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Glossary of Islamic terms

Islam Portal

Jihad (pronounced /dʒɪˈhɑːd/; Arabic: جهاد[dʒiˈhæːd]), an Islamic term, is a religious duty of Muslims. In Arabic, the word jihād is a noun meaning "struggle." Jihad appears frequently in the Qur'an and common usage as the idiomatic expression "striving in the way of Allah (al-jihad fi sabil Allah)".[1][2] A person engaged in jihad is called a mujahid, the plural is mujahideen.

A minority among the Sunni scholars sometimes refer to this duty as the sixth pillar of Islam, though it occupies no such official status.[3] In Twelver Shi'a Islam, however, Jihad is one of the 10 Practices of the Religion.

According to scholar John Esposito, Jihad requires Muslims to "struggle in the way of God" or "to struggle to improve one's self and/or society."[3][4] Jihad is directed against Satan's inducements, aspects of one's own self, or against a visible enemy.[1][5] The four major categories of jihad that are recognized are Jihad against one's self (Jihad al-Nafs), Jihad of the tongue (Jihad al-lisan), Jihad of the hand (Jihad al-yad), and Jihad of the sword (Jihad as-sayf).[5] Islamic military jurisprudence focuses on regulating the conditions and practice of Jihad as-sayf, the only form of warfare permissible under Islamic law, and thus the term Jihad is usually used in fiqh manuals in reference to military combat.[5][6]

Usage of the term

The term "Jihad" used without any qualifiers is generally understood in the West to be referring to holy war on behalf of Islam.[5] In broader usage and interpretation, the term has accrued both violent and non-violent meanings. It can simply mean striving to live a moral and virtuous life, spreading and defending Islam as well as fighting injustice and oppression, among other things.[7] The relative importance of these two forms of jihad is a matter of controversy.

Greater Jihad

Within Islamic belief, Muhammad is said to have regarded the inner struggle for faith the "greater jihad", prioritizing it over physical fighting in defense of the Ummah, or members of the global Islamic community.[8] One famous hadith has the prophet saying: "We have returned from the lesser jihad (battle) to the greater jihad (jihad of the soul)."

Muslim scholar Mahmoud Ayoub states that "The goal of true jihad is to attain a harmony between islam (submission), iman (faith), and ihsan (righteous living)."[9] Greater jihad can be compared to the struggle that Christians refer to as "resisting sin", i.e. fighting temptation, doubt, disbelief, or distraction. The greater jihad is about holding fast against any ideas and practices that run contrary to the Muhammad's revelations (Qur'an), sayings (Hadith) and the examples set by how he lived his life (Sunnah). This concept of jihad has does not correspond to any military action.

In Modern Standard Arabic, jihad is one of the correct terms for a struggle for any cause, violent or not, religious or secular (though كفاح kifāḥ is also used). For instance, Mahatma Gandhi's satyagraha struggle for Indian independence is called a "jihad" in Modern Standard Arabic (as well as many other dialects of Arabic); the terminology is applied to the fight for women's liberation.[10]

In modern times, Pakistani scholar and professor Fazlur Rahman Malik has used the term to describe the struggle to establish "just moral-social order",[11] while President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia has used it to describe the struggle for economic development in that country.[12]

However some Muslim scholars say that the hadith about greater and lesser Jihad is of questionable origin.[13] Contenders hold that the view that war is lesser Jihad is not based on sound sources. They question the very idea of greater and lesser Jihad.[14]

Lesser Jihad (Jihad bil Saif)

Within Islamic jurisprudence jihad is the only form of warfare permissible under Islamic law, and may be declared against apostates, rebels, highway robbers, violent groups, non-Islamic leaders or non-Muslim combatants, but there are other ways to perform jihad as well, including civil disobedience. The primary aim of jihad as warfare is not the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam by force, but rather the expansion and defense of the Islamic state.[5][6][15]

In the classical manuals of Islamic jurisprudence, the rules associated with armed warfare are covered at great length.[15] Such rules include not killing women, children and non-combatants, as well as not damaging cultivated or residential areas.[16] More recently, modern Muslims have tried to re-interpret the Islamic sources, stressing that Jihad is essentially defensive warfare aimed at protecting Muslims and Islam.[15] Although some Islamic scholars have differed on the implementation of Jihad, there is consensus amongst them that the concept of jihad will always include armed struggle against persecution and oppression.[17]

Jihad has also been applied to offensive, aggressive warfare, as exemplified by Muhammad's own policies and the entire subsequent history of the spread of Islam. From the first generation of Islam, jihad ideology inspired the conquest of non-Muslim populations, forcing them to submit to Muslim rule or accept outright conversion (although conversion was not generally demanded of "Peoples of the Book," this too could be forcibly imposed on non-"Peoples of the Book"). Jihad ideologies also inspired internal civil conflict, as can be seen in early movements like the Kharijites and the contemporary Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization (which assassinated Anwar Al Sadat) as well as Jihad organizations in Lebanon, the Gulf states, and Indonesia.[3] When used to describe warfare between Islamic groups or individuals, such as al-Qaeda's attacks on civilians in Iraq, perpetrators of violence often cite collaboration with non-Islamic powers as a justification.[18] Terrorist attacks like that of September 11, 2001, which was planned and executed by radical Islamic fundamentalists, have not been sanctioned by more centrist groups of Muslims.[19]

Many believe that there is no such thing as lesser jihad, and jihad by the sword is considered most important. This hadeeth about lesser jihad also contradicts clear verses of the Qur'an.

Not equal are those believers who sit (at home) and receive no hurt, and those who strive and fight in the cause of Allah with their goods and their persons. Allah hath granted a grade higher to those who strive and fight with their goods and persons than to those who sit (at home).[Qur'an 4:95]


Controversy has arisen over whether use of the term jihad without further explanation refers to jihad of the sword, and whether some have used confusion over the definition of the term to their advantage.[20]

Some scholars consider the Hadith in which Muhammad speaks of greater and lesser Jihad as of doubtful authenticity.[21] The hadith has been analysed to be fabricated by different individuals.[22][clarification needed][23]

Middle East historian Bernard Lewis argues 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."[24]

Scholar David Cook writes:

In reading Muslim literature -- both contemporary and classical -- one can see that the evidence for the primacy of spiritual jihad is negligible. Today it is certain that no Muslim, writing in a non-Western language (such as Arabic, Persian, Urdu), would ever make claims that jihad is primarily nonviolent or has been superseded by the spiritual jihad. Such claims are made solely by Western scholars, primarily those who study Sufism and/or work in interfaith dialogue, and by Muslim apologists who are trying to present Islam in the most innocuous manner possible.[25]

And according to Douglas Streusand, "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."[26]

Some fundamentalist Muslim traditionalists see that the world is divided into two houses: the House of Islamic Peace (Dar al-Salam), in which Muslim governments rule and Muslim law prevails, and the House of War (Dar al-Harb), the rest of the world, still inhabited. The presumption is that by natural law these domains will compete and fighting is inevitable therefore the duty of jihad will continue, interrupted only by truces, until all the world either adopts the Muslim faith or submits to Muslim rule. Those who fight in the jihad qualify for rewards in both worlds — treasure in this one, paradise in the next. For most of the recorded history of Islam, from the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad onward, the word jihad was used in a primarily military sense.[27]

Nevertheless, the hadith is there, and the fact remains that ideas regarding which hadith are to be considered "controversial" are more often than not based upon the preconceived ideology of certain factions rather than the consensus of the ummah, or even historical or theological exegesis. Furthermore, all of the greatest saints (wali) of Islam and the majority of the ummah have supported Muhammad's interpretation of jihad according to this hadith, as well as that of the Qur'an itself, as being critical to daily religious practice in which the believer is urged to engage in struggle (jihad) within oneself (nafs) against the incessant promptings of the evil one.[28]

Views of Jihad of different Muslim groups

Sunni view of Jihad

Jihad has been classified either as al-jihād al-akbar (the greater jihad), the struggle against one's soul (nafs), or al-jihād al-asghar (the lesser jihad), the external, physical effort, often implying fighting (this is similar to the shiite view of jihad as well).

Gibril Haddad has analyzed the basis for the belief that internal jihad is the "greater jihad", Jihad al-akbar. Haddad identifies the primary historical basis for this belief in a pair of similarly worded hadeeth, in which Mohammed is reported to have told warriors returning home that they had returned from the lesser jihad of struggle against non-Muslims to a greater jihad of struggle against lust. Although Haddad notes that the authenticity of both hadeeth is questionable, he nevertheless concludes that the underlying principle of superiority internal jihad does have a reliable basis in the Qur'an and other writings.[29][30]

On the other hand, the Hanbali scholar Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya did believe that "internal Jihad" is important[31] but he suggests those hadith as weak which consider "Jihad of the heart/soul" to be more important than "Jihad by the sword".[32] Contemporary Islamic scholar Abdullah Yusuf Azzam has argued the hadith is not just weak but "is in fact a false, fabricated hadith which has no basis. It is only a saying of Ibrahim Ibn Abi `Abalah, one of the Successors, and it contradicts textual evidence and reality."[33]

Muslim jurists explained there are four kinds of jihad fi sabilillah (struggle in the cause of God):[34]

  • Jihad of the heart (jihad bil qalb/nafs) is concerned with combatting the devil and in the attempt to escape his persuasion to evil. This type of Jihad was regarded as the greater jihad (al-jihad al-akbar).
  • Jihad by the tongue (jihad bil lisan) is concerned with speaking the truth and spreading the word of Islam with one's tongue.
  • Jihad by the hand (jihad bil yad) refers to choosing to do what is right and to combat injustice and what is wrong with action.
  • Jihad by the sword (jihad bis saif) refers to qital fi sabilillah (armed fighting in the way of God, or holy war), the most common usage by Salafi Muslims and offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Some contemporary Islamists have succeeded in replacing the greater jihad, the fight against desires, with the lesser jihad, the holy war to establish, defend and extend the Islamic state.[35]

Sufic view of Jihad

The Sufic view classifies "Jihad" into two; the "Greater Jihad" and the "Lesser Jihad". Muhammad put the emphasis on the "greater Jihad" by saying that "Holy is the warrior who is at war with himself". In this sense external wars and strife are seen but a satanic counterfeit of the true "jihad" which can only be fought and won within; no other Salvation existing can save man without the efforts of the man himself being added to the work involved of self-refinement. In this sense it is the western view of the Holy Grail which comes closest to the Sufic ideal; for to the Sufis Perfection is the Grail; and the Holy Grail is for those who after they become perfect by giving all they have to the poor then go on to become "Abdal" or "changed ones" like Enoch who was "taken" by God because he "walked with God". (Genesis:5:24) here the "Holy Ones" gain the surname "Hadrat" or "The Presence".

Warfare in Muslim societies

History records instances of the "call for jihad" being invoked by Islamic leaders to legitimate wars of conquest. The major imperial Muslim dynasties of Ottoman Turkey (Sunni) and Persia (Shia) each established systems of authority around traditional Islamic institutions. In the Ottoman Empire, the concept of ghaza was promulgated as a sister obligation to jihad. The Ottoman ruler Mehmed II is said to have insisted on the conquest of Constantinople (Christian Byzantium) by justifying ghaza as a basic duty. Later Ottoman rulers would apply ghaza to justify military campaigns against the Persian Safavid dynasty. Thus both rival empires established a tradition that a ruler was only considered truly in charge when his armies had been sent into the field in the name of the true faith, usually against giaurs or heretics — often meaning each other. The 'missionary' vocation of the Muslim dynasties was prestigious enough to be officially reflected in a formal title as part of a full ruler style: the Ottoman (many also had Ghazi as part of their name) Sultan Murad Khan II Khoja-Ghazi, 6th Sovereign of the House of Osman (1421 - 1451), literally used Sultan ul-Mujahidin.

The so-called Fulbe jihad states and a few other jihad states in western Africa were established by a series of offensive wars.[36]

The commands inculcated in the Quran (in five suras from the period after Muhammad had established his power) on Muslims to put to the sword those who will neither embrace Islam nor pay a poll-tax (Jizya) were not interpreted as a general injunction on all Muslims constantly to make war on the infidels (originally only polytheists who claimed to be monotheists, not "People of the Book", Jesus is seen as the last of the precursors of the Prophet Muhammed; the word infidel had different historical uses, notably used by the Crusaders to refer to the Muslims they were fighting against). It was generally supposed that the order for a general war can only be given by the Caliph (an office that was claimed by the Ottoman sultans), but Muslims who did not acknowledge the spiritual authority of the Caliphate (which is vacant), such as non-Sunnis and non-Ottoman Muslim states, always looked to their own rulers for the proclamation of a jihad; there has been in fact no universal warfare by Muslims on non-believers since the early caliphate. Some proclaimed Jihad by claiming themselves as mahdi, e.g. the Sudanese Mahommed Ahmad in 1882.

Non-Muslim opinions

Modern views

The United States Department of Justice has used its own ad hoc definitions of jihad in indictments of individuals involved in terrorist activities:

  • "As used in this First Superseding Indictment, 'Jihad' is the Arabic word meaning 'holy war'. In this context, jihad refers to the use of violence, including paramilitary action against persons, governments deemed to be enemies of the fundamentalist version of Islam."[37]
  • "As used in this Superseding Indictment, 'violent jihad' or 'jihad' include planning, preparing for, and engaging in, acts of physical violence, including murder, maiming, kidnapping, and hostage-taking."[38] in the indictment against several individuals including José Padilla.

In her book Muhammad: a Biography of the Prophet, B.A. Robinson writes:

"Fighting and warfare might sometimes be necessary, but it was only a minor part of the whole jihad or struggle."[39]

Maxime Rodinson, an Orientalist, wrote that "Jihad is a propagandistic device which, as need be, resorts to armed struggle – two ingredients common to many ideological movements."[40]

In English-speaking countries, especially the United States, the term jihadist, technically a derogatory term for mujahid, is frequently used to describe militant Islamic groups, including but not restricted to Islamic terrorism.

See also

  • Jihad in Hadith
  • Fasad
  • Islamic military jurisprudence
  • Itmam al-hujjah
  • Mujahidin, cognate
  • Opinion of Islamic scholars on Jihad
  • Aslim Taslam
  • Hirabah
  • A Jihad for Love
  • Love Jihad

Political and military aspects

Related concepts

Philosophers of Jihad doctrine

  • Ibn Taymiyyah
  • Ibn Abdul Wahhab Najdi
  • Syed Ahmed Barelwi and Maulvi Ismail
  • Hasan al-Banna
  • Sayyid Qutb
  • Abdul Ala Maudoodi
  • Ali ibn Tahir al-Sulami
  • Abdullah Yusuf Azzam
  • Osama bin Laden
  • Fazlur Rahman Malik
  • Javed Ahmed Ghamidi


  1. 1.0 1.1 Wendy Doniger, ed (1999). Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions. Merriam-Webster. ISBN 087-7790442. , Jihad, p.571
  2. Josef W. Meri, ed (2005). Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. ISBN 041-5966906. , Jihad, p.419
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 John Esposito(2005), Islam: The Straight Path, pp.93 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "jih" defined multiple times with different content
  4. Humphreys, Stephen (2005). Between Memory and Desire. University of California Press. ISBN 052-0246918.  pg 174-176
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Firestone, Rueven (1999). Jihad: The Origin of Holy War in Islam. Oxford University Press. ISBN 019-5125800.  pg. 17
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Djihād". Encyclopedia of Islam Online. 
  7. Esposito (2002a), p.26
  8. "BBC - Religion & Ethics - Jihad: The internal Jihad". Retrieved 2007-01-09. 
  9. Mahmoud M. Ayoub, Islam: Faith and History, pp. 68-69)
  10. Al-Batal, Mahmoud; Kristen Brustad, and Abbas Al-Tonsi (2006). "6-"من رائدات الحركة النسائية العربية" (One of the Pioneers of the Arabic Feminist Movement)" (in Arabic, English). Al-Kitaab fii Tacllum al-cArabiyya, Part II (2 ed.). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press. ISBN 978-1-58901-096-3. "To struggle or exert oneself for a cause........جاهََدَ، يجاهِد، الجهاد" 
  11. Fazlur Rahman, Major Themes of the Qur'an, (Minneapolis: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1980), pp. 63-64.
  12. Rudolph Peters, Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam (Princeton, N.J.: Markus Weiner, 1996), pp. 116-17
  13. JOIN THE CARAVAN Imam Abdullah Azzam
  14. Is Qital a lesser Jihad?
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 R. Peters (1977), pp.3-5
  16. Maududi. "Human Rights in Islam, Chapter Four". Retrieved 2006-01-09. 
  17. Ghamidi, Javed (2001). "The Islamic Law of Jihad". Mizan. Dar ul-Ishraq. 
  18. "VII.". Human Rights Watch. October 2005. Retrieved 2007-01-17. 
  19. John K. Roth, Ethics, p.775
  20. What Does Jihad Mean? "For example, Yasir Arafat's May 1994 call in Johannesburg for a "jihad to liberate Jerusalem" was a turning point in the peace process; Israelis heard him speak about using violence to gain political ends and questioned his peaceable intentions. Both Arafat himself and his aides then clarified that he was speaking about a "peaceful jihad" for Jerusalem."
  21. BBC on jihad
  22. Kashf al-Khafaa
  24. Bernard Lewis, The Political Language of Islam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), p. 72.
  25. Cook, David, Understanding Jihad, University of California Press, 2005, p.165-6
  26. Muhammad ibn Isma'il Bukhari, The Translation of the Meaning of Sahih al-Bukhari, trans. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, 8 vols. (Medina: Dar al-Fikr: 1981), 4:34-204. Quoted in Douglas Streusand, `What Does Jihad Mean?` Middle East Quarterly, September 1997.
  27. Lewis, Bernard, The Crisis of Islam, 2001 Chapter 2
  28. Muhaiyaddeen, M. R. Bawa: Islam & World Peace: Explanations of a Sufi Fellowship Press, Philadelphia 1987
  29. Haddad, Gibril (2005-02-28). "Documentation of "Greater Jihad" hadith". living Islam. Retrieved August 16, 2006. 
  30. Haddad, Gibril. "RE: Accusations on Shaykh Hamza Yusuf". Retrieved August 16, 2006. ]
  31. Documentation of "Greater Jihad" hadith
  32. Jihad in the Hadith, Peace with Realism, April 16, 2006
  34. Majid Khadduri: War and Peace in the Law of Islam, p.56
  35. Understanding Jihad, February, 2005
  39. B.A. Robinson (2003-03-28). "The Concept of Jihad "Struggle" in Islam". Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. Retrieved August 16, 2006. 
  40. Maxime Rodinson. Muhammad. Random House, Inc., New York, 2002. p. 351.

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

Further reading

  • Jihad - the Final Battle
  • Djihad in: The Encyclopaedia of Islam.
  • Alfred Morabia, Le Ğihâd dans l’Islâm médiéval. “Le combat sacré” des origines au XIIe siècle, Albin Michel, Paris 1993
  • Rudolph Peters: Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam
  • Nicola Melis, “A Hanafi treatise on rebellion and ğihād in the Ottoman age (XVII c.)”, in Eurasian Studies, Istituto per l’Oriente/Newham College, Roma-Napoli-Cambridge, Volume II; Number 2 (December 2003), pp. 215–226.
  • Rudolph Peters, Islam and Colonialism: The Doctrine of Jihad in Modern History, “Religion and Society”, Mouton, The Hague 1979.
  • Andrew G. Bostom, ed.: "The Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims"
  • Muhammad Hamidullah: Muslim Conduct of State
  • Muhammad Hamidullah: Battlefields of the Prophet Muhammad
  • John Kelsay: Just War and Jihad
  • Reuven Firestone: Jihad. The Origin of Holy War in Islam
  • Hadia Dajani-Shakeel and Ronald Messier: The Jihad and Its Times
  • Majid Khadduri: War And Peace in the Law of Islam
  • Bernard Lewis: The Political Language of Islam
  • Abul Ala Maududi: Jihad Fil Islam
  • Javed Ahmad Ghamidi: Mizan
  • Biancamaria Scarcia Amoretti, Tolleranza e guerra santa nell’Islam, “Scuola aperta”, Sansoni, Firenze 1974
  • J. Turner Johnson, The Holy War Idea in Western and Islamic Traditions, Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, Pa. 1997
  • Spencer, Robert (2003). Onward Muslim Soldiers. Regnery Publishing, USA. ISBN 0-89526-100-6. 
  • Spencer, Robert (2005). The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (And the Crusades). Regnery Publishing, USA. ISBN 0-89526-013-1. 
  • Spencer, Robert (2006). The Truth About Muhammad. Regnery Publishing, USA. ISBN 978-1596980280. 
  • Malik, S. K. (1986). The Quranic Concept of War. Himalayan Books. ISBN 8170020204. 
  • Swarup, Ram (1982). Understanding Islam through Hadis. Voice of Dharma. ISBN 0-682-49948-X. 
  • Trifkovic, Serge (2006). Defeating Jihad. Regina Orthodox Press, USA. ISBN 192865326X. 
  • Phillips, Melanie (2006). Londonistan: How Britain is Creating a Terror State Within. Encounter books. ISBN 1-59403-144-4. 

Sources and external links