What exactly is Jihad?

The word “jihad” does not mean “holly war,” a phrase invented by the Western media.

Literally translated, “holy war’ in Arabic would be “El harb el Moukadassa” and there is no mention of it in the Qur’an.

The word jihad found in the Qur’an means to struggle and to strive, to make a constant effort to achieve the Right Path.

The prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “The most excellent Jihad is that for the conquest of self.”


Here are a few examples of forms of Jihad.


Fighting evil of any kind in society is a type of jihad.

Getting up every day to go to work to contribute to society is a form of jihad, improving your life and the life of your children is a form of jihad.

Volunteering your own time to help people in need is a form of jihad.

Another form of jihad (the one the media tends to refer to) is the right of Muslims to defend themselves against invaders.


It is strictly forbidden in Islam for Muslims to be the initiators of war. When a Muslim country is invaded and after having exhausted all forms of diplomacy (diplomacy is also a form of jihad in order to prevent armed conflict and the loss of human lives) and if war is imminent, scholars and people of knowledge will decide if fighting is necessary. If that is the case, defending the country from invaders becomes a form of jihad. While defending themselves during a war, Muslims must obey strict rules:


It is forbidden for Muslims to resort to unscrupulous methods, to pillage and kill indiscriminately, to kill civilians or those not participating directly in a war, to take up arms against women, children, the old, and the injured, to mutilate enemy corpses, or destroy fields and livestock. Prisoners are to be treated humanely. Destruction of lands, fruit trees, animals, towns, and villages is also forbidden. Muslims must be inclined to peace if the enemy is genuinely inclined to peace, to make treaties and agreements to preserve the peace, and to observe the treaties as long as the enemy observes them.

In the Qur’an, the word peace is repeated 67 times. God says:


“If they leave you alone and offer to make peace with you, God does not allow you to harm them.” (Qur’an 4:90)


“And if they incline to peace, then you incline to it, and trust in God” (Qur’an 8:61)


Some critics of Islam carelessly quote the following verse to illustrate Islam’s aggressiveness: “…And slay them wherever you catch them….”(Qur’an 2:191)


However, the full quotation is:


“Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loves not transgressors. And slay them wherever you catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they fight you there first; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith. But if they cease, God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. (Qur’an2:190-192)


As prescribed in this verse fighting is for self-defense, not to commit murders or to oppress others.


This is re-enforced through the value of the Human life attributed by God in the Qur’an:

“…if any one slew a person, unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land,  it would be as if he slew the whole humanity and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the whole humanity. Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear guidance, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land. (Qur’an 5:32)


“…Take not life, which God has made sacred, except by way of justice and law. Thus does He command you, so that you may learn wisdom” (Qur’an 6:151).


God’s verses are very clear; Islam does not excuse the killing of civilians, no matter the circumstances.


The prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said:

“Shedding of blood will be the first matter about which judgment will be given on the Day of Resurrection.”


Over 500 Muslim scholars condemned all acts of terrorism wherever they take place and whoever was behind them and criticized the harm inflicted on unarmed civilians and civilian facilities under the pretext of fighting international wars. A prominent Islamic scholar Muhammad Tahir ul Qadri issued a fatwa (Islamic law issued by an Islamic scholar) aimed at young Muslims to turn their backs on blind extremism which has no place in Islam. The very knowledgeable scholar added: “The reality is that whatever they are doing is not martyrdom. All these activities are taking them straight to hellfire”.