What is Jihad?

‘Jihad’ is derived from the word, ‘Jaahada’ and it draws upon the fourth verb structure, which means interaction between two sides, al-Mufa’ala. Another example is ‘Al-Khisaam’ which means to quarrel and is taken from its roots source – Khaasama. Also, there is the example of ‘Jidaal’, which means to discuss or to argue and is taken from the root source ‘Jaadala’. (1)

In the Shariah, the word ‘al-Jihad’ was taken from the generic linguistic meaning to a specific meaning in the Quran and the Sunnah. Which means, “the exerting of the effort to fight in the Way of Allah directly or by financial aid, or opinion and the like” This special meaning of Jihad was given in Madinah. In Makkah, the legislation concerning Jihad was not revealed and that is why the subject of Jihad in the Makkan surahs carries the general linguistic meaning. In the tongue of the Arabs, al-Jihad means, ‘exerting ability and effort to do an action or express opinions’. (2)

They are the three verses (ayaat) in Surah al-Ainkaboot:

وَمَن جَاهَدَ فَإِنَّمَا يُجَاهِدُ لِنَفْسِهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَغَنِيٌّ عَنِ الْعَالَمِين

“And if any struggle ‘Jaahid’ (with might and main), they do so for their own souls: for Allah is free of all needs from all creation.” (tmq 29:6)

وَإِن جَاهَدَاكَ لِتُشْرِكَ بِي مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ فَلَا تُطِعْهُمَا إِلَيَّ مَرْجِعُكُمْ فَأُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ

“But if they (either of them) struggle ‘Jaahada’ (to force) you to join with Me (in worship) anything of which you have no knowledge, obey them not. You have (all) to return to me, and I will tell you (the truth) of all that ye did.” (tmq 29:8)

وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَمَعَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

“And those who strive in Our cause ‘Jaahadu’- We will certainly guide them to our Paths: For verily Allah is with those who do right.” (tmq 29:69)

Also in surah Luqman verse 15, the word Jihad is used in the linguistic context. Regarding the verse in surah Al-Nahl talking about Jihad, it mentioned ‘al-Hijra’, which means that this is a Madani verse in a Mecci surah (chapter) – and this was mentioned by the al-Mufasiroon. The verse is:

ثُمَّ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ لِلَّذِينَ هَاجَرُواْ مِن بَعْدِ مَا فُتِنُواْ ثُمَّ جَاهَدُواْ وَصَبَرُواْ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ مِن بَعْدِهَا لَغَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

“But verily Your Lord- those who leave their homes after trials and persecutions,- and who thereafter struggle ‘Jaahadu’ and fight for the faith and patiently persevere,- Your Lord, after all this is oft-forgiving, Most Merciful”. (tmq 16:110)

The subject of Jihad in Medina occurs 26 (twenty-six) times and the majority of them carry the clear meaning of Fighting, ‘Qitaal’. Some of these verses are:

لاَّ يَسْتَوِي الْقَاعِدُونَ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ غَيْرُ أُوْلِي الضَّرَرِ وَالْمُجَاهِدُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ بِأَمْوَالِهِمْ وَأَنفُسِهِمْ فَضَّلَ اللّهُ الْمُجَاهِدِينَ بِأَمْوَالِهِمْ وَأَنفُسِهِمْ عَلَى الْقَاعِدِينَ دَرَجَةً وَكُـلاًّ وَعَدَ اللّهُ الْحُسْنَى وَفَضَّلَ اللّهُ الْمُجَاهِدِينَ عَلَى الْقَاعِدِينَ أَجْرًا عَظِيمًا

“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 has granted a grade higher to those who strive and fight with their goods and persons than to those who sit (at home). To all (in Faith) has Allah promised good. But those who strive and fight has He distinguished above those who sit (at home) by a special reward.” (tmq 4:95)

It is clear in this verse that al-Jihad is in the meaning of going out to fight and that it is better than staying at home. Also from the verses about Jihad in surah Al-Tawba:

إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَ فِي سَبِيلِهِ صَفًّا كَأَنَّهُم بُنيَانٌ مَّرْصُوصٌ

“Truly Allah loves those who fight in His Cause in battle array, as if they were a solid cemented structure.” (tmq 61:4)

It is clear in the Madani verses that the subject of Jihad is specifically related to fighting and what fighting entails naturally from finance, weapons and the like. Also, these verses demonstrate aspects of the conditions that precede the action of fighting and are conditional for its legality i.e. propagating the invitation for non-Muslims to embrace Islam (as this is the original condition for fighting as has been mentioned in ‘Mughni al-Muhtaj) and/or accept the Islamic authority over them. From the Sunnah of Muhammad (Salalahu Alaihi Wasallam), Jihad has been mentioned also with this shariah meaning i.e. fighting and what it entails.

From all of these shariah texts, it is clear that the Legislator transferred the word Jihad from its general linguistic meaning to a special meaning, which is ‘al-Qitaal’ (fighting) and whatever is linked to it directly and indirectly, as has been mentioned earlier. Moreover, it relates to the words, which carry the same meaning of al-Jihad like war. From this we can see that the shariah texts defined Jihad as fighting (qitaal) in the Way of Allah (Fi Sabeel Lillah) and this can be found in the books of fiqh, which dealt with the shariah meaning of Jihad and laws related to it.

In Badi’ul Sanai’ of the Hanafi Madhab, the following explanation is given: “Jihad in the language is exerting effort. In the understanding of the Shara, it is exerting effort and energy in fighting fi sabeel lillah by nafs, finance, tongue or another.”

In Manhul Jaleel of the Maliki Madhab, al-Jihad is defined as the, “fighting by a Muslim against a kaafir (who does not have a treaty with the Muslims) to make the word of Allah the highest…. or for a Muslim to arrive to do Jihad or to enter the Kaafir’s land for fighting.”

According to the Shafi Madhab in Al-Iqna, Jihad is fighting ‘Fi Sabeel Lillah’. Al-Shirazi in Al-Muhazab said that Jihad is ‘qitaal’.

In Al-Mughni according to the Hanbali Madhab, Ibn Qudama did not give any other definition. In the section ‘kitab ul-Jihad’ whatever is related to war, whether it was fard ul-kifaya (collective obligation) or fard ul-ayn (individual obligation) or whether it was in the form of guarding the believers from the enemy and the guards ‘ribat’ at the borders, all of this is connected to Jihad. He also said, “If the enemy arrives, Jihad becomes fard ul-ayn on the murabitoon (border guards). If it becomes evident that the enemy arrived, then they do not leave to meet them except by an order of the Ameer, since the Ameer is the one who has the authority for issuing orders in the matters of war.”

So in summary Jihad is either:

  1. Fought to defend one’s land against invading armies.
  2. Well planned campaigns to expand the borders of the state.
  3. Both of which are effectively carried out under the leadership of an Ameer. Not just any random individual but the head of a state or someone whose authority is recognized by the Ahlul Hali Wal Aqd(People of Influence).

Jihad in contemporary times is conflated between two extremes. This phenomenon came about with the rise of militant groups in Islamic lands thanks to them being decimated by Western Powers. (3)

We have groups like ISIS, AQ, and Taliban claiming to carry out the Jihad for the cause of Islam despite the fact that most of the time they spend fighting Muslims themselves whom they declare as heretics or apostates thereby “justifying” attacks on them. (4)

On one hand, we have well-meaning but too eager to please Muslims in their attempt to re-define the word Jihad as sanctimonious, tend to trivialize the meaning of it by trying to shoe-horn its use into mundane tasks as jogging or getting up from sleep.

On the other hand, we have the paranoid and in some cases downright bigoted non-Muslims trying to demonize the word by conflating it to colonization, where conquerors brutalize the ones they conquer and subvert their self determination through systematic oppression, either directly or through proxies.

Colonization is a term often associated with conquests. And Jihad within the framework of what we regard as the Shariah Law, or Ahkam(plural for hukm), entails conquest and brute force whenever necessary. But diplomacy was preferable by the Muslim leaders in most cases as proven throughout history. The most common example is the time when Prophet Muhammad(ﷺ) was reported to have stopped the siege of Ta’if. One can hypothesize that he stopped the siege because it was taking too much force to conquer the city, he is after all the Prophet who came bearing glad tidings and mercy.

This is not to say that successive Muslim leaders and their armies didn’t resort to brutality. However, even if their brutality wasn’t justified, it was certainly contextual rather than simply exercising their blood lust and hatred towards their enemies for simply being non-Muslims.

In any case, however, Ta’if eventually fell into the hands of the Muslims as did the rest of the Arabian peninsula and beyond. For nearly 1400 years the Islamic State had never let up in its attempts at expanding its domains, the internal dissent between Muslims notwithstanding until eventually, the Islamic societies fell behind as the Europeans with their new found wealth in their colonies steamed ahead beginning with the Industrial Revolution.

European colonization of the non-Europeans is a well-documented fact. As is their unparalleled brutality. (5)

What you often hear about the alleged rapes and excesses of Islamic armies is simply a projection of what the Europeans perpetrated towards those they perceived as inferior.

Despite this, the word Crusade doesn’t have the same negative connotations as Jihad. The first Crusade was literally, a bloodbath. (6) Even though Christian apologists try to downplay the brutality because they were “the response to the brutal Islamic conquests.

This is what Muslims at large should find ironic. Instances of Muslim brutalities were often a response to what was perpetrated by their traditional enemies. And this phenomenon couldn’t be more apparent in the later periods of the Ottoman State. The brutal suppression of revolts like the Bulgar uprising or the Armenian genocide were simply responses to the prior brutality the Muslims experienced at the hands of the so-called brethren of the Russian Empire. A nation and empire that is responsible for many genocides throughout the last few centuries.

Moving past that the argument of who was more brutal, the issue ultimately boils down to the claim that the “age of conquests is gone and we live in an era of democracy and peace”. And those who call for Jihad or call for the reinstatement of an Islamic State are labeled as “war mongers who wish to colonize the world”.

While it may be true in some instances because humanity is born as such that it tends to lend its mind towards delusion of grandeur, the above assertions are highly debatable. America continues to exert its considerable influence across the globe. The forays of Russia and Iran into Syria and Saudi into Yemen continues to keep the Middle East in perpetual chaos. There is also the use of legal means such as takeovers by corporations where they take over markets and establish powerful oligarchies. This phenomenon is often called neo-colonialism or corporate colonization. This phenomenon is most apparent in third world countries like in Africa and South East Asia. (7) (8)

And the calls for Jihad or advocating for the reinstatement of the Khilafah are largely responses to the forays of the colonialists but more importantly they are the expression of the desire for the establishment of an Islamic order encompassing our communities rather than a desire for global dominance purely out of material interest.

It is material interest that drives the nations to prey upon and colonize the weak.

What is Colonization?

Colonization is defined as the act of subjugation of one civilization by another.

Colonization can take various forms. It can be territorial or it can be cultural and ideological. Colonization is similar to Imperialism, except through imperialism a state can exercise direct or indirect mechanisms of control.

Throughout history, humankind has seen colonization or subjugation of certain civilizations by Imperial expansionists or colonizers.

We live in a post-colonial era. Or so we are taught in our schools. Anybody with a cursory understanding of history will agree with the fact that Muslims are currently ideologically and culturally colonized. Politically we remain subverted at the hands of autocratic regimes while our resources are carted off by developed nations, culturally we are in a state of diaspora as foreign culture and tropes dominate our lives, and spiritually we remain lost in a labyrinth of uncertainty.

But worst of all intellectually we have become woefully ignorant. It’s not that we don’t face severe challenges as entire institutions are geared towards keeping Muslims away from the texts of their Deen, but the fact is Muslims these days can’t be bothered to make an effort to connect with their Islamic tradition. And when we do, we resort to petty populist rhetorics with no respect towards the effort that scholars give in their rigors of research. But very few people get the chance to pause and ponder. Our daily lives have become a struggle for survival and the primary concern for the third world Muslim is how is going to manage money for rations and rent the following month.

Even so were are slightly better off than the indigenous natives of the Americas, Australia, and Africa where an entire generation has sunk into the cesspool of intoxicants and addiction. To make matters worse they are deprived of basic rights in what is historically their ancestral land. Our situation doesn’t look that good either as Muslim nations are also struggling with Opium and other addictions toward intoxicants and an increasing rate of mental illness.

And that brings us to the core issue at hand?

How do we change this status quo?

Armed revolts that the militant groups constantly call for?

The spiritual refinement of the masses which Tableegh energetically promote? Or perfecting our Aqeedah?

Or an intellectual revival that many scholars and their students think will change the world?

Why not all of the above?

Why not carry out armed revolts? Except it should be done in instances where the minimal amount of force can achieve maximum results. And who better to carry it out than the military forces of this Ummah? Why should armed revolt or Jihad be reduced to militants bombing innocent civilians and Muslims who are more often than not susceptible to foreign influences and political machinations? But then again what is the use of regime change if the system itself doesn’t change but only faces do?

Why should we not strive for spiritual refinement? But is spiritual refinement done between closed doors by isolating oneself from society and its problems?

Why shouldn’t we work towards bringing about an intellectual revival? But what use is an intellectual revival if our minds remain narrow and the content we study and discuss has no relation to our reality? Should we just study mindlessly without working towards any goal?

We have to face these questions today because our minds remain colonized. We as an Ummah have simply become incapable of thinking outside the frameworks that the colonialists have imposed on us.

And that now brings us to how we can change this status quo. Or at least properly work towards it.

What is Decolonization?

Decolonization is the undoing of colonialism, where the subjugated nation asserts its independence not just by calling for regime change but by uprooting the entire system that enabled the oppression and corruption to persist. Many scholars have explored the concepts, frameworks, and methodologies of decolonization and it is steadily growing into a very complex discourse.

Islamic political groups advocate for a Decolonization of sorts where they lobby to usurp the authority of whom they perceive as colonialists or slaves of their colonial masters.

Against this narrative, the Decolonial scholars raise two critical questions.

How will the usurpers of the status quo be any different from those whose authority they wish to take? Because history has shown that the rebels often cannot handle the power they suddenly possess so things quickly descend into chaos and anarchy.

The second question is whether these groups condemn the act of colonization and imperialism in itself. De-colonialists argue that land is a hereditary right of an ethnic group. The right to a homeland is sacred. Nobody has the “right” to take that away.

Muslim intellectuals have attempted to answer these questions. Muslims don’t simply call for regime change. They call for the implementation of Shariah.

In theory, Muslims have a political system, which when implemented will be just, and order will be restored. Ceteris Paribus.

As for the second question, Islam doesn’t actually condemn colonization(in cultural or ideological forms at least) or Imperialism. The purpose of a state is to wage Jihad and expand the domain of Islam. While all lands belong to Allah, the Islamic State and its leaders are obliged to uphold the right of those who live in their domain.

Decolonial scholars can respond that this argument is essentially shifting the power from one “foreign authority” to another. How are those who advocate for an Islamic State better than Imperialists?

The Islamic States for the most part of their history has left the societies that submitted to it to their own devices. Provinces had a noticeable level of autonomy and retained their cultural heritage for the most part. At least until the late 19th Century.

So hypothetically speaking if the Muslim States had reached the New World and Australia first, it is more than likely that the indigenous people would have been integrated into the Islamic system.

However, it can be argued that Muslims are still subjugating other people in some shape or form. The Ummayads while they Arabized the domains they ruled, they were known for their oppressive policies such as imposing Jizyah on converts, an indication of their racism against non-Arabs. It was policies like this that lead to their eventual usurpation by the Abbassids.

From my point of view, we are approaching the issue the wrong way. Instead of arguing why Jihad is better than Western Colonization, we can argue the case that the Islamic State, in essence, is Decolonizing the World from the perversion, corruption, and injustice of Kufr and restoring the order of God as it was since the time of Adam(Peace be upon him).

For which Prophets(Peace be upon them) were sent to humankind.

That is the ultimate purpose of Jihad which was ordained upon the believers of Allah by Muhammad(Peace and blessings be upon him).

We still have a lot of growing to do as an Ummah. We still remain emotionally volatile, impulsive, ignorant and often lacking in empathy but the beauty of this Deen lies in the fact that Islam itself is destined to prevail, the flaws and shortcomings of the Muslims notwithstanding.

However, we should not simply comfort ourselves with that. We should continue to work on improving ourselves in all areas so that we can truly bring about a change in every sphere of society as Allah has ordained us to. The duty of the Muslim is not just to pray himself. But to establish the justice of Islam and ensure that the message of Muhammad(ﷺ) is given all over the world.


  1. http://www.khilafah.com/clarifying-the-meaning-of-jihad/
  2. http://www.khilafah.com/what-is-jihad/
  3. https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/how-the-curse-of-sykes-picot-still-haunts-the-middle-east
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/24/world/middleeast/mosque-attack-egypt.html
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/jul/18/congo.andrewosborn
  6. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/jerusalem-captured-in-first-crusade
  7. http://cult320sp15.cwillse.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Nkrumah-1965.pdf
  8. https://theprogressivecynic.com/2013/08/09/the-era-of-corporate-colonialism/

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