John Ahn/the Gauntlet

Reclaiming jihad

The mislabeling of modern terrorism

Publication YearIssue Date 

The actions of terrorists worldwide, some of whom are Muslim, have brought Islam down in several ways. Not only have they made life difficult for Muslims around the world, but they have degraded the teachings of Islam in the public eye. By claiming that jihad is their purpose and motivation to kill, these terrorists have brought upon themselves, and other Muslims, the spite of millions of people.

These days, such terrorists are referred to as jihadists by many. A terrorist, though, is not a jihadist, because they are not practicing jihad. As Islam teaches, jihad is not an external war or battle with the innocent or unjust. It means an inner war with one's self-- against one's selfish, wrong or immoral desires and thoughts. It is a quest to reform oneself. In this sense, any ordinary person striving to change oneself is a jihadist. It is this intricately detailed explanation of the word jihad that has confused people.

A terrorist is not a jihadist, on the other hand. Many terrorists or fundamentalists dote on the lengthy passages of the Holy Qur'an that they have memorized and that apparently urge them to kill. Terrorists take verses of the Holy Qur'an out of context (and too literally), thus giving them legitimate reasons for war. By calling their cowardly actions jihad, these terrorists portray a rather vile and false image of Islam. The description of jihad on the website of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, alislam.org, is quite clear:

"The word Jihad conjures up the vision of a marching band of religious fanatics with savage beards and fiery eyes, brandishing swords and attacking the infidels. Jihad in Islamic terminology means to make an effort, to endeavour and to strive in a noble way. Over the centuries this meaning of Jihad has been obliterated or at least diluted. The critical juncture in the Islamic world requires reviving and recapturing the true and pristine meaning of Jihad."

The article also contains an in-depth look at the meaning of jihad and its literal sense. It can be divided into two broad categories. The first being jihad-e-akbar (meaning greatest jihad): jihad against one's own person to curb sinful inclinations, i.e., purification of self. This is the most difficult jihad and hence in terms of rewards and blessings is the highest category of jihad. The second is jihad-e-asghar (meaning smaller jihad). This is jihad of the sword. This is communal jihad and presupposes certain specific conditions.

"The Holy Qu'ran speaks of fighting only against those who first attack Muslims," the article says, "and this is the very condition laid down in other verses of the Holy Qu'ran as well. The so-called verse of the sword in the Islamic scripture is often taken out of context as if it inculcates an indiscriminate massacre of all unbelievers."

Muslims worldwide are trying to clear the name of Islam and rid themselves of a false image that has been stuck with them for years now. Yet, this cannot be possible until the mislabeling of terrorists as jihadists continues. The media is, in essence, forcing this title onto Muslims and trying to justify it at the same time. The sooner this bout of mislabeling is eradicated, the sooner Muslims worldwide can gain justice in the form of relief from the detachment of a label.





It's great to find a presentation of this topic that is sane, reasoned and conducive to peace. Misunderstandings are often one-sided, but in the unfortunate case of Islamic jihad, I believe the misunderstanding exists both within and without Islam. Muslims around the world, just as much as non-Muslim journalists, need to reappraise their understanding of the word Jihad. It seems to me that many Imams are, in their private meetings, guilty of propagating ideas of bloody jihads against those who diagree with them, and this has led to a general confusion around the true import of this principle found in the Koran.

Before any person studies Jihad he must study Chp. 9 of the Holy Koran. I havent researched it fully as of yet, as soon as i do, I will have a conclusion. Ibn Hisham's book is the oldest book about the battle of Tabouk, without Ibn Hisham's account as well as Tabari's and Wackidis, a researcher could error in his depiction of the "military jihad.

It is refreshing to read a balanced view on this topic. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community presents a very fair, balanced and logical explanation of this topic, as well as other topics. I hope their voice is given more attention. Their website (www.alislam.org) is a great resource.