By Mahmood Jawaid
Since 9/11 the term “jihad” has attained a high level of notoriety. There is a perception that it stands for indiscriminate killing of innocent, peace-loving people.
“Jihad” is an Arabic term which means “to strive.” Throughout the Holy Quran, God urges Muslims to strive in his cause with all of their resources and their being.
The emphasis almost implies that jihad should be a constant mental preoccupation of Muslims. So what is the cause of God for which Muslims must wage jihad? Prophet Muhammad explained: “One who fights to uphold the message of God is the person who carries on jihad in the cause of God.”
Because the Holy Quran is the message of God for Muslims, the statement of the Prophet implies that they should be waging jihad to uphold the message of the Holy Quran. For the most part the message of the Holy Quran deals with: (1) belief in God, the Day of Judgment, the angels, the messengers and the books (revelations) and (2) human behavior and relations.
Jihad in the cause of God, therefore, stands for striving to uphold the Islamic beliefs and to inculcate and promote human behavior and relations proclaimed in the Holy Quran with the sole intention of pleasing God.
Jihad for Islamic beliefs
Although the Holy Quran makes a strong case for Islamic beliefs, it does not recommend imposing these beliefs on others (2:256, 10:99). Jihad in this respect is limited to propagating Islamic beliefs without resorting to compulsion or coercion. The Holy Quran advises Muslims: “Invite [all] to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious” (16:125).
Jihad for self-improvement
Many of the quranic statements deal with improving personal behavior and attitude. The Holy Quran urges Muslims to help and be kind to parents, spouses, children, neighbors, travelers and subordinates and obey superiors (2:177; 4:36, 37, 59).
It advises Muslims to show gratitude to those who have done favors and have been nice (14:7), return favor in kind (55:60), repel evil with goodness (41:34), be polite and humble in dealing with others (2:83), be patient under hardship (31:17), control anger (42:37), and have a forgiving attitude toward others (42:37).
It tells them to abstain from despising (49:13), mocking (49:11), and slandering (49:12) others. It prohibits them from acting proud (4:36), showing off (4:36), backbiting (49:12), or spying on others (49:12). It challenges them to walk the talk (61:2-3). It is through the quranic emphasis on improving personal behavior and attitude that Prophet Muhammad has called self-improvement the biggest form of jihad.
Jihad in a society
The Holy Quran also ordains Muslims to strive as a group to reform society. “Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong” (3:104). It even asks them to build alliances with people of other faiths for this honorable cause (5:2). It commands them to eliminate oppression, persecution, lawlessness and injustice (8:39). The Holy Quran commands Muslims to be just and fair under all circumstances (4:135, 5:8, 16:90).
Jihad on a social level is thus striving to create a society which is free of oppression and persecution and where justice and the rule of law prevail. Only by establishing justice can a society achieve peace and prosperity.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen points out that no functioning democracy with political rights has ever experienced a famine. In other words, a functioning democratic society that guarantees social and political rights will deliver justice and ensure the rule of law and will lead to peace and prosperity. Thus, if we want to eliminate poverty, persecution, oppression and injustice, we must promote and establish democracy with political and economic rights.
In this day and age, jihad for Muslims will depend upon the society they are living in. In a society where freedom and democracy prevails, but with pockets of persecution, exploitation or inequality, they must use peaceful and legal means to wage jihad. They can join or support organizations such as those who promote human rights, the right to life, or that help victims of crime. They can join the American Civil Liberties Union, Doctors Without Borders, the United Way or any organizations that address their causes of concern. The nonviolent civil-rights movement launched by Dr. Martin Luther King is a good example of how jihad can be waged in a democratic society.
If Muslims are living in a society where there is no freedom and democracy, they could use peaceful means such as demonstrations, sit-ins, boycotts or marches to generate public support for the establishment of democracy with political and economic rights. The democratic movements in Poland and other formerly communist countries and the recent events in Nepal are good examples of how jihad could be waged to bring about democracy and freedom in society.
In a situation where a democratic government has been established, but there are pockets of resistance, Muslims are urged to root out the evil forces, even if it requires fighting. In modern terms, this is called “mopping up.” It is in this respect that the Holy Quran advises: “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits, for God loves not transgressors. And, [if they fight], slay them wherever you catch them and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque [sanctuary] unless they [first] fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith. But if they cease, God is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful. And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression and there prevail justice and faith in God; but if they cease let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression” (2:190-193).
It is also the responsibility of Muslims to root out oppression in other places. It is in this respect that the Holy Quran urges Muslims: “Why should you not fight in the cause of God and of those who being weak are ill treated [and oppressed]? Men women and children whose cry is: ‘Our Lord! Rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from You one who will protect; and raise for us from You one who will help!’” (4:75).
President Clinton ordered bombing against Slobodan Milosevic to end the persecution of the people of Kosovo. President George H.W. Bush waged war against Saddam Hussein to end the occupation of Kuwait. Afghani mujahedin (freedom fighters) waged guerrilla war to drive out Russians from Afghanistan. These are all examples of when war becomes a necessity to wage jihad.
Because the objective of jihad is to improve the lot of humanity, any activity to bring about an improvement in the society with the intention of waging jihad and pleasing God is a form of jihad.
Soldiers risking their lives to end persecution, firefighters staking their life to save fire victims, and people volunteering for testing drugs or new medical procedures could all become jihad, if done with the right intention.
Any philanthropic or research activity that improves the lot of humanity is also a form of jihad, if done with the right intention.
Almost in any profession, be it a blue collar or white collar, people can earn a living as well as wage jihad, only if they are doing it with the intention of pleasing God. For example, when politicians make laws to solve problems in the society or when garbage collectors collect trash to keep the streets clean and remove harmful objects could all become jihad if done with the right intention.
Jihadists do not accept the status quo. They are constantly thinking about and looking for ways to make the society a little better every day. It is their constant mental preoccupation. That is what the Holy Quran demands from Muslims.
It is in this respect that Prophet Muhammad advised Muslims: “When you see something wrong, you should try to fix it. If you cannot fix it, you should speak out against it. If you cannot speak out, then you should at least feel bad about it, but this is the weakest state of belief.”
When jihadists see something wrong, they do not waste time stewing over it. They either fix the problem or speak out against it. Jihad is thus striving for excellence in society. Its objective is to improve the lot of humanity with the intention of pleasing God.
Jawaid is a writer who lives in Dunbar.