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June 1st, 2016

A Brief Philosophy of Jihad in the Quran

A Brief Philosophy of Jihad in Qur’ân1

A great misconception prevails, particularly among the Christians, propagated by their zealous missionaries, with regard to the duty of JIHÂD in Islam. Even the greatest research scholars of the West have not taken pains to consult any dictionary on Arabic, nor referred to the Qur’ân to find out the meaning of the word. According to the Arabic-English Lexicon of E. W. Lane and the great scholar of Islam Râghîb, the word Jihâd means: The use of or exerting of one’s utmost powers, efforts, endeavours or ability in contending with an object of disapprobation; this is of three kinds, namely: a visible enemy, the devil, against one’s own self. All these meanings are used in the Qur’ân when a reference to JIHÂD is made. The duty of JIHÂD is far from being synonymous with that of war, and the meaning of JIHÂD, ‘the Holy war’ as supposed by the western writers is equally unknown to Arabic and the fundamental teachings of the Holy Qur’ân. Even in the Traditions of the Prophet (Hadîth), this word was never synonymous with ‘the Holy war’. The Prophet of Islam called the greater Pilgrimage to Makkah (Hajj) as JIHÂD (Bukhârî 25:4).2 [Emphasis added]

The penultimate achievement for a Muslim is to acquire the attributes of God, in whose image he is created to begin with:

2:138. (Assume) the attributes of Allâh! and who is fairer than Allâh in attributes? We are His worshippers ever.3

It then takes a laborious toiling from a Muslim to achieve that Divine rendezvous:

84:6. O Mankind! verily you are (by nature) toiling on towards your Lord a laborious toiling, then (through arduous service to Him) you shall surely meet Him.4

To understand the nature of toiling on toward your Lord, we first have to understand the human himself. Internally, a man is a composite of physical and non-physical aspects, i.e., body and soul. Externally he thrives in both the material and non-material world. Internally and externally, his physicality is inseparable from his spirituality. In the big scheme of things, ultimately he rules by mind over matter. Similar to this interplay of tangible and non-tangibles, Jihad, i.e., striving has its own components, physical and spiritual. But the interesting point is that since Jihad is the sum total of the physical and non-physical effort, its rewards are both physical and non-physical as well. Simplistically, a student has to physically and mentally strive in his or her studies before the spiritual and material benefits come forth as rewards, e.g., a doctoral degree with its material reward of salary and spiritual rewards of a social status and benefit to humanity. Factually, Jihad in Islam is inseparable from the life of a Muslim, since the ultimate goal of a Muslim is to assume Allah's attributes which essentially enable one’s striving to be a better human.

For a human to assume Allah’s attributes for oneself and spread them in society, Quran takes on the central role with the following parable:

25:48. And it is He Who sends the winds as happy heralds of His mercy, and We send down from above water (also representing Divine revelation) for the purification (of the souls as well).

25:49. That We may thereby bring the dead land to life and give it as a drink to (most of the things) whom We have created, beasts and mankind in large numbers.[-a parable of giving life to the spiritually dead by the Divine revelation, before by Torah, Bible, Vedas, etc., and now Quran]

25:50. And We have explained this (topic) to them in diverse ways so that they may take heed, but most of the people would refuse (to adopt any other attitude) except (that of) disbelief.

25:51. If We had so willed We would surely have raised (in place of universal Prophethood) a Warner in every town.

25:52. So do not follow the disbelievers [of spiritual awakening], and strive hard against them with the help of this (Qur'ân), a mighty striving.5

Thus it begets Quran to provide guidance for that mighty striving. And it does. Contrary to general belief, firstly, it unburdens man from prevalent dogmas:

22:78. And strive your hardest to win the pleasure of Allâh, as hard a striving as is possible and as it behoves you. He has chosen you and has imposed no hardship upon you in the matter of your faith, (so follow) the creed of your father Abraham. He named you Muslims (both) before this and (again) in this (Qur’ân)…6

Quran, while advocating for its message does not shy away from its own merits and distances itself from being a dogma:

2:256. There is no compulsion of any sort in religion (as) the right way does stand obviously distinguished from the way of error.7

Quran then assures success for those who strive hard in Our cause by being doers of good:

29: 69. And those who strive hard in Our cause We will certainly guide them in the ways that lead to Us. Verily, Allâh is always with the doers of good.8

Our cause, that is, Allah’s cause, is obviously the cause of doers of good.

Doer of good’ is the goal of Jihad. Like any good, Jihad can be pursued by physical and material efforts:

61:11. You should believe in Allah and His Messenger, and strive hard in Allah’s way with your wealth and your lives. That is better for you, if only you knew!9

Additionally, Jihad needs spiritual efforts as well:

9:112. They who turn (to Allah), who serve (Him), who praise (Him), who fast, who bow down, who prostrate themselves, who enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil, and who keep the limits of Allah — and give good news to the believers.10

Both the physical and spiritual components of Jihad are interlocked and inseparable. One is the inherent property of the other and has a mutual symbiotic effect.

Above is the gist of Jihad (or Striving in Islam), which is an individual effort for one to be near his God in both attributes and behavior. Under various chapter headings, this book11 has tried to draw attention to the concept of God and to the human spiritual stages, moral pathways and Divine laws that govern human progress both in material and mission as to what makes him godly. Any deviations from these general principles of Jihad are either man made or a smear against Quran. Whether from within or without Islam, one such smear is the synonymic view of Jihad and War.

Islam is not a mystical or racial cult and Muslims are not supposed to live in a vacuum disconnected from the rest of the world and other ideologies. In the real world, wars do happen between people and countries. Many times these wars occur between people of different faiths; this might be the ‘Crusades’ for some, but in Quran there is no concept of a ‘Holy War’. There is no allowance for an aggressive war neither a war for spreading the faith. On the reverse, In Quran there are strict rules for war prevention, defensive war, with peace preferred over war, religious freedom for all religions, and resistance to persecution.

Firstly, for all intents and purposes the word “Islam” means peace, both in letter and in spirit, within the person and within the society:

10: 25. Allâh invites (us all) to the abode of peace and He guides him who wishes to be guided to the exact right path leading to the goal.12

Secondly, in this abode of peace, there is freedom of faiths for all:

2:256. There is no compulsion of any sort in religion…13

Thirdly, this freedom of religion has to be preserved for all:

22:40. …If Allâh had not repelled some peoples by means of others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques wherein the name of Allâh is mentioned very frequently, would have been razed to the ground in large numbers. And Allâh will surely help one who helps His cause. Allâh is, indeed, All-Powerful, All-Mighty.14

Of note is that one of His cause is, protection of cloisters and churches and synagogues besides mosques. While living among a multi-faith community, Muslims are deemed to follow the norms of fairness:

5:3. … And do not let hatred of a people — because they hindered you from the Sacred Mosque — incite you to transgress [The principle laid down here requires from Muslims equal treatment for all nations, for those whom we hate as well as for those whom we love. Only this principle of Islam can serve as the basis for an international code for the modern world and an international law.]. And help one another in righteousness and piety, and do not help one another in sin and aggression, and keep your duty to Allah [Editor’s note: Muslims ought only to cooperate with one another in matters of goodness, and are forbidden to help each other in wrongdoing against others. This injunction prohibits the evils of blind patriotism and unconditional support for one’s own people even when they commit injustices against others.]. Surely Allah is Severe in retribution.15

Fourth, arms may be picked up, but only in self-defense:

22:39. Permission (to fight in self-defense) is (now) given to those (Muslims) against whom war is waged (for no reason), because they have been done injustice to, and Allâh has indeed might and power to help them;

22:40. Those who have been driven out of their homes without any just cause. Their only fault was that they said, `Our Lord is Allâh…16

Fifth, on moral grounds, for the sake of persecuted humanity, Quran challenges the onlookers of any faith if its followers do not join a rightful defensive struggle:

4:75. What (excuse) have you (to offer) that you would not fight in the cause of Allâh and for (the rescue of) the weak and the down-trodden men and women and the children who all say, `Our Lord! take us out of this town of which the people are tyrants, and grant us a defender who comes from You and a helper by Your Own grace.'17

Once again it is noted that another cause of Allâh is the protection of (the rescue of) the weak and the down-trodden men and women and the children.

Sixth, Quran gives assurance of forgiveness to the aggressors if they desist in the future:

8:38. Say to these who disbelieve that if they desist (now from persecuting the Muslims) they will be protected against the past (misdeeds), but if they revert (to their old ways of mischief), then the example of their predecessors has already gone before (and they will meet the same doom).18

Seventh, war by Muslims can be initiated only if there is an existing persecution against them, since there are no preventive wars in Quran:

8:39. And (O Muslims!) fight them until there is no more persecution (in the name of religion) and adopting a (certain) religion is wholly for the sake of Allâh, but if they desist, then surely Allâh is Watchful of what they do (and they will not be done injustice to).

8:40. But if they turn back (and refuse all these terms and fight you) then know that Allâh is your Protecting Friend, what an excellent Protecting Friend! and what an Excellent Helper!19

Eight, once a defensive war is thrust on Muslims, then Quran enjoins steadfastness and unity among the ranks:

8:45. O you who believe! when you encounter a host, remain steadfast, and remember Allâh much that you may triumph.

8:46. And obey Allâh and His Messenger and dispute not with one another or you will be demoralised and your strength will depart (from you) and do persevere, for Allâh is surely with the patiently persevering ones.

8:57. Therefore if you find these (breakers of trust) in battle array, then (by inflicting an exemplary punishment upon them) disperse those behind them so that they may be admonished.

8:58. And if you fear (and have reasons to fear) treachery from a people, then annul (their pact) on terms of equality. Indeed, Allâh loves not the treacherous.20

Ninth, in Quran, at times peace has to be secured by preventing a war from strength, but without any aggression:

8:60. (Believers! it is your duty also that you) keep prepared to meet them with whatever you can afford of armed force and of mounted pickets at the frontier, to strike terror thereby into the hearts of the enemies of Allâh and your enemies and such others besides them that you do not know, (but) Allâh knows them. And whatever you spend in the cause of Allâh, it shall be repaid to you in full and you will not be dealt with unjustly.21

Tenth, despite an existing state of war, peace is to be preferred even at the risk of deceit by the enemy:

8:61. And if they incline towards peace, you should also incline towards it and put your trust in Allâh. Surely, it is He Who is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.

8:62. But if they intend to desert you, (remember that) Allâh surely suffices you. It is He Who has strengthened you with His help and with the believers;22

Eleventh, no captives of the enemy are to be taken by the Muslims unless there is an actual battle, a war which can only be defensive to begin with. Even in a state of war, it is clearly prohibited to target any civilians or noncombatants:

8:67. It does not behove a Prophet to keep captives unless He has triumphed after a regular bloody fighting in the land. (If you take captives without warfare,) you desire the temporary and frail goods of this world, while Allâh desires (for you the good of) the Hereafter. And Allâh is All-Mighty, All-Wise.23

Twelfth, prisoners of war are to be dealt with mercifully:

8:70. Prophet! Say to those captives (of war) who are in your custody, `If Allâh finds any good in your heart, He will give you even better than that which has been taken away from you (as ransom) and will protect you (against your sins), for Allâh is Great Protector, Ever Merciful [and so should be the Muslim captors],

8:71. But if they intend to play false with you, (remember that) they were false to Allâh before, but He delivered them into your control. And Allâh is All-Knowing, All-Wise.24

Thirteenth, Quran encourages treaties with enemies and enjoins the respect of these treaties. Yet, if the enemy violates the treaty of peace and resorts to war then it gives full freedom to Muslims to defend themselves. While doing so, Muslims are mandated to provide protection and safety to enemy defectors and lead them to freedom. The following verses have both historical references as well as guidelines in general:

9:1. (This is) a declaration of complete absolution on the part of Allâh and His Messenger (from all obligations) to those of the polytheists with whom you had entered into a treaty (but they broke it repeatedly).25

9:2. So you may go about (freely O you breakers of the treaties!) in the land for four months (since the date of this declaration), and know that you cannot frustrate (the will of) Allâh, and (know) that Allâh will humiliate the disbelievers.

9:3. And this is a proclamation from Allâh and His Messenger to the people on the occasion of the Greater Pilgrimage (on the day of Sacrifice) that Allâh and His Messenger owe no obligation to these polytheists. If you (O polytheists!) turn to Him in repentance it is better for you. But if you turn away then know that you cannot frustrate (the will of) Allâh. And proclaim (O Prophet!) the news of a grievous punishment to these disbelievers;

9:4. Excepting those of the polytheists with whom you have entered into a treaty (and) who subsequently did not fail you in any manner, nor did they back up anyone against you. So abide by the treaty you had entered with them to the end of the term you have fixed with them. Allâh, surely loves those who keep their duty.

9:5. But when the prohibited (four) months ([according to Arab custom] when no attack on the breakers of the treaties was permissible) have expired, slay such polytheists (who broke their treaties) wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every place from which it is possible to perceive the enemy and watch their movements. But if they turn in repentance and keep up Prayer and go on presenting the Zakât, leave their path free. Indeed, Allâh is Great Protector, Ever Merciful.

9:6. And if any of the polytheists seeks your protection, grant him protection so that he may hear the word of Allâh, then conduct him to a place where he feels himself safe and secure. That (treatment) is (to be meted out to them) because they are a people who have no knowledge (of Islam).

9:7. There can be no treaty (on the part) of these Polytheists (after their repeated violations of the same) in the sight of Allâh and His Messenger. This, however, does not apply to those with whom you entered into a treaty near the Holy Mosque (at Makkah). So long as they keep true to (the treaty for) you, you should also keep true (in maintaining the treaty) for them. Allâh, surely, loves those who become secure (against the breach of trusts).

9:8. How (can there be a treaty with deliberate violators of agreements) while, if they get the better of you they would respect no bond, nor words of honour in dealing with you. They would try to please you with (mere words of) their mouths whereas their hearts dissent (from what they say), and most of them are perfidious.

9:9. They have preferred paltry gains (- this world) to the revelations of Allâh and thus have turned (people) away from His path. Surely, evil is what they do!

9:10. They observe no bond nor any word of honour while dealing with one who trusts (them). It is these who are the transgressors.26

9:11. But if (even) such (sworn antagonists) turn in repentance and keep up Prayer and go on presenting the Zakât, they are your brethren in faith. And We explain the commandments in detail for a people who know.

9:12. If they break their oaths after (they have ratified) their pledge and revile and commit aggression against your Faith, then fight such leaders of disbelief that they may desist. Indeed, solemn (binding) oaths have no value with them.

9:13. Will you not fight a people who have broken their solemn oaths and proposed to turn out the Messenger and were the first to commence (the fight) against you. Are you afraid of them? Nay, Allâh is more worthy that you should stand in awe of Him if you be (true) believers.

9:14. Fight them, Allâh will punish them at your hands and humiliate them and will grant you victory over them, and He will heal (the agonies of) the minds of a believing people.27

Fourteenth, even in actual war, Muslims are enjoined not to be aggressive:

2:190. And fight in the cause of Allâh those who fight and persecute you, but commit no aggression. Surely, Allâh does not love the aggressors.

2:191. And slay them (the aggressors against whom fighting is made incumbent) when and where you get the better of them, in [a] disciplinary way, and turn them out whence they have turned you out. (Killing is bad but) lawlessness is even worse than carnage. But do not fight them in the precincts of Masjid al-Harâm (the Holy Mosque at Makkah) unless they fight you therein. Should they attack you (there,) then slay them. This indeed is the recompense of such disbelievers.

2:192. But if they desist (from aggression,) then, behold, Allâh is indeed [the] Great Protector, Ever Merciful.

2:193. And fight them until persecution is no more and religion is (freely professed) for Allâh [note – in Qur’ân Allah uses his unique name as God for all peoples]. But if they desist (from hostilities) then (remember) there is no punishment except against the unjust (who still persist in persecution).

2:194. (The violation of) a sacred month [according to Arab tradition] may be retaliated in the sacred month and for (the violation of) all sacred things the law of retaliation is prescribed. Then he who transgresses against you, punish him for his transgression to the extent he has transgressed against you, and take Allâh as a shield, and know that Allâh is with those who guard against evil.28

Such are the guidelines above from Quran for peace, tolerance, freedom of religions, protection of the persecuted, avoidance of aggression, conforming to peace treaties, prevention of war, resorting to war only in self-defense, etc. All these universally accepted human values of Quran are primarily based upon the sanctity of life that it mandates:

5:32. …We laid down for the Children of Israel that he who kills a human being – unless it be for (murdering) a person or for (reforming) disorder in the country, it is as if he has killed [the] entire human race. And whoso saves a (human) life, it is as if he has saved the entire mankind. Certainly, Our Messengers had already come to them with clear arguments, yet (even after that) many of them were certainly those who committed excesses in the land.29

It is obvious from the discussion so far that there is no room in Quran for extra-judicial killing or murders or killing of civilians and non-combatants. As to any suicide bomber Quran has this to say:

Do not cast yourselves to destruction by your own hands.” — 2:195

Do not kill yourselves.” — 4:2930

The insinuators of terror who train the suicide bombers and abet carnages and the blind followers who follow such leaders and their misguidance as word of God are forewarned:

2:165. (Inspite of all these evidences in support of the unity of God) there are some people who take to themselves compeers as opposed to Allâh. They love them as they should love Allâh. But those who believe are stauncher in (their) love for Allâh. And if only those who committed this wrong could but see (the time) when they shall see the punishment, (they would realize) that the complete power only belongs to Allâh and that Allâh is Severe at inflicting the punishment.

2:166. (At that time) when those who were followed (- the leaders) shall disown and sever themselves from their followers and they shall see the punishment (with their own eyes) and all their ties and means shall be cut asunder.

2:167. And (at that time) the followers shall say, `If we could only return (to the life of the world) we would disown them and sever ourselves from them as they disowned and severed themselves from us.' Thus Allâh will make them regret their deeds and they shall never (of themselves) get out of the Fire.31

The question that arises is that are these teachings of Quran for a restrained sword a mere rhetoric or were they ever practiced? The answer is summed up by Khwaja Kamaluddin in his book ‘The Ideal Prophet’ in chapter – Right Use of the Sword32:

For the first time the world was taught by the Prophet the right use of the sword. Secular and sacred history alike show that the sword has never been dispensed with. It was unsheathed by the Hindu Prophets and the Hebrew Patriarchs for neither the Hebrew Law nor that of the Hindus is in any way favourable to "pacifism." The Prince of Peace [–Jesus] also declared that he came to send on the earth "not peace but a sword;" he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets; the laws of his religion permitted it, and his prophets waged war. In fact he would have had recourse to the sword had a favourable occasion arisen, but it did not; and if he prevented Peter from drawing the sword, it was because the time was not propitious. Violence would but have entailed further trouble for him and for his followers. Besides, what Jesus himself could not do has been done with considerable thoroughness by his followers. His words have proved dangerously prophetic. A large portion of the wealth and the brain of Christendom is expended in discovering various ways in which they may send sword and fire more efficaciously into the world; and that, not for the furtherance of any humane cause, but to pander to the spirit of aggression and "grab."

I, however, maintain that at times it becomes one of our highest humanitarian duties to unsheathe the sword. We cannot conscientiously stand aside as indifferent spectators when the liberties of an oppressed people are being trampled upon, when religious freedom is at stake. There do arise situations when the use of arms becomes an unavoidable necessity. But the arms have often been abused, and it was the duty of a Prophet from God to tell us the right occasion when the sword can be wielded [The House Divided – by the author Khawaja Kamaluddin].”

Jesus was prepared to send sword and fire into the world, but Muhammad was compelled to do so. He allowed the use of arms on the following three occasions:

i. To save a house for the worship of God from destruction, be it Christian, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim. (Holy Quran, 22:40)

ii. To establish freedom of conscience. Everyone, according to Quranic teaching, has the right to choose his own faith, and no one should force his religious beliefs on others by persecution or otherwise. And if a person does so, it is the duty of a Muslim to fight against such religious persecution, irrespective of whether the aggrieved be a Jew or a Christian and the persecutor a Muslim. (Holy Quran, 2:190-193)

iii. In self defence. (Holy Quran, 22:39)

But in each case a Muslim should suspend hostilities whenever the oppressor shows an inclination towards peace. (Holy Quran, 2:194)

Other Prophets of the world, especially the Hebrew, drew the sword for a cause of doubtful righteousness, as the Old Testament shows; but Muhammad did what righteousness demanded. Nevertheless, the Western mind has become so much poisoned by the prejudiced statements carped at Islam, that it will not care to hear what is true.

1 This chapter is reproduced from the book: Consumer Guide to God – A Muslim Perspective, In Light of Quran by M. Ikram Jahangiri
2 Adapted from “Jihad-Holy War – A Misconception” in the Introduction section of translation of The Holy Quran, p. 47A-48A: Nooruddin
3 Al-Baqarah – The Cow: Nooruddin
4 Al-Inshiqaq – The Bursting Asunder: Nooruddin
5 Al-Furqan – The Standard of True and False: Nooruddin
6 Al-Hajj – The Pilgrimage: Noorddin
7 Al-Baqarah – The Cow: Nooruddin
8 Al-Ankabut – The Spider: Nooruddin
9 Al-Saff – The Ranks: Nooruddin
10 Al-Taubah – The Repentence: Nooruddin
11 Consumer Guide to God – A Muslim Perspective, In Light of Quran by M. Ikram Jahangiri
12 Yunus – Jonah: Nooruddin
13 Al-Baqarah – The Cow: Nooruddin
14 Al-Hajj – The Pilgrimage: Nooruddin
15 Al-Maidah – Food: Muhammad Ali, Ed. Zahid Aziz
16 Al-Hajj – The Pilgrimage: Nooruddin
17 Al-Nisa – The Women: Nooruddin
18 Al-Anfal – The Voluntary Gifts: Nooruddin
19 ibid
20 ibid
21 ibid
22 ibid
23 ibid
24 ibid
25 Al-Taubah – The Repentence: Nooruddin
26 ibid
27 ibid
28   Al-Baqarah – The Cow: Nooruddin
29 Al-Maidah – The Table Spread with Food: Nooruddin
30 As quoted on p.52 in the book – Islam, Peace and Tolerance by Dr. Zahid Aziz
31 Al-Baqarah – The Cow: Nooruddin
32 The Ideal Prophet by Khwaja Kamaluddin. Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha’at Islam Lahore, Re-Published 1996, p. 145-147. Link:

One Response to “A Brief Philosophy of Jihad in the Quran”

  1. July 5th, 2016 at 2:46 am
    From Rashid Jahangiri:

    Is Jihad Halal or Haram? Opponents of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Need to Answer.

    Opponents of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad accuse him of forbidding Jihad and making it Haram (forbidden). They believe Jihad is part of Iman (Muslim faith). In short they say Jihad is Halal (permissible).

    Today news came ISIS, Daesh, Islamic State attacked holy city of Madina, Saudi Arabia. The only good news was that Holy Prophet Mosque and his sacred grave was not the target.  In recent years there have been too many killings and loss of lives of Muslims in Muslim countries and non-Muslims in non-Muslim countries. It is obvious terrorists who do the killings and blow themselves in suicide attacks, obviously do this because they believe this kind of Jihad is Halal and part of Iman.

    Now my question to opponents of HMGA is: Do you consider “Jihad” conducted as part of Iman by ISIS and its sympathizers Halal? If you consider it Halal then it is obvious what ISIS is doing you consider it right. But if you consider it Haram then you agree with HMGA, because it was this type of Jihad that he called Haram.  

    I think the only good thing that will come out of the mayhem in the world, and especially in the Muslim world is that Muslims in general and opponents of HMGA in particular will understand what kind of Jihad HMGA considered and called Haram.

    Again and again I see how Ilham (revelation) of HMGA is coming true that Allah SWT will make his opponents understand why he warned them against certain misunderstanding in their beliefs.