One of the greatest misconceptions about Islam, not only amongst the non-Muslims but even amongst the Muslims, is concerning the concept of Jihaad. Non-Muslim as well as Muslims think that any war fought by any Muslim for whatever purpose, be it good or bad, is Jihaad. They think that any war fought by Muslim, whatever be the reason for it, whatever it is for personal gain, or for language or for political reasons – whatever be the reasons they consider any war fought by Muslim to be ‘Jihaad’.
Jihad comes from the Arabic word ‘Jahada’ which means to strive or to struggle. For example; if a student is striving and struggling to pass his examination, in Arabic we say that the person is doing “Jihaad”. If an employee is striving and struggling to satisfy the employer irrespective whether the work is doing good or bad, in Arabic it will be said that he is doing jihaad – he is striving and struggling to satisfy his employer. So ‘Jihaad’ basically means to strive; it means to struggle.
A common misconception that exists today is regarding the word ‘Jihaad’. Let us clarify that any war fought by any Muslim is not jihaad. Only one of the several forms of jihaad is fighting. There are different types of jihaad; i.e., striving. One of the types is striving is fighting in the battlefield against oppression and tyranny.
In the Islamic context, “Jihaad” means
=> To strive against one’s own evil inclination.
=> To strive to make the society better. To enjoin what is right and to forbid what is wrong.
=> To strive to give Da’wah and to propagate Islam.
=> To fight in self-defense or to fight in the battlefield against oppression and against aggression.
Many people have a misconception that ‘Jihaad’ can only be done by muslims. However, if you read the glorious Quran, it has several verses which say that even the non-muslims do ‘Jihaad’. Allah says in the Glorious Quran in Surah LUQMAN [31:14]
And We have commanded people to ˹honour˺ their parents. Their mothers bore them through hardship upon hardship, and their weaning takes two years. So be grateful to Me and your parents. To Me is the final return.
The next aya of Surah LUQMAN continues and says [31:15]
But if they pressure you to associate with Me what you have no knowledge of, do not obey them. Still keep their company in this world courteously, and follow the way of those who turn to Me ˹in devotion˺. Then to Me you will ˹all˺ return, and then I will inform you of what you used to do.
Here the Quran speaks about non-Muslims who do ‘Jihaad’ and strive and struggle to make their children worship somebody else besides Almighty God. If your parents force you and they strive to make you worship somebody else besides Allah(swt), do not obey them, but yet live with them with compassion, companionship, justice and kindness.
A similar message is repeated in Surah Al Ankaboot [29:8]
We have commanded people to honour their parents. But if they urge you to associate with Me what you have no knowledge of, then do not obey them. To Me you will ˹all˺ return, and then I will inform you of what you used to do.
Here the Quran speaks of non-Muslim parents doing ‘Jihaad’ and struggling to force their children to do ‘shirk’ i.e., to associate partners with almighty God.
Furthermore, Allah says in Quran in surah An Nisa [4:76]
Believers fight for the cause of Allah, whereas disbelievers fight for the cause of the Devil. So fight against Satan’s ˹evil˺ forces. Indeed, Satan’s schemes are ever weak.
The believers are those who strive the way of Allah(swt) and those who reject faith are those who strive in the way of the evil one. Here Allah says that the believers i.e., the Muslims are doing ‘Jihaad Fi Sabeelillah’ which means striving in the way of Allah(swt) and those who reject faith are doing ‘Jihaad Fi Sabeelish-Shaitaan’ i.e., they are striving in the way of the evil one, in the way of satan.
So from the Quran we come to know that ‘Jihaad’ basically means to strive, to struggle. There can be a good ‘Jihaad’ and there can be a bad ‘Jihaad’. If you are doing ‘Jihaad Fi Sabeelillah’, i.e., striving in the way of Allah(swt), it is good, but if you are doing ‘Jihaad Fi Sabeelish-Shaitaan’, i.e., striving in the way of the evil one, in the way of Satan, it is not good. So ‘Jihaad’ is of various types but in Islamic context if is not specified, it is taken for granted that when a person says ‘Jihaad’, it means ‘Jihaad Fi Sabeelillah’, i.e., Jihaad in the way of Allah.