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Islamic Concept of Jehad

By: Professor Maqsood Jafri


The Arabic word Jehad literally means “holy struggle”.  It is not holy war.  War is war.  No war can be holy.  The blood of humans is holy and sacred.  The Quran says unjust killing of one man means the killing of the whole mankind.  What is just killing and what is unjust killing.  When some body kills a man without any reason or justification it is unjust killing.  When the judge gives the capital punishment to this murderer and issues the order of his death, it is a just killing.  Similarly, when a war is thrust upon you and you become the victim of persecution and aggression, you are permitted to defend yourselves and kill the invaders or perpetrators.  There are some Muslims who believe in Jehad in the name of aversion and conversion.  They have aggressive attitude.  Such extremists divide the world in to two blocs.  The House of Peace (Darus Salam) and the House of War (Darul Harab).  Wherever there is no Islam as a code of system of life it is Hose of war and we should crusade for the enforcement of Islamic way of life and change it in to the House of peace.  Such ideology has created immense problems for the Muslims world over.


In Islam Jehad is of three types.  The struggle by Tongue; the struggle by Pen and the struggle by Sword.  So far as religion is concerned the Quran time and again announces peaceful preaching through exhortation, love, logic, mercy and example.  No where the Quran has said that the people of other faiths should be killed or forcibly converted.  In Sura Al-Nahl in verse 125 the Quran says; “Invite (all) to the way of Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious; For thy Lord knoweth best, who has strayed from His path, and who receive guidance.”  The Jehad by Tongue and Pen means that you preach your ideas and ideology with logic and love.  Do not hurt others feelings.  Do not sow the seeds of hatred and discord in the name of God.  The Quran announces the whole of humankind as one community.  We are the members of one human family.  Believers are human beings.  God sent prophets with books not with swords and guns.  Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad gave us law and code of life.  All preached brotherhood, justice, freedom, equality and peace.  The prophets were the greatest champions of human rights.  They boldly revolted against the tyrants, oppressors and aggressors.


Jehad by sword is only permissible when you are attacked.  It is unfortunate that Islam is being branded as the religion of extremists, fascists, fundamentalists and terrorists.  A few days again some non-Muslim emailed me.  He wrote; “Islam is the religion of terrorism and Muhammad was a terrorist.”  Why he wrote this?  How he came to such a conclusion? First; he has neither studied Islam nor the life of the Prophet of Islam.  Second he has read or seen the terrorist activities of some Muslim hard liners and extremists.  Partly he is correct and partly he is incorrect.  The Quran about mischief mongers and the enemies of peace candidly in Sura “The Cow” says; “when it is said to them; ‘make not mischief on the earth’.  They say; ‘we are only ones that put things right’.  Of a surety, they are the ones who make mischief, but they realize it not” (2:11:12).  The serious, objective and rational study of the Quran testifies this verity that Islam strongly condemns bloodshed and aggression.  It is a religion of peace.  The Meccans attacked Muhammad thrice.  The battle of Badr; the battle of Uhad and the battle of Trench are solid proofs of the fact that the Muslims of Medina were assaulted by the idolaters of Mecca under the command of Abu Suffyan.  When the Meccans breached the Treaty of Hudabiyga, then the Prophet of Islam moved to Mecca and without bloodshed conquered it.  Had he been a terrorist or an aggressor he would have ruthlessly killed his enemies.  The people who had tortured him and had turned him out from his native place would have also been wiped off.  On the contrary what he did.  He announced general amnesty.  In the words of Quran he said; “Today No vengeance” – Pardon for all.  Mercy for all.  When his deadliest enemy Abu Suffyan accompanied by the uncle of the Prophet, Hazrat Abbas came and sought mercy and pardon, the Prophet forgave him.  Besides it is on record that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) never wielded sword or carried sword.  He never killed anyone in his life.  The Quran says about the Prophet: “we have not but sent you as a mercy for all the worlds”.  How such a man can be regarded as a terrorist?  Here I must admit that some people are involved in terrorist activities.  They are killing Muslims and non-Muslims in the name of religion.  They are sectarian terrorists.  They are suicide bombers.  They have bean brainwashed.  They believe in extremism.  Such elements must be condemned.  Jehad is not offensive.  The Quran in Sura “The Cow” says; “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loves not transgressors”.(2:190).  The Islamic concept of Jehad has some basic human modest rules.  It is written in the books of Bukhari and Muslim that Prophet Muhammad had strictly prohibited the killing of non combatants, elderly persons, children, women, handicapped and ailing ones.  Book of Sunan Abe Dawud and Book of Muwatta mention that Prophet strictly prohibited Khalid Walid not to kill women and civilians.  The civilian life must not be disturbed.  The holy places of prayers must not be attacked.  Islam rejects terrorism. When the Quran in Sura “The Cow” announces; “There is no compulsion in religion”, then how forcibly one can ask others for conversion?  Jehad is a war against aggressors and transgressors.  To fight for wealth, nationalism, territory, honor, race or class is not Jehad.  The brief definition of terrorism is that it is a form of warfare in which innocent people are specifically targeted in order to instill fear in a society.  Hence, terrorism is against Islamic principles.  In Sura “The women” it is clearly mentioned that Jehad is only and only against terrorists and aggressors.  It is not against peaceful civilians of any country, creed, clan or class.  Let us all respect each other’s ideas and ideologies.  Let inter-faith dialogue be encouraged.  The spirit of co-ordination and co-existence is the spirit of Islam.  The extremists and terrorists must be either educated or eliminated.  The coming centuries must see divinity through humanity.  Humanity must be our message and mission.  The monarchs, the dictators, the tyrants, the despots and the transgressor must be eliminated, not the innocent, docile and defenseless civilians of any faith.  Nobody can be permitted to spill the blood of any human in the name of faith or crusade.


(The writer is an eminent speaker and scholar on Islam.  He can be reached at  

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