Jihad: what it is not!

By Anna Varfolomeeva

BEIJING— (October 25 —M4relay) – The Arabic term of jihad, which is usually translated by the mass media as “the Holy war,” is commonly used today, especially in the context of war on terrorism. The word has acquired a very negative tinge, but the concept of the holy war itself is rarely covered and explained.

In the Arabic language lots of the sounds are not written, specifically the vowels. Some words that are pronounced differently are actually written the same way as they have the same root. The word “jihad” stems from the Arabic root word J-H-D, which means “to strive” or “to exert oneself.” Other words derived from this root include “effort,” “labor,” and “fatigue.”

Muslims use the word “jihad” to describe three different kinds of struggle: a believer’s internal struggle to live out the Muslim faith as well as possible, the struggle to build a good Muslim society and the Holy war – the struggle to defend Islam, with force if necessary.

Jihad’s “translation into holy war combined with the erroneous notion of Islam prevalent in the West as the ‘religion of the sword’ has helped to eclipse its inner and spiritual significance and to distort its connotation,” Seyyed Hossein Nasr, an Iranian University Professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University, wrote in his article The Spiritual Significance of Jihad which appeared in the Al-Serat journal.

Muslims believe that there is a hadith, a narration concerning the words and deeds of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, according to which the Prophet is said to have called the internal Jihad the “greater Jihad”. It means that the priority is given to the internal struggle. One should try to do their best to become a better person. That’s what matters.

So Muslims make a great effort to live according to God’s Law, following the rules of the faith, being devoted to God, doing everything they can to help other people.

According to BBC Religion, other ways in which a Muslim engages in the ‘greater Jihad’ could include learning the Qur’an by heart, or engage in other religious study, overcoming things such as anger, greed, hatred, pride, or malice, giving up smoking, cleaning the floor of the mosque, taking part in Muslim community activities, working for social justice, forgiving someone who has hurt them.

In fact, it is considered important for Muslims to control their anger. A hadith says that Abu Barda, one of the Prophet Mohammed’s followers, asked him what the way to enter the Paradise was. The Prophet said: “Don’t be angry!”

In his book Jihad: from Qur’an to Bin Laden, Richard Bonney lamented what he deemed a misappropriation of the term jihad by both pundits in the West seeking to portray Islam as inherently violent, and a small faction of Muslim fanatics seeking political gain. Jihad, he contended, has been perverted from its original intent of encouraging spiritual athleticism and allowing for physical defense when transgression occurs.

However, the hadith in which the Prophet said people should return from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad is regarded as coming from an unreliable source by some scholars. They regard the use of Jihad to mean Holy war as the more important.

“This hadith has no source, nobody whomsoever in the field of Islamic Knowledge has narrated it. Jihad against the disbelievers is the most noble of actions, and moreover it is the most important action for the sake of mankind,” Ibn Taymiyahh, a Turkish Islamic scholar, wrote.

Some authors insist that jihad means a military struggle to benefit Islam. But one should remember that there are certain rules and conditions for the starting of a physical war.

According to the Quran, the main religious text of Islam, permissible reasons for the military jihad include self-defense (Quran 22:39), strengthening Islam, protecting the freedom of Muslims to practice their faith, protecting Muslims against oppression (Quran 4:75), which could include overthrowing a tyrannical ruler, and punishing an enemy who breaks an oath.

War should be conducted in a disciplined way so as to avoid injuring non-combatants, with the minimum necessary force, without anger and with humane treatment towards prisoners of war. Wounded enemy soldiers must be treated in exactly the same way as one’s own soldiers. Property must not be damaged. Women, children, as well as old people can not be hurt.

Abu Bakr, the First Caliph, a successor of Muhammad as temporal and spiritual head of Islam, gave these rules to an army he was sending to battle: “Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy’s flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.”

Moreover, women should not participate in military actions. According to a hadith (al-Bukhârî, no. 2784), Muhammad said: “For you [women], the most virtuous jihad is an accepted Hajj [the pilgrimage to the sacred city of Mecca].”

The opponent must always have started the fighting. Every other way of solving the problem must be tried before resorting to war. The war must stop as soon as the enemy asks for peace.

A war is not a Jihad if the intention is to force people to convert to Islam, conquer other nations to colonize them, take territory for economic gain, and settle disputes and to demonstrate a leader’s power.

The basic principle laid down in the Quran is that “there is no compulsion in religion” (2:256).

Although the Prophet Muhammad engaged in military action on a number of occasions, these were battles to survive, rather than conquest, and took place at a time when fighting between tribes was common.

According to A Glance at the Life of the Holy Prophet of Islam by Dar Rah Haqq’s Board of Writers, the sum total of all casualties on all sides in all the battles of Muhammad conducted from 622 to 632, range from 1200 to 1500 dead.

“It must be remembered, however, that even in such cases when the idea of jihad has been evoked in certain parts of the Islamic world, it has not usually been a question of religion simply sanctioning war but of the attempt of a society in which religion remains of central concern to protect itself from being conquered either by military and economic forces or by ideas of an alien nature. This does not mean, however, that in some cases especially in recent times, religious sentiments have not been used or misused to intensify or legitimize a conflict,” Seyyed Hossein Nasr pointed out.

* Anna Varfolomeeva is an international reporter at M4 Media

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