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What is Jihad? A Scholar’s Perspective

What is Jihad? A Scholar’s Perspective

Contributed by Shaykh Muhammad Hisham Kabbani
Chairman, Islamic Supreme Council of America

In this presentation, we would like to shed light on the meaning of Jihād, a term that has become universally known today. One can find countless interpretations of this term which differ from its true spirit and the meaning that God intended in the Holy Qur’ān and in the narrations of the Prophet (sas). Instead of adhering to these canonical principles, people today use the term Jihād in a way that suits their own whims without realizing the damage they are causing to Islam and Muslims.

What is meant by Jihād? It certainly does not mean “holy war.” That is “al-Harb al-muqaddasah” in Arabic. Indeed, nowhere in the Qur’ān can one find any term that expresses the meaning “holy war.” Rather, the meaning of combative Jihād expressed in the Qur’ān or Hadith is simply war.

That said, we will show in this presentation that Jihād, in the classical sense, also means much more than that. In fact, Jihād is a comprehensive term which traditionally has been defined as being composed of fourteen different aspects, only one of which involves warfare.

In this presentation we will explain unambiguously the different aspects of Jihād defined by the Prophet (sas) together with what renowned mainstream Muslims scholars have written about this subject, citing them at length in order to arrive at an accurate understanding of this term. Islamic thought includes all scholarly opinions rendered in amplification of Islam’s core principles, its simplicity and its tender and compassionate approach to all aspects of human relations.

Today, there are many individuals who study Islam from a superficial point of view and emerge with their own ideas and novel interpretations which often diverge greatly from established legal opinions. Such studies lack any real basis in Islamic jurisprudence. However, this fact is not apparent to most non-Muslims, and these misguided proclamations give them a distorted understanding of Islam.

In this presentation, we will return to the original source texts that discuss the issue of Jihād in order to explain its various facets and clarify its meaning once and for all.


The general meaning of Jihād is “to struggle.” Jihād derives from the wordjuhd, which means “to struggle.” The meaning of Jihād fī sabīlillāh, Struggle in the Way of God, is striving to exhaust the self in seeking the Divine Presence and promoting God’s Word, which He made the Way to Paradise. For that reason God said:

And strive hard (jāhidū) in (the way of) God, (such) a striving a is due to Him; [22:348]”

It is essential to understand that under the term jāhidū come many different categories of Jihād. The common understanding of Jihād as referring only to war is refuted by this tradition of the Prophet (sas): A man asked the Prophet (sas) “Which Jihād is best?” The Prophet (sas) said, “The most excellent Jihād is to say the word of truth in front of a tyrant.”1. The fact that the Prophet (sas) mentioned this Jihād as “most excellent” demonstrates that there are many different forms of Jihād.


Islamic scholars, from the time of the Prophet (sas) until today, have categorized Jihād into at least fourteen distinct categories. A cogent discussion of these categories is found in the book Zād al-Ma‘ād, by Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyyah. According to him, the categories of Jihād are:

    1. By heart
    2. By tongue
    3. By wealth
    4. By person
    1. By heart
    2. By tongue
    3. By wealth
    4. By person
    1. Fighting him defensively by rejecting the false desires and slanderous doubts that he throws towards the servant.
    2. Fighting him defensively by rejecting what he throws towards the servant of corrupt passion and desire.
    1. Striving to seek guidance and learn the religion of truth, without which there is no felicity or happiness in life or in the hereafter.
    2. Striving to act upon it after he has learned it, for the abstract quality of knowledge without action, even if it yields no wrong, is without benefit.
    3. Striving to call to God and to teach the religion to someone who does not know it.
    4. Striving with patience in seeking to call to God and bearing with patience whatever adversity comes from that for the sake of God.2


Ibn Rushd, in his Muqaddimah, divides Jihād into four categories:

  1. Jihād of the heart
  2. Jihād of the tongue
  3. Jihād of the hand
  4. Jihād of the sword.3


The Jihād of the heart is the struggle of the individual with his or her own desires, whims, erroneous ideas and false understandings. This includes the struggle to purify the heart, to rectify one’s actions and to observe the rights and responsibilities of all other human beings.


Ibn Rushd defines Jihād of the tongue as: To commend good conduct and forbid the wrong, like the type of Jihād God ordered us to fulfill against the hypocrites in His Words, “O Prophet! Strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites” [9:343]. This is the Jihād the Prophet (sas) waged in struggling to teach his people. It means speaking about one’s cause and one’s religion. God first revealed:

Read in the name of Thy Lord! [96:1]

Thus, the first aspect of the Jihād of Education and Counsel is reading. Reading originates with the tongue.

O Prophet! strive hard [jāhid] against the unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be firm against them. [9:343]


Jihād of the hand includes the struggle to build the nation through material development and progress, including building up civil society, acquiring and improving every aspect of technology and societal progress in general. This includes scientific discovery, development of medical clinics and hospitals, communication, transportation, and all necessary underlying infrastructures for societal progress and advancement, including educational institutions. Building also means to open opportunities to the poor through economic programs and self-empowerment. Another aspect of Jihād by Hand is writing, for God said:

He taught by means of the pen, taught mankind what he did not know.[96:4,5] The meaning of writing includes the use of computers and all other forms of publication.


Finally, Jihād of the hand includes struggle by the sword (Jihādun bissayf), as when one fights the aggressor who attacks in combative war.


Let us now consider the nature of Jihād more fully as it appears in the history and law of Islam. Sa‘īd Ramadān Būtī, a contemporary orthodox scholar from Syria states in his seminal work Jihād in Islam4 The Prophet (sas) invited the unbelievers peacefully, lodged protests against their beliefs and strove to remove their misgivings about Islam. When they refused any other solution, but rather declared a war against him and his message and initiated the fight, there was no alternative except to fight back.5 The most fundamental form of Jihād, usually overlooked in today’s pursuit of newsworthy headlines, is that of presenting the message of Islam—da‘wah. Thirteen years of the Prophet’s (sas) 23-year mission consisted purely of this type of Jihād. Contrary to popular belief, the word Jihād and related forms of its root word jāhada are mentioned in many Makkan verses in a purely non-combative context. Combative Jihād, in the technical usage of Islamic law, means “the declaration of war against belligerent aggressors.” The decision to wage combative Jihād can only be made by the leader of the nation; it is not a haphazard decision anyone may make. Moreover, the principles of Islamic jurisprudence state that the actions of the leader must be guided by the interests of the people.


We can see that the building blocks of democracy were present in the Prophet’s (sas) message from its very outset. Through the Jihād of Education, he championed freedom of expression and debate after the chiefs of the Makkan tribes sought to suppress them during the Messenger’s first years of preaching. God states in the Qur’ān:

Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.[16:125]

Thus, calling people to Islam and making them acquainted with it in all its aspects through dialogue and rhetorical persuasion is the first type of Jihād in Islam. This is referred to in the Qur’ān where God says:

So obey not the disbelievers, but strive against them (by preaching) with the utmost endeavor with it (the Qur’ān).[25:52].

Here the word “strive,” jāhidū, is used to mean struggle by means of the tongue—preaching and exhortation—and to persevere despite the obstinate resistance of some unbelievers to the beliefs and ideals of Islam.

Ibn ‘Abbās, and others said that God’s words “strive with the utmost endeavor” denote the duty of preaching and exhortation as the greatest of all kinds of Jihād. Ibn Abbas said that “with it” refers to the Holy Qur’ān.6The Jihād here considered as most essential by Ibn ‘Abbās, cousin and associateof the Prophet (sas) and foremost exegete of the Qur’ān, is the call to the Word of God—the Jihād of Education.


Imām Malik bin Anas stated in al-Mudawwanat al-kubra: 34 The first of what God has sent His Messenger ÿ is to call people to Islam without fighting. He did not give him permission to fight nor to take money from people. The Prophet (sas) stayed like that for thirteen years in Makkah, bearing all kinds of persecutions, until he left for Madīnah.


Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyyah says in Zād al-ma‘ād: God commanded the Jihād of Education when He revealed:

If We willed, We could raise up a warner in every village. Therefore listen not to the Unbelievers, but strive against them with the utmost strenuousness, with the (Qur’ān). [25: 51]

This is a Makkan Chapter, therefore God command therein the Jihād of the non-Muslims by argumentation, elocution and conveying the Qur’ān. 8


Imām Nawawī, in his book al-Minhaj, when defining Jihād and its different categories, said:

. . . one of the collective duties of the community as a whole (farļ kifāyah) is to lodge a valid protest, to solve problems of religion, to have knowledge of Divine Law, to command what is right and forbid wrong conduct. 9


The explanation of Jihād in Imām ad-Dardīr’s book Aqrab al-Masālik is that it is propagating the knowledge of the Divine Law, commending right and forbidding wrong. He emphasized that it is not permitted to skip this category of Jihād and implement the combative form, saying, “the first [Islamic] duty is to call people to enter Islam, even if they had been preached to by the Prophet (sas) beforehand.” 10


Similarly, Imām Bahūtī commences the chapter on Jihād in his book Kashf al-Qina‘ by showing the injunctions of collective religious duties (kifāyah)that the Muslim Nation must achieve before embarking on combative Jihād. These include preaching and educating about the religion of Islam,dismissing all the uncertainties about the religion and making available allthe skills and qualifications which people might require to meet theirreligious, material and physical needs, as these constitute the regulations of both this life and the life to come. Hence, da‘wah is the cornerstone of the “building” of Jihād, and any attempt to build without this “stone” would damage the integrity of the Jihād.11


Al-Būtī says in his book al-Jihād fīl-Islām states: The most significant category of Jihād was the one established simultaneously with the dawn of the Islamic da‘wah at Makkah. This was the basis for the other resulting kinds accorded with the situations and circumstances.12

Clarifying the image of Islam, removing all misconceptions and stereotypes held by non-Muslims and building a trusting relationship by working with them in ways that accord with their way of thinking are all primary forms of Educational Jihād. Similarly, establishing a strong community and nation which can fulfill all the needs of its people, thereby creating for them the conditions in which the message can be heard are therefore requirements of Jihād. These efforts fulfill the Qur’ānic injunction:

Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: and these it is that shall be successful. [3:104]

Until this is accomplished, the preconditions of combative Jihād remain unfulfilled.13


The popular yet controversial Islamic scholar, Shaykh Yūsuf al-Qaradāwī, said: Jihād is an obligation on everyone, but not killing and fighting. Citing Ibn Qayyim’s work on the topic, he states: Whoever looks into the sources as to the understanding of Jihād, will see that one can be a mujāhid, but it is not necessary to be a combatant; that is only when combat is forced on you by the invasion of your country.


Sayyid Sābiq, in his renowned work Fiqh as-Sunnah says: God sent His Messenger ÿ to all of mankind and ordered him to call to guidance and the religion of truth. While he dwelled in Makkah, he called to God by using wisdom and the best exhortation. It was inevitable for him to face opposition from his people who saw the new message as a danger to their way of life. It was through the guidance of God that he faced the opposition with patience, tolerance and forbearance. God says:

So wait patiently (O Muhammad) for thy Lord’s decree, for surely thou art in Our sight [52:48] Then bear with them (O Muhammad) and say: Peace. But they will come to know [43:89]

So forgive, O Muhammad, with a gracious forgiveness [15: 85]

Here we see that God does not permit the fighting of evil with evil, or to wage war on those who fight opposing the message of Islam nor to kill those who cause discord to the Muslims. And He said:

Nor can goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better: Then will he between whom and thee was hatred become as it were thy friend and intimate! [41:34]

As the persecution continued, it became harder and harder to bear, reaching its peak when the Quraysh conspired against the life of the Noble Messenger ÿ. At this time, it became imperative that he migrate from Makkah to Madīnah, both for his personal safety, for the very survival of the new faith, and in an effort to avoid war. Thus thirteen years after the commencement of Qur’ān’s revelation, the Prophet (sas) ordered his companions to emigrate to Madīnah. It is clear then that the Prophet (sas) did not try to repulse the aggressive attacks against the Muslims by his tribesmen, but sought to avoid conflict and avoid their persecution by means of migration.


Sayyid Sābiq continues: And when those who disbelieve plot against thee (O Muhammad) to wound thee fatally, or to kill thee or to drive thee forth; they plot, but God (also) plotteth; and God is the best of plotters [8:30]

Madīnah thus became the new capital of Islām. As a nation-state for the Muslims, and their new home, an entirely new political situation had evolved. Whereas before the Muslims had been a persecuted minority with no land or political base, upon establishing Madīnah as a nation ruled by the legislation of Islam, and a sanctuary to which new Muslims under persecution could flee, it was imperative to protect this homeland from the aggressive designs of the enemy, who sought nothing less than the complete extirpation of the Muslim faith and killing of its adherents. Thus, when the enemies opened war against them the situation of the Muslims became gravely dangerous, taking them to the brink of destruction at the hands of the enemy, in which case the very message was in danger of being lost. 14

So Jihād in its combative sense did not come about until after the Prophet (sas) and his Companions were forced to leave their country and hometown of Makkah, fleeing for safety to in Madīnah after thirteen years of propagating the call to the faith and calling for freedom of belief. God said:

But verily thy Lord, to those who leave their homes after trials and persecutions, – and who thereafter strive and struggle [for the faith] and patiently persevere, – Thy Lord, after all this is oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.[16:110]

So we see that, after the migration to Madīnah, God described Jihād as a struggle to patiently endure through persecution and trial. In Madīnah, the Prophet’s message became the basis for a model constitution for civic society and social life. This is borne out by the emphasis the Prophet (sas) made on caring for the poor, the emancipation of slaves, giving rights to women and building a civic society by levying taxes on the rich to benefit the poor, establishing community centers and communal homes in which people could meet. He was able to establish a nation-state based on freedom of speech and freedom of religion, where all faiths flourished without conflict. In establishing this society in Madīnah, the Prophet (sas) sought to keep his new nation safe, just as today every country has security as a dominant concern. Therefore he built up an army of his followers to keep his borders safe from any enemy attack. In particular, they were under great threat due to the Prophet’s ÿ teaching opposing the hegemony of tyrants.


Even then, the legislation to fight was not made until the Makkans set out to eliminate the newly established Islamic nation, by raising an army and setting forth with the intention of assaulting and destroying the community in Madīnah.

Sayyid Sābiq continues: The first verse revealed regarding fighting was:

Sanction is given unto those who fight because they have been wronged; and God is indeed able to give them victory; Those who have been driven from their homes unjustly only because they said: Our Lord is God. For had it not been for God’s repelling some men by means of others, cloisters and churches and oratories and mosques, wherein the name of God is oft mentioned, would assuredly have been pulled down. Verily God helpeth one who helpeth Him. Lo! God is Strong, Almighty. Those who, if We give them power in the land, establish worship and pay the poor due and enjoin kindness and forbid iniquity. And God’s is the sequel of events. [348: 39-40]

This verse shows that permission for fighting was granted for three reasons: 1) They were oppressed by their enemies and expelled by them from their homes unjustly for no reason except that they practiced the religion of God and said, “Our Lord is God.” They then came under the obligation to take back the country from which they had been expelled.2) Where not for God’s permission for this type of defense, all places of worship, (including churches, synagogues and mosques) would have been destroyed in which the name of God was remembered (see page 26 for a more detailed explanation of this aspect) because of the oppression of those who aggressively opposed belief. 3) The goal of victory was to establish the freedom of religion, to establish the prayer, to give charity, to command the good and to forbid what is disliked.

This last justification also means that, as long as preaching and practice are not prohibited, the Muslims cannot fight. Thus, a Jihād against a country in which Muslims freely practice their religion and are allowed to teach Islam would be impermissible. In the second year after the Migration, God ordered the Muslims to fight by saying:

Warfare is ordained for you, though it is hateful unto you; but it may happen that ye hate a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that ye love a thing which is bad for you. God knoweth, ye know not. [2: 216]

This verse shows that, in general, warfare was disliked. Despite this, it was called for at times when the security of the nation was threatened by external belligerency Thus, with a simple studious examination of the relevant verses, we discover that there were two different kinds of Jihād: that of Makkah and that of Madīnah. The one in Makkah was primarily focused on education. In Madīnah, Jihād was by two methods: education and fighting, though only after the enemies attacked the Prophet (sas) within his own city-state. Additionally, the Muslims who had been expelled invoked the right to return to their homeland, and if opposed to use force. Combative Jihād was authorized only after the Prophet (sas) migrated along with his followers from Makkah to Madīnah, having been persecuted and finally expelled from their country, fleeing from persecution and torture. Their condition was not unlike those of many people today, who flee persecution in their home countries, becoming refugees in foreign nations. Many are welcomed in these nations as al-Ansār of Madīnah welcomed al-Muhājirūn, sharing with them all they possessed of their wealth and their homes.

Thus Madīnah became the first city for the believers in which the new message, Islam, was established and they sought to keep it safe. Just as all nations do today, they built up an army and weaponry. And, just as in the modern world, they were obliged to respond and repel those who attacked them.

Thus, the majority of Muslims scholars including Imām Abū Hanifa,Imām Mālik and Imām Ahmad ibn Hanbal say that combative Jihād is to defend oneself and to attack the aggressors.


The idea, often postulated in the media, that Islam is hostile to non-Muslims simply because they are not Muslims is a major a misconception. According to the majority of scholars, there is no inherently valid reason to hold any hostility towards them. Sayyid Sābiq says: The relationship of Muslims with non-Muslims is one of acquaintance, cooperation, righteousness and justice for God says:

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is (He who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). [49:13]


Many of today’s self-appointed Islamic leaders and scholar’s state: “Enmity for the sake of God (al-barā’a) means to declare opposition in deed, to take up arms against His enemies . . .”15

Sayyid Sābiq says: This meaning does not permit prevention of friendship with the non-Muslims. The prohibition exists [only] when friendship with the non-Muslims is meant in aggression against the Muslims. Serious dangers to the existence of Islam come from assisting the non-Muslims who are [actively] working against the Muslims, weakening the power [and security] of the believing society. As far as the relationship between the Muslims and non-Muslim subjects (dhimmis) living in Muslim nations, harmony, peace, with good manners and courtesy, friendly social intercourse, mutual welfare and cooperation for the sake of righteousness and good conscience are all that Islām calls for. Even with regard to those who fought against the Muslims, despite their enmity, God says:

It may be that God will grant love (and friendship) between you and those whom ye (now) hold as enemies. For God has power (over all things); And God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. [60:34]


It is a right for the People of the Book to practice the laws of their religion, judges and courts, enforcing those rules among themselves. Their churches or temples are not to be demolished, nor are their crosses or other religious symbols to be broken. The Messenger of God ÿ said:

“Leave them to what they worship.”

Additionally, it is the right of a Christian or Jewish spouse of a Muslim to attend her church or temple. Her husband has no right to prevent her from going. Islām permits those of other faiths the foods that their religion allows. Swine are not killed because of them, nor is their wine destroyed as long as it is permitted to them. Therefore, they have more latitude than the Muslims, who are prohibited from drinking wine and eating pork. They also have the freedom to follow their own laws of marriage, divorce and charity, and to conduct these affairs as they wish without any conditions or limits. Their honor and rights are under the protection of Islām, and they are given the right of deliberation and discussion within the limits of reason and decorum, as long as they respect the rights of others, practice good conduct and avoiding rudeness and harshness. God says:

And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, “We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our God and your God is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam).” [29:46]

If one amongst the Pagans asks thee for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of God; and then escort him to where he can be secure. That is because they are men without knowledge. [9:6]

These verses also show that, even if unbelievers come to the Muslims seeking to live and work in their nation for any reason, the Muslims must grant them safety and security to demonstrate the great care and compassion of Islam. Again, this emphasizes the point that combative Jihād is only waged against aggressors. According to some schools of jurisprudence, the punishments for Muslims and non-Muslims are the same, except for those things permitted to non-Muslims by their faith, such as drinking wine or eating pork. Islām makes lawful eating what the People of the Book slaughter and Muslim men are permitted to marry their women, for God says:

This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto you. The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book, revealed before your time,- when ye give them their due dowers, and desire chastity, not lewdness, nor secret intrigues … [5:5]

Islām sanctions visiting and counseling their sick, offering them guidance and dealing with them in business. It is established that when the Messenger of God ÿ passed to his Lord, his armor was given as credit for a debt from a Jew. In another case, when some of the Companions sacrificed a sheep, the Prophet (sas) said to his servant, “Give this to our Jewish neighbor.”

It is obligatory for the leader of the Muslims (caliph) to protect those of the People of the Book who are in Muslim lands just as he would Muslims, and to seek the release of those of them who are captured by the enemy. The Messenger of God ÿ forbade killing a covenanter when he said: The one who kills a covenanter will not smell the fragrance of paradise.16

It can be truly said that, in Arab and Muslim nations, the Christians, the Jews and all other non-Muslims are in fact covenanters, for they pay their taxes supporting the nation’s standing army. Given this, it is the duty of the ruler to protect their safety. The concept of a covenant of protection, while not explicitly spelled out today, is fulfilled through government taxation.


We have seen above that the foundation of Jihād is Islamic propagation (da’wah). The question is often asked whether Islam condones forced conversion of non-Muslims. This is the image sometimes projected by Western scholars, but it is wrong. The Qur’ān clearly states:

There is no compulsion in religion, the path of guidance stands out clear from error [2:256] and [60:8]. In this verse, the word rushd, or “path of guidance,” refers to the entire domain of human life, not just to the rites and theology of Islam. There is no debate about the fact that pre-Islamic Arabia was a misguided society dominated by tribalism and a blind obedience to custom. In contrast, the clarity of Islam and its emphasis on reason and rational proofs obviated any need to impose it by force. This verse is a clear indication that the Qur’ān is strictly opposed to the use of compulsion in religious faith. Similarly, God addressed the Prophet (sas) saying:

Remind them, for you are only one who reminds. [88:21]

God also addresses the believers, urging them to obey the injunctions of Islam:

Obey God, and obey the Messenger, and beware (of evil): if you do turn back, then know that it is Our Messenger’s duty to proclaim (the message) in the clearest manner. [5:92]

However, this verse makes it clear that the Messenger’s ÿ duty is only to proclaim and preach the message; it remains to each individual to accept and to follow. As for forced conversion, no reliable evidence exists that Muslims ever intended or attempted to impose the specific rites and beliefs of Islam on anyone. The histories of Central Asia, Spain, India, the Balkans and all of Southeast Asia are concrete proof of this.


Indeed, it is well established in history that when People of the Book were persecuted in non-Muslim lands, they would often seek refuge with the leader of the Muslims (caliph), and this refuge was not refused. A well known example of this is that of the Jews in Andalusia who, after it was conquered by the Spanish and taken from the hands of the Muslim Moors in 1492, faced the infamously cruel Inquisition. Jews and Muslims had no choice but to flee their homes, convert to Catholicism or die. The Jews sought the protection of Sultan Suleyman, the ruler of the Ottoman Empire and caliph of the Muslims, and asylum was granted to them. For this reason, one finds a sizable population of Jews in Istanbul, which was seat of the Ottoman Empire at that time.


Some orientalists as well as some radical interpreters of Islam, assert that Islām condones an ongoing combative Jihād, that it calls for a continual war upon the non-Muslims until they repent and accept Islam or else pay the poll-tax. However, the majority of Muslims scholars reject this view, citing as evidence:

…and if anyone of the polytheists seeks your protection then grant him protection, so that he may hear the Word of God, and then escort him to where he can be secure, that is because they are men who know not.[9:6]134

The Imams argued from this that as long as the condition that they are submissive and willing to live peacefully among the believers our divine obligation is to treat them peacefully, despite their denial of Islam. The succeeding verse: So long as they are true to you, stand you true to them. Verily! God loved those who fear God. [9:34]

This verse instructs the Muslims to observe treaty obligations with meticulous care, and not to break them unless the other side breaks them first. Based on the clear arguments of the scholars from the Qur’ān and Hadith, the majority concluded that fighting is not a permanent condition against unbelievers, but only when treaties are broken or aggression has been made against Muslim territory (dār al-Islām) by unbelievers. On the other hand, educating non-Muslims about Islam is a continuous Jihād, as is made clear by the agreed-upon, mass-transmitted hadith:18

The Messenger of God ÿ said, “I have been ordered to fight the people until they declare that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is His Messenger, establish prayers, and pay zakat” In his book al-Jihād fīl-Islam, Dr. Sa‘īd Ramadān Būtī explains this hadith in detail based on the understanding of the majority of jurists, showing that linguistically the word “fight” here and in many other places does not refer to combat, rather to struggle, including in its scope da‘wah, preaching, exhortation and establishment of the state apparatus whereby Islamic preaching is protected. It does not mean forcing anyone to become Muslim at the point of a sword, and numerous examples can be cited from the life history of the Prophet (sas) showing he never forced conversion, nor did his Successors.

Dr. Būtī explains that the linguistic scholars of hadith showed that the word uqātil لتاقأ used by the Prophet (sas) means “fight” and not aqtul لتقأ “kill”. In Arabic, this word is used in terms of defending against an attacker or an oppressor, it is not used to mean attack or assail. In light of this, Dr. Būtī shows that this hadith connotes: I have been ordered by God to fulfill the task of calling people [peacefully] to believe that God is One and to defend [against] any aggression against this divine task, even though this defense requires fighting aggressors or enemies.19

Dr. Būtī explains that this hadith is reminiscent of a saying by the Prophet (sas) on the occasion of the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah where he told his mediator, Badil ibn Warqa: “But if they do not accept this truce, by God in whose Hands my life is, I will fight with them, defending my Cause till I get killed.”20 By these words, Badil ibn Warqa was tasked with inviting the Quraysh to peace, and simultaneously, warning of the ongoing war that had already exhausted them. Dr. Būtī remarks: The Prophet’s ÿ words “I will fight with them defending my Cause,” in this context certainly means that he, while inclining to peace with the enemy, would react to their combative aggression in the same way, if they had insisted on their aggression.21 Note also that in the years after the Treaty was signed, it was the Quraysh who violated it. Near the end of the seventh year after migration, the Quraysh—along with the allied Banī Bakr tribe—attacked the Banī Khuza‘ah tribe, who were allies of the Muslims. The Banī Khuza‘ah appealed to the Prophet (sas) for help and protection.

The Banī Khuza‘ah sent a delegation to the Prophet (sas) requesting his support. Despite this provocation and clear violation of the treaty, the Prophet (sas) avoided acting in haste to renew hostilities. Instead he sent a letter to the Quraysh demanding payment of blood money for those killed, and an end to their alliance with the Banī Bakr. Otherwise, the Prophet (sas) said, the treaty would be declared null and void. The Quraysh then sent an envoy to Medina to announce that they considered the Treaty of Hudaybīyyah null and void. However, they immediately regretted this step. Therefore, the leader of the Quraysh, Abū Sufyān, himself traveled to Madīnah to renew the contract. Despite having been the greatest enemy of the Muslims, and despite the Quraysh already being in violation of the pact they had solemnly entered into, no hand was laid on this Qurayshi chief—someone who infamous for his persecution and harm to Muslims in Makkah. He was even permitted to enter the Prophet’s ÿ mosque and announce his desire to reinstate the treaty. From this, one can argue that if the state of unbelief were a sufficient pretext for war, then the Prophet (sas) would have been warranted in seizing Abū Sufyān and initiating hostilities against the Quraysh then and there. However, on the contrary, Abū Sufyān came and went from Madīnah freely and only after some time were the hostilities renewed based on the Makkans aggressive violation of the pact. God says:

…and fight the mushrikūn, [polytheists Pagans] all together as they fight you all together. But know that God is with those who restrain themselves.[9:36] Here we understand “fight the unbelievers collectively as they fight you collectively” means “treat them in the same way as they treat you.” Commenting on this, Dr. Būtī says, “You should deal with the unbelievers kindly and equitably, unless they are rampant and out to destroy us and our faith. Hence the motive for [combative] Jihād becomes self defense.”22Finally God says: So, if they hold aloof from you and wage not war againstyou and offer you peace, God alloweth you no way against them. [4: 90] We see here an explicit statement from God, that it is not permitted to fight with those who are not engaged in belligerency, despite their being non-believers.


The ruler of the Muslims, the Imām, is completely answerable to the people and their legal apparatus, the most important representatives of which are the scholars. Islam establishes strict conditions that must be satisfied before a Muslim ruler can declare combative Jihād. The position of the law is that combative Jihād can only be declared at such a time when it can be reasonably proven that:

  • there are aggressive designs against Islam
  • there are concerted efforts to eject Muslims from their legally acquired property
  • military campaigns are being launched to destroy them


Sa‘īd Ramādān al-Būtī, in Jihād in Islam, says: It is known that Islamic Shari‘ah rules can be divided into two groups first the Communicative Rules (Ahkām at-Tablīgh) that inform you of how to behave in your life, including all matters of worship and daily life, and second, the Rules of Leadership (Ahkām al-Imāmah), which are related to the judicial system, the Imām or leader. The Rules of Leadership are those rules that have been directed from the leader to the citizens. In the time of the Prophet (sas), he was leader, so this applied to anything directed from himself to the Muslims. After the Prophet (sas), such directives became the responsibility of the caliph, his successor. This means the Imām of the Muslims is the leader of every Muslim nation. He is the person responsible for the application of the rules as he sees fit. These rules are flexible within the geographical, societal and cultural norms of the nation, which the leader can exercise by God’s Grace, to apply them for the benefit of all the people. Declaring combative Jihād is the topmost responsibility of the Imām. He is the only responsible body that can declare the time and place of Jihād, lead it or terminate its mission. It is in no way the responsibility of individual Muslims to declare Jihād without the order of the leader.

Note in this regard the ‘ulama are not in the position to issue a call for combative Jihād. There are two kinds of combative Jihād. One is the combative Jihād to fight a nation which aggresses against a Muslim nation, under the orders of the Imām, or leader. The second category of combative Jihād, which is called as-sa’il, means the fight against an assailant, attacker or violator. We will not go into this aspect as it falls under the Communicative Rules, not the Rules of Imamate. This is based on the hadith related by ‘Abdullāh ibn ‘Umar, in which the Prophet (sas) said,

“He who is killed in defense of his belongings or in self-defense or in defense of his religion is a martyr.”23 The category as-sa’il refers to someone defending his private possessions as when someone attacks him at home or his business in order to steal, to harm, or out of hatred due to differences of religion. This does not come under the aspect of Imāmah, where nations are involved.24


It is an essential pre-condition that there be a leader of the Muslims, an Imām, to declare combative Jihād. In al-Mughni, Ibn Qudāma, a respected scholar of the Hanbali school, states: Declaring Jihād is the responsibility of the ruler and is His independent legal judgment. And it is the duty of the citizens to obey whatever he regards appropriate.25


Al-Dardīr says: “proclaiming Jihād comes through the Ruler’s assignment of a commander.”26


Abū Bakr Al-Jazā’irī states that the pillars of combative Jihād are: A pure intention, and that it is performed behind a Muslim Ruler and beneath his flag and with his permission ʢ And it is not allowed for them to fight without a Ruler because Allāh says: O ye who believe! Obey God, and obey the Messenger, and those charged with authority among you. [4:59]234


According to Kashf al-Qina‘a by al-Tahanūī: Ordering combative Jihād is the responsibility of the Imām and his legal judgment (ijtihād) because he is the most knowledgeable about the enemy’s status and their nearness or farness, their intention and conspiracy.28


Mawardī, a Shafi‘ite authority, while enumerating the obligations of a Muslim ruler says: His sixth obligation is to conduct [combative] Jihād against those who show hostility against Islam …29


Al-Sarkhasī, in al-Mabsūt, said: The Ruler of the Muslims must, in most cases, exert all efforts to lead an army himself or dispatch a military detachment of Muslims; and trust in God to aid him in achieving victory.30


Ash-Sharbīnī said: Collective-duty Jihād becomes applicable when the Imām fortifies the frontiers, reinforces the fortresses and ditches, and arms his military leaders. It also applies when the Imām or his deputies take the lead of the army ʢ 31


The principle that only the ruler of the Muslims can declare combative Jihād is so explicit and categorical that all the scholars of this Ummah unanimously uphold it. Sayyid Sābiq, referring to this consensus, writes: Among kifāyah obligations, there is a category for which the existence of a ruler is necessary e.g., [combative] Jihād and administration of punishments.32


Zafar Ahmad ‘Uthmānī, a Hanafite jurist writes: It is obvious from the hadith narrated by Makhūl33 that Jihād becomes obligatory with the ruler who is a Muslim and whose political authority has been established either through nomination by the previous ruler similar to how Abū Bakr transferred the reins [of his Khilāfah to ‘Umar] or through pledging of allegiance by the ‘ulama or a group of the elite … In my opinion, if the oath of allegiance is pledged by ‘ulama or by a group of the elite to a person who is not able to guard the frontiers and defend honor [of the people] organize armies or implement his directives by political force nor is he able to provide justice to the oppressed by exercising force and power, then such a person cannot be called ”Amir” (leader) or ”Imām” (ruler). He, at best, is an arbitrator and the oath of allegiance is at best of the nature of arbitration and it is not at all proper to call him ”Amir” or an ”Imām” in any [official] documents, nor should the people address him by these designations It is not imperative for the citizens to pledge allegiance to him or obey his directives, and no [combative] Jihād can be waged alongside him.34


In the words of Imām Farāhī: If [combative] Jihād is not waged by a person who holds political authority, it amounts to anarchy and disorder.35


The Salafi scholar Al-Albānī, stressing the necessity of Jihād being established by the ruler of the Muslims, said: In the present time there is no Jihād in the Islamic land, while undoubtedly there is combat taking place in numerous places but there is no Jihād, established under a solely Islamic banner that abides by Islamic legislation. These represent only a sampling of many quotes from scholars regarding combative Jihād. They suffice to demonstrate the responsibility of the Imamate in ordering it. The actual title, whether he be called Imām, caliph, king or president, is not important – his position as ruler is what counts. The leader is the one who has been elected to administer the foreign policy of his nation, and has been entrusted by the people to conduct the common affairs of the state, sign treaties, forbid wrong deeds, suppress criminals, fight aggressors, and settle people down in their homes and the like. In light of this, we must ask ourselves today, “Where is the Caliph of Muslims in the present time?” Since there is no caliphate the fundamental requirement of leadership does not exist. So, while there still is combat between one nation and another, it is no longer considered to be Jihād as that term is defined in Islamic law. The leadership of the Muslims can never devolve to a group of people living in a country who come against its government. The aforementioned rulings of the scholars and the many verses of Qur’ān and Hadith citation invalidate the methods of the so-called “Islamic parties” who establish states within the state and act as if they are the rightful rulers of Muslims. Their methodology is to initiate war by attacking non-Muslims in their country or other countries, and they do this without the permission of the Muslim rulers or the Muslim nation and without the consensus of its scholars. The result is that everyone suffers from the disastrous consequences of their actions.


Every community has the right to self-defense and, in the case of Islam, where religion is the primary dimension of human existence, war in defense of the nation becomes a religious act. A lack of understanding of this quality of Islam, its non-secularism; has also contributed considerably to the fear that, when Islam speaks about war it means war to convert others to Islam. This might be true of other faiths, but Islam must be allowed to speak for itself. Al-Dardīr says of this: Jihād becomes a duty when the enemy takes [Muslims] by surprise.36 Sa‘īd Ramadān al-Būtī shows that fighting in this case is an obligation of the community as a whole:

This is based on the Prophet’s ÿ saying, “He who is killed in defense of his belongings, or in self-defense, or for his religion, is amartyr.”334 Muslims are enjoined to act kindly and justly towards members of other faiths except in two circumstances: firstly, if they dispossess Muslims of their legitimate land-rights, and secondly, if they engage in hostilities towards Muslims by killing or attacking them, or show clear intent to do so (al-hirābah) because of their religion. In the second eventuality, it is the duty of the Muslim ruler to declare combative Jihād as a defensive action to repel such attacks. It is evident from the Qur’ān and other sources that the armed struggle against the polytheists was legislated in the context of specific circumstances after the Prophet (sas) had migrated from Makkah to Madīnah. There he secured a pact with the Jewish and Arab tribes of the city, who accepted him as the leader of their community. In the milieu of this newly-founded base of operations, under the governance of divine legislation and the leadership of the Prophet (sas), Islam attained the status of a nation with its co-requisite territory and the accompanying need to protect its self-interests. At that time, the divine command was revealed permitting Jihād, but this occurred only after:

  • Persistent refusal of the Makkan leadership to allow the practice of Islam’s religious obligations, specifically to perform the Hajj at Makkah (Note that, despite this belligerency, the Prophet (sas) agreed to a truce).
  • Continuous, unabated persecution of Muslims remaining at Makkah after the Prophet’s emigration to Madīnah triggered an armed insurrection against Qurayshite interests in the Hijaz.
  • Makkans themselves commencing a military campaign against the Muslims at Madīnah with the sole objective of eradicating Islam.
  • Key security pledges being abrogated unilaterally by a number of tribes allied to the Prophet (sas), forcing him into a dangerously vulnerable position. These conditions for defensive Jihād involving armed struggle were then clearly specified in the Qur’ān:

And fight in the way of God those who fight against you, and do not transgress [limits] for God likes not the transgressors [2:190]

Explaining this verse, Sayyid Sābiq states: This verse also consists of prohibiting aggression due the fact that God does not love aggression. This prohibition is not abrogated by any verse and is a warning that aggression is devoid of God’s love. Verses that consist of such warnings are not abrogated, because aggression is tyranny and God never loves tyranny. Therefore, a legal war is justified only when it is to prevent discord and harm to the Muslims and for them to have the freedom to practice and live according to their religion.38 God says:

“Will you not fight a people who have violated their oaths and intended to expel the Messenger while they did attack you first?” [9:13] The clear picture that emerges here is that the command to fight was given in relation to specific conditions. God said: To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged;- and verily, God is most powerful for their aid; [22:39]


The Qur’ān then goes on to describe the conditions of those who are

permitted to fight: They said: “How could we refuse to fight in the cause ofGod, seeing that we were turned out of our homes and our families?” [2: 246]

(They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right, (for no cause) except that they say, “our Lord is God”. Did not God check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of God is commemorated in abundant measure. God will certainly aid those who aid his (cause); for verily God is full of Strength, Exalted in Might, (able to enforce His Will). [22:40]


In later times, the Muslims engaged in warfare to establish the “Pax Islamica,” or Islamic Order. The legal and political order must flow from the divine imperative. It alone guarantees the rights of every individual by keeping in check all the dark psychic tendencies of man, preventing him from indulging in anti-social behaviors ranging from political aggression to the most common criminal act. It is for this reason that the Qur’ān calls on the believers to go forth in defense of those whose rights and liberty have been trampled by the unbridled tyranny of oppressors and conquering armies, or who are prevented from freely hearing the word of God espoused to them by preachers and educators. God says:

“How should ye not fight for the cause of God and of the feeble among men and of the women and the children who are crying: Our Lord! Bring us forth from out this town of which the people are oppressors! Oh, give us from Thy presence some protecting friend! Oh, give us from Thy presence some defender!” [4:345]

This verse gives two explanations for fighting:

  1. Fighting in the cause of God, until discord has vanished and the religion is practiced freely for God alone. This means one cannot fight a Jihād against a country in which Muslims can freely practice their religion and teach Islam to others.
  2. Fighting for the sake of the weak, such as those who converted to Islām in Makkah, but were unable to undertake the migration to Madīnah. The Quraysh tortured them until they prayed to God for liberation. They had no means of protection from the persecution of the oppressors. God permitted armed Jihād against an aggressor, where He said:

Lo! God hath bought from the believers their lives and their wealth because the Garden will be theirs: they shall fight in the way of God and shall slay and be slain. It is a promise which is binding on Him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Qur’ān. [9:111]

This demonstrates that the rule of repelling aggression is not specifically for Muslims, but is the role of anyone following the Torah and the Gospel—the right to fight those who attack them. Giving one’s self in God’s Way, means repelling the aggressor. “A promise binding on Him in truth” means God took it on Himself as a right, not only in the Qur’ān, but also in the Torah and the Gospel, giving the believers the Garden of Paradise in exchange for their selves and their lives. He said, “God bought from the believers their lives and their wealth.” This also means to give one’s wealth for building up society, for the welfare of others, for establishing hospitals, school and civic society.


God said: God forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for God loveth those who are just. God only forbids you, with regard to those who fight you for (your) Faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support (others) in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and protection). It is such as turn to them (in these circumstances), that do wrong. [60:8,9]

One sees here that God does not hinder the Muslims from dealing justly and kindly with those who do not fight them for their religion. Today we see that Muslims reside in many non-Muslim nations, and are living in peace, observing all their religious obligations and are free to practice their faith. One cannot find any nation in which mosques are forced to close, or the authorities are banning the Qur’ān or other religious books, or Muslims are prevented from praying, paying their poor-due, fasting or attending the pilgrimage. Instead we find that all Muslims today are free to practice their faith in every nation, around the globe. Surely God loves those who are just. [5:42]

Islam urges the believers to practice goodness with those who are doing good to them, and thus they are not permitted to attack them.


Jihād against countries who are guilty of oppression and persecution only becomes compulsory after all political negotiations have failed and it becomes clear that the enemy is set on aggression. Additionally, the Muslims may fight only when there is a likelihood of success. The state must prepare whatever is necessary of weapons, materials and men, for God says: Make ready for them all thou canst of (armed) force [8:40]. This means the leader must spend to the utmost of the nation’s ability and expend every effort to arm the Muslims for battle, for it is God’s rule that without strength you cannot fight. To recklessly do so without the possibility of success would result only in killing one’s self and killing one’s people and the creation of mayhem (fitnah), which may be worse than killing. God says: for tumult and oppression (fitnah) are worse thanslaughter; [2:191]

Mayhem might lead to crimes against innocent people. That is why God said it is worse than killing. Fitnah is the work of munāfiqīn, hypocrites. It refers here to conspiracy, the result of which may be a great war instigated between one or more nations, which may result in the death of thousands or millions of innocents.

Now God has lightened your [task] for He knows that there is weakness among you. So if there are of you a hundred steadfast person, they shall overcome two hundred, if there are a thousand of you, they shall overcome two thousand with the leave of God and God is with the patient.[8:66]

God here declared that if the ratio of Muslim warriors to their opponents is one to two (1:2), they may fight and they will be given Divine Support in an open fight facing the enemy directly, warrior-to-warrior. This was a reduction from the original ratio, in which the believers were obligated to fight even if the ratio of Muslims to their opponents was one to ten (1:10). How, then, can a small group declare combative Jihād against an entire nation, when the group possesses no more than a few dozen or a few hundred dedicated warriors? If it is not permitted for 19 people to fight a group in excess of 38, what about instigating war against a massively fortified and armed nation of over 250 million? This is, in reality nothing more than an invitation to mayhem. The result is the endangerment of the entire Muslim Ummah. It is nothing but confusion, sedition and disorder, and the Prophet (sas) declared those who create turmoil to be under God’s curse:

The Prophet (sas) said: Confusion/sedition/mayhem (fitnah) is dormant. God curses the one who rouses it. Today’s radicals justify combative Jihād without state authority by citing the skirmishes carried out by one of the Muslim converts against the Makkans. An article in Pakistan’s Renaissancemagazine by Shehzad Saleem explains: We know from history that after the treaty of Hudaybiyyah, Abū Basīr defected to Madīnah. According to the terms of the treaty he was duly returned back to the Quraysh by the Prophet (sas). He was sent back in the custody of two people of the Quraysh. He killed one of his two custodians and again defected to Madīnah. When he arrived in Madīnah, the Prophet (sas) was angry with what he had done. Sensing that the Prophet (sas) would once again return him to the Quraysh, he left Madīnah and settled at a place near Dhu’l-Marwah, where later on other people joined home. From this place, they would attack the caravans of the Quraysh.

If these guerrilla attacks are analyzed in the light of the Qur’ān, the basic thing which comes to light is that whatever Abū Basīr and his companions were doing was not sanctioned at all by Islam. The Qur’ān says that the actions and deeds of a person who has not migrated to Madīnah are not the responsibility of an Islamic state:

And as to those who believed but did not migrate [to Madīnah], you owe no duty of protection until they migrate. [8:342]

Not only did the Qur’ān acquit the newly founded Islamic state of Madīnah from the actions of these people, we even find the following harsh remarks of the Prophet (sas) about Abū Basīr when he returned to Madīnah after killing one of his two custodians: His mother is unfortunate! Though he has the right, he is going to ignite the flames of war.39


Combative Jihād is not an obligation on every individual among the Muslims, rather it’s a communal obligation (fard kifāyah) fulfilled when some take on the duty to repel the enemy. God says:

And the believers should not all go out to fight. Of every troop of them, a party only should go forth, that they (who are left behind) may gain sound knowledge in religion, and that they may warn their folk when they return to them, so that they may beware [9: 122]. We see from this verse that combative Jihād is not for everyone. If a group of people have been assigned to undertake combative Jihād by their leader, the rest must not go. Rather, their duty is to stay behind and study, in order to educate themselves and others. So, even when combative Jihād has been called for, both those who go forth to combat and those who stay behind to develop understanding of religion are participants in Jihād. This verse makes it clear that those who stay behind and study religion are equal to those who go forth to battle, by saying: “their duty is to stay behind and study, in order to educate themselves and to educate others.” In this verse, God emphasized that not all the believers should go out to fight. This indicates that there is a decision to be made: who will go fight and who will not? Mu‘adh ibn Jabal related: Acquire knowledge because doing so is goodness, seeking it is worship, reviewing it is glorifying God and researching it is Jihād…40

From this, we can see that learning the religion becomes more important than participation in battle, for in doing so one learns the beliefs and rulings that all Muslims must follow in this life. Understand these rulings, including those related to Jihād, is essential and can only be accomplished by study and education.


The same verse shows that, from every group, only a party of them goes forth. That means the army is to be taken from different citizens from various parts of the country, “from every group of them,” and today means volunteers or recruits who have been assigned and trained go forth to fight, while the rest of the citizens remain behind to train and educate themselves. Participation in combative Jihād becomes obligatory for an individual when he is ordered by the leader to be present in the line of fire. Hence the Messenger of God ÿ said:

There is no migration (after the opening of Makkah), but Jihād and good intention. So when you are called to go forth in stopping aggression, then do so.41

This means that when you are called up by your leader you must obey, as that is part of obedience to God, the Prophet (sas) and those in authority. Along with this, it is incumbent on any group who seek to fight as soldiers in the way of God against aggression by unbelievers, to firstly pledge themselves to their leader, who organizes the army. Thereafter, they organize their ranks and prepare them to fight. Setting forth when called is mandatory on Muslims, provided they are:

  • Male
  • In possession of sound reason
  • Have attained the age of maturity
  • Healthy

In addition, his family must possesses sufficient funds to meet their needs until he completes the duty assigned him by the leader.

Not unto the weak nor unto the sick nor unto those who can find naught to spend is any fault (to be imputed though they stay at home) if they are true to God and His messenger [9:91]

This verse means there is no obligation on those who have a weak personality, or a radical mentality nor on those who have no talent to go forth for war. Only those persons selected by the ruler or his appointed leaders should go forth, not those who might commit rash actions because of excessive emotional zeal, nor those who are mentally ill and might commit crimes like bombings, suicide attacks and so forth. As Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyyah said in Zād al-ma‘ād:

The Prophet (sas) said:

The fighter is the one who fights himself in obedience to God and the one who emigrates is the one who emigrates from iniquities.42 The Jihād of the self is a prerequisite over the Jihād of the enemy in the open and initial basis for it. Without a doubt, the one who does not fight his self is not allowed to make combative Jihād against the external enemy. How is it possible for him to fight his [external] enemy, when his own enemy, which is right beside him, dominates over him and commands him? So, as he did not wage war on the [internal] enemy of God, it is even more impossible for him to set out against the enemy until he fights himself.43

There is no blame for the blind, nor is there blame for the lame, nor is there blame for the sick (that they go not forth to war). [29: 134]


When the enemy suddenly arrives in a place which the Muslims reside, it is obligated for the inhabitants to go out and fight them. No one is exempt from this obligation.


Ibn ‘Umar said, “I was presented to the Messenger of God ÿ at the time of the battle of Uhud when I was fourteen years of age, and he did not give me permission to fight.” This is because Jihād is not obligated except on the one who has reached the appropriate age.


‘Ā`isha asked, “O Messenger of God ÿ, is Jihād obligated for women?” He said, “Jihād without fighting. Hajj and ‘Umrah [are their Jihād].”44 God says:

And covet not the thing in which God hath made some of you excel others. Unto men a fortune from that which they have earned, and unto women a fortune from that which they have earned. (Envy not one another) but ask God of His bounty. Lo! God is ever Knower of all things [4:32]

It is reported by ‘Ikrimah that some women inquired about Jihād and other women said, “We wish that God grant us a portion of the reward the military expeditions receive from the reward of what the men share.” This does not prevent women from going out to treat the wounded. It is reported that the Prophet (sas) was out on a military expedition and Umm Salīm was with him and other women from the al-Ansār. They were giving water to the fighters and treating the wounded.45


In the case of a major, obligatory combative Jihād, the parents’ permission is not required, but as far as the voluntary combative Jihād, their permission is a must. If one parent has passed away, permission from the other suffices. Ibn Mas‘ūd related: I asked the Messenger of God ÿ which action is most loved to God and he said, “Prayer in its time. Then I said, “then what,” and he said, “Being good to your parents.” Then I said, “what after that?” He said, “Jihād in the way of God.”46 Ibn ‘Umar said: A man came to the Prophet (sas) and asked permission for combative Jihād and he said, “Are not your parents alive?” He said, “Yes.” Then he said, “Then ask them first, then fight.”434 One does not go out in Jihād unless he has provided for the needs of his family and the service of his parents. This is the prerequisite of Jihād; even more, it is the best Jihād.


Properly speaking Jihād, in the case of internal dissension, only occurs when two conditions are met and the Muslims fight in support of the Imām against the offending parties: a just leader fighting an unjustifiable insurrection. In Islam, allegiance and obedience to a just authority is obligatory. It must be noted also that rebellions against authority—and especially political authority, simply for the sake of rebellion—have no place in the concept of Jihād. In this age of relativism, the spirit of rebellion seems to have penetrated every layer of society. However, Islam and its principles cannot be made subservient to these cultural trends. In some of the contemporary “Islamic” groups, Jihād has been distorted into something resembling a Marxist or socialist concept of class revolt aimed at overthrowing the authority of the state. In the often fervently materialistic milieu of contemporary political and revolutionary ideologies, Islam is inevitably reduced to nothing more than a social philosophy. This reductionism reflects an abysmal misunderstanding of the essential function of Islam, which is to turn the “face” of the human receptacle away from the world of disharmony and illusion to the tranquility and silence of divine awareness and vision. Inward Jihād, as we alluded to at the beginning of this presentation, has a key role to play in this respect.


The ruler, the political leader of the whole country, has the power to ratify peace treaties consistent with the interests of the Muslims. God said:

Enter into peace completely and do not follow the steps of Satan. [2:208]

And: And if they incline to peace, incline thou also to it, and trust in God.[8: 60]

Sayyid Sābiq states: This verse is the command to accept peace when the enemy accepts it, even if their acceptance is known beforehand to be deception and deceit.48

God says:

And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God; but if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who< practice oppression. [2:193]

From this verse we see that fighting is exhorted until oppression is ended. With the words, “but if they cease,” God legislates that once justice prevails and no one is prevented from observing their belief in God, then fighting should end. God grants that arms be set aside, “except to thosewho practice oppression.”

And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily God doth see all that they do. [8:39] Thus, peace is not only permitted, but called for after the adversary, even if still inimical, ceases its aggression. However, precaution and watchfulness is not to be abandoned in this situation, for here God reminds the Muslims of His Own Attribute,“verily God doth see all that they do.” After establishing the Islamic state in Madīnah, the Prophet (sas) said that the way of the Muslims is one. No single group can autonomously declare war or fight, nor can any one group make peace by itself. Rather, the entire country must make peace. When a peace treaty is made by the country’s leader, all subjects of that country are bound by that decision, regardless of whether the leader was appointed or elected. The final decision is up to the ruler, after consultation with others. If a state has no leader, then it must select one. Otherwise, its interests will be represented internationally by neighboring states. Those nations can come together and agree on a treaty with any foreign country on its behalf. This applies as much in peace as it does in war.


Ibn Qudāma said that a treaty of peace involves agreeing with combatant non-Muslims to end hostilities for a period of time, whether or not it involves paying a tax. He asserted that Muslims are allowed to make peace treaties that do not require non-Muslims to pay a tax, because the Prophet (sas) of God did so on the occasion of the Hudaybīyya Treaty. Ibn Qudāma says that Imām Ahmad gave this opinion, as did Imām Abū Hanifa.49



Islam prohibits utterly the killing of those who are not actual military personnel. The Prophet (sas) sent the following message to his military leaders who were setting forth in the way of Jihād to stop hostile advances and defend Muslim territories: Advance in the name of God, with God, on the pattern of the Messenger of God ÿ. That means do not to kill the elderly, infants or children and women. Do not exceed the proper bounds. Gather your spoils and make peace “and do good. Lo! God loveth those who do good.” (2:195)50

The Prophet (sas) passed by a woman who was killed and said, “She was not engaged in fighting.” The Prophet (sas) then sent to the Muslim leader Khālid ibn al-Walīd the following message, “The Prophet (sas) orders you not to kill women or servants.”51

This is clear evidence the woman was not a fighter and the Prophet (sas) prohibited her killing. From the strong expression the Prophet (sas) made, going so far as to send a letter to his topmost military commander, we see how concerned he was to prevent such incidents and to insure that every single Muslim warrior was aware of the rules of combat. The question arises here: When someone explodes a bomb or commits a suicide attack in a public place, how many innocent women, children and elderly people are killed? If one woman’s death caused the Prophet (sas) to scold his top general, Khālid ibn al-Walīd, what then about killing twenty, thirty or even hundreds of non-combatants, some of whom may even be Muslim?

Just as the Messenger of God ÿ forbade the killing of women and the young, he forbade killing priests. The first caliph Sayyidina Abū Bakr as-Siddīq’s commandment to the leader of the first Islamic military expedition after the Prophet (sas) included the following injunction: No hermit should be molested. Only those should be killed who take up arms against you.52

We see from these various narrations―and there are many more like them―that the Prophet (sas) prohibited the Muslims to kill anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, if they are not active transgressors against the security of the nation. This shows that terrorist acts, in particular suicide attacks which kill indiscriminately, are utterly unacceptable forms of combat, even during valid combat authorized for defense of the nation.

One of Islam’s fundamental principles is the sanctity of life. There is simply no way in Islam to justify the killing of innocents, even as a form of mass retribution, which many radicals today use as justification for their large-scale attacks on civilians. Islam prohibits blood feud and specifies retribution only towards the one who committed a crime.

God says:

Slay not the life which God has made sacrosanct unless it be in a just cause. [6:151] And whoever kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell to abide therein, and the Wrath and the Curse of God are upon him, and a great punishment is prepared for him, [4:93]

Since no one can say for sure “this person is not a believer,” it becomes forbidden to kill any human being without just cause.


It is prohibited to burn the enemy with fire because the Messenger ÿ said, “Kill [the enemy] but do not burn him. For no one punishes with fire except the Lord of the Fire.”53 This hadith illustrates the Prophet’s emphasis on mercy and avoidance of harm when he established such laws of conduct on the battlefield. Only in modern times were rules of warfare, such as the Geneva Conventions which make it impermissible to kill or torture prisoners of war, adopted worldwide. Yet, 1400 years ago, the Prophet (sas) established detailed rules of warfare in which even using fire in combat was prohibited, going far beyond the restrictions modern nations have been willing to accept. According to this hadith, weapons of fire are not approved by God. God prohibited burning, yet the majority of attacks by Islamic groups today involve bombs and explosions, such as the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, in which 3,000 people were incinerated.


Imrān bin Husayn said the Messenger of God ÿ encouraged us to give charity and forbade us from mutilation.54


Abū Bakr as-Siddīq commanded the leader of the first Islamic military expedition after the Prophet (sas), saying: No fruit-bearing trees are to be cut down and no crops should be set on fire. No animal should be killed except those slaughtered for eating. Only those should be killed who take up arms against you.55


Suicide itself is specifically prohibited in Islam. God said: Kill yourselves not, for God is truly merciful to you. [4:29] and: Throw not yourselves into the mouth of danger. [2:195]

These verses establish the general principle that killing oneself is forbidden. Thus, Islam utterly forbids suicide. On this the Prophet (sas) said: Whoever killed himself in the world with anything, God will punish him by that same thing on the Day of Judgment.56 The Prophet (sas) also said: Among those who were before you, there was a man who was inflicted with wounds. He felt despair, so he took a knife and with it he cut his hand; blood kept flowing until the man died. God the Exalted said, “My slave has caused death on himself hurriedly; I forbid Paradise to him.”534

Narrated Abū Hurayra: We were in the company of God’s Messenger ÿ on an expedition, and he remarked about a man who claimed to be a Muslim, saying, “This (man) is from the people of the (Hell) Fire.” When the battle started, the man fought violently until he got wounded. Somebody said, “O God’s Apostle! The man whom you described as being from the people of the (Hell) Fire fought violently today and died.” The Prophet (sas) said, “He will go to the (Hell) Fire.” Some people were on the point of doubting (the truth of what the Prophet (sas) had said) while they were in this state, suddenly someone said that he was still alive but severely wounded. When night fell, he lost patience and committed suicide. The Prophet (sas) was informed of that, and he said, “God is Greater! I testify that I am God’s Slave and His Apostle.” Then he ordered Bilāl to announce amongst the people: “None will enter Paradise but a Muslim, and God may support this religion (i.e. Islam) even with a disobedient man.” The Prophet (sas) said: Whoever throws himself down from a high mountain and kills himself will be throwing himself down from a mountain in the Fire of Hell for all eternity. Whoever takes poison and kills himself will be taking poison in the Fire of Hell for all eternity. Whoever kills himself with a weapon (literally, “iron”) will be holding it in his hand and stabbing himself in the stomach in the Fire of Hell for all eternity).58

A person [engaged in battle] killed himself with a broad-headed arrow. The Messenger of God ÿ said, “As for me, I will not pray over him.” Even the mufti of the most fundamentalist school of law in Islam, the “Wahhabi/Salafi” school of thought, declared that suicide bombings have never been an accepted method of fighting in Islam. The Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Shaykh ‘Abd Al-‘Azīz Āl-Shaikh declared, “To my knowledge so called ‘suicide missions’ do not have any legal basis in Islam and do not constitute a form of Jihād. I fear that they are nothing but a form of suicide, and suicide is also prohibited in Islam.” This echoes an earlier fatwaby his predecessor, the late Saudi mufti Shaykh ‘Abd Al-‘Azīz bin Bāz. Unfortunately, none of this has stopped the terrorists from employing these tactics. One way they attempt to justify their illicit actions is by citing the story of the Prophet’s paternal cousin, az-Zubayr ibn al-‘Awwām. During a battle against the Byzantine army, Az-Zubayr said to a group of Muslim soldiers, “Who will promise to go with me and fight our way through the enemy lines until we reach the end of their lines, then go around their camp back to our current position?” A group of fighters said, “we promise.” Az-Zubayr led the group into the enemy’s lines and fought through their ranks until they reached the Byzantine camp. They then rounded the Byzantine camp and returned to the main body of the Muslim army. The terrorists claim that Az-Zubayr and his men were certain to die, and thus commit suicide while fighting the enemy. In fact, az-Zubayr did not tell his companions “let us kill ourselves.” He only exposed himself and his men to what is commonly expected in war—the probability of being killed by the enemy. He did not intend to die, but to fight, and with God’s support to win. This is not suicide, rather it is bravery and heroism. Islam has always required perfect chivalry and discipline. For that reason, soldiers are ordered to endure and fight even in the face of tremendous odds. Thus, the so-called “logic” of the terrorists is clearly illogical.


The rest of the terrorists’ reasoning is similarly flawed. Today’s militant Islamists cite a ruling by the Shafi‘ī scholar al-Mawardī in which he stated that, when involved in combative Jihād, if the enemy has mixed non-combatants among warriors—either by chance or intentionally as “human shields”—then Muslim archers are allowed to fire on the enemy, despite the fact that due to the randomness of shooting, noncombatants might die. The terrorists’ use this ruling to justify bomb attacks against civilian areas. In fact, they are only twisting the law to suit their purposes. This ruling is very specific in that it allows such attacks on the assumption that it is the combatants that are targeted by the archers, not the civilians, who only happen to be present or, worse, are being used as human shields. The assumption of the jurist is also that the Muslims and the enemy are engaged in face-to-face fighting, between combatants. However, the attacks carried out by today’s militants do not target combatants; rather, they are typically carried out in public locations more frequented by civilians, including innocent women and children. In Islamic law, one cannot build a case on doubtful assumptions, such as “those people are likely all engaged in fighting Muslims.” Such an argument is false, and the result is the killing of innocents without justification.

The Islamic rules of military conduct never permit using civilians as targets or as hostages. In Islam, even so-called “collateral damage” is unacceptable. Therefore, if a Muslim kills himself, along with innocents, it is a doubly forbidden act.

Even the Islamist, Shaykh Yūsuf al-Qaradāwī issued a fatwa condemning the tragic suicide attacks of September 11, 2001, stating: “Even in times of war, Muslims are not allowed to kill anybody save the one who isengaged in face-to-face confrontation with them.” He added that they are not allowed to kill women, old persons or children, and that haphazard killing is totally forbidden in Islam. Shaykh Qaradāwī on another occasion defined terrorism as “the killing of innocent people with no differentiation between the innocent and the foe.” Another widely followed religious scholar, As-Sayyid Tantāwī, Grand Shaykh of Islam’s highest institution of learning, the University of Al-Azhar, has said that attacks against women and children are “not accepted by Islamic law.” Al-Azhar’s Research Academy, shortly after September 11, 2001, declared that a “Muslim should only fight those who fight him; children, women and the elderly must be spared.” The Prophet (sas) said:… Whoever fights under the banner of a people whose cause is not clear, who gets flared up with family pride, calls people to fight in the cause of their family honor or fights to support his kith and kin, and is killed, then he dies in a state of ignorance (jāhilīyyah). Whoever indiscriminately attacks my Ummah, killing the righteous and wicked among them, sparing not even those firm in faith, and fulfilling not a pledge made with whoever was given a promise of security, has nothing to do with me and I have nothing to do with him.59This shows us very clearly, that those who indiscriminately attack both Muslims and non-Muslims by suicide bombings, killing innocent people arbitrarily, are rejected completely by the Prophet (sas).

This hadith also makes it abundantly clear that if someone attacks a person whose safety has been guaranteed by the nation’s government, the Prophet (sas) is abandoning the attacker and dissociating himself from him. For the believer, nothing could be more distressing than for the Prophet (sas) to abandon him. Yet, today we see beheadings of people who are working to help bring stability, humanitarian aid and human rights to Iraq. Finally, this hadith demonstrates the Prophet’s emphatic opposition to those who would declare a false combative Jihād. Indeed, it represents a very clear prediction by the Prophet (sas) that a people will arise who will create havoc and confusion, who are arrogant and proud of themselves, and who despite appearances, are in fact fighting for the sake of their families and tribes. Their fight is not Jihād by any means.

Such is the case in many Muslim countries today, including the land of Hijaz, Pakistan, Darfur, Egypt, Algeria, Iraq and so forth. What is taking place in these nations today is clearly described in this hadith: “Whoever indiscriminately attacks my Ummah, killing the righteous and wicked among them, sparing not even those firm in faith.”


Often those who justify suicide attacks cite as evidence the story of the Companion Al- Barā‘ ibn Malik at the Battle of Yamāma, in which the Muslims fought Musaylima the Liar, who had begun the war by attacking the Muslims: The Muslims gained ground against the idolaters the day of Yamāma until they cornered them in a garden in which Musaylima was staying. Al-Barā‘ibn Mālik said: “O Muslims, throw me to them!” He was carried aloft until when he was above the wall, he penetrated [the enclosure]. Then he fought them inside the garden until he opened it for the Muslims and the Muslims entered. Then God killed Musaylima.

Al-Barā‘ threw himself onto them and fought them until he opened the gate after having received more than eighty cuts. Then he was carried away and tended. Khālid [ibn al-Walīd] visited him for a month.60 Studying this analogy, one finds that it is not relevant, for in the incident cited the two combatant armies were fighting face-to-face. In the process, Al-Barā‘ did not kill innocent people. He went over the wall with the intention of either opening the door or dying in the attempt. In fact, his death was expected at the hands of the enemy, not by his own action. This, like the earlier example of az-Zubayr ibn al-‘Awwām, is exemplary of chivalry and bravery, not of intent to commit suicide.


In regard to prisoners of war God says:

At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them): thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens. [434:4]

In a similar vein, the Prophet (sas) said: He who gives a promise of safety to a man in regards to his life, then kills him, I am innocent of the actions of the killer, even if the one killed was a disbeliever. It is established that, though the Prophet (sas) captured prisoners, he never compelled or forced anyone to embrace Islām. The same holds true for his Companions. The Companions of the Messenger of God ÿ used to ransom captives and rejected killing them saying, “What would we gain from killing them?”


Abū Hanifa’s school says that the head of the state, the Imām, cannot be expelled for being a corrupt person (fāsiq).61


The scholar Ibn Nujaym said, “It is not permitted for there to be more than one state leader (Imām) in a time period. There may be many judges, even in one state, but the leader is one.”62


Al-Bahjūri said, “It is an obligation to obey the leader, even if he is not fair or trustworthy or even if he committed sins or mistakes.”63 He also said, “… you have to obey the Ruler even if he is oppressive.” This means that neither a group nor an individual is permitted to declare war against the ruler of a nation. Moreover, in his explanation of Sahīh Muslim al-Bahjūrī said, “… it is forbidden to come against the ruler.”64


While commenting on the underlying reasons which form the basis of state authority for combative Jihād, Amin Ahsan Islahi writes: The first reason [for this condition] is that God Almighty does not like the dissolution and disintegration of even an evil system until a strong probability exists that those who are out to disintegrate the system will provide people with an alternative and a righteous system. Anarchy and disorder are unnatural conditions. In fact, they are so contrary to human nature that even an unjust system is preferable to them …this confidence [that a group will be able to harmonize a disintegrated system and integrate it into a united whole] can be reposed in such a group only as has actually formed a political government and has such control and discipline within the confines of its authority that the group can be termed as al-Jama‘ah [the State]. Until a group attains this position, it may strive [by religiously allowable means] to become al-Jama‘ah—and that endeavor would be its Jihād for that time—but it does not have the right to wage an “armed” Jihād. The second reason is that the import of power which a group engaged in war acquires over the life and property of human beings is so great that the sanction to wield this power cannot be given to a group the control of whose leader over his followers is based merely on his spiritual and religious influence on them [rather than being based on legal authority]. When the control of a leader is based merely on his spiritual and religious influence, there is not sufficient guarantee that the leader will be able to stop his followers from fasād fi’l-arļ [creating disorder in the society]. Therefore, a religious leader does not have the right to allow his followers to take out their swords [that is to wage an armed struggle] merely on the basis of his spiritual influence over them, for once the sword is unsheathed there is great danger that it will not care for right and wrong and that those who drew it will end up doing all [the wrong which] they had sought to end. Such radical groups as desire revolution and the object of who is nothing more than disruption of the existing system and deposition of the ruling party to seize power for themselves play such games – and they can, for in their eyes disruption of a system is no calamity, nor is it cruelty or any kind an evil. Everything is right to them [as long as it serves their purpose].65 Hudhayfa bin al-Yaman narrated a hadith in which he said: The Prophet (sas) said, “There will be after me leaders who do not follow my guidance and do not follow my Sunnah, and there will be among them men whose hearts are like those of Satan in the body of a human being.” And I asked the Prophet (sas), “What I should do at that time if I reach it?” He said, “listen and obey the ruler, even if he lashed your back and took your money, listen and obey.”66 In another narration:

Auf bin Mālik said, “O Prophet of God, do you recommend that we fight them?” He said, “No, do not fight them as long as they do not prevent you from your prayers. And if you see from them something that you dislike, dislike their acts, do not dislike them. And do not take your hand out from obedience to them.” 634 It is narrated from ‘Abdullāh ibn al-‘Abbās that the Prophet (sas) said: If someone dislikes his ruler, he must be patient, because if he comes against the ruler in a rebellious or destructive manner by only a handspan and dies, he dies in a state of pre-Islamic ignorance (jāhilīyyah) and sin.68 Other hadiths with similar themes are:

The Prophet (sas) said, “There will be upon you leaders who you will recognize and disapprove of; whoever rejects them is free, whoever hates them is safe as opposed to those who are pleased and obey them.” They said, “Should we not fight them.” He said,“No, as long as they pray.”

The Prophet (sas) said, “The best of your leaders are those you love and they love you, you pray for them and they pray for you. The worst of your leaders are those who anger you and you anger them and you curse them and they curse you.” We replied, “O Messenger of God, should we not remove them at that?” He said, “No, as long as they establish the prayer amongst youʢ”69 These texts are clear evidence that whoever lives under a government must obey the ruler and live peacefully. Insurrection, or violence by any group against the ruler, is completely rejected in Islam, and was prohibited by the Prophet (sas) and will be a cause of death on the way of ignorance (jāhilīyyah). These hadith refer to the leader of a nation, not the leader of a small group. Therefore, groups that take up violent struggle against their regimes are prohibited in Islam and are, by default, illegal and blameworthy.

The true path to correcting the mistakes of a ruler is according to the hadith:” A most excellent Jihād is when one speaks a word of truth in the presence of a tyrannical ruler.”340 Note here that the hadith does not mention fighting the ruler, but rather praises the one who corrects the ruler by speech. Unfortunately, we see today countless individuals and groups who label their rulers and their governments apostates or unbelievers, thinking that this gives them an excuse to declare “Jihād” against them. They assert that this is because they do not rule by what was revealed to the Prophet (sas). Even worse, they terrorize and kill government officers, members of the armed forces and public servants, simply because they are easy targets. These groups use a “militant Islamic” ideology to justify such felonious action, declaring the ruler, the government, and its officers to be criminals standing in the way of “true Islam” who thus must be eliminated. If the ruler commits wrong, it is not permitted to label him an apostate, nor to indoctrinate people to use militancy to oppose him. In the time of the Prophet (sas) after the conquest of Makkah, a Companion named Hātib ibn Abī Balta, assisted some of the enemies of Islam by passing them secret information. When questioned as to his motives, Hātib replied:

O Prophet of God! Do not hasten to give your judgment about me. I was a man closely connected with the Quraish, but I did not belong to this tribe, while the other emigrants with you, had their relatives in Makkah who would protect their dependents and property. So, I wanted to compensate for my lacking blood relation to them by doing them a favor so that they might protect my dependents. I did this neither because of disbelief nor apostasy nor out of preferring disbelief (kufr) to Islam.

The Prophet (sas) of God said, “Hātib has told you the truth.”341 We see here that the Prophet (sas), though fully aware of Hātib’s actions, never considered him to be outside the fold of Islam, nor did he inflict any punishment on him. Regarding Hātib and his support of the unbelievers, God revealed the following verse:

“O you who believe! Do not take My enemy and your enemy for friends: would you offer them love while they deny what has come to you of the truth, driving out the Messenger and yourselves because you believe in God, your Lord?” [60:1]

Though the verse reprimands Hātib, showing him in the wrong, God nonetheless did not take him out of the state of belief, yet continued to address him with the honorable title “you who believe.” This constitutes proof that, even if someone assists a regime that does not support Islam, one cannot harm that person, as the Prophet (sas) did not inflict any punishment on Hātib. One wonders then how so many groups today freely label those working for their governments as renegades and apostates, and issue fierce edicts to kill them. Their work with the government might be for their livelihood, or for building a bridge of trust for the Islamic community to ensure a better future relationship or a better understanding of Islam.


Islam is not a rhetorical religion. It is based on unity, love and rational action. Soon after the Prophet’s death, Islam radiated out from its earthly center, the Ka’aba, implacable symbol of the faith. Jihād was the dynamic of this expansion. Outwardly, it embodied the power of Islam against error and falsehood; inwardly, it represented the means of spiritual awakening and of transcending the self. Referring to this, the Prophet (sas) said while returning from battle:

We are now returning from the lesser Jihād to the greater Jihād, the Jihād against the self.342 The Prophet (sas) is reported to have said during his Farewell Pilgrimage:… The fighter in the Way of God is he who makes Jihād against himself (jāhada nafsah) for the sake of obeying God.343 God says in the Holy Qur’ān: Those who have striven for Our sake, We guide them to Our ways. [29:69] In this verse, God uses a derivative of the linguistic root of the word “Jihād” to describe those who are deserving of guidance, and has made guidance dependent on Jihād against the false desires of the soul. Therefore, the most perfect of people are those who struggle the most against the selfish promptings of the ego for God’s sake. The most obligatory Jihād is that waged against the base side of the ego, desires, the devil and the lower world.

The great Sufi Al-Junayd said: Those who have striven against their desires and repented for God’s sake shall be guided to the ways of sincerity. One cannot struggle against his enemy outwardly (i.e. with the sword) except he who struggles against these enemies inwardly. Then whoever is given victory over them will be victorious over his enemy, and whoever is defeated by them, his enemy defeats him.


The Prophet (sas) said: “Shall I tell you something that is the best of all deeds, constitutes the best act of piety in the eyes of your Lord, elevates your rank in the hereafter, and carries more virtue than the spending of gold and silver in the service of God, or taking part in Jihād and slaying or being slain in the path of God?” They said: “Yes!” He said: “Remembrance of God.”344 Thus, one finds the principles of the spiritual Jihād are based on eliminating the ugly, selfish and ferocious characteristics of the ego through spiritual training and mastery of dhikr, the remembrance of God. This remembrance takes many forms. Each school of Sufism focuses on a different form of ritual dhikr to enable the seeker to approach the Divine Presence, varying from individual, silent recitation and chanting to vocal group sessions. It is this spiritual struggle that raises man and instills in him the sense of relationship with His Creator. It is always calling for love between humanity and striving in God’s Way for better understanding between various communities of all faiths. Through this spiritual Jihād, the effect of the selfish ego on the soul of the seeker is removed, uplifting his state from depression, anxiety and loneliness to one of joy, satisfaction and companionship with the Most High.


It is apparent that the understanding of Jihād as a concept is dismally blurred by the ongoing rhetoric employed by Islamist activists and extremist scholars. Disregarding centuries of classical scholarship and using a simplistic, literal approach to the Qur’ān and the holy traditions of the Prophet (sas), they have created a convincing picture of Jihād as militant, continuing warfare between the Muslims and non-Muslims—a situation they contend will maintain until the end of time. The only way to dispel the false notions of Jihād put forth by the extremists, who are extraordinarily well-funded and organized, is an equally strong effort put forth by Muslim governments in re-educating their populations, in particular their youth, about the correct meaning and implications of this term. Such efforts must be sustained and ongoing, and must have the support of modern, moderate Muslim scholars in each nation. I propose the following recommendations for each nation engaging in these re-education efforts:

  1. Hold follow-on discussions to create a response to the current abuse of the term Jihād.
  2. Stage public presentations to educate the citizenry about this information, based on those discussions.
  3. Publish literature, including school textbooks for all ages, explaining the accurate definition of Jihād and distributing this literature in large quantities.
  4. Encourage modern, moderate scholars to stand up and speak up in opposition to the extremists.
  5. Create a national podium for modern, moderate scholars so that their voices may be heard including television spots, radio, and public events.
  6. Publish in public media the proceedings of the above mentioned debates and discussions by modern, moderate scholars.

This effort to educate the Muslim masses about the true meaning of Jihād will, in itself, provide an important contemporary example of its true Spirit

1   Musnad of Ahmad. Similar ahadith are narrated in Abū Dawūd and Tirmidhī.
2   Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyyah, Zād al-Ma’ād.
3   Ibn Rushd (known in the Western world as Averroes), Muqaddimah, p. 259.
4   Muhammad Sa‘īd R. Al-Būtī, Jihad fīl-islām, Dar al-Fikr, Beirut, 1995.
5   Ibid., p. 44.
6   Muhammad Sa‘īd R. Al-Būtī, Jihad fīl-islām, Dar al-Fikr., Beirut, 1995, p. 16.
34   Imām Mālik bin Anas, al-Mudawwanat al-kubra, p.180.
8   Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīyyah, Zād al-Ma’ād.
9   al-Nawawī, al-Minhāj, p. 210.
10   Imām al-Dardīr, Al-Sharh al-saghīr.
11   Mansūr bin Yunes al-Bahūtī, Kashf al-qina’a, p. 33.
12   Jihād fīl-islām, Muhammad Sa‘īd R. Al-Būtī, Dar al-Fikr, Beirut, 1995, p. 16.
13   Musnad Ahmad. Similar ahādith are narrated in Abū Dawūd and Tirmidhī.
14   Sayyid Sabiq, Fiqh as-Sunnah, 2nd ed., vol. 3, (Beirut: Daru’l-Fikr, 1980).
15   Muhammad Sā‘īd al-Qahtānī , Al-Walā wal-Barā’, Translated by Omar Johnstone.
16   Ibn Mājah reported it in his Sunan, from ‘Abd-Allāh bin ‘Amr.
134   The singular exception to this consensus being the opinion of Imām Shafi‘i.
18   A mass-transmitted hadith narrated by Bukhārī, Muslim, Abū Dawūd, Tirmidhī, an-Nasā’ī, Ibn Majah from Abū Hurayrah
19   Muhammad Sa‘īd R. Al-Būtī, Jihād fīl-islām, Dar al-Fikr, Beirut, 1995, p. 58.
20   Bukhārī.
21   al-Būtī, Op. cit.
22   al-Būtī, Op. cit., p. 92.
23   Narrated by Abū Dawūd, ibn Majah, Tirmidhī, and Ahmad.
24   al-Būtī, Op. cit., pp. 108-109.
25   Ibn Qudāma, Al-Mughnī, Vol. 9, p. 184.
26   al-Dardīr, Al-Sharh al-Saghīr, Vol. 2, p. 2344
234   Abū Bakr’s al-Jazā`irī, Minhāj al-Muslim, Chapter of Jihād.
28   al-Tahanūī, Kashf al-Qina‘a, vol. 3, p. 41.
29   Abū’l-Hasan ‘Alī Mawardī, al-Ahkām al-sultānīyyah, 1st ed., (Beirut: Daru’l-Kitab al-‘Arabi, 1990), p. 52.
30   Al-Sarkhasī, al-Mabsūt, vol. 10, p. 3.
31   Al-Sharbīnī, Mughnī al-muhtāj, vol. 4, p. 210.
32   Sayyid Sābiq, Fiqh as-Sunnah, 2nd ed., vol. 3, (Beirut: Daru’l-Fikr, 1980), p.
33   The complete text of the Hadith is: Makhūl narrates from Abū Hurayrah who narrates from the Prophet (sas): “Jihad is obligatory upon you with a Muslim ruler whether he is pious or impious, and the prayer is obligatory upon you behind every Muslim whether he is pious or impious even if he is guilty of the major sins.” (Sunan Abū Da’ud, No. 21341)
34   Zafar Ahmad ‘Uthmani, Ii‘la al-Sunan, 3rd ed., vol. 12, (Karachi: Idaratu’l- Qur’an wa ‘Ulumi’l-Islamiyyah, 1415 AH), pp. 15-16. Cited by Shehzad Saleem in “No Jihad without a State,” Renaissance Monthly, December 1999.
35   Cited by Shehzad Saleem in “No Jihad without a State,” Renaissance Monthly,
36   al-Dardīr, Al-Sharh al-Saghīr, Vol. 2, p. 2344.
334   Abū Dawūd and Tirmidhī
38   Sayyid Sābiq, Fiqh as-Sunnah.
39   Bukhārī.
40   Imām Ibn Rajab al-Hanbalī, Warathatu’l-Anbiyā’. Chapter 8, pgs. 334-38.
41   Bukhārī reported it from Ibn ‘Abbās.
42   Ahmad recorded it in his Musnad, from Fadālah bin Ubayd.
43   Ibn Qayyim al-Jawīyyah, Zād al-Ma’ād.
44   Related by Muslim and Bukhārī.
45   Muslim, Abū Dawūd and at-Tirmidhī.
46   Muslim and Bukhārī recorded it.
434   Bukhārī, Abū Dawūd, and an-Nisā’ī. at-Tirmidhī graded it sound.
48   Sayyid Sābiq, Fiqh as-Sunnah.
49   Ibn Qudāma, al-Mughnī, vol. 12, pp. 691-693.
50   Abū Dawūd narrated it in his Sunan from Anas bin Mālik.
51   Narrated in the Sunan of Abū Dāwūd from Rābih ibn Rabi‘, and At-Tabārī narrated a similar tradition in his al-Awsat from Ibn ‘Umar. Similar narrations are related in Ibn Mājah, and Ahmad from Hanzalah.
52   Cited in Tārīkh at-Tabarī, vol. 3, pp. 226-2234.
53   Abū Dawūd narrated it in his Sunan, from Muhammad bin Hamzah al-Aslamī from his father.
54   Narrated in Bukhārī.
55   Cited in Tārīkh at-Tabarī, vol. 3, pp. 226-2234.
56   Reported by Abū Awānah in his Mustakhraj from the hadith of Thābit bin ad-Dahāk. A similar hadith is reported by Abū ‘Umrān by al-Bazzār but its chain contains Ishāq ibn Idrīs who is “discarded.”
534   Bukhārī
58   Bukhārī.
59   Muslim.
60   The first narration is by Baqi ibn Makhlad in his Musnad narrated from Ibn Ishaq. The second is from Thumama, from Anas. Both are cited by Hafiz Ibn Hajar in al-Isaba fi Tamyiz al-Sahaba, Vol. 1 p. 2349-280.
61   Imām Abū Hanīfa, Sharh al-aqā’id an-nasafīyya, p.180-181.
62   Ibn al-Nujūm Al-Ashbah wal-nadhā’ir, p. 205.
63   Al-Bahjūrī, Sharh Sahīh Muslim, vol. 2, p. 259.
64   Al-Bahjūrī, Hashiyyat al-Bahjūrī ‘ala sharh al-ghizzi, vol. 259.
65   Islahi, Amin Ahsan, Da‘wat-i-Din awr us ka Tariqah-i-kar (Urdu; ch. 14, pp.241-2).
66   Sahīh Muslim.
634   Sahīh Muslim.
68   Bukhārī and Muslim.
69   Narrated in Ad-Dārimī’s Sunan and a similar hadith is related in Musnad Ahmad.
340  Narrated by Abū Sa‘īd al-Khudrī in Abū Dawūd and Tirmidhī.
341   Sahīh Bukhārī.
342   Ghazali, in the Ihyā’; al-‘Irāqī said that Bayhaqi related it on the authority of Jābir and said: There is weakness in its chain of transmission. According to Nisā’ī in al-Kuna is a saying by Ibrāhīm ibn Ablah.
343   Tirmidhī, Ahmad, Tabarānī, Ibn Mājah, and al-Hākim.
344   Related on the authority of Abū al-Dardā by Ahmad, Tirmidhī, Ibn Mājah, Ibn Abī al-Dunyā, al-Hākim, Bayhaqī, and Ahmad also related it from Mu‘adh ibn Jabal

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