Nov 26, 2006

The Meaning of Al Jihad

  • combination of Thursday Speech of April 15th, 2004; Safar 25th, 1425 HC. & Friday after Dhikr Speech of April 16th, 2004; Safar 26th, 1425 HC.
    Translated by: Aisha Rafea
Jihad" is a life long path in which a "human" being exerts himself for manifesting higher values, for presenting a better say, for working goodness, for spreading words of truth, kindness and "peace". This is the basis of Jihad as we understand it.

We pray to God to endow us with truth in our talk, to inspire us with what corrects our steps, and to make of our gathering and our Dhikr a means for enlivening our hearts and illuminating our minds. We call upon God to make us among those who listen to every saying, and follow the best of it; those who remember God standing, sitting and lying, those who pray to God day and night seeking His Face. To be among those is our hope, our goal and our "Jihad".

Actually, man, during his "earthly journey", is in a continuous and inevitable strife. He can choose that his strife be transformed into spiritual attainment on the path of God, or he can choose to refrain from exerting himself in that direction. This capability to choose reflects a degree of ‘free will’ that man enjoys during his life on earth. This is what we understand "Jihad" suggests.  "Jihad" is a continuous search and exertion of the self for the sake of realizing a more evolved existence. Jihad is a ‘meaning’ to be cherished more than being a certain ‘form’ of action. To experience Jihad is to try honestly to offer what you have in "service" of others whether it is knowledge, science or any work of goodness.
There are some 'Muslim' groups who talk about "Jihad" in the Cause of Allah’ as if it is confined to one incomparable image, which is 'fighting nonbelievers'. They support their notion by quoting some Prophetic Hadiths that state that there is no righteous deed that is apt to receive the reward of Allah as Jihad, in that sense. To confirm their understanding they quote an event in which a woman whose husband went out in a fight asked the "the Prophet" Muhammad to guide her to do something that could be as rewarding as the Jihad that her husband was performing. The Prophet told her that the only thing that could make her as rewarded by God as her husband was to keep on praying day and night, and adhere to fasting until he comes back.
Such groups also express their doubt in the authority of the Hadith in which "the Prophet" Muhammad said,
“We are back from the smaller struggle to the greater struggle; the struggle against the "lower self".[1]”
They say that the Hadith cannot be authentic since it contradicts with many other reliable Hadiths that categorically mention "Jihad" in its meaning as ‘fighting nonbelievers’. As such they overstress their stance of limiting Jihad to that single image and term it as the best kind of Jihad.  They limit the struggle against the lower self (which is mentioned implicitly in other teachings) to point to strict observance of  "Prayers", recitation of the Holy Qur’an, "Fasting" and so on and so forth. Exertion of the lower self, for them, is restricted to that very narrow zone.
When we reflect with more insight upon the Prophetic Hadiths, which advocate "Jihad", we find that they include a more sublime meaning than mere fighting of 'nonbelievers' or performing more acts of worship. Deeper reading shows Jihad as a life long path in which a "human" being exerts himself for manifesting higher values, for presenting a better say, for working goodness, for spreading words of truth, kindness and "peace". This is the basis of Jihad as we understand it.
It will sometimes be the case, that a certain power will conspire to bury, or prevent those values from becoming available to people. When that is the case, the person who consistently strives to live up to those uplifting meanings and who tries to keep them alive is the one who deserves to receive the state of a ‘struggler’ (Mujahed).
This is not to say that "Jihad" in its ‘fighting’ sense is excluded unconditionally. Rather, 'fighting' is part of a comprehensive whole that SOMETIMES becomes the only option that one turns to[2]. However, a person can still be Mujahed through many other ways that are equal to fighting for a just cause.
We (in the Islamic arena) are confronted with many concepts related to "Jihad" of which some parts may be reflecting a shade of truth as they have been derived from some reliable sources, BUT when those who adopt those concepts limit their connotations to a single way of understanding and action, they in fact downgrade the comprehensive meaning that those concepts denote. Actually, this often happens when people reduce the meanings of holy verses and Prophetic Hadiths to certain images and forms, and they forget all about the essential meanings inherent in them.
Without giving the time and the effort to reflect deeply, with open minds and pure hearts upon the "religious" concepts, "religion" turns into a series of "dogmas", stagnant traditions and mechanical practices void of any understanding. Insightfulness and meditation make man purer and more capable of appreciating the different aspects of the same issue. When we contemplate upon the teachings related to "Jihad", we find that literal and superficial readings reduce them into an urge to fight 'nonbelievers'; an attitude that leads to many  "misconceptions" and evil practices.
When looking into the depth of these very teachings we find that Jihadxe "Jihad" is a path that is lived in myriad ways and that it contains two interrelated levels:
1-Self preparation and education
2-Playing a role in transforming the "human" family.
As such we cannot separate the process of exertion of oneself to be a better human being on all levels from the process of carrying out one's role of serving others. To give an example, a medical doctor who spends years and years in learning and in practical training, can be considered as practicing Jihad in its sense as exertion of the self. When he uses his knowledge and professional capabilities in treating patients efficiently he is performing his role towards them by helping them to continue their lives and fulfill their missions.
We should not ignore that broad vision of the meaning of life as one whole and man's role towards himself, towards others and towards the entire humanity. From that perspective we read the holy teachings related to "Jihad". When a holy verse says for instance:
 "You are destined to be involved in Fighting even though you dislike it" (HQ: 2: 216
we understand that fighting and shedding blood should never be the first step for settling any conflicts between people or states. Rather, fighting should be the last option when all other peaceful means have been exhausted fully.
Also when we read:
"Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to trigger awe into (the hearts of) the enemies, of Allah and your enemies, and others besides, whom you may not know, but whom Allah does know" (HQ: 8: 60),
we understand that when a society is keen to gain means of power, others would not have the courage to attack it.
So, "Jihad" as exertion of the self in that case is the process of transforming your society to a powerful one on all levels; in industry, agriculture, science, thought and culture. In the meantime, you have 'knowledge' that you want to convey to others and you are keen to fulfill that task. In that sense you will be performing Jihad in a way that is by no means less than the kind of justified and just fighting (mentioned in the holy teachings). What matters is that you should understand the focal meaning or the core that is embedded in the holy teachings, and the connotations of the words instead of being captured in the literal meanings.

  1. Some other factions do not doubt the authenticity of the Prophetic Hadith but they still use it to serve their approach to Jihadxe "Jihad" by saying that they should struggle against the "lower self" when it urges a "human" being to refrain from carrying on Jihad as they approach it. (TN)
  2. It is worth mentioning here that ‘fighting’ as documented in the Biography of "the Prophet" Muhammad is legitimized according to very strict rules. The Prophet commanded his followers never to go into war whenever peaceful solutions were there. Whenever other parties chose hostility they should not initiate a fight but wait until the opponents do that, and then defend themselves. He also commanded them never to skip any chance for restoring "peace" if the opponents announce their readiness to stop fighting. Also when fighting does take place, the Prophet put in place a set of very strict moral rules that Muslims should abide by such as: 1-No killing of children, women, or elderly people who do not share in the war. 2- No corruption of nature or natural resources. 3- No destruction of places of worship of any faith. 4- Caring for the safety of war prisoners is a must. 5- Abstaining from directly or indirectly forcing people (in case of victory) to convert to "Islam".