June 30, 2007


This is such a broad topic that it's difficult to do it justice in a relatively short answer. First and foremost, as I suspect most of you know, jihad does not mean "holy war." Literally, it means "struggle." I think this becomes apparent in a related word, ijtihad or "reasoning." As we all know from school, working through a problem can be a struggle. Those of you who are musicians should understand jihad very well as practicing music can often be a struggle. From a Muslim perspective, virtually any aspect of life can be a jihad. And this is why Muslims get rather upset when non-Muslims mistranslate jihad, because jihad is a concept far broader than many non-Muslims understand and is very highly regarded among Muslims. Fighting back against those who oppress, in Arabic, is qital, which is a completely different term (see below). Qital is part of jihad, but it is far from being the whole of the concept.

Sunni Muslims have developed a hierarchy for jihad. There is:
* Jihad of the heart/soul (jihad bin nafs/qalb) - an inner struggle of good against evil in the mind, through concepts such as tawhid (the oneness of Allah (swt)).
* Jihad by the tongue (jihad bil lisan) - a struggle of good against evil waged by writing and speech, such as in the form of dawah (proselytizing), khutbas (sermons), etc.
* Jihad by the pen and knowledge (jihad bil qalam/lim) - a struggle for good against evil through the scholarly study of Islam, ijtihad (legal reasoning), and through the sciences.
* Jihad by the hand (jihad bil yad) - a struggle of good against evil waged by actions or with one's wealth, such as going on the Hajj pilgrimage (seen as the best jihad for women), taking care of elderly parents, or political activity for furthering the cause of Islam.
* Jihad by the sword (jihad bis saif) - this refers to qital fi sabilillah (armed fighting in the way of God).

Despite the hierarchy, most Muslims think of jihad in two forms: the Greater Jihad and the Lesser Jihad. This comes from a hadith, one variation of which reads:

"Some troops came back from an expedition and went to see the Messenger of Allah Muhammad (pbuh). He said: "You have come for the best, from the smaller jihad (al-jihad al-asghar) to the greater jihad (al-jihad al-akbar)." Someone said, "What is the greater jihad?" He said: "The servant's struggle against his lust" (mujahadat al-`abdi hawah).

The lesser jihad then is the physical fighting in the cause of Allah (swt). The greater jihad is the jihad an-nafs, the struggle against our own desires, our ego. This greater jihad gets into the very heart of the concept of "struggle," because that struggle permeates our lives. As my wife is fond of saying, "We strive to be better Muslims." And that striving is jihad.

Cross-posted at Street Prophets, Daily Kos, and Dunner's.

1 comment:

Wasaski said...

Just came across this blog today very nice blog. This is a very good post, some non-muslims, alot of the news media in particular choose to ignore the real meaning of this word to promote whatever message they want to relay about islam.