Last updated on: 5/12/2008 4:22:00 PM PST

What Is Jihad?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
John Esposito, PhD, Professor of Religion and International Affairs at Georgetown University, in a July 18, 2003 Gulf News article titled "Understanding Islam," wrote:

"Jihad (exertion or struggle) is sometimes referred to as the Sixth Pillar of Islam. The importance of jihad is rooted in the Holy Quran's command to struggle in the path of God and in the example of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH [Peace Be Upon Him]) and his early Companions...

Jihad as struggle pertains to the difficulty and complexity of living a good life: struggling against the evil in oneself -- to be virtuous and moral, making a serious effort to do good deeds and helping to reform society. Depending on the circumstances in which one lives, it also can mean fighting injustice and oppression, spreading and defending Islem, and creating a just society through spreading and defending Islam, and creating a just society through preaching, teaching, and if necessary, armed struggle or holy war.

The two broad meanings of jihad, non-violent and violent, are contrasted in a well-known Prophetic tradition. It is said that when Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) returned from battle he told his followers: 'We return from the lesser jihad (warfare) to the greater jihad.' The greater jihad is the more difficult and more important struggle against one's ego, selfishness, greed, and evil."

July 18, 2003 - John Esposito, PhD 

M. Amir Ali, PhD, MS, the late Director of the Institute of Islamic Information and Education (III&E), in an article posted to the website Muttaqun Online (accessed on Apr. 25, 2007) titled "Jihad (Fighting/Struggling for the Cause of Allah swt)" wrote:

"In the linguistic sense, the Arabic word 'jihad' means struggling or striving and applies to any effort exerted by anyone. In this sense a student struggles and strives to get an education and pass course work; an employee strives to fulfill his/her job and maintain good relations with his/her employer; a politician strives to maintain or increase his popularity with his constituents and so on. The term strive or struggle may be used for/by Muslims as well non-Muslims...

In the West, 'jihad' is generally translated as 'holy war', a usage the media has popularized. According to Islamic teachings, it is unholy to instigate or start war; however, some wars are inevitable and justifiable. If we translate the words 'holy war' back into Arabic we find 'harbun muqaddasatun', or for 'the holy war', 'al-harbu al-muqaddasatu'. We challenge any researcher or scholar to find the meaning of 'jihad' as holy war in the Qur'an or authentic Hadith collections or in early Islamic literature. Unfortunately, some Muslim writers and translators of the Qur'an, the Hadith and other Islamic literature translate the term 'jihad' as 'holy war', due to the influence of centuries-old Western propaganda.

For Muslims the term jihad is applied to all forms of striving and has developed some special meanings over time. The sources of this development are the Qur'an (the Word of God revealed to Prophet Muhammad(S)) and the Hadith (teachings of Prophet Muhammad(S) [(S) denotes Sall-Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam meaning peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). The Qur'an and the Hadith use the word 'jihad' in several different contexts...

  • Recognizing the Creator and loving Him most
  • Resisting pressure of parents, peers and society
  • Staying on the straight path steadfastly
  • Striving for righteous deeds
  • Having courage and steadfastness to convey the message of Islam
  • Defending Islam and the community
  • Helping allied people who may not be Muslim
  • Removing treacherous people from power
  • Defending through preemptive strikes
  • Gaining freedom to inform, educate and convey the message of Islam in an open and free environment
  • Freeing people from tyranny"

  • Apr. 25, 2007 - M. Amir Ali, PhD, MS 

    Bernard Lewis, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, in his 2003 book The Crisis of Islam, wrote:

    "One of the basic tasks bequeathed to Muslims by the Prophet was jihad. This word comes from the Arabic root j-h-d, with the basic meaning of striving or effort. It is often used in classical texts with the closely related meaning of struggle, and hence also of fight. It is usually cited in the Qur'anic phrase 'striving in the path of God' (e.g., IX, 24; LX 1 et cetera) and has been variously interpreted to mean moral striving and armed struggle."

    2003 - Bernard Lewis, PhD 

    Douglas E. Streusand, PhD, Professor of History at American Military University, in a Sep. 1997 Middle East Quarterly essay titled "What Does Jihad Mean?" wrote:

    "After the Qur'an, the hadith (reports on the sayings and acts of the prophet) is the second most important source of Islamic law (Shari'a). In hadith collections, jihad means armed action; for example, the 199 references to jihad in the most standard collection of hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari, all assume that jihad means warfare. More broadly, Bernard Lewis finds that 'the overwhelming majority of classical theologians, jurists, and traditionalists [i.e., specialists in the hadith]... understood the obligation of jihad in a military sense.'

    ...Indeed, jihad cannot imply conversion by force, for the Qur'an (2:256) specifically states 'there is no compulsion in religion.' Jihad has an explicitly political aim: the establishment of Muslim rule, which in turn has two benefits: it articulates Islam's supersession of other faiths and creates the opportunity for Muslims to create a just political and social order...

    Warfare is only one interpretation of the concept of jihad... Jihad may be an inward struggle (directed against evil in oneself) or an outward one (against injustice). A hadith defines this understanding of the term. It recounts how Muhammad, after a battle, said, 'We have returned from the lesser jihad (al-jihad al-asghar) to the greater jihad (al-jihad al-akbar).' When asked, 'What is the greater jihad?,' he replied, 'It is the struggle against oneself.' Although this hadith does not appear in any of the authoritative collections, it has had enormous influence in Islamic mysticism (Sufism).

    ...To this day, many Muslims conceive of jihad as a personal rather than a political struggle. But Sufism provoked opposition, most importantly from Ibn Taymiya, who condemned many aspects of Sufism which he believed contradicted the Shari'a. His disciple Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziya (1292-1350) explicitly condemned the doctrine of greater jihad, discarding as a deliberate fabrication the hadith that originates this concept."

    Sep. 1997 - Douglas E. Streusand, PhD