The word Jihad, which has been mentioned more than 15 times in the Holy Quran, is the subject of one of the great misconceptions about Islam. It is often mistaken for the term “holy war”.
The dictionary defines it as a holy war undertaken as a sacred duty by Muslims, or any emotional crusade for an idea or principle. Both definitions fail to identify the true concept of Jihad.
Linguistically speaking, the Arabic term “Jihad” is a derivation of the word “Jahadah” meaning to strive or struggle. We can further conclude that “Jihad” is not only a physically combative act that involves a corporeal struggle. Jihad extends to reach a higher level; that is of the spirit and mind.
Accordingly, Jihad can be defined as a non-violent struggle within oneself to attain a life of virtue and piety, and a struggle against one’s inclinations and desires. Jihad can also approach other dimensions as it includes striving to make a better society, and fighting against oppression and injustice.
On the spiritual level, Jihad means fighting against one’s desires and instinctual needs no matter how persisting they were. For instance, it requires great patience and fortitude to be able to resist temptations and dismiss sexual desires. The issue is also a matter of resisting one’s impulse to attain more fortune and possessions, and even fighting the urge to brag about good deeds that one undertakes. In this context, Jihad is used as a basis of judgment. In other words, it is the means to distinguish the most pious Muslims and those who truly deserve Heavenly rewards: “Do you think that you will enter the garden while Allah has not yet known those who strive hard from among you, and (He has not) known the patient.” (3:142)
Another form of Jihad is to fight evil inclinations to inflict harm upon others even in case they have harmed him: “But indeed if any show patience and forgive, that would truly be an exercise of courageous will and resolution in the conduct of affairs.” (42:43). After the conquest of Mecca in 8th Hijri year, the Prophet (p) entered the city, ordered the idols to be destroyed. Then he asked the people of Mecca: “What do you say and suspect?” They said: “We say good things and have good thoughts. A noble brother, the son of a noble brother has now become victorious.” Then the Prophet (p) said: “Now I will say unto you what my brother Yusuf (a.s.) said: “This day let no reproach be (cast) on you. God will forgive you, and He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy. I free you all. You can go.” The Prophet (p) demonstrated qualities of nobility when he chose to let go of the people of Mecca after the conquest of the city despite the fact that they were the people who had persecuted him and his followers for years, engaged with him in a brutal war, and not only killed his uncle, Al-Hamza, but also mutilated his body.
This brings us to the issue of combative Jihad. It is a religious duty that ought to be fulfilled when one cannot attain his rights through peaceful means. Thus, it is a second option that one resorts to after failing to regain his rights through dialogue. As mentioned in one of the Friday Sermons by His Eminence Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah: since man, in Islam, is not free to be humiliated or wronged, then it is a duty to fight back when under aggression. It is a struggle for the cause of Allah; but not a means of power and revenge. It is a just war aimed only at fighting back when one is wronged. Thus, one cannot start a fight, and if he is forced into fighting, it should be within the limits of what is necessary and just.
The goals of jihad which are defense in the case of any aggression on the self, money, honor, land and nation, fighting to establish justice and relieving the downtrodden, and defending the right of the Muslim in spreading and practicing his faith, prove that the principle in Islam is peace rather than war.
For instance, adopting a different religion is not a reason for Jihad. Each person is entitled to choose his own faith.
To be able to practice Jihad, one must be prepared for it by acquiring strength, not only in the military field, but in all the other economic, social and even psychological fields. Weakness, especially which emerges from seeking power and money, especially when it entails the entire nation, would lead to dissension and eventually to defeat. But since Jihad is a very important issue, the decision to implement it should be in the hands of those who are aware of all the political and military conditions and enjoy a profound religious knowledge. Islam, thus, left the decision of fighting up to the just jurist who confers with experts.