The Shafi’i legal manual (the Shafi’is are a school of Islamic jurisprudence) ‘Umdat al-Salik (Reliance of the Traveller), which has been certified by al-Azhar, the foremost authority in Sunni Islam, as conforming to the “practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni community,” devotes one paragraph to jihad as spiritual struggle and seven pages to jihad as warfare. It makes it quite clear that jihad is warfare against non-Muslims:
Jihad means to war against non-Muslims, and is etymologically derived from the word ‘mujahada’, signifying warfare to establish the religion. And it is the lesser jihad. As for the greater jihad, it is spiritual warfare against the lower self (nafs), which is why the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said as he was returning from jihad,
“We have returned from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad.”
The scriptural basis for jihad, prior to scholarly consensus is such Koranic verses as:
(1) “Fighting is prescribed for you” (Koran 2:216);
(2) “Slay them wherever you find them” (Koran 4:89);
(3) “Fight the idolators utterly” (Koran 9:36);
and such hadiths as the one related by Bukhari and Muslim that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:
“I have been commanded to fight people until they testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and perform the prayer, and pay zakat. If they say it, they have saved their blood and possessions from me, except for the rights of Islam over them. And their final reckoning is with Allah.”
and the hadith reported by Muslim,
“To go forth in the morning or evening to fight in the path of Allah is better than the whole world and everything in it.'”
But what does al-Azhar know? Australia’s SBS knows better.
“Jihad: A word which doesn’t mean war against non-Muslims,” by Peter Theodosiou, SBS, August 28, 2016:
The Arabic word ‘jihad’, meaning ‘struggle’ or ‘striving’, has gained international notoriety over several decades for its perceived interpretation as a call for Muslims to unite and conduct violent acts against non-Muslims.
Various theologians argue that this interpretation has led to a “misunderstanding” of the word’s true meaning, and also fueled militant groups looking to recruit new members and reinvigorated far-right groups pushing an anti-Islamic agenda.
Islamophobia is on the rise in Australia – and religious experts say it’s due to the lack of understanding about Islamic teachings and concepts – such as jihad.
So, what does the term actually mean?
A personal struggle for a positive outcome
While jihad is only one term within the Arabic language meaning ‘struggle’ or ‘striving’, it’s interpretation within Islam is complex.
Associate Professor Mehmet Ozalp believes the word can be defined as a means for Muslim people “to have a personal struggle to achieve a positive outcome”.
The Director of the Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation at Charles Sturt University, said three central interpretations exist for jihad, derived exclusively from phrases in the Qur’an and various secondary theological texts.
“The first, which Prophet Mohammad called the ‘greater jihad’ is the struggle of one against his own temptations and inner desires, negative or evil inclinations,” he told SBS.
“The second one is for social activism, trying to correct something that is wrong in society or promote something good. That is going to be a ‘struggle’ because some people might not want to change, or there are people with an invested interested other than the status quo.
“The last form of jihad is to be involved in a military struggle against a belligerent force that may invade one’s country (and) attack civilians or innocent people. But, not every war is jihad.”
Much of today’s understanding of jihad derive from the Qur’an and hadiths, which are a collection of secondary texts describing the actions, words and habits of the prophet Mohummad [sic], written and circulated after his death.
Many of these secondary texts lay the ground work for various interpretations of jihad as a holy war to convert non-believers to Islam.
In his 1966 publication, The Islamic Law of Nations, Iraqi–born academic Majid Khadduri described jihad as “Islam’s instrument for carrying out its ultimate objective by turning all people into believers, if not in the prophethood of Mohammed, at least in the belief of God”.
Khadduri said at the very outset, the law of war, or the jihad, became the chief preoccupation of jurists of an Islamic state.
“The prophet Mohammed is reported to have declared ‘some of my people will continue to fight victoriously for the sake of the truth until the last one of them will combat the anti-Christ’,” Khadduri said in the book.
“Until that moment is reached, the jihad, in one form or another will remain as a permanent obligation upon the entire Muslim community.”
University of Western Australia academic Professor Samina Yasmeen says the “positive” idea of jihad as “struggle for personal purity and piety” prevails within most Islamic societies.
She said this idea resolves that Muslims should behave along the ways the religion tells them too [sic], in being “really good people, kind, submissive to God and making sure that not only they relate to God, but they’re also involved with making the community safer and harmonious”.
Despite consisting of three commonly agreed interpretations of a ‘struggle’ within Islamic theology, a common belief within western societies is that jihad solely relates to a call for Muslims to conduct an aggressive ‘holy war’ against non-believers.
This interpretation is exhibited by several militant groups, including Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines.
Since its formation in 1991, Abu Sayyaf has engaged in a ferocious insurgency in an effort to establish an independent province within the Philippines.
The group has conducted a spate of attacks against throughout south-east Asia, including the 2004 SuperFerry 14 bombing where 116 people were killed.
Acclaimed author Mark Bowden claims the group has “only a sketchy notion of Islam, which they saw as a set of behavioral rules, to be violated when it suited them”.
Associate Professor Ozalp says the interpretation of jihad as a ‘holy war’ is being “wrongfully applied” and “misused” by militant groups looking to justify their plight and to recruit new members.
“They name what they do [as] jihad because it becomes easier to recruit people,” he said.
“If they can justify the jihad, the moral dilemma is removed. If someone has questions like ‘am I really doing the right thing? I’m not supposed to kill people’, they [militant groups] say ‘no, what you’re doing is jihad.” They can convince that person, and that person says ‘okay, well I’m doing my religion’….