- Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
The True Jihad
“Read! In the name of your Lord...”
(The Quran, 96:1)
The Quran exhorts believers to “strive for the cause of Allah as it behoves you to strive for it.” (22:78) This earnest struggle is expressed in Arabic by the word ‘jihad’ which is derived from the root ‘juhd’, which means to strive, to struggle, that is, to exert oneself to the utmost to achieve one’s goal.
Thus the original meaning of jihad in Arabic is striving very hard’. Since the early Muslims had to strive hard during wars with aggressors, these wars came, in an extended sense, to be called jihad. However, the actual word for such a war in Arabic is qital, not jihad.
War with an aggressor is a chance occurrence, taking place as warranted by particular situations, while jihad is a continuous action which is at the core of the believer’s life day in and day out. It is an ongoing process. This constant jihad means strict adherence to the will of God in all aspects of one’s life, and the prevention of any obstacle coming in the way of fulfilling God’s will—for instance, the desires of the self, the urge to serve one’s own interests, the compulsion of social traditions, the need for compromises, ego problems, greed for wealth, etc. All these things directly thwart righteous actions. Overcoming all such hurdles and persevering in obeying God’s commands are the real jihad. And the word jihad has been used primarily in this sense. We quote here some traditions, as recorded in Musnad Ahmad, which define the role of the mujahid.
1. A mujahid is one who struggles with himself for the sake of God. (6/20)
2. A mujahid is one who exerts himself for the cause of God (6/22)
3. A mujahid is one who struggles with his self in submission to the will of God.
The present world is a testing ground: the entire fabric of this world has been designed with a view to fulfilling the purposes of the divine trial of man. This being so, the human being is necessarily faced with all kinds of temptations, which are so many barriers to his measuring up to God’s standards. For instance, when a matter of truth comes before him and he fails to acknowledge it for fear of losing his status; when he has someone’s wealth or property in his possession, and he hesitates about restoring it to the true owner; when he resents having to place curbs on himself in order to lead a life of modesty as desired by God; when he feels that suppressing his anger and vengefulness in order to be patient amounts to his own negation; when he fails to speak words of truth and stand up for justice for fear of losing his popularity; when he is loath to renounce comforts and convenience, etc., in order to be of a principled character instead of a selfish character. On all such occasions man has to curb his desires. It becomes essential for him to sacrifice his feelings. At times he may feel that he has to kill his ego completely. In spite of having to surmount all such hurdles, the individual should be determined to stick to the truth in the real and primary sense of jihad. Those who engage in this jihad will be held deserving of paradise in the Hereafter
‘Jihad’ essentially is a peaceful struggle. One form of this peaceful struggle is dawah (communication of the message of God).
The Quran States:
Do not yield to the unbelievers, but fight them strenuously with it (the Quran) (25:52).
No military activity is referred to in this verse of the Quran. We are not meant to engage in physical combat with the non-believers. What this verse actually means is that we must engage ourselves in dawah activities through the teachings of the Quran, that is, striving ourselves to the utmost on an ideological plane, while sifting truth from falsehood.
Even in the face of a military challenge from the enemy, all efforts will be made to counter aggression by peaceful methods. The path of peace can be abandoned only when it has become impossible to stick to it, and only when there is no other option but to give a military response in self-defenses.
A tradition narrated by Aisha, the Prophet’s wife, provides a guiding principle. She said: Whenever the Prophet had to choose between two courses, he would always opt for the easier one. This means that whenever the Prophet had two options before him in any matter, he would always abandon the harder option in favor of the easier one (Bukhari).
This tradition (sunnah) of the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, is relevant not only to everyday affairs but also to such serious matters as, by their very nature, relate to harder options.
The study of the Prophet’s life shows that he never initiated a military move himself. When his opponents wanted to embroil him in war, he would on all occasions apply some strategy of avoidance to avert war. He fought only when there was no other way left to him. According to the sunnah of the Prophet, there is no aggressive or offensive war in Islam. Islam allows only a defensive war and that, too, only when there is no other option.
The truth is that in life we have to face the problem of choosing between two courses: between the confrontational and the non-confrontational, between the peaceful and the violent. The study of the Prophet’s life tells us that the Prophet, in all matters, abandoned the violent or confrontational course in favour of the peaceful or nonconfrontational course. The whole life of the Prophet provides a successful, practical example of this principle. We give here some examples of this nature.
1. After being appointed as Prophet, the first question before him was which of the two abovementioned courses he should follow. As we know, the Prophet’s mission was to bring polytheism (shirk) to an end and establish monotheism in its place. The Kabah in Makkah had already been established as a center of monotheism, but at the time of the Prophet 360 idols were already installed within its walls. In view of this situation, the first verses to be revealed in the Quran should have been to this effect: “Purify the Kabah of all idols,” and then, after making it a centre of tawhid or oneness of Allah, work for your mission.
But beginning his mission with this task would have amounted to waging war, for it was the Quraysh who were the guardians of the Kabah as the well as the leaders of Arabia.
The Prophet therefore totally avoided the physical purification of the Kabah and limited himself to the theoretical communication of the message of monotheism. It was the first prophetic example of adopting a peaceful and nonconfrontational method instead of a violent or confrontational method.
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