The True Spirit of Jihad

The True Spirit of Jihad

Writen by Sarah Ahmad

Courtesy: Asad Rony

“The believers are those only who believe in Allah and His Messenger, then they doubt not, and struggle hard with their wealth and their lives in the way of Allah. Such are the truthful ones” (49:15).

Jihad is an Islamic institution that is widely misunderstood. The non-Muslims fearfully regard it as an Islamic practice that aims to wage ‘Holy War’ against all disbelievers, to convert them to Islam or to kill them. To the common western mind, the word ‘Jihad’ is synonymous with ‘terrorism’ and Islam is a ‘militant’ religion. One of the allegations against the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement is that he abrogated the doctrine of jihad. In my speech, I will attempt to present the real meaning of jihad in Islam, as taught by the Holy Quran and practiced by the Holy Prophet Muhammad and his Companions, and revived in this age by the Promised Messiah.

The word ‘jihad’ is derived from the root ‘jahd’ or ‘juhd’ whose meaning is given by Imam Raghib as ability, exertion or power and ‘jihad’ and ‘mujahida’ mean the exerting of one’s power in repelling the enemy. He then goes on to say:

“Jihad is of three kinds; viz., the carrying out of a struggle against : 1. a visible enemy, 2. the devil, 3. one’s self (nafs).”

Thus, in a broader sense, jihad means striving to the utmost extent of one’s ability and power by exerting oneself spiritually in the way of Allah and doing one’s best to preach the message of Islam to others. This is the jihad that a Muslim can carry out for Islam throughout his life. When used in the narrower sense of fighting against a visible enemy, jihad means fighting only in self-defense, when the initiative of attack is taken by the other party.

Let us consider the sense in which the word is used in the Quran. Verse 69 of Chapter 29 (The Spider), which is an early Makkan revelation, reads as follows:

“And those who strive hard (the word used is jahadu) for Us, We shall certainly guide them in our ways, and Allah is surely with the doers of good.”

A similar injunction occurs in 22:78 :

“And strive hard for Allah with due striving”.

The jihad referred to here is clearly jihad bil nafs — the spiritual exertion to curb one’s lower desires and evil inclinations and to try to increase in the doing of good in order to attain nearness to Allah. I believe this form of jihad against one’s own self is perhaps the most difficult of all. It would have been easy enough if jihad had only meant the defence of Islam by fighting against an enemy bent upon the extermination of the Muslims when the occasion so demanded; but to be constantly engaged in fighting against one’s inner demons, to guard against all sorts of temptations and greed and never to allow oneself to weaken for a moment lest one be overcome is by far more arduous a struggle. Yet when a believer sincerely tries to purify his soul and asks help from his Creator, he finds Him nigh and God guides him in his efforts.

Let us now take a look at the Quranic injunction of jihad-bil-saif or jihad with the sword, which is the most commonly understood meaning of jihad. Consider the circumstances under which the first permission to fight is given to the faithful. The Muslims had patiently borne the most ruthless persecution at the hands of the Quraish for thirteen years in Makkah. The flight to Madinah, however, had further fanned the fire of the wrath of the Quraish since the Muslims were now out of their reach. With individual persecution no longer possible, they now planned the extinction of the Muslims as a nation. They would either annihilate the Muslims or compel them to return to unbelief. In these circumstances came the earliest permission to fight, in verses 39 and 40 of chapter 22, which read:

“Permission (to fight) is given to those on whom war is made, because they are oppressed. And surely Allah is able to assist them – Those who are driven from their homes without a just cause except that they say: Our Lord is Allah. And if Allah did not repel some people by others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, in which Allah’s name is much remembered, would have been pulled down. And surely Allah will help him who helps His cause”.

Indeed, war with such a pure motive as to establish the principle of religious liberty was truly a jihad, a struggle carried on simply with the object that truth may prosper and that freedom of conscience may be maintained.

The second verse giving the Muslims permission to fight runs as follows:

“And fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, and be not aggressive; surely Allah loves not the aggressors” (2:190).

Here again the condition is plainly laid down that the Muslims shall not be the first to attack. They had to fight – it had now become a duty – but only against those who fought against them; aggression was expressly prohibited. The words fi sabili-llah (in the way of Allah) are misinterpreted by most Western writers as meaning for the propagation of Islam, when nothing could be further from the truth since the Muslims were not fighting to force Islam on others, rather they were being fought to force them to renounce their faith. Moreover, verse 256 of chapter 2, which says :

“There is no compulsion in religion”

was revealed after the permission for war had been given, and it is therefore certain that fighting had no connection with the preaching of religion.

The fifth verse of chapter 9 of the Quran is mistakenly called by some people “the verse of the sword”, as if it inculcated the indiscriminate massacre of all idolators or unbelievers. The misconception is due to the fact that the words are taken out of their context and a significance is forced on them which the context cannot bear. The words of the fifth verse are:

“So when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolators wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush. But if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free. Surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful”.

It is asserted that this verse offers to the disbelievers the alternative of the sword or the Quran. Nothing is farther from the truth. As the title of this chapter and the opening verses show, the Muslims are granted ‘Immunity’ from their obligations with such of the idolatrous tribes as had repeatedly broken their engagements with the Muslims and repeatedly dealt telling blows to the Muslims whenever they had an opportunity of doing so. The injunction in the fifth verse to wage war is clearly against these idolators who repeatedly violated their agreements with the Muslims, while clear exceptions are made with regard to those idolatrous tribes who adhered to their treaties and those who sought the protection of the Muslims. The latter were to be conveyed the message of Islam but in case they did not accept it, they were to be safely conveyed to their homes. This clearly shows that the reason why the Muslims were fight against the idolators, as mentioned in v. 5, was not because they were idolators but because they repeatedly violated the trust of the Muslims and invited them to war.

Nowhere does the Quran give the Muslims permission to enter on an unprovoked war against the whole world. Conditions are also laid down as to when war should cease. Says verse 193 of Chapter 2 (The Cow) :

“And fight with them until there is no more persecution, and religion should be only for Allah”.

The words ‘religion should be only for Allah’ are sometimes misinterpreted as meaning that all people should accept Islam. This misconception, however, is soon dispelled upon comparison with another verse which carries very similar words.

“And fight with them until there is no more persecution and all religions are for Allah” (8:39).

This clearly shows that both the expressions ‘religion should be only for Allah’ and ‘all religions are for Allah’ carry the same significance, namely that religion is a matter between man and his God, in which nobody has a right to interfere. This teaching was supported by the practice of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who gave full religious liberty to a people who had been subjugated in war. A well-known example is the occasion of the conquest of Makkah.

Far from being a militant creed, Islam is such a peace-loving religion that the Muslims are enjoined to accept peace even in the middle of war if the enemy so desires:

“And if they incline to peace, incline thou also to it and trust in Allah; surely He is the Hearer, the Knower. And if they intend to deceive thee – then surely Allah is sufficient for thee” (8:61, 62).

Over here, peace is even recommended when the enemy’s sincerity may be doubtful, and there was good cause to doubt the intentions of the Arab tribes who attached no value to their agreements. Yet the Prophet was always ready to make peace even, as on the occasion of the Hudaibiya truce, taking the position of the defeated party – although he had never been defeated on the battlefield – and accepting terms which his own Companions looked upon as humiliating to Islam. Such remained the practice of the Prophet throughout his life and he never led an aggressive attack. The last of his expeditions was that of Tabuk in 9 A.H., in which he led an army of 30,000 against the Romans. But when he found on reaching the frontier, after a very hot and tedious journey, that the Romans did not contemplate an offensive, he returned without attacking them.

Emphasis by the Ahmadiyya Movement on the point that the sword had nothing to do with the propagation of Islam has led many people to believe that Ahmadiyyat has abrogated the doctrine of Jihad. This charge is absolutely baseless. Unlike other Muslims who generally consider some of the Quranic verses to have been abrogated by others, the Ahmadis firmly believe in every single word of the Quran. When the doctrine of jihad forms a part of the Quran, how could the Ahmadis adjudge it as being abrogated? It is true that Ahmadiyyat did not agree with the significance that jihad had come to hold, viz. that fighting against all disbelievers was a ‘holy war’. This abhorrent picture was drawn by Christian missionaries in order to create hatred against Islam among the people. The Western domination in the world helped in the spread of this view. In India the Arya Samaj helped the Christians in propagating such calumnies against Islam. On the other hand, the Muslims themselves did not mend matters by eagerly awaiting the advent of a Mahdi who would wield the sword for the spread of Islam, and by believing that the killing of an unbeliever was a jihad that entitled the perpetrator to be called a ghazi. It was concerning this concept of jihad that the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement said in one of his poetic verses:

‘Put the idea of jihad out of your minds, O friends;
War and killing in the name of religion are now forbidden’

Hazrat Mirza Sahib made it clear that fighting in Islam was allowed only in self-defense or to establish religious freedom. Since the British rule in India allowed full liberty of religion and conscience and there was peace and justice under their reign where before there had been lawlessness and anarchy, there was simply no reason to take up arms against the government and to do so would amount to rebellion and not jihad. Thus, Hazrat Mirza Sahib addressed the Muslim world in an Arabic letter and said:

“There is not the least doubt that the conditions laid down for jihad are not to be met with at the present time and in this country; so it is illegal for the Muslims to fight for religion and to kill anyone who rejects the Sacred Law, for God has made clear the illegality of jihad when there is peace and security.” (Tohfa-i-Golarwiya, Supplement, p.30)

Note the words, at the present time and in this country; this clearly shows that jihad may be legal in another country in which exist the necessary conditions laid down in the Quran, or even here when the conditions have changed. Hazrat Mirza Sahib was not alone in praising the British rule; all the writers of that time considered it their duty to give vent to similar expressions of loyalty and thankfulness. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who occupies a much venerated position among the Muslims of the Subcontinent, wrote in exactly the same strain as did Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad.

The Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement directed the attention of the Muslims towards the greatest jihad of all, as Allah says in the Quran:

“So obey not the disbelievers, and strive against them a mighty striving with it” (25:52).

Every exertion to spread the Truth is, according to this verse, a jihad; nay, it is called jihad kabir – the Great Jihad. The personal pronoun ‘it’ in the verse unquestionably refers to the Quran. Thus the greatest jihad which a Muslim can carry on is by means of the Quran. This verse is well-known to every Ahmadi for it was this jihad-bil-Quran in which the Founder of our Movement remained engaged throughout his life and this was the mission that he entrusted to his jamaat. I read a fine description of our mission that I would like to share with you. Jihad bil Quran, for the propagation of Islam, was the great jihad of the Makkan life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, when the permission to fight had not been given. As we all know, the Makkan period of his life was the manifestation of his name Ahmad. Thus, it is jihad with the Quran for which the Ahmadiyya Movement stands today. As jihad with the sword stands in need of a strong and loyal army, so is a strong and loyal jamaat needed for the carrying on of jihad with the Quran and it is for this purpose that an oath of allegience is taken. When a person takes a pledge to do something, his determination is not shaken by happenings in times of trial. The keywords of our pledge are ‘I will hold religion above the world’, which mean that all those who enter the Movement should be willing to sacrifice their all for the sake of Islam. The formation of an organization and the taking of a pledge is thus in accordance with the need for the great mission of jihad bil Quran, which Ahmadiyyat is to carry out in the world.

Allah says in the Holy Quran:

“O you who believe, shall I lead you to a merchandise which will deliver you from a painful chastisement? You should believe in Allah and His Messenger, and strive hard in Allah’s way with you wealth and your lives. That is better for you, did you but know! He will forgive you your sins, and cause you to enter Gardens wherein rivers flow, and goodly dwellings in Gardens of perpetuity – that is the mighty achievement – and yet another (blessing) that you love: help from Allah and victory near at hand; and give good news to the believers.” (61:10-13)

May Allah have mercy on us all, and give us the strength to fight against our own selves to overcome our weaknesses, and to fulfil our duty in carrying out the Great Jihad entrusted to us. Ameen.