Jihad as war mentioned in Quran


What do the pious and expert scholars of Islam say about Jihad? Are the terrorists doing Jihad?


The concept of Jihad is the most misunderstood, variously described as ‘holy war’ or ‘terrorism’. In this fatwa we shed light on the meaning of Jihad from classical scholars and show important Jihad is for bettering the human condition.

The 9/11 terror attacks in New York and the subsequent Afghan war have sowed seeds of hatred between the west and the Muslims. The wretched process of demonisation was unleashed. On one side Islamophobia (the dread and hatred of Islam) and on the other hand anti West rhetoric. In this clash of two extremisms many things have become confused and misunderstood. Amongst them is the sacred concept of Jihad.

The most Quranic term for fighting is Qital. This occurs 44 times in different forms e.g.:

1)“And fight in God’s way those who fight you and don’t transgress” (190: Baqarah)

2) “And fight in God’s way and remember God is all hearing and all knowing”

(Al-Baqarah: 244)

A contemporary Muslim jurist Pir Muhammad Karam Shah comments on these verses as follows:

“In these verses the oppressed Muslims are being given Divine permission to use force against force. For fifteen years they had been bitterly persecuted and they endured patiently and silently. In order to understand the Quranic command of Jihad three things must be understood:

  • For what purpose
  • With whom
  • And what are the conditions for fighting

These eloquently and concisely answer these questions. About the purpose of Jihad it says, “In God’s way”. For upholding the truth and justice and not for looting, economic and industrial competition, racial prejudice or other lowly instincts. The believer does not fight for such degrading purpose.

With whom? It says, “Those who fight you “but with the condition: “you do not transgress”. When passions are inflamed, and the fire of revenge is raging do not be unjust! Since “God does not befriend the transgressors”. Women, children, disable, elderly, peasants, priests and labourers who are non-combatants should not be harmed in anyway. (Zia ul Quran vol 1:P132)

Abdullah Yusuf Ali comments as follows on these verses:

“War is permissible in self defence and under well defined limits. When under-taken it must be pushed with vigour, but not relentlessly, but only to reinforce peace and freedom for divine worship”. Further on he says: “ Is lam is the religion of peace, good will, mutual understanding and good faith. But it will not acquice in wrongdoing, and its men will hold their lives cheap in defence of honour, justice and religion, which they hold sacred. Their ideal is that of heroic virtue combined with unselfish gentleness and tenderness, such as is exemplified in the life of the prophet. They believe in courage, obedience, discipline, duty and constant striving for the establishment of truth and righteousness”.

Muhammad Asad a contemporary European commentator of the Quran understands the following from these verses: “These verses lay down unequivocally that only in self defence (in the widest sense of the word) makes war permissible for the Muslims… “Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is wrongfully waged” (22:39) lays down the fundamental principle of self-defence as the only possible justification of war” (The message of the Quran P51).

Imam Nawawi and Jihad

In his book ‘Riyazussaliheen’ Imam Nawawi  (d.1276) has a whole book dedicated to Jihad.

It opens with six most powerful verses, praising the mujahideen urging to fight in God’s way and the wonderful merits awarded to mujahid. He then cites 68 rigorously authenticated ahadith. He then cites and interesting hadith:

The prophet was asked which is the best deed? He said, “faith in God and his messenger”. He was then asked, “then which?” He replied, “Fighting in God’s way and again it was said “then which?” He said, “Properly preformed Hajj”.

He then mentions a hadith, which praise the soldiers defending the borders and living in the forts.

Followed by a hadith praising the mujahideen for example, The Prophet said, “The dusty feet of a mujahid fighter will not be touched by hell fire”.

The chapter continues with stories about disciples’ eagerness to fight and be prepared and training for jihad and breeding and keeping horses for jihad.

A bedouin once asked the prophet a person fights for the booty, another one for chivalry and the third one to show off. The prophet replied he who fights to raised God’s word is the one who is in God’s way.

The penultimate hadith is:

The prophet said, “Never wish to fight the enemy if you do meet him then be patient”. Agreed upon.

The final hadith reveals the nature of fighting, “War is trickery”.

Ibn Hajar Al Asqalani (d. 852 Ah)

In Fath hul Bari says, “Al Jihad literally means toiling, labouring, facing hardship and difficulty and in Shariah it means: exerting and struggling against the infidels it is also used for ‘mujahada tu shaitan’ struggling against the devil to reject his insinuations and his lurings for lust”.

Bukhari’s book of Al Jihad Was-sair (Book for fighting and marching) has 199 sections containing 308 ahadith extolling, praising and teaching about every aspect of Jihad; The different categories of a mujahideen, the hours in paradise, wish to become a martyr, the one who fights to raise the Divine name, the excellence of being a martyr, paradise lies under the shade of the sword, Chivalry in the battlefield.

Women’s jihad: when and how to leave for jihad, dividing booty; the angels shade the martyr; the mujahids wish to return to the world; encouragement to fight, the prophets invitation to invite people to Islam, etc.

From these medieval jurists to scholars we see the formulation of classical doctrine of Jihad as war. The evidence is from dozens of Quranic verses which are plain and clear. The details provided in the ahadith literature further elaborate this doctrine of jihad as war against injustice and evil. God says,

“And if God had not enabled people to defend themselves against one another, corruption, chaos would certainly overwhelmed the earth: But God is limitless in his bounty unto all the worlds ”.


In a similar verses in Surah Al Hajj God says,

“If God had not allowed people to defend themselves against one another the monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques…would have been destroyed”.


Here the justification for war is the defence of religious freedom.

In order to fully understand the significance of the term ‘Jihad’ in Islam we must look at some forms of Jihad. We have just examined the most popular meaning of Jihad as war. No matter how important this is for peace and justice it is still termed as Al Jihad al Asghar, the lesser jihad in the hadith. It is narrated that when the prophet was returning from Tabuk to Madinah he said, “We have just returned from a lesser Jihad to a greatest jihad”. He was asked, “What is this greatest Jihad O Messenger?” He replied, “Disciplining oneself”. We will discuss the greater jihad later.

The Quran also talks a bout a ‘great jihad’ it says, “Don’t pay heed to the unbelievers and strive against them using this (Quran) with jihadan Kabeera (a great struggle)”.

(Al Furqan: 52)

In another words use rational arguments to convince them of the truth of Islam; “Use your intellect and wisdom to invite them to your Lord and argue with them in a beautiful manner”

(An Nahl: 125)

So the Jihad bil Quran, jihad using the Quran. For thirteen years in Makkah this was the Prophet’s only form of Jihad day in and day out! Challenging the ignorance. Imam Razi comments on the verses, “And strenuously in inviting them “. Although some take it to mean Qital, however this is a Makkan Surah and the permission to fight was given in Madinah so it does not mean Qital”.

The following verse of surah Hajj is very significant as it gives the word jihad in a much wider scope then Jihad as war. The Quran says,

“And strive in Allah’s way as you ought to strive”

(Al Hajj:78)

Prof. Syed Hossein Nasr eloquently expresses this general wide-ranging meaning of Jihad, he says:

“To understand the significance of Jihad in Islam and its civilisation, we must first of all distinguish between a general, popular meaning of the term and the theological and judicial sense of the word. In the first sense it is used to mean and effort considered worthy, much like crusade in its general sense in English and not in particular reference to the religious wars carried out by Western Christianity… In the same way that in English one says that such and such organisation is carrying out a crusade to eradicate poverty or disease, in Islamic language one can say that this or that group or a government agency is carrying out a jihad, let us say, build houses for the poor”

(The heart of Islam: Harper Collins 2002)


From our survey of Quranic passages and ahadith we can discern four types of Jihad:

  • Al jihad al Asghar, the lesser Jihad this is the military warfare and the struggle to establish justice in society by fighting oppression.
  • Al jihad al Khair, or jihad bil mal the good jihad which refers to struggle to better the human condition through giving freely ones wealth, time, skills and capabilities.
  • Al jihad al Kabeer or jihad bil Quran the great jihad. This is intellectual activity inviting people to goodness using revelation, reason and scientific arguments.
  • Al jihad Akbar, the great jihad. This is inner struggle against immorality and shortcomings with the ultimate goal of self-purification. “The greatest jihad is fighting ones animal side. It is the internal striving in the path of God to overcome ones animal side. Man shares with animals certain characteristics which if let loose, make him very dangerous beast”. (Al ghazzali)

Every one of these jihads has its place and time. Jihad is a noble concept of bettering the human condition at personal, social and political level.

And Allah knows best.

Dr Musharraf Hussain Al-Azhari
Director of British Fatwa Council

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