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Jihad - Priority and Context


Muhammad Tahir Mahmood Kiani on Jihad, Priority and context

(This article was first published as a Facebook Note on 29th January, 2015

A link of this article is also available on Jihad.info)


Confusions and chaos are often the consequences of misplaced priorities and lack of perspective and context. Mutual disrespect and animosity between individuals and groups may end up in violence and even far more extreme tendencies. Ancient civilisations have witnessed such downfalls of humankind, and modern civilisations are experiencing something not too unfamiliar to them.

When words, ideas and practices are taken out of context, and not duly prioritised, bewilderment and misunderstandings are not far to follow. Often mistaken for war, fighting, attacking, etc. let us take, for instance, the word Jihad.


Meaning of Jihad

The word Jihad comes from the Arabic radical letters j, h, d (جهد).

In their primary form, these words form the verbal noun (or infinite noun) jahd. It means:

To strive, labour or toil; exert oneself, one’s powers, efforts, endeavours or ability; employ oneself vigorously, strenuously, laboriously, diligently, studiously, sedulously, earnestly, or with energy, etc. [1]

The imperative form ijhad (اِجْهَدْ) would mean:

Do your utmost. [2]

Using the same radical letters j, h, d, we get the word ijtihad (اِجْتِهَادٌ):

Exerting the faculties of the mind to the utmost. [3]

This word is particularly used in legal terms when the jurist investigates and does research in forming the correct legal opinion. One who does so is known as a mujtahid (مُجْتَهِدٌ):

One who exerts in using the faculties of the mind.

Using the same radical letters j, h, d, we also form the word Jihad (جِهَادٌ). This word has been severely misunderstood and grossly misused by those who seek to undermine Islamic values and malign the peaceful religion of Islam. Thus, we have a human duty to seek its true meaning and application.



The using, or exerting, one’s utmost power, efforts, endeavours, or ability in contending with an object of disapprobation. [4]

The aforementioned three forms; juhd, ijtihad, and jihad, all signify ‘making an effort’.

The Holy Qur’an mentions the word Jihad many times, but in no way does it refer to battle, killing, war, etc. At every occasion when the word Jihad or its connotations and various forms are mentioned, they refer to repelling the enemy, and exerting one’s efforts in contending with an object of disapprobation; the latter meaning is open to interpretation given its valid context. In other words, an object of disapprobation must exist prior to any effort being made to extinguish it.


Islam Encourages Peace

Moreover, Islam encourages peace at all times, and whenever there is a way to promote peace and friendship, and avoid battle, it inclines towards that.

Numerous Qur’anic verses refer to the fact that Islam promotes and encourages peace, and likewise the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless shim and grant him peace) has always inclined towards peace whenever possible. If battle had to be waged at all, it would only have been so when all alternatives to protect peace and harmony had been exhausted and the final resort would have been armed struggle with as little casualties and minimum collateral damage as possible. In this sense, Jihad means struggle.


History of Jihad

The Muslims lived in Makkah for the first thirteen years, and the fledgling faith had to bear all oppression and atrocities against it without a religious edict allowing it to physically defend itself. However, after the Muslims had migrated to Madinah and had established themselves a political entity were they permitted to physically defend themselves. Of the three major battles they were made to fight; Badr, Uhud and Khandaq, each subsequent army of the overbearing enemy forces was bigger, stronger, mightier and heavier armed than the last. Moreover, the Muslims were forced to defend themselves closer and closer to home in each successive battle, with the last battle, i.e. Khandaq, being a siege laid to Madinah by twenty thousand fully armed enemy soldiers – the Muslims numbered a mere three thousand.

It would not have come as a surprise if the Muslims had fought back when they were in Makkah, and nor if they had carried out pre-emptive attacks on the powerful enemy forces after migrating to Madinah. Awaiting divine permission and the command from Allah (Most High), the Muslims did not act out what might have been detrimental to their survival. However, once allowed, they did not hold back from defending themselves and repelled the forces harmful to peace using whatever means were necessary. This defence and repelling was what is known as Jihad.


Kinds of Jihad

There are, primarily, five dimensions of Jihad; spiritual, academic, political, social and defensive, and the greatest and most important of all these dimensions is the first dimension: spiritual Jihad, as has been mentioned in Prophetic Hadiths. It is also the most neglected dimension. We may very well ask as to how one is to fight a Jihad against an apparent enemy in armed conflict when he is unaware of how to control his own anger and passions, and how to differentiate and mark a distinctive line between the fighting for defensive purposes under the divine command and what might become a personal vendetta to slay as many as possible under the pretence that it is a divine command. Such priorities can only be differentiated and worked on when the Jihad of the self is attune to divine values and commands – when the self is in control and has been defeated by spiritual Jihad. Unless the self is subdued, it is impossible to be fighting for a just cause and for the greater good, as personal emotions may very well overwhelm divine obligation.


Misunderstanding of Defensive Jihad

Nevertheless, there are many who rally around the last dimension of Jihad; defensive, as it is mostly an armed conflict with the enemy combatant. One factor for its popularity may be its results becoming apparent a lot more quickly relative to the other four dimensions, though these results are often short-lived without support from the first four dimensions. Moreover, this dimension of Jihad seems to fascinate the young-blooded angry youth who is uncontrollably passionate about expressing his masculinity and brawn, and cares less of what the consequences might be. To him, the first four dimensions of Jihad are not as exciting as he would like, and so boredom might be another factor that dissuades him from pursuing them. Moreover, it is relatively easier to ignite religious fervour basing it as a divine command, and thus throw the young-blooded angry youth into the battlefield with prayers of divine pardon, favours and promises of a generous afterlife, almost like when hardened criminals and debtors would join the crusades at the behest of papal orders to escape being hanged and avoid their creditors. There are many other factors at work here, but the main problem is that of priority and context.


Priority and Context

Speaking of priority and context, anything not prioritised appropriately has the potential of causing more harm than good, and likewise when anything is taken out of context it could mean what it is not supposed to mean, and often opposes its own message. These two problems coupled together have probably caused more harm to humanity than anything else. If one’s priority is not to promote peace, then he would interpret Jihadic verses out of context, and that would send a message of war, pillage and terrorism to the proponent, with the ugliest of pictures painted in the darkest of colours. However, the priority to promote peace, as is truly the case where verses of Jihad are mentioned in the Qur’an and in Hadiths, would give a true and contextual understanding of repelling evil, defending oneself and others, supporting the truth, encouraging harmony, disseminating love, strengthening bonds of friendship, promising social cohesion, etc. This latter priority is the real priority, as has been proven from the life of the benefactor of humanity, Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) – as well as from the lives of all prophets, including Abraham, David, Moses, Jesus, etc. (Allah bless them all and grant them peace); Muhammad was one who avoided conflicts and inclined towards creating brotherhood and friendship, one who strived to rid the world of oppression and cruelty, one who forgave his worst enemies when he could have caused them to suffer the worst form of punishments, one who loved others more than he loved himself, one who gave up luxuries to be with the poor and the downtrodden, one who pardoned his bloodthirsty sworn enemies with a beautiful smile – that is Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace), and that was his Jihad.

Jihad is always waged in context of its noble objectives, with specific conditions, and prioritised in accordance to the healthy values Islam promotes.


Jihad has been Abused

We very well understand that the word Jihad has been misinterpreted and grossly abused, as has the beautiful and peaceful religion of Islam, by those who seek to disrupt peace and harmony in this world. They have deliberately ignored the glorious history of Islam and its contributions to all fields of society; they have deliberately ignored what Islam truly stands for; they have deliberately ignored the context of Jihadic verses and Hadiths; they have deliberately ignored the priority and context of those verses and Hadiths; and they have deliberately ignored the meaning and forms of Jihad.

To understand Jihad, one must study it in its context and give it due priority.

[1] Based on the meanings provided by Lane, Edward William, Arabic-English Lexicon,London: Williams and Norgate, 1863. p.473

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.