What is Jihad?

The concept of Jihad is one of the most misunderstood, misused, and abused concepts today. In fact, the very term ‘Jihad’ and the term ‘Jihadi’ that we often read in the papers or hear on television and also sometimes by politicians, to refer to people committing terrorist crimes in the name of Islam is offensive. It is offensive not only because it goes against the spirit and the letter of the law of Islam but also because it goes against the basic definitions of Jihad.

The origin of the word Jihad

The etymology or origin of the word Jihad is juhd, which simply means to strive, to make an effort or to exert one’s self in the pursuit of a lawful end.

The word jihad is commonly translated as ‘Holy’ war, and not only is this incorrect but contravenes Islam’s positon on the topic. War is never holy! Full stop!

Many leading Muslim scholars have defined jihad in its widest sense.

Al-Raghib al-Asfahani, a 12th century scholar of Qur’anic exegesis or tafsir and the Arabic language explained:

“Jihad is of three types: striving against the apparent enemy; striving against the Devil; and striving against the ego (nafs). All three types are included in Allah’s words

وَجَاهِدُوا فِي اللَّهِ حَقَّ جِهَادِهِ
And strive hard in (the way of) Allah, (such) a striving a is due to Him.

(Qur’an 22:78)

This is substantiated by evidence from the sound (Sahih) Hadith: for example

At-Tariq ibn Shihab reported: A man asked the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, as he put his foot in the stirrup, “What is the most virtuous struggle (jihad)?” The Prophet said, “A word of truth in front of a tyrannical ruler.”

`Abd Allah b. `Umar related that a man came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and asked his permission to join in the military effort. The Prophet (peace be upon him) asked him: “Are your parents alive?” The man replied: “Yes.” The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “By serving them you perform jihad.”

Combat and fighting in Islam

The type of legitimate jihad that involves combat and fighting is best known as qital.

Given the serious nature of this type of jihad, and the destruction of life that may follow, it is governed by strict rules and regulations derived from Islam’s Sacred law.

For example:

“…therefore if they withdraw from you but fight you not, and (instead) send you (guarantees of) peace, then God has opened no way for you (to war against them)”


And also:

“Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God does not love transgressors”

(2: 190)

Transgressing the limit can mean killing innocent people and bystanders regardless of their religion, gender or age.

Islam prohibits the killing of such people under all circumstances, and considers such actions as crimes as humanity and not part of legitimate jihad.

Jihad in the form of fighting can be valid under certain circumstances such as defending one’s homeland against invasion or occupation, or helping others who are subjugated to oppression and injustice.

Does Jihad mean terorrism?

Jihad that involves combat is heavily regulated and must be distinguished from acts of terrorism.

Acts of terrorism fall under the term of hiraba.

In legal terminology it is defined as:

“killing by stealth and targeting a defenseless victim in a way intended to cause terror in society.”

In determining if an act is a legitimate form of jihad or terrorism, Sacred Islamic law examines three particulars:

1. the target [maqtûl]:

2. the authority for carrying out the killing [âmir al-qitâl]:

3. the way in which the killing is carried out [maqtûl bih]:

If the target is an innocent person, a non-combatant or a bystander then the act is considered prohibited in our sacred law.

• This opinion is based on a well-known principal rule [dâbit] from our Law:
– [it is not permissible to kill their [i.e., the opponents’] women and children if they are not in direct combat.]

This is based on the Prophetic prohibition on soldiers from killing women and children, from the well-known Hadith of Ibn ‘Umar related by Imams Malik, al-Shafi’i, Ahmad, al-Bukhari, Muslim, Ibn Majah, Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, al-Bayhaqi and al-Baghawi and other Hadiths.

Imam al-Subki [a 13th century famous Shafi’i scholar, hadith master, jurist, Qur’anic exegete and chief judge of Damascus] made it unequivocally clear what scholars have understood from this prohibition in which the standard rule of engagement taken from it is that:

“[a Muslim soldier] may not kill any women or any child-soldiers unless they are in combat directly, and they can only be killed in self-defense”

[al-Nawawi, Majmû’, 21:57].

The nature of this prohibition is so specific and well-defined that there can be no legal justification, nor can there be a legitimate Sharia excuse, for circumventing this convention of war by targeting non-combatants or civilians whatsoever.

[The question of declaring war (or not) is entrusted to the executive authority and to its decision: compliance with that decision is the subject’s duty with respect to what the authority has deemed appropriate in that matter.]
– [The executive or its subordinate authority has the option of whether or not
to declare war ].

The most basic legal reason [‘illa aslîyya] is that this matter is one that involves the public interest, and thus consideration of it belongs solely to the authority:

All of this is based on the well-known legal principle [qâ’ida]:

– [The decisions of the authority on behalf of the subjects are dependent upon the public good].

– [So the authority must act for the greatest advantage of (all of) the Muslims in making its judgment].

The ends don’t justify the means.

There is no question among scholars, and there is no khilâf [difference] on this this question by any qâdî [judge], mufti or faqih [jurist] that using any means to attain an unlawful end such as killing non-combatants in a place like Australia breaches the scholarly consensus.

Recently, hundreds of Muslim scholars signed a joint response that was sent to the leader of ISIS, Baghdadi:

In this open letter they stated what I have already said, and also:

It is known that all religions forbid the killing of emissaries. What is meant by emissaries here are people who are sent from one group of people to another to perform a noble task such as reconciliation or the delivery of a message.

Prohibition of fighting or harming non-Muslim minorities living with Muslims such as the Yazidis

1. The Sharia has a boarder definition of jihad that is wider than the meaning of military confrontation;

2. The Sharia distinguishes between legitimate jihad and acts of terrorism that breach the fundamental rules of sharia agreed upon by jurists;

3. When making this distinction it is always important to examine (1) the target, (2) the authority declaring jihad, and (3) the means used;

4. Contemporary fatwas issued against groups such as ISIS articulate the Sharia guidelines and clearly prohibit all acts of terrorism.