain evil (munkar). Continue reading Jihad? But What About Other Verses In Qur’an?

The Concept Of Jihad In Islam

Muslims praying during Shab-e-QadrMaulana Wahiduddin Khan
(Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand)*

The word ‘jihad’ is derived from the root juhd, which means ‘to strive’ or ‘to struggle’. It denotes the exertion of oneself to the utmost, to the limits of one’s capacity, in some activity or for some purpose. This is how the word is understood in Arabic grammar. Continue reading The Concept Of Jihad In Islam

The Role Of Madrasas In Inter-Faith Dialogue

Teacher & Pupil, Madrasa, MoroccoBy Maulana Waris Mazhari (editor, Tarjuman Dar ul-Ulum, official organ of the Old Boys’ Association of the Dar ul-Ulum, Deoband)

This is a translation of a chapter by Maulana Waris Mazhari titled ‘Bayn ul-Mazhabi Muzakarat Mai Dini Madaris Ka Role’ done by Yoginder Sikand in Yoginder Sikand & Waris Mazhari (ed.) Dini Madaris Aur Dahshatgardi: Ilzam Aur Haqiqat (‘Madrasas And Terrorism: Accusations and Realities’), Global Media Publications, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 137-42.

Continue reading The Role Of Madrasas In Inter-Faith Dialogue

Ahmedabad And Bangalore Blasts – Combating Terrorism

The sufferings of the country are worst compounded with the occurrence of acts of terror. Every such act not only inflicts bodily blow to the innocents but also acts as a divisive force, subtly polarizing the communities and weakening the bonds of National integration. One is not talking of the massive bonhomie shown by the communities in the wake of terror attack. Actually immediately after the attack the communities come together like solid rocks, helping each other in the moments of grief. One is talking of the strengthening of communal politics, which emerges stronger after the terror attacks. The role which communal violence has played during last two and a half decades, of dividing the nation, gets a deeper strength due to these blasts as by now despite the most immediate protests by most of the Muslim groups, coming out with severest condemnation of these dastardly acts, the ‘social common sense’ that ‘all terrorists are Muslims’ does get a shot in the arm. Continue reading Ahmedabad And Bangalore Blasts – Combating Terrorism