From Encyclopedia of Politics and
Religion, ed. Robert Wuthnow. 2 vols. (Washington, D.C.:
Congressional Quarterly, Inc., 1998), 425-426.
The Islamic idea of jihad, which
is derived from the Arabic root meaning "to strive" or "to make an
effort," connotes a wide range of meanings, from an inward spiritual
struggle to attain perfect faith to an outward material struggle to
promote justice and the Islamic social system. The former meaning
was emphasized by Sufis (Muslim mystics), who popularized a
tradition describing the inner jihad as greater than the outer
jihad. When used in the latter sense, jihad is closely identified
with the injunction in the Qur'an, the revelation of God to the
prophet Muhammad, to the Muslim community to "command the right and
forbid the wrong" (3:104, 110). The close connection of jihad with
the struggle for justice is reinforced in the hadith, the
sayings and actions attributed to Muhammad. One of the best known
states that a Muslim must strive to avert injustice first by
actions, and if that is not possible, by words, and if that is not
possible, at least by intentions.
During the period of Qur'anic revelation
while Muhammad was in Mecca (610-622), jihad meant essentially a
nonviolent struggle to spread Islam. Following his move from Mecca
to Medina in 622, and the establishment of an Islamic state,
fighting in self-defense was sanctioned by the Qur'an (22:39). The
Qur'an began referring increasingly to qital (fighting or
warfare) as one form of jihad. Two of the last verses on this topic
(9:5, 29) suggest a war of conquest or conversion against all
The Medieval Doctrine
In medieval legal sources (compiled
roughly between the eighth and eleventh centuries), jihad generally
referred to a divinely sanctioned struggle to establish Muslim
hegemony over non-Muslims as a prelude to the propagation of the
Islamic faith. Islamic legal scholars divided the world into two
spheres: Dar al-Islam (land of Islam), where Islamic law
applied, and Dar al-Harb (land of war), where the absence of
Islamic law presumably fostered anarchy and immorality. The Islamic
state's duty was to reduce Dar al-Harb--through peaceful
means if possible, through war if necessary--until it had been
incorporated into Dar al-Islam. Jurists differed on the
possibility and duration of peace between the two spheres. The
majority held that jihad could be suspended if the Muslim commander
deemed it in the interest of the Islamic state, but usually not for
more than ten years. The Qur'anic verses that suggest peaceful
accommodation or coexistence with unbelievers (especially 2:193,
8:61) were declared abrogated by the later, more belligerent
The medieval theory included elaborate
rules on the right conduct of jihad. No war was a jihad unless
authorized and led by the imam, the leader of the Islamic
state. Enemies were to be given fair warning, and, should they
choose not to accept Islam or to fight, they were to be offered
protected (dhimmi) status, which allowed them to retain
communal autonomy within the Islamic state in return for tax
payments. This provision initially applied to Christians and Jews
but later was broadened to include other religious communities
living under Muslim rule. Noncombatants were not to be killed, nor
was enemy property to be destroyed unnecessarily.
In addition to the expansionist jihad,
medieval scholars also dealt with internal conflicts against rebels
within Islam. In this form of jihad, stricter rules of engagement
and greater protection for the lives and property of the enemy
applied than in the case of non-Muslims. The aim of this type of
jihad was to rehabilitate the rebels as quickly as possible into the
Muslim body politic.
Three broad approaches to the modern
reinterpretation of jihad may be discerned. First, the apologetic
arose in the late nineteenth century in response to Western
criticism that jihad meant "holy war" and that Islam was spread
through force. Muslim apologists argued that the Qur'an and
Prophetic traditions allow war only for self-defense against
persecution and aggression. Some Muslim writers, particularly those
in British India, restricted even further the legitimate scope of
jihad by arguing that so long as no direct threat to Islamic worship
was posed by European imperialists Muslims should not challenge
colonial rule. The medieval theorists who had defined jihad as
expansionist war were, according to this view, simply misguided.
The second approach, the modernist, also
diminishes jihad's military aspects and emphasizes its broader
ethical dimensions within Islamic faith and practice. Like the
apologists, the modernists dismiss the medieval theory as a
distortion of Qur'anic ethics, pointing out, for example, that the
division of the world into Dar al-Islam and Dar
al-Harb is found nowhere in the Qur'an or Prophetic traditions.
A war is jihad, therefore, only if it is fought in defense of Muslim
lives, property, and honor. Unlike the apologists, however, the
modernists are motivated less by Western criticisms of jihad than by
the desire to interpret this concept in a way compatible with modern
international norms. Jihad in the modernist view is the Islamic
equivalent of the Western idea of just war, a war fought to repel
aggression with limited goals and by restricted means.
The third approach, the revivalist,
arose in response to the apologist and modernist writings. By
limiting jihad to self-defense, the revivalists claim, the
apologists and modernists have debased the dynamic qualities of
jihad. In the final years of the Prophet's life, the revivalists
argue, jihad clearly meant the struggle to propagate the Islamic
order worldwide. The goal of jihad today ought not to be to coerce
people to accept Islam, because the Qur'an clearly encourages
freedom of worship (especially 2:256); rather, it ought to be to
overthrow un-Islamic regimes that corrupt their societies and divert
people from service to God.
For revivalist writers, un-Islamic
regimes include those ruling in most Muslim countries. The immediate
goal of the revivalist jihad is to replace hypocritical leaders with
true Muslims. Only when this long and painstaking internal struggle
has succeeded in reestablishing an authentically Islamic base can
the external jihad resume. Thus jihad is today largely synonymous
with Islamic revolution in the works of most Muslim activists.
See also Crusades; Islam; Muhammad;
Sufism; Violence; War.
Author: Sohail H. Hashmi
Hamidullah, Muhammad. Muslim Conduct of
State. 7th ed. Lahore: Shaykh Muhammad Ashraf, 1961.
James Turner, and John Kelsay, eds. Cross, Crescent, and Sword:
The Justification and Limitation of War in Western and Islamic
Tradition. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.
Kelsay, John, and
James Turner Johnson, eds. Just War and Jihad: Historical and
Theoretical Perspectives on War and Peace in Western and Islamic
Tradition. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991.
War and Peace in the Law of Islam. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1955.
Morabia, Alfred. Le Gihad dans l'Islam
medieval: Le "Combat sacre" des origines au XIIe siecle. Paris:
Albin Michel, 1993.
Peters, Rudolph. Islam and Colonialism:
The Doctrine of Jihad in Modern History. The Hague: Mouton,
Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam. Princeton:
Markus Wiener, 1996.
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