The Concept of Jihad
The term Jihad has caused a stir in recent years due to its presumed relationship to terrorism. Jihad is part of Islam, no doubt, but it is not all about violence, as many believe. The term holy war is incorrectly applied to Jihad, because the scope of Jihad reaches beyond fighting. Jihad is taught to children in schools in the Middle East as part of their Islamic education. Are the children being trained for battle? On the contrary, they are learning that the true meaning of Jihad is in exerting an effort for the cause of Allah.
What Is Jihad?
The word Jihad literally means “striving” or “struggling.” In Islam, the word refers to striving for the cause of Allah, spreading knowledge about His religion, and protecting His believers. Using the word Jihad as a synonym for “holy war,” which is often done by the media, is inaccurate and misleading. The Arabic word for war is harb, and the word for fighting is
qital, neither of which has anything to do with Jihad. The image of Jihad as an army of unruly fighters calling out “To Jihad!” set out to massacre the Jewish or Christians is completely misguided.
Although Jihad can take the form of physical struggle, in Islam, the word is more commonly used to describe different, nonviolent forms of Jihad. Jihad is within easy reach of any Muslim and is rewarded abundantly in Heaven. The nonconfrontational types of Jihad, such as when a Muslim tells his non-Muslim friends about the Koran, or when a scholar appears on TV to answer questions about Islam, are all excellent deeds according to the Koran.
Types of Jihad
Based on the Koran and Sunnah, Jihad can basically be divided into four categories:
Jihad of the mind and heart
Jihad of the tongue
Jihad of the pen
Jihad in battle
Jihad of the mind and heart is a secretive, personal endeavor. When a Muslim sees someone sinning, but knows that a verbal confrontation is not a wise approach, she can silently reject the injustice. Also, things like fasting regularly, memorizing the Koran, and spending the night in prayer qualify as forms of Jihad of the mind and heart. This is because these practices take an effort to produce, and whatever requires an effort to draw a believer closer to Allah is Jihad.
The Koran mentions Jihad of the tongue in the following verse: “Call unto the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair exhortation, and reason with them in the better way” (16:125). This is for the more daring—or perhaps more eloquent—to verbally confront non-Muslims with the Koran, asking them to take a glance at it, with the hope that they will believe it. It is also more of an effort than Jihad of the heart, which involves keeping thoughts to oneself, so it could receive better reward in Heaven.
Jihad of the pen is also called Daawah—preaching for Islam. If a Muslim living in a non-Muslim community writes up a flyer about Allah and distributes it among his neighbors, he is performing Jihad of the pen. It doesn't matter if the flyers are rejected or tossed away; what matters is that the Muslim exerted a real effort in calling non-Muslims to Islam. His striving for the cause of Allah is a valuable deed that Allah will reward. This applies to anyone who strives to spread knowledge about the Koran.
Jihad in battle is the type often mistaken as holy war. Since the Koran clearly forbids initiating hostility, the term holy war is better changed to “defensive war.” It is this type of war that is acceptable to Allah as stated in the Koran. In general, Muslims are encouraged by the Koran to strive in the cause of Allah by the heart, mind, tongue, and pen, and then, only if needed, in battle. This conclusion is based on Prophet Muhammad's thirteen years of peaceful preaching in Mecca, where he avoided violent confrontation, and limited his Jihad to the mind, heart, and tongue (no pen, as he did not write).
In Islam, a person who performs any type of Jihad is called Mujahid, or Mujahideen, in the plural form. However, this term mostly applies to soldiers in a defensive battle to protect Islam. If a Mujahid dies in confrontation, he becomes a shaheed—martyr.
Martyrs in Heaven
Prophet Muhammad said, “He who is killed in defense of his belongings, or in self-defense, or for his religion, is a martyr.” A martyr is called shaheed in Arabic. Nearly every day in Palestine, the news transmits the images of a funeral of a new shaheed. Most often, the shaheed died from gunshot while rebelling against Israeli forces. He died in defense of his land, home, and family; therefore, he is a martyr.
A martyr's soul flies straight to Heaven according to the Koran: “Think not of those who are slain in the way of Allah, as dead. Nay, they are living. With their Lord they have provision” (3:169). This promise by Allah that all shaheeds go to Heaven strengthens the will of soldiers in battle. They know that if they die, Allah will take their soul right up to Heaven.