Islam and Jihad

1 January 2017

Ian Netton defines it as “holy war” in his book A Popular Dictionary of Islam and he also writes: “The word derives from an arabic root meaning basically to strive… all muslims are obliged to wage a spiritual jihad in the sense of striving against sin and sinful inclinations within themselves; this is the other major sense of Jihad. ” Both of those definitions are similar to the American definitions. Jihad is broken down into two parts; a greater and a lesser. The greater jihad is seemed to be spiritual. Jihad of the heart. It finds a rough parallel in the christian command to put to death the sin nature.

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Jihad of the mouth aims to undermine opposition to islam through speech. A war of words is prefered over a war of violence. Jihad of the pen applies the written word to Islam’s defense. Jihad of the hand seeks to promote the cause of Allah through through praiseworthy deeds. The lesser Jihad would be that of the Jihad of the sword. This is the one seen throughout the history of Islam. Is Jihad a synonym of Holy War or does it portray a broader concept that suits the general ethos of Islam? Today Jihad is mostly seen as the greater one, and in the past the lesser one played a big role in Islam.

I would like to start with the history and origins of Jihad and then move on to who believes and practices it, then lastly talk about a Jihad that has happened in the past. Jihad was introduced by the last prophet Muhammad. Before Muhammad came into ruling there were pre-islamic bedouin arabs who had their own society and was highly matriarchal. They believed in many gods. These ancient people did not accept muhammad and his teachings from the quran. On the other hand there were people who were Christian and Jewish and the followers of Muhammad did not accept those people.

One day Muhammad had a revelation. The messenger angel for god, Gabriel, came to Muhammad and told him to read. Muhammad can’t read, so Gabriel told him to write. Muhammad being illiterate can’t do either of those so he ran home to his wife Khadijah and told her he thinks he is crazy. She wrapped him in a blanket and explained to him that he isn’t crazy that he is god’s messenger to the arabs. This was when Muhammad started spreading the word about Allah, the only god. The Jews and Christians see Muhammad as a false prophet. Muhammad had many obstacles to face while spreading the word of Allah.

It was then when Jihad was introduced to Muhammad to help spread the word of the religion. Again Jihad means Holy War. Jihad is only supposed to be used if you are fighting for your religion. While it says in the Quran to kill Christians and Jews at the same time it welcomes good relationship and peace between them. This is stating to harm the ones that will not allow Islam to spread and get in the way with trying to get others to follow. Muhammad trained his followers as warriors as well and fought throughout the middle east to spread his faith like he was told to do.

There have been many jihads throughout the history. To name a few that were important to spreading Islam were the Jihad against the Byzantine Empire, the Jihad against the Turks, the Crusades, and the Jihad against the Mongols. Again that was just a few Jihads from the past. All muslims believe Muhammad is a prophet and all believe in Jihad since it is the Quran, but different groups believe in different ideas of Jihad. Like I just said, all muslims believe in Jihad. Since there are different ‘types’ of jihad different muslim groups believe in different ideas of Jihad.

The Concept and Practice of Jihad in Islam states: “Jihad was generally understood not as an obligation of each individual Muslim (known as fard ’ayn) but as a general requirement of the Muslim community (fard kifaya). Only in emergencies, when the Dar al-Islam comes under unexpected attack, do all Muslims have to participate in jihad. ” Dar- al Islam was known as the territory under Islamic rule. Most of the different groups of Jihad divide it into two groups like I explained earlier: lesser and greater. An Islamic reformist movement, Ahmadiyya founded in 1889, believe Jihad is one’s personal inner struggle and should not be used violently.

The Sunni which account for eighty five to ninety percent of all muslims classify Jihad as either lesser or greater. They also believe there are four different kinds of Jihad in the sense of struggle in the cause of God. There is a group of muslims called Jihadists which focus only on war. Along with the Sunni, the Shi’as and Sufis believe Jihad should be in two categories: lesser and greater. Some leaders like Taqi al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya believed if you did not strictly enforce the Sharia, including Jihad you were to forfeit your right to rule. The Sharia are the moral codes and religious laws of Islam.

Taymiyya strongly advocated jihad against the crusades and the mongols. Finally I’d like to focus on examples of Jihad that have happened in the past. One that most people know would be the Crusades. Since Muhammad there have been many caliphs. All of these caliphs over time have occupied certain areas of land that they gained and lost. They were just trying to follow in the steps of Muhammad and spread the word of Islam and if something got in their way Jihad would happen. The second caliph, Umar oversees a massive expansion of the lands he controls.

Jerusalem was taken in the seventh century. Over time and after a few caliphs have been in power the Buyids take over Baghdad from the Abbasids but do not claim caliphate. They start to hand out land grants called iqtas to turks to guard the border and in return they get the land. Eventually these iqtas become ancestral and empires form. First the Ghaznavids but then they are taken over by the Seljuks. The Seljuks spread into the middle east all the way to Turkey. The Byzantine Empire, controlling Anatolia, see the Seljuks coming so they ask Pope Urban the second for help.

This is the launch of the first crusade. The Christian knights go into the holy land and fight in effort to reclaim what was theirs from the Fatimids. It was successful and the christians take back Jerusalem. The second Crusade is led by the King of France Louie the Ninth and Holy Roman Emperor Conrad the Third. Both armies passed through the Balkans and pillaged through the Byzantine Empire. Both armies were eventually defeated by the Seljuks and thus the second Crusade was a win for the Muslims. That is just a little section of what had happened during the Crusades.

It shows how Muslims used Jihad to protect their religion and to spread it across the Middle East. That is just a brief story of the Crusades. It goes into a lot more detail. Also that is only one example of how Jihad was used, there are multiple other examples but I just wanted to focus on the empires and rulers using Jihad to gain land, spread the word of the lord, and protect their faith. The Muslim faith over all is very peaceful. Jihad translates into the word struggle, and is seen as ‘Holy War’ but that is not the only case.

When Muhammad came into caliphate he used Jihad to spread the word of Islam like he was told to by Gabriel. He used violence to protect the faith, and that was seen a lot throughout the history of the Middle East. Jihad is also broken down though into a greater Jihad and a lesser Jihad. The greater being more spiritual and the lesser being the violent act. To answer the question from earlier, Is Jihad a synonym of Holy War or does it portray a broader concept that suits the general ethos of Islam? I would conclude that in the past Jihad was definitely a synonym of Holy War, but now it is more about spirit, peace, and coming together.

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