For other uses, see Jihad (disambiguation).

Jihad (English pronunciation: /ɪˈhɑːd/; Arabic: جهاد jihād [dʒɪˈhaːd]) is an Islamic term referring to the religious duty of Muslims to maintain and spread the religion. In Arabic, the word jihād is a noun meaning the act of "striving, applying oneself, struggling, persevering".[1] A person engaged in jihad is called a mujahid (Arabic: مجاهد), the plural of which is mujahideen (مجاهدين). The word jihad appears frequently in the Quran,[2] often in the idiomatic expression "striving in the way of God (al-jihad fi sabil Allah)", to refer to the act of striving to serve the purposes of God on this earth.[1][3][4][5]

Muslims[6] and scholars do not all agree on its definition. Many observers—both Muslim[7] and non-Muslim[8]—as well as the Dictionary of Islam,[3] talk of jihad having two meanings: an inner spiritual struggle (the "greater jihad"), and an outer physical struggle against the enemies of Islam (the "lesser jihad")[3][9] which may take a violent or non-violent form.[1][10] Jihad is often translated as "Holy War",[11][12][13] although this term is controversial.[14][15] According to orientalist Bernard Lewis, "the overwhelming majority of classical theologians, jurists", and specialists in the hadith "understood the obligation of jihad in a military sense."[16] Javed Ahmad Ghamidi states that there is consensus among Islamic scholars that the concept of jihad will always include armed struggle against wrongdoers.[17]

It was generally supposed that the order for a general war could only be given by the Caliph (an office that was claimed by the Ottoman sultans until 1923), but Muslims who did not acknowledge the spiritual authority of the Caliphate—such as non-Sunnis and non-Ottoman Muslim states—always looked to their own rulers for the proclamation of a jihad. There has been no universal warfare by Muslims on non-believers since the early caliphate. Some proclaimed jihad by claiming themselves as mahdi, e.g. the Sudanese Mahommed Ahmad in 1882.[18] In classical Islam, the military form of jihad was also regulated to protect civilians.[19][20][21]

Jihad is sometimes referred to as the sixth pillar of Islam, though it occupies no such official status.[22] In Twelver Shi'a Islam, however, jihad is one of the ten Practices of the Religion.[23]


In Modern Standard Arabic, the term jihad is used for a struggle for causes, both religious and secular. The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic defines the term as "fight, battle; jihad, holy war (against the infidels, as a religious duty)".[24] Nonetheless, it is usually used in the religious sense and its beginnings are traced back to the Qur'an and words and actions of Muhammad.[25][26] In the Qur'an and in later Muslim usage, jihad is commonly followed by the expression fi sabil illah, "in the path of God."[27] Muhammad Abdel-Haleem states that it indicates "the way of truth and justice, including all the teachings it gives on the justifications and the conditions for the conduct of war and peace."[28] It is sometimes used without religious connotation, with a meaning similar to the English word "crusade" (as in "a crusade against drugs").[29]

Quranic use and Arabic forms

According to Ahmed al-Dawoody, seventeen derivatives of jihād occur altogether forty-one times in eleven Meccan texts and thirty Medinan ones, with the following five meanings: striving because of religious belief (21), war (12), non-Muslim parents exerting pressure, that is, jihād, to make their children abandon Islam (2), solemn oaths (5), and physical strength (1).[2]


Main article: Jihad in Hadith

The context of the Quran is elucidated by Hadith (the teachings, deeds and sayings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad). Of the 199 references to jihad in perhaps the most standard collection of hadith—Bukhari—all assume that jihad means warfare.[30]

Among reported saying of the Islamic prophet Muhammad involving jihad are

The best Jihad is the word of Justice in front of the oppressive sultan.
cited by Ibn Nuhaas and narrated by Ibn Habbaan[31][32][33]


The Messenger of Allah was asked about the best jihad. He said: "The best jihad is the one in which your horse is slain and your blood is spilled."
cited by Ibn Nuhaas and narrated by Ibn Habbaan[34]

Ibn Nuhaas also cited a hadith from Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, where Muhammad states that the highest kind of jihad is "The person who is killed whilst spilling the last of his blood" (Ahmed 4/144).[35]

According to another hadith,[36] supporting one’s parents is also an example of jihad.[37][38] It has also been reported that Muhammad considered well-performing hajj to be the best jihad for Muslim women.[39][40]

History of usage and practice

The practice of periodic raids by Bedouin against enemy tribes and settlements to collect spoils predates the revelations of the Quran. According to some scholars (such as James Turner Johnson), while Islamic leaders "instilled into the hearts of the warriors the belief" in jihad "holy war" and ghaza (raids), the "fundamental structure" of this bedouin warfare "remained, ... raiding to collect booty".[41] According to Jonathan Berkey, jihad in the Quran was may originally intended against Muhammad's local enemies, the pagans of Mecca or the Jews of Medina, but the Quranic statements supporting jihad could be redirected once new enemies appeared.[42] According to another scholar (Majid Khadduri), it was the shift in focus to the conquest and spoils collecting of non-Bedouin unbelievers and away from traditional inter-bedouin tribal raids, that may have made it possible for Islam not only to expand but to avoid self-destruction.[43]


"From an early date Muslim law laid down" jihad in the military sense as "one of the principal obligations" of both "the head of the Muslim state", who declared the jihad, and the Muslim community.[44] According to legal historian Sadakat Kadri, Islamic jurists first developed classical doctrine of jihad "towards the end of the eighth century", using the doctrine of naskh (that God gradually improved His revelations over the course of the Prophet Muhammed's mission) they subordinated verses in the Quran emphasizing harmony to more the more "confrontational" verses of Muhammad's later years and linked verses on exertion (jihad) to those of fighting (qital).[45] Muslims jurists of the eighth century developed a paradigm of international relations that divides the world into three conceptual divisions, dar al-Islam/dar al-‛adl/dar al-salam (house of Islam/house of justice/house of peace), dar al-harb/dar al-jawr (house of war/house of injustice, oppression), and dar al-sulh/dar al-‛ahd/dār al-muwada‛ah (house of peace/house of covenant/house of reconciliation).[46][47] The second/eighth century jurist Sufyan al-Thawri (d. 161/778) headed what Khadduri calls a pacifist school, which maintained that jihad was only a defensive war,[48][49] He also states that the jurists who held this position, among whom he refers to Hanafi jurists, al-Awza‛i (d. 157/774), Malik ibn Anas (d. 179/795), and other early jurists, "stressed that tolerance should be shown unbelievers, especially scripturaries and advised the Imam to prosecute war only when the inhabitants of the dar al-harb came into conflict with Islam."[49][50] The duty of Jihad was a collective one (fard al-kifaya). It was to be directed only by the caliph who might delayed it when convenient, negotiating truces for up to ten years at a time.[51] Within classical Islamic jurisprudence – the development of which is to be dated into—the first few centuries after the prophet's death[52]—jihad consisted of wars against unbelievers, apostates, and was the only form of warfare permissible.[53] (Another source—Bernard Lewis—states that fighting rebels and bandits was legitimate though not a form of jihad,[54] and that while the classical perception and presentation of the jihad was warfare in the field against a foreign enemy, internal jihad "against an infidel renegade, or otherwise illegitimate regime was not unknown."[55])

The primary aim of jihad as warfare is not the conversion of non-Muslims to Islam by force, but rather the expansion and defense of the Islamic state.[56][57] In theory, jihad was to continue until "all mankind either embraced Islam or submitted to the authority of the Muslim state." There could be truces before this was achieved, but no permanent peace.[44] One who died 'on the path of God' was a martyr, (Shahid), whose sins were remitted and who was secured "immediate entry to paradise."[58] However, some argue martyrdom is never automatic because it is within God's exclusive province to judge who is worthy of that designation.[59]

Classical manuals of Islamic jurisprudence often contained a section called Book of Jihad, with rules governing the conduct of war covered at great length. Such rules include treatment of nonbelligerents, women, children (also cultivated or residential areas),[60][61] and division of spoils.[62] Such rules offered protection for civilians.[19] Spoils include Ghanimah (spoils obtained by actual fighting), and fai (obtained without fighting i.e. when the enemy surrenders or flees).[63]

The first documentation of the law of jihad was written by 'Abd al-Rahman al-Awza'i and Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani. (It grew out of debates that surfaced following Muhammad's death.[25]) Although some Islamic scholars have differed on the implementation of Jihad, there is consensus amongst them that the concept of jihad will always include armed struggle against persecution and oppression.[17]

As important as jihad was, it was/is not considered one of the "pillars of Islam". According to one scholar (Majid Khadduri, this is most likely because unlike the pillars of prayer, fasting, etc., jihad was a "collective obligation" of the whole Muslim community," (meaning that "if the duty is fulfilled by a part of the community it ceases to be obligatory on others"), and was to be carried out by the Islamic state.[64] This was the belief of "all jurists, with almost no exception", but did not apply to defense of the Muslim community from a sudden attack, in which case jihad was and "individual obligation" of all believers, including women and children.[64]

Early Muslim conquests

Age of the Caliphs
  Expansion under Muhammad, 622–632/A.H. 1-11
  Expansion during the Rashidun Caliphate, 632–661/A.H. 11-40
  Expansion during the Umayyad Caliphate, 661–750/A.H. 40-129

In the early era that inspired classical Islam (Rashidun Caliphate) and lasted less than a century, jihad spread the realm of Islam to include millions of subjects, and an area extending "from the borders of India and China to the Pyrenees and the Atlantic".[65] The two empires impeding the advance of Islam were the Persian Sassanian empire and the Byzantine Empire. By 657 the Persian empire was conquered and by 661 the Byzantine empire was reduced to a fraction of its former size.

The role of religion in these early conquests is debated. Medieval Arabic authors believed the conquests were commanded by God, and presented them as orderly and disciplined, under the command of the caliph.[66] Many modern historians question whether hunger and desertification, rather than jihad, was a motivating force in the conquests. The famous historian William Montgomery Watt argued that “Most of the participants in the [early Islamic] expeditions probably thought of nothing more than booty ... There was no thought of spreading the religion of Islam.”[67] Similarly, Edward J. Jurji argues that the motivations of the Arab conquests were certainly not “for the propagation of Islam ... Military advantage, economic desires, [and] the attempt to strengthen the hand of the state and enhance its sovereignty ... are some of the determining factors.”[67] Some recent explanations cite both material and religious causes in the conquests.[68]

Post-Classical usage

According to some authors, the more spiritual definitions of jihad developed sometime after the 150 years of Muslim jihad wars and territorial expansion, and particularly after the Mongol invaders sacked Baghdad and overthrew the Abassid Caliphate.[69] The historian Hamilton Gibb states that "in the historic [Muslim] Community the concept of jihad had gradually weakened and at length been largely reinterpreted in terms of Sufi ethics."[70]

Islamic scholar Rudolph Peters also wrote that with the stagnation of Islamic expansionism, the concept of jihad became internalized as a moral or spiritual struggle.[71] Earlier classical works on fiqh emphasized jihad as war for God's religion, Peters found. Later Muslims (in this case modernists such as Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Rida) emphasized the defensive aspect of jihad—which was similar to the Western concept of a "just war".[72] Today, some Muslim authors only recognize wars with the aim of territorial defense as well as the defense of religious freedom as legitimate.[73]

Bernard Lewis states that while most Islamic theologians in the classical period (750–1258 CE) understood jihad to be a military endeavor,[74] after Islamic conquest stagnated and the caliphate broke up into smaller states the "irresistible and permanent jihad came to an end". As jihad became unfeasible it was "postponed from historic to messianic time."[75] Even when the Ottoman Empire carried on a new holy war of expansion in the seventeenth century, "the war was not universally pursued". They made no attempt to recover Spain or Sicily.[76]

When the Ottoman Caliph called for a "Great Jihad" by all Muslims against Allied powers during World War I, there were hopes and fears that non-Turkish Muslims would side with Ottoman Turkey, but the appeal did not "[unite] the Muslim world",[75][77] and Muslims did not turn on their non-Muslim commanders in the Allied forces.[78] (The war led to the end of the caliphate as the Ottoman Empire entered on the side of the war's losers and surrendered by agreeing to "viciously punitive" conditions. These were overturned by the popular war hero Mustafa Kemal, who was also a secularist and later abolished the caliphate. [79])

Contemporary fundamentalist usage

The Fulani jihad states of West Africa, c. 1830

With the Islamic revival, a new "fundamentalist" movement arose, with some different interpretations of Islam, often with an increased emphasis on jihad. The Wahhabi movement which spread across the Arabian peninsula starting in the 18th century, emphasized jihad as armed struggle.[80] Wars against Western colonial forces were often declared jihad: the Sanusi religious order proclaimed it against Italians in Libya in 1912, and the "Mahdi" in the Sudan declared jihad against the British and the Egyptians in 1881.[58]

Other early anti-colonial conflicts involving jihad include:

The so-called Fulbe jihad states and a few other jihad states in western Africa were established by a series of offensive wars in the 19th century.[81] None of these jihad movements were victorious.[82] The most powerful, the Sokoto Caliphate, lasted about a century until the British defeated it in 1903.

Early Islamism

Main articles: Islamism and Criticism of Islamism

In the twentieth century, many Islamist groups appeared, being strongly influenced by the social frustrations following the economic crises of the 1970s and 1980s.[83] One of the first Islamist groups, the Muslim Brotherhood emphasized physical struggle and martyrdom in its credo: "God is our objective; the Quran is our constitution; the Prophet is our leader; struggle (jihad) is our way; and death for the sake of God is the highest of our aspirations."[84][85] In a tract "On Jihad", founder Hasan al-Banna warned readers against "the widespread belief among many Muslims" that struggles of the heart were more demanding than struggles with a sword, and called on Egyptians to prepare for jihad against the British,[86] (making him the first influential scholar since the 1857 India uprising to call for jihad of the sword). [87] The group called for jihad against the new Jewish state of Israel in the 1940s,[88] and its Palestinian branch, Hamas, called for jihad against Israel when the First Intifada started.[89][90] [91] In 2012, its General Guide (leader) in Egypt, Mohammed Badie also declared jihad "to save Jerusalem from the usurpers and to [liberate] Palestine from the claws of occupation ... a personal duty for all Muslims." Muslims "must participate in jihad by [donating] money or [sacrificing] their life ..."[92][93] Many other figures prominent in Global jihad started in the Muslim Brotherhood[94]Abdullah Azzam, bin-Laden's mentor, started in the Muslim Brotherhood of Jordan; Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin-Laden's deputy, joined the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood at the age of 14;[95] and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who planned the 9/11 attack, claims to have joined the Kuwaiti Muslim Brotherhood at age 16.[96] The Brotherhood supports statements such as those of Yusuf al-Qaradawi—a prominent cleric with a long association with the Brotherhood—that "it is dangerous and wrong to misunderstand jihad, to shed inviolate blood in its name, to violate property and lives and to taint Muslims and Islam with violence and terrorism, ..."

According to Rudolph Peters and Natana J. DeLong-Bas, the new "fundamentalist" movement brought a reinterpretation of Islam and their own writings on jihad. These writings tended to be less interested and involved with legal arguments, what the different of schools of Islamic law had to say, or in solutions for all potential situations. "They emphasize more the moral justifications and the underlying ethical values of the rules, than the detailed elaboration of those rules." They also tended to ignore the distinction between Greater and Lesser jihad because it distracted Muslims "from the development of the combative spirit they believe is required to rid the Islamic world of Western influences".[97][98]

Contemporary fundamentalists were often influenced by jurist Ibn Taymiyya's, and journalist Sayyid Qutb's, ideas on jihad. Ibn Taymiyya hallmark themes included

Ibn Taymiyya recognized "the possibility of a jihad against `heretical` and `deviant` Muslims within dar al-Islam. He identified as heretical and deviant Muslims anyone who propagated innovations (bida') contrary to the Quran and Sunna ... legitimated jihad against anyone who refused to abide by Islamic law or revolted against the true Muslim authorities." He used a very "broad definition" of what constituted aggression or rebellion against Muslims, which would make jihad "not only permissible but necessary."[100] Ibn Taymiyya also paid careful and lengthy attention to the questions of martyrdom and the benefits of jihad: 'It is in jihad that one can live and die in ultimate happiness, both in this world and in the Hereafter. Abandoning it means losing entirely or partially both kinds of happiness.`[101]

Sayyid Qutb, Islamist author

The highly influential Muslim Brotherhood leader, Sayyid Qutb, preached in his book Milestones that jihad, `is not a temporary phase but a permanent war ... Jihad for freedom cannot cease until the Satanic forces are put to an end and the religion is purified for God in toto.`[102][103] Like Ibn Taymiyya, Qutb focused on martyrdom and jihad, but he added the theme of the treachery and enmity towards Islam of Christians and especially Jews. If non-Muslims were waging a "war against Islam", jihad against them was not offensive but defensive. He also insisted that Christians and Jews were mushrikeen (not monotheists) because (he alleged) gave their priests or rabbis "authority to make laws, obeying laws which were made by them [and] not permitted by God" and "obedience to laws and judgments is a sort of worship"[104][105]

Also influential was Egyptian Muhammad abd-al-Salam Faraj, who wrote the pamphlet Al-Farida al-gha'iba (Jihad, the Neglected Duty). While Qutb felt that jihad was a proclamation of "liberation for humanity", Farag stressed that jihad would enable Muslims to rule the world and to reestablish the caliphate.[106] He emphasized the importance of fighting the "near enemy"—Muslim rulers he believed to be apostates, such as the president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, whom his group assassinated—rather than the traditional enemy, Israel. Faraj believed that if Muslims followed their duty and waged jihad, ultimately supernatural divine intervention would provide the victory:[107]

This means that a Muslim has first of all the duty to execute the command to fight with his own hands. [Once he has done so] God will then intervene [and change] the laws of nature. In this way victory will be achieved through the hands of the believers by means of God's [intervention].

Faraj included deceiving the enemy, lying to him, attacking by night (even if it leads to accidentally killing innocents), and felling and burning trees of the infidel, as Islamically legitimate methods of fighting.[108][109] Although Faraj was executed in 1982 for his part in the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, his pamphlet and ideas were highly influential, at least among Egyptian Islamist extremist groups.[110] (In 1993, for example, 1106 persons were killed or wounded in terror attacks in Egypt. More police (120) than terrorists (111) were killed that year and "several senior police officials and their bodyguards were shot dead in daylight ambushes."[111]) Ayman al-Zawahiri, later the #2 person in Al-Qaeda, was Faraj's friend and followed his strategy of targeting the "near enemy" for many years.[112]

Abdullah Azzam

In the 1980s the Muslim Brotherhood cleric Abdullah Azzam, sometimes called "the father of the modern global jihad",[113] opened the possibility of successfully waging jihad against unbelievers in the here and now. Azzam issued a fatwa calling for jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, declaring it an individual obligation for all able bodied Muslims because it was a defensive jihad to repel invaders. His fatwa was endorsed by a number of clerics including leading Saudi clerics such as Sheikh Abd al-Aziz ibn Baz.

Azzam claimed that "anyone who looks into the state of Muslims today will find that their great misfortune is their abandonment of Jihad", and he also warned that "without Jihad, shirk (joining partners with Allah) will spread and become dominant".[114][115] Jihad was so important that to "repel" the unbelievers was "the most important obligation after Iman [faith]".[115][116]

Azzam also argued for a broader interpretation of who it was permissible to kill in jihad, an interpretation that some think may have influenced some of his students, including Osama bin Laden.[117]

Many Muslims know about the hadith in which the Prophet ordered his companions not to kill any women or children, etc., but very few know that there are exceptions to this case ... In summary, Muslims do not have to stop an attack on mushrikeen, if non-fighting women and children are present.[117]

A charismatic speaker, Azzam traveled to dozens of cities in Europe and North American to encourage support for jihad in Afghanistan. He inspired young Muslims with stories of miraculous deeds during jihad—mujahideen who defeated vast columns of Soviet troops virtually single-handed, who had been run over by tanks but survived, who were shot but unscathed by bullets. Angels were witnessed riding into battle on horseback, and falling bombs were intercepted by birds, which raced ahead of the jets to form a protective canopy over the warriors.[118] In Afghanistan he set up a "services office" for foreign fighters and with support from his former student Osama bin Laden and Saudi charities, foreign mujahideed or would-be mujahideen were provided for. Between 1982 and 1992 an estimated 35,000 individual Muslim volunteers went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets and their Afghan regime. Thousands more attended frontier schools teeming with former and future fighters.[119] Saudi Arabia and the other conservative Gulf monarchies also provided considerable financial support to the jihad—$600 million a year by 1982.[120] CIA also funded Azzam's Maktab al-Khidamat[121] and others via Operation Cyclone.

Azzam saw Afghanistan as the beginning of jihad to repel unbelievers from many countries—the southern Soviet Republics of Central Asia, Bosnia, the Philippines, Kashmir, Somalia, Eritrea, Spain, and especially his home country of Palestine.[122] The defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan is said to have "amplified the jihadist tendency from a fringe phenomenon to a major force in the Muslim world.[119]

Having tasted victory in Afghanistan, many of the thousands of fighters returned to their home country such as Egypt, Algeria, Kashmir or to places like Bosnia to continue jihad. Not all the former fighters agreed with Azzam's chioice of targets (Azzam was assassinated in November 1989) but former Afghan fighters led or participated in serious insurgencies in Egypt, Algeria, Kashmir, Somalia in the 1990s and later creating a "transnational jihadist stream."[123]

In February 1998, Osama bin Laden put a "Declaration of the World Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders" in the Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper.[124] On September 11, 2001, four passenger planes were hijacked in the United States and crashed, destroying the World Trade Center and damaging the Pentagon.


In Shia Islam, Jihad is one of the ten Practices of the Religion,[23] (though not one of the five pillars). Traditionally, Twelver Shi'a doctrine has differed from that of Sunni on the concept of jihad, with jihad being "seen as a lesser priority" in Shia theology and "armed activism" by Shia being "limited to a person's immediate geography".[125]

According to a number of sources, Shia doctrine taught that jihad (or at least full scale jihad[126]) can only be carried out under the leadership of the Imam,[127] (who will return from occultation to bring absolute justice to the world).[58] However, "struggles to defend Islam" are permissible before his return.[126]

At least one important contemporary Shia figure, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian Revolution and founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, wrote a treatise on the "Greater Jihad" (i.e., internal/personal struggle against sin).[128]

Jihad has been used by Shia Islamists in the 20th Century: Ruhollah Khomeini declared jihad on Iraq in the Iran–Iraq War, and the Shia bombers of Western embassies and peacekeeping troops in Lebanon called themselves, "Islamic Jihad". Nonetheless it has not had the high profile or global significance it had among Sunni Islamists.[125] (The Afghan jihad for example was led and populated by Sunni Muslims.)

According to The National, this changed with the Syrian Civil War, where, "for the first time in the history of Shia Islam, adherents are seeping into another country to fight in a holy war to defend their doctrine."[125] Thus, Shia and Sunni fighters are waging jihad against each other in Syria.

Evolution of jihad

Some observers[129][130] have noted the evolution in the rules of jihad—from the original “classical” doctrine to that of 21st century Salafi jihadism. According to legal historian Sadarat Kadri,[129] in the last couple of centuries incremental changes of Islamic legal doctrine, (developed by Islamists who otherwise condemn any Bid‘ah (innovation) in religion), have “normalized” what was once “unthinkable."[129] "The very idea that Muslims might blow themselves up for God was unheard of before 1983, and it was not until the early 1990s that anyone anywhere had tried to justify killing innocent Muslims who were not on a battlefield.”[131]

The first or “classical” doctrine of jihad developed towards the end of the eighth century, dwelled on jihad of the sword (jihad bil-saif) rather than “jihad of the heart”,[132] but had many legal restrictions developed from Quran and hadith, such as detailed rules involving “the initiation, the conduct, the termination” of jihad, treatment of prisoners, distribution of booty, etc. Unless there was a sudden attack on the Muslim community, jihad was not a personal obligation (fard ayn) but a collective one (fard al-kifaya),[64] which had to be discharged `in the way of God` (fi sabil Allah),[133] and could only be directed by the caliph, "whose discretion over its conduct was all but absolute."[134] (This was designed in part to avoid incidents like the Kharijia’s jihad against and killing of the Caliph Ali, who they judged a non-Muslim.) Martyrdom resulting from an attack on the enemy with no concern for your own safety was praiseworthy, but dying by your own hand (as opposed to the enemies) merited a place in hell.[135] The category of jihad that is a collective obligation is sometimes simplified in Western texts as "offensive jihad".[136]

Based on the 20th century interpretations of Sayyid Qutb, Abdullah Azzam, Ruhollah Khomeini, Al-Qaeda and others, many if not all of those self-proclaimed jihad fighters believe defensive global jihad a personal obligation, that no caliph or Muslim head of state need declare. Killing yourself in the process of killing the enemy is an act of martyrdom and brings a special place in heaven, not hell; and the killing of Muslim bystanders, (never mind non-Muslims), should not impede acts of jihad. One analyst described the new interpretation of jihad, the “willful targeting of civilians by a non-state actor through unconventional means.”[130]

Current usage

The term 'jihad' has accrued both violent and non-violent meanings. According to John Esposito, it can simply mean striving to live a moral and virtuous life, spreading and defending Islam as well as fighting injustice and oppression, among other things.[137] The relative importance of these two forms of jihad is a matter of controversy.

According to scholar of Islam and Islamic history Rudoph Peters, in the contemporary Muslim world,

Muslim public opinion

A poll by Gallup showed that a "significant majority" of Muslim Indonesians define the term to mean "sacrificing one's life for the sake of Islam/God/a just cause" or "fighting against the opponents of Islam". In Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan, and Morocco, the most frequent responses included references to "duty toward God", a "divine duty", or a "worship of God", with no militaristic connotations.[138] The terminology is also applied to the fight for women's liberation.[139] Other responses referenced, in descending order of prevalence:

Distinction of "greater" and "lesser" jihad

In his work, The History of Baghdad, Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, an 11th-century Islamic scholar, referenced a statement by the companion of Muhammad Jabir ibn Abd-Allah. The reference stated that Jabir said, "We have returned from the lesser jihad (al-jihad al-asghar) to the greater jihad (al-jihad al-akbar)." When asked, "What is the greater jihad?," he replied, "It is the struggle against oneself."[141][142][143] This reference gave rise to the distinguishing of two forms of jihad: "greater" and "lesser".[141]

The hadith does not appear in any of the authoritative collections, and according to the Muslim Jurist Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, the source of the quote is unreliable:

This saying is widespread and it is a saying by Ibrahim ibn Ablah according to Nisa'i in al-Kuna. Ghazali mentions it in the Ihya' and al-`Iraqi said that Bayhaqi related it on the authority of Jabir and said: There is weakness in its chain of transmission.
—Hajar al Asqalani, Tasdid al-qaws; see also Kashf al-Khafaa’ (no. 1362)[144]

Abdullah Azzam attacked it as "a false, fabricated hadith which has no basis. It is only a saying of Ibrahim Ibn Abi `Abalah, one of the Successors, and it contradicts textual evidence and reality."[145]

Nonetheless, the concept has had "enormous influence" in Islamic mysticism (Sufism).[143] Other observers have endorsed it [146][147] including Al-Ghazali.[148]

Hanbali scholar Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya believed that "internal Jihad" is important[149] but suggests those hadith which consider "Jihad of the heart/soul" to be more important than "Jihad by the sword", are weak.[150]

Other spiritual, social, economic struggles

Muslim scholar Mahmoud Ayoub states that "The goal of true jihad is to attain a harmony between islam (submission), iman (faith), and ihsan (righteous living)."[151]

In modern times, Pakistani scholar and professor Fazlur Rahman Malik has used the term to describe the struggle to establish "just moral-social order",[152] while President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia has used it to describe the struggle for economic development in that country.[153]

According to the BBC, a third meaning of jihad is the struggle to build a good society.[9] In a commentary of the hadith Sahih Muslim, entitled al-Minhaj, the medieval Islamic scholar Yahya ibn Sharaf al-Nawawi stated that "one of the collective duties of the community as a whole (fard kifaya) 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".[154]

Majid Khadduri[155] and Ibn Rushd[156] lists four kinds of jihad fi sabilillah (struggle in the cause of God):

Scholar Natana J. Delong-Bas lists a number of types of "jihad" that have been proposed by Muslims

Other "types" mentioned include

Usage by some Non-Muslims

Warfare (Jihad bil Saif)

Further information: Mujahideen, Jihadism, and Jihad fi sabil Allah

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, many militant groups include the term "jihad" in their names:

Some conflicts fought as jihad since the 1980s include:

Fred Donner states that, whether the Quran sanctions defensive warfare only or commands an all-out war against non-Muslims depends on the interpretation of the relevant passages.[166] According to Albrecht Noch, the Qur'an does not explicitly state the aims of the war which Muslims are obliged to wage; the passages concerning jihad rather aim at promoting fighters for the Islamic cause and do not discuss military ethics.[167] However, according to the majority of jurists, the Qur'anic casus belli (justification of war) are restricted to aggression against Muslims,[168][169] and fitna—persecution of Muslims because of their religious belief.[168] They hold that unbelief in itself is not the justification for war. These jurists therefore maintain that only combatants are to be fought; noncombatants such as women, children, clergy, the aged, the insane, farmers, serfs, the blind, and so on are not to be killed in war.[168] Thus, the Hanafī Ibn Najīm states: "the reason for jihād in our [the Hanafīs] view is kawnuhum harbā ‛alaynā [literally, their being at war against us]."[168][170] The Hanafī jurists al-Shaybānī and al-Sarakhsī state that "although kufr [unbelief in God] is one of the greatest sins, it is between the individual and his God the Almighty and the punishment for this sin is to be postponed to the dār al-jazā’, (the abode of reckoning, the Hereafter)."[168][171]


Controversy has arisen over whether the usage of the term jihad without further explanation refers to military combat, and whether some have used confusion over the definition of the term to their advantage.[172]

According to a Gallup survey, which asked Muslims in several countries what jihad meant to them, responses such as "sacrificing one's life for the sake of Islam/God/a just cause" and "fighting against the opponents of Islam" were the most common type in non-Arab countries (Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and Indonesia), being given by a majority of respondents in Indonesia.[138] In the four Arabic-speaking countries included in the survey (Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan, and Morocco), the most frequent responses included references to "duty toward God", a "divine duty", or a "worship of God", with no militaristic connotations.[138] Gallup's Richard Burkholder concludes from these results that the concept of jihad among Muslims "is considerably more nuanced than the single sense in which Western commentators invariably invoke the term."[138]

Middle East historian Bernard Lewis argues that in the Quran "jihad ... has usually been understood as meaning 'to wage war'",[173] that for most of the recorded history of Islam, "from the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad onward", jihad was used in a primarily military sense,[174] and that "the overwhelming majority of classical theologians, jurists, and traditionalists" (i.e. specialists in hadith) also "understood the obligation of jihad in a military sense."[173]

Historian Douglas Streusand writes that "in hadith collections, jihad means armed action". In what is probably the most standard collection of hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari, "the 199 references to jihad all assume that jihad means warfare."[175][176]

According to David Cook, author of Understanding Jihad

In reading Muslim literature – both contemporary and classical – one can see that the evidence for the primacy of spiritual jihad is negligible. Today it is certain that no Muslim, writing in a non-Western language (such as Arabic, Persian, Urdu), would ever make claims that jihad is primarily nonviolent or has been superseded by the spiritual jihad. Such claims are made solely by Western scholars, primarily those who study Sufism and/or work in interfaith dialogue, and by Muslim apologists who are trying to present Islam in the most innocuous manner possible.[177]

Cook argued that "Presentations along these lines are ideological in tone and should be discounted for their bias and deliberate ignorance of the subject" and that it "is no longer acceptable for Western scholars or Muslim apologists writing in non-Muslim languages to make flat, unsupported statements concerning the prevalence – either from a historical point of view or within contemporary Islam – of the spiritual jihad."[177]

Views of other groups


In Ahmadiyya Islam, jihad is primarily one's personal inner struggle and should not be used violently for political motives. Violence is the last option only to be used to protect religion and one's own life in extreme situations of persecution.[178]


Quranists do not believe that the word jihad means holy war. They believe it means to struggle, or to strive. They believe it can incorporate both military and non-military aspects. When it refers to the military aspect, it is understood primarily as defensive warfare.[179][180]


The Sufic view classifies "Jihad" into two parts: the "Greater Jihad" and the "Lesser Jihad". Muhammad put the emphasis on the "Greater Jihad" by saying, "Holy is the warrior who is at war with himself". In this sense external wars and strife are seen as but a satanic counterfeit of the true "jihad", which can only be fought and won within. There is no salvation for man without his own efforts being added to the work of self-refinement. In this sense it is the western view of the Holy Grail which comes closest to the Sufic ideal, for to the Sufis, perfection is the Grail, and the Holy Grail is for those who, after they become perfect by giving all they have to the poor then go on to become "Abdal" or "changed ones" like Enoch, who was "taken" by God because he "walked with God" (Genesis: 5:24). Here the "Holy Ones" gain the surname "Hadrat" or "The Presence".


The Bahá’ís believe that the law of Jihad has been blotted out from the scriptures.[181]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Abou El Fadl, Khaled (January 23, 2007). The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists. HarperOne. p. 221. ISBN 978-0061189036.
  2. 1 2 Al-Dawoody, Ahmed (2011). The Islamic Law of War: Justifications and Regulations. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 56. ISBN 9780230111608. Seventeen derivatives of jihād occur altogether forty-one times in eleven Meccan texts and thirty Medinan ones, with the following five meanings: striving because of religious belief (21), war (12), non-Muslim parents exerting pressure, that is, jihād, to make their children abandon Islam (2), solemn oaths (5), and physical strength (1).
  3. 1 2 3 Morgan, Diane (2010). Essential Islam: A Comprehensive Guide to Belief and Practice. ABC-CLIO. p. 87. ISBN 0-313-36025-1. Retrieved January 5, 2011.
  4. Wendy Doniger, ed. (1999). Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions. Merriam-Webster. ISBN 0-87779-044-2., Jihad, p. 571.
  5. Josef W. Meri, ed. (2005). Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-96690-6., Jihad, p. 419.
  6. John L. Esposito, Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, p.26. Oxford University Press.
  7. Jihad and the Islamic Law of War Archived August 18, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  8. Rudolph Peters, Islam and Colonialism. The doctrine of Jihad in Modern History (Mouton Publishers, 1979), p.118.
  9. 1 2 "Jihad". Retrieved February 20, 2012.
  10. DeLong-Bas (2010), p. 3
  11. Lloyd Steffen, Lloyd (2007). Holy War, Just War: Exploring the Moral Meaning of Religious Violence. Rowman& Littlefield. p. 221.
  12. cf., e.g., BBC news article Libya's Gaddafi urges 'holy war' against Switzerland
  13. Rudolph Peters, Jihad in Medieval and Modern Islam (Brill, 1977), p. 3
  14. Patricia Crone, Medieval Islamic Political Thought (Edinburgh University Press, 2005), p. 363
  15. Khaled Abou El Fadl stresses that the Islamic theological tradition did not have a notion of "Holy war" (in Arabic al-harb al-muqaddasa), which is not an expression used by the Quranic text or Muslim theologians. He further states that in Islamic theology, war is never holy; it is either justified or not. He then writes that the Quran does not use the word jihad to refer to warfare or fighting; such acts are referred to as qital. Source: Abou El Fadl, Khaled (January 23, 2007). The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists. HarperOne. p. 222. ISBN 978-0061189036.
  16. Lewis, Bernard (11 June 1991). The Political Language of Islam. University of Chicago Press. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-226-47693-3.. Cf. William M. Watt, Islamic Conceptions of the Holy War in: Thomas P. Murphy, The Holy War (Ohio State University Press, 1974), p. 143
  17. 1 2 Ghamidi, Javed (2001). "The Islamic Law of Jihad". Mizan. Dar ul-Ishraq. OCLC 52901690.
  18. "Sudan: The Mahdiyah, 1884–98". US Library of Congress, A Country Study.
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  20. Hamidullah, Muhammad (1970). Introduction to Islam. International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations. pp. 120–1. The Muslim law of war is humane. It makes a distinction between belligerents and combatants; it does not permit the killing of minors, women, the very old, sick, and monks; debts in favour of the citizens of the enemy country are not touched by the declaration of war; all killing or devastation beyond the strict indispensable minimum is forbidden; prisoners are well treated
  21. Blankinship, Khalid Yahya (2011). "Parity of Muslim and Western Concepts of Just War". The Muslim World. 101 (3): 416. doi:10.1111/j.1478-1913.2011.01384.x. ISSN 1478-1913. In classical Muslim doctrine on war, likewise, genuine non-combatants are not to be harmed. These include women, minors, servants and slaves who do not take part in the fighting, the blind, monks, hermits, the aged, those physically unable to fight, the insane, the delirious, farmers who do not fight, traders, merchants, and contractors. The main criterion distinguishing combatants from non-combatants is that the latter do not fight and do not contribute to the war effort.
  22. Esposito, John L. (1988). Islam: The Straight Path. Oxford University Press. p. 95. ISBN 978-0-19-504398-3.
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  26. Jonathon P. Berkey, The Formation of Islam; Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2003
  27. For a listing of all appearances in the Qur'an of jihad and related words, see Muhammad Fu'ad 'Abd al-Baqi, Al-Mu'jam al-Mufahras li-Alfaz al-Qur'an al-Karim (Cairo: Matabi' ash-Sha'b, 1278), pp. 182–83; and Hanna E. Kassis, A Concordance of the Qur'an (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), pp. 587–88.
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  36. Sahih al-Bukhari, 8:73:3
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  42. Berkey, Jonathan Porter (2003). The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600–1800. Cambridge University Press. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-521-58813-3. The Koran is not a squeamish document, and exhort the believers to jihad. Verses such as "Do not follow the unbelievers, but struggle against them mightily" (25.52) and "fight [those who have been given a revelation] who do not believe in God and the last day" (9.29) may originally have been directed against Muhammad's local enemies, the pagans of Mecca or the Jews of Medina, but could be redirected once a new set of enemies appeared.
  43. Khadduri, Majid (1955). "5. Doctrine of Jihad". War and Peace in the Law of Islam (PDF). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. p. 60. Retrieved October 26, 2015. The importance of the jihad in Islam lay in shifting the focus of attention of the tribes from their interribal warfare to the outside word; Islam outlawed all forms of war except the jihad, that is the war in Allah's path. It would indeed, have been very difficult for the Islamic state to survive had it not been for the doctrine of the jihad, replacing tribal raids, and directing that enormous energy of the tribes from an inevitable internal conflict to unite and fight against the outside world in the name of the new faith.
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  47. Hilmi M. Zawati (2001), Is Jihad a Just War? War, Peace, and Human Rights under Islamic and Public International Law, Studies in Religion and Society, Vol. 53, p. 50. (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press).
  48. Majid Khadduri, The Law of War and Peace, pp. 36 f.
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  86. Al-Banna, Hasan, Five Tracts of Hasan Al-Banna, (1906–49): A Selection from the "Majmu'at Rasa'il al-Imam al-Shahid Hasan al-Banna", Translated by Charles Wendell. Berkeley, CA, 1978, pp. 150, 155;
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  149. Documentation of "Greater Jihad" hadith
  150. Jihad in the Hadith, Peace with Realism, April 16, 2006
  151. Mahmoud M. Ayoub, Islam: Faith and History, pp. 68–69
  152. Fazlur Rahman, Major Themes of the Quran, (Minneapolis: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1980), pp. 63–64.
  153. Rudolph Peters, Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam (Princeton, N.J.: Markus Weiner, 1996), pp. 116–17
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  172. What Does Jihad Mean? "For example, Yasir Arafat's May 1994 call in Johannesburg for a "jihad to liberate Jerusalem" was a turning point in the peace process; Israelis heard him speak about using violence to gain political ends and questioned his peaceable intentions. Both Arafat himself and his aides then clarified that he was speaking about a "peaceful jihad" for Jerusalem."
  173. 1 2 Bernard Lewis, The Political Language of Islam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), p. 72.
  174. Lewis, Bernard, The Crisis of Islam, 2001 Chapter 2
  175. Muhammad ibn Isma'il Bukhari, The Translation of the Meaning of Sahih al-Bukhari, trans. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, 8 vols. (Medina: Dar al-Fikr: 1981), 4:34-204.
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  177. 1 2 Cook, David. Understanding Jihad. University of California Press, 2005. Retrieved from Google Books on November 27, 2011. ISBN 0-520-24203-3, ISBN 978-0-520-24203-6.
  178. "Ahmadiyya Community, Westminster Hall Debate". TheyWorkForYou.com. Retrieved October 28, 2010.
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General works

Further reading

  • Hashami, Sohail H., ed. Just Wars, Holy Wars, and Jihads: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Encounters and Exchanges (Oxford University Press; 2012) 434 pages
  • DeLong-Bas, Natana (2010). Jihad: Oxford Bibliographies Online Research Guide. Oxford University Press
  • Djihad in: The Encyclopaedia of Islam
  • Alfred Morabia, Le Ğihâd dans l'Islâm médiéval. "Le combat sacré" des origines au XIIe siècle, Albin Michel, Paris 1993
  • Rudolph Peters: Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam
  • Nicola Melis, "A Hanafi treatise on rebellion and ğihād in the Ottoman age (XVII c.)", in Eurasian Studies, Istituto per l'Oriente/Newham College, Roma-Napoli-Cambridge, Volume II; Number 2 (December 2003), pp. 215–226.
  • Rudolph Peters, Islam and Colonialism: The Doctrine of Jihad in Modern History, "Religion and Society", Mouton, The Hague 1979
  • Muhammad Hamidullah: Muslim Conduct of State
  • Muhammad Hamidullah: Battlefields of the Prophet Muhammad
  • John Kelsay: Just War and Jihad
  • Reuven Firestone: Jihad. The Origin of Holy War in Islam
  • Hadia Dajani-Shakeel and Ronald Messier: The Jihad and Its Times
  • Majid Khadduri: War And Peace in the Law of Islam
  • Hizb ut Tahrir: The Obligation of Jihad in Islam
  • Hassan al-Banna: Jihad
  • Sayyid Qutb: Milestones
  • Bernard Lewis: The Political Language of Islam
  • Suhas Majumdar: Jihad: The Islamic Doctrine of Permanent War; New Delhi, July 1994
  • Javed Ahmad Ghamidi: Mizan
  • Zaid Shakir: Jihad Is Not Perpetual Warfare
  • Biancamaria Scarcia Amoretti, Tolleranza e guerra santa nell'Islam, "Scuola aperta", Sansoni, Firenze 1974
  • J. Turner Johnson, The Holy War Idea in Western and Islamic Traditions, Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, Pa. 1997
  • Malik, S. K. (1986). The Quranic Concept of War (PDF). Himalayan Books. ISBN 81-7002-020-4. 
  • Swarup, Ram (1982). Understanding Islam through Hadis. Voice of Dharma. ISBN 0-682-49948-X. 
  • Trifkovic, Serge (2006). Defeating Jihad. Regina Orthodox Press, USA. ISBN 1-928653-26-X. 
  • Phillips, Melanie (2006). Londonistan: How Britain is Creating a Terror State Within. Encounter books. ISBN 1-59403-144-4. 
  • Masood Ashraf Raja (2009). "Jihad in Islam: Colonial Encounter, the Neoliberal Order, and the Muslim Subject of Resistance". The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences. 26 (4): 25. 
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