Understanding Jihad in Muslim Thought and Developing a Christian
By Dr. N.S R K. Ravi
September 11, 2001, was the bloodiest day in the history of the United
States (U.S.).Two of the largest office towers in the world-the Twin Towers of
the World Trade Center-were destroyed. In addition, the Pentagon, the center of
American military might, sustained heavy damages and casualties. As a result,
American complacency has been shattered to its core. In the past months, there
have been terrorist acts in many places-a homicide bomber attacked a crowded
marketplace in Jerusalem, another blew up a bus full of women and children in
Tel Aviv, and others have annihilated villages in Algeria. The list of events
worldwide that have come to symbolize this kind of Islamic terrorism is
Recently, the British government has identified 21 organizations as
notorious terrorist groups-and a vast majority of them are Islamic.
The 21 Terrorist Groups:
1. Al-Qaida-Bin Laden
2. Armed Islamic Group-Algeria
3. Salafist Group for Call and Combat-Algeria
4. Egyptian Islamic Jihad
5. Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya-Egypt
6. Revolutionary Organization 17 November-Greece
7. Mujahedeen-e Khalq-Iranian dissidents in Iraq
8. HAMAS-Israel, through the Palestinian Authority
9. Palestine Islamic Jihad-Israel
13. Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam-Sri Lanka
15. Babbar Khalsa-Sikh, in India
16. International Sikh Youth Federation-Sikh, in India
18. Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA)-Spain
19. Kurdistan Workers' Party-Turkey
20. Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front-Turkey
21. Islamic Army of Aden-Yemen1
The U.S. State Department has designated 15 of these organizations as
Islamic terrorist groups. Some of these organizations spread hate, recruit, and
raise funds in the name of jihad. We find many references to this understanding
of jihad against the West, and America in particular, in the news today. This
raises serious questions. Is Islam a religion of terror? Do these organizations
represent true Islam? To find the truth we must examine the very source of the
concept of jihad.
Jihad is an Islamic ideology, which is revealed in the Qur'an, the
Muslim holy book. Throughout history, Islamic and non-Islamic scholars have
debated the concept of jihad. Even among Islamic scholars there are various
interpretations of this principle.2 Some Islamic scholars consider
jihad to be the sixth pillar of Islam. According to the Qur'an, jihad assures
various rewards-even paradise itself. Muslims believe that jihad is the best
thing that a Muslim can voluntarily offer. Some Islamic scholars consider jihad
superior to the obligatory acts of salat (prayers), sawm (fasting), Zakat
(almsgiving), and Hajj (pilgrimage). Clearly, the concept of jihad is worth
examining in view of its crucial place in Islamic doctrine.
WHAT IS JIHAD?
The term jihad is derived from the Arabic verb jahada, which means, to
endeavor, to strive, to struggle. It is sometimes translated as holy war. The
closest Arabic words for war are harb or qital which are found in the Qur'an
and its companion commentary-the Hadith. In religious contexts jihad means to
struggle against one's evil inclinations, to strive for the moral strengthening
of society, or to promote the spread of Islam.3 However, in many
circles jihad is understood in a military sense, rather than its universal
meaning in the Qur'an and Hadith.
MUSLIMS MUST MAKE JIHAD
According to Islamic
teachings, jihad is fard, or an obligation, for every individual Muslim. The
Qur'an says, "Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is
possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a
thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not" (Al-Baqarah
[Chapter 2] 216,Yusufali). The Qur'an says that believers who participate in
jihad will be rewarded. "Let those fight in the way of Allah who sell the life
of this world for the other. Whoso fighteth in the way of Allah, be he slain or
be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward" (An-Nisa [Chapter 4]
In Islam, the world is divided into two spheres: al-Jahiliyyah, or
the way of ignorance, and al-Islam, or the way of submission to God.
Human beings have a choice to live in ignorance or to submit to and be obedient
to God. Those who live in ignorance and disobey God live in a land called
dar al-harb-which is the abode of war. Those who submit and are
obedient to God live in a land called dar al-Islam-which is the abode of
According to Islam, non-Muslims are divided into two types. The Kafir are
those who refuse to see the truth- infidels who worship idols, unbelievers, or
the enemies of God. The ahlal-kitab, or the dhimmi, are the
people of the book and are protected non-Muslims-this includes Christians and
THE PURPOSE OF JIHAD
Muslims contend that the main
purpose of jihad is to protect and preserve the haqq, or truth. Some believe
that the way to deal with those who pose obstacles to the propagation of Islam
is to declare jihad against them. They find support for this position in the
Qur'an. "We shall show them Our portents on the horizons and within themselves
until it will be manifest unto them that it is the Truth. Doth not thy Lord
suffice, since He is Witness over all things" (Fussilat [Chapter 41] 53,
Pickthal). Islam teaches that Muslims have a two-fold responsibility. The first
responsibility is to bring those who are in al-Jhiliyyah, or the way of
ignorance, to al-Islam, the way of submission, by various means.
The second obligation is to put Allah ahead of loved ones, wealth, and
worldly ambitions, and to maintain dedication to Allah by a range of
means-including the inner spiritual struggle.
The Qur'an states, "And strive for Allah with the endeavor which is His
right. He hath chosen you and hath not laid upon you in religion any hardship;
the faith of your father Abraham (is yours). He hath named you Muslims of old
time and in this (Scripture), that the messenger may be a witness against you,
and that ye may be witnesses against mankind. So establish worship, pay the
poor-due, and hold fast to Allah" (Al-Hajj [Chapter 22] 78, Pickthal). The
Qur'an also states, "The (true) believers are those only who believe in Allah
and His messenger and afterward doubt not, but strive with their wealth and
their lives for the cause of Allah. Such are the sincere" (Al-Hujraat [Chapter
49] 15, Pickthal). Jihad is personal and community commitment to spread and
defend the faith of Islam.
JIHAD THROUGH PEACEFUL MEANS
For many Muslims, jihad is a holy campaign to bring about a spiritual
revolution in the world. This struggle can be both defensive and offensive. The
spread of Islam is encouraged both through peaceful means and by force. Muslims
believe that peaceful jihad can be achieved in three ways:
1) Jihad with the tongue, or speaking the truth.
Qur'an states, "Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation,
and reason with them in the better way. Lo! thy Lord is Best Aware of him who
strayeth from His way, and He is Best Aware of those who go aright" (An-Nahl
[Chapter 16] 125, Pickthal). The Qur'an teaches that if parents encourage their
children to follow a religion other than Islam, the children need to disobey
them. "We have enjoined on man kindness to parents: but if they (either of
them) strive (to force) thee to join with Me (in worship) anything of which
thou hast no knowledge, obey them not. Ye have (all) to return to me, and I
will tell you (the truth) of all that ye did" (Al-Ankaboot [Chapter 29]
2) Jihad with heart, or with feelings and
The Qur'an states, "And strive for Allah with the
endeavor which is His right. He hath chosen you and hath not laid upon you in
religion any hardship; the faith of your father Abraham" (Al-Hajj [Chapter 22]
78, Pickthal). Al-Ankaboot (Chapter 29) 6 (Pickthal) says, "And whosoever
striveth, striveth only for himself, for lo! Allah is altogether Independent of
(His) creatures." 3) Jihad with hand, or with good works. The Qur'an encourages
good works. "As for those who strive in Us, We surely guide them to Our paths,
and lo! Allah is with the good" (Al-Ankaboot [Chapter 29] 69, Pickthal).
JIHAD THROUGH OFFENSIVE MEANS
However, the Qur'an also
encourages jihad with a sword, which includes both defensive and offensive
measures. In a defensive posture, jihad is often taken to mean merely war,
which is caused by conflicting national interests. However, in Islam, war, or
qital, can be undertaken in an offensive posture for the sake of Allah, and
carried out according to the instructions of the Qur'an. Qital is one form of
struggle to achieve the establishment of Islam and generally occurs when there
is an Islamic state to carry it out.5 Here, jihad has a broader
1) Jihad can be against disbelievers.
The Qur'an says,
"O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites! Be harsh with
them. Their ultimate abode is hell, a hapless journey's end" (At-Tawba [Chapter
9] 73, Pickthal).Al-Furqan (Chapter 25) 52 (Pickthal) says, 'So obey not the
disbelievers, but strive against them herewith with a great endeavor.'
2) Jihad is God's cause.
The Qur'an says, "Lo! those
who believe, and those who emigrate (to escape persecution) and strive in the
way of Allah, these have hope of Allah's mercy. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful"
(Al-Baqarah [Chapter 2] 218, Pickthal).
3) Jihad is against idolaters.
At-Tawba (Chapter 9) 5
(Pickthal) teaches, "Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the
idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and
prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay
the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful."
4) Jihad may be against the people of the
According to the Qur'an, jihad can be implemented even
against the people of the Book-Christians and Jews. In At-Tawba (Chapter 9) 29
(Pickthal), the Qur'an states, "Fight against such of those who have been given
the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that
which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of
Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low."
5) Jihad is allowed against oppression and
The Qur'an says, "Fight in the cause of Allah, those
who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loves not transgressors.
And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have
Turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; . . . And
fight them on until there is no more Tumult or oppression, and there prevail
justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease, Let there be no hostility except
to those who practice oppression" (Al-Baqarah [Chapter 2]
REWARDS OF JIHAD
Islam teaches that those who
participate in jihad will receive rewards. However, only martyrs are assured of
paradise.6 According to the hadith Sahih Bukhari, "The person who
participates in (Holy battles) in Allah's cause and nothing compels him to do
so except belief in Allah and His Apostles, will be recompensed by Allah either
with a reward, or booty (if he survives) or will be admitted to Paradise (if he
is killed in the battle as a martyr). Had I not found it difficult for my
followers, then I would not remain behind any sariya going for Jihad and I
would have loved to be martyred in Allah's cause and then made alive, and then
martyred and then made alive, and then again martyred in His cause" ( Volume 1,
Book 2, Number 35: Narrated Abu Huraira, Sahih Bukhari).7
HOW SHOULD CHRISTIANS RESPOND?
This brief study
reveals that Islam does not offer Paradise to all Muslims. It only assures
paradise those who die in jihad. No wonder some extremist Muslims are willing
to die in the name of jihad. They believe that as long as they are fighting
Allah's cause and they die for it, they go to Paradise. However, Christians
would contend that acts of terrorism do not assure anyone of Paradise, because
those who do them are not fighting for God's cause. Rather, terrorists are
committing a great sin. Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs
is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3, NIV).
Jesus reaffirmed the Old Testament teaching that murder would bring God's
judgment. "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not
murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment'" (Matt. 5:21, NIV).
Jesus also warned that many people who believe they are doing God's will are
mistaken, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the
kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy
name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful
works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye
that work iniquity" (Matt. 7:21-23, KJV).
Islam does not promise heaven to all of its followers. It is only in
Christianity that a repentant sinner is given absolute assurance of salvation.
1 John 5:13 (KJV) says, "These things have I written unto you that believe on
the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life." Heaven
is a free gift for those who believe in Him. "For it is by grace you have been
saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not
by works, so that no one can boast" (Eph. 2:8-9, NIV).
America is a land of immigrants. Here we
find people from all around the globe. America is committed to religious
freedom and has thus opened its doors to adherents of many divergent faiths. It
has given sanctuary to nearly every religion in the world and the vast majority
of Americans say that they are religious.8
America's religious freedom is reducing the geographical distance between
religions. In our neighborhoods we see people from various religious
backgrounds. They may look different, dress different, and eat their customary
foods; yet, they are our neighbors. They shop in the same stores we do, work in
the same offices where we work, and their children attend the same schools as
ours. A vast majority of them hold the same family values as Christians, and
their ethical and moral beliefs are similar. Many of these non-Christian people
appear to be happy and satisfied with their religious practices. Many believe
that they may go to heaven or even become gods themselves. This creates a
dilemma for many religious people in North America. However, the Christian
message is unique, and the people of these divergent faiths must be given an
opportunity to hear it. The problem is that the vast majority of these people
have never had a chance to respond to the love of Jesus Christ. Few immigrants
are exposed to the love of Christ and His Word.
This raises a few troubling questions for Christians. Why have Christians
failed in their responsibility to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to those
who have never heard it? Also, what is the role of those who are saved by His
grace in communicating the good news (see Rom. 10:13-15)? Where and when do
obedient Christians start proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ (see Acts
North American Christians should realize the implications and
responsibilities that come with living in a pluralistic society. We are called
to share the love of Jesus Christ with followers of these divergent religious
groups. Christians need to follow a few practical principles in order to
effectively to communicate the gospel.
1) Respect the religious freedom that the United States and Canadian
constitutions guarantee to followers of Islam and other religions.
2) Be aware of Islam-and other religious groups-and its followers who live
3) Study the beliefs and practices of Islam and other faiths in order to
understand what and why they believe.
4) Realize that only Christ can fulfill the spiritual hunger experienced by
5) Build bridges of friendship to communicate the gospel, in Christ's love,
to Muslims and other religious adherents.
6) Share the unique message of Jesus Christ with non-Christians in ways that
are appropriate for their cultural backgrounds.
7) Cooperate with other religious people in matters of social needs,
societal ethics, and personal morals in ways that do not compromise the gospel
or the unique Lordship of Jesus Christ.
2 Examples of various interpretations. Sayyid Abul Ala Maudoodi, said, "To
change people's views by means of the pen and the tongue, and to bring about a
revolution in their minds, is also jihad. And to spend money for this end, and
to exert oneself physically, is jihad too" (Tafhimat-I, p. 69). Allama
al-Qastalani, classical scholar stated, "Jihad against one's desires and
against the devil to be the greatest jihad" (Irshad as-Sari fi Sharh
al-Bukhari,Vol.V, p. 37).And, in the view of King Faisal of Saudi Arabia,
"Jihad is not just taking up the gun or raising the sword. Jihad is to invite
to the Book of God and the Example of the Prophet, to hold fast to them, and to
stick to them despite difficulties, distresses and afflictions of all kinds"
(Umm al-Qura, Makka, 24 April
3 Cyril Glasse, The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam, (San Francisco:
Harper and Row, 1989), pp. 209-10. And Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of
Religion, Vol. 7, (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987), pp.88-89.
4 Cyril Glasse, pp. 93, 204. See George W. Braswell Jr., What You Need
to Know About Islam and Muslims, (Nashville: Broadman and Holman
Publishers, 2000), pp. 37-38.
5 For detailed study, see Behind the Veil: Unmasking Islam. pp.
31-73. And see Steven Emerson, executive producer and correspondent, "Jihad in
America," (PBS Documentary, Washington: SAE Productions, 1994).
6 The Qur'an describes paradise as a place where there will be fruit,
delightful gardens, great food, maidens, immortal youth, no heat, no cold,
spring water, silk attire, milk, and honey (see 2:2; 37:43; 38:50-51; 47:15; 7
8 Jacob Neusner, ed., World Religions in America, (Westminster:
John Knox Press, 1994), pg. 1.