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The Misunderstood Doctrine of Jihād
Nadir Aqeel

These days one often hears calls to raise arms from various quarters of our religious bureaucracy in the name of Jihād. The target for Jihād, however, varies from case to case depending upon who is making the call and with what motive. It ranges from Jihād against the oppressive rule in Afghanistan to Jihād against non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan. Jihād (in the sense of Holy War) has become a key to all problems and every day the rising sun witnesses yet another application of this cliché. In this age, when most religious concepts have been distorted through abuse by fanatics, the distortion of the concept of Jihād has gone almost unnoticed.

But the consequences of this transformation are manifest. They start from declaration of war against all infidels, pagans and non-Muslims. Usually the war cry is based on insufficient religious insight and a lack of appreciation of one’s capabilities. Sermons are replete with the slogans of "Rise and Crush" being usually directed against the super powers of the world. The Indian Muslims are provoked to rebel; the Muslims in Russia are incited to revolt, and so on ! Here the foe is unmistakable and undisputed, because he is a Non-Muslim.

Then a step forward! Even the Muslim rulers are not spared for a plethora of reasons. There are countries where Jihād is being pursued against rulers who are Muslims but are not ready to accept their demand to adopt a certain variant of theocracy as a form of government. In other countries, the rulers are targets of guerilla warfare because the government is not succumbing to the pressure of religious groups. A group will revolt against a Muslim rule because differences on minor "fight" (legal) issues remain unresolved. The incidence of taking over of the Khana Ka’aba in Mecca a few years ago is an example of such militancy in the name of Jihād.

The abuse of this holy concept is stretched to the last limit when it is misused to justify armed struggle between two sects of Islam, between two political parties and even between two factions of students ! It is quite often that a group of students is using firearms against another under the pretext of Jihād with a solemnity only paralleled by Muslim fighters during the Crusades of the middle ages. These Muslim youth commit cold blooded murders without any qualms of conscience because they have been convinced that in doing they would fulfil the dictates of the Qur’ān and Sunnah. A lot of bad blood exists in the colleges, universities, mosques, and madrassahs because of ruthless killings for the sake of the so called ‘Jihād’. A significant number of celebrated religious scholars have faced the blade of this intolerance and terrorism because petty sectarian differences have allowed the use of arms under the licence of Jihād. This situation calls for a re-examination of the doctrine of Jihād as found in the Qur’ān and Sunnah.

Jihād in the sense of armed struggle is only allowed in the following circumstances:


1. A sovereign state can declare Jihād to defend its frontiers when it is attacked or its integrity is threatened.

2. Jihād can be declared by a sovereign Muslim state against a non-Muslim state guilty of persecuting its Muslim minority and not permitting them to retain their identity.

3. The third form of Jihād is what was undertaken during the Rightly Guided Caliphate. This Jihād requires the establishment of a Muslim state comprising all Ummah, observing all injunctions of the code of Islam and presenting before the world a benign welfare society. By doing this, the Ummah, in fact, discharges its duty of Shahādat-i-Haq and, then expects the world to emulate it. When such a model glitters in the world of reality, and when in the words of the Prophet Jesus (sws) "The Kingdom of God" is at hand, truth becomes so manifest that no further validation or corroboration is required. It is presumed that other governments would follow it. It is accepted that individual non-Muslims may or may not convert to Islam but the right of non-Muslim rulers to oppress fellow human beings stands abolished. They are offered the following three options:

a) To accept Islam.

b) To abdicate peacefully and yield before the Caliphate and pay Jizya.

c) To get ready for war (Jihād).

This type of Jihād, however, has as its prerequisite the unification of Ummah under one rule and that too on the lines of the Rightly Guided Caliphate. Until this requirement is fulfilled, initiating Jihād is out of place.


4. The fourth type of Jihād is peculiar to the age of the Prophet (sws) of Allah. The Qur’ān articulates it as an unerring pattern in the history of Prophethood that, unlike a Nabi, a Rasūl is not sent only to preach and sermonize, but to decide the fate of the nation he addresses. He is not to be ridiculed, rejected or killed. ‘I and my Rusul will definitely be victorious’, says Allah (58:21). So the advent of a Rasūl amounts to setting up of a court for the nation in which the final judgment has to be passed. He warns the people that time is running out and that they should mend their ways. If the majority of the people accept faith, blessed are they. If they decline even after the long and painstaking work of the Rasūl despite his unparalleled character and miracles, their fate is sealed and they have to face the wrath of Allah. This scourge may assume one of the Rasūl following two dimensions:

a) If the Rasūl gathers only a small following, he quietly leaves the place with his followers and the cursed nation is destroyed by flood, earthquakes, storms or other natural calamities. The nations of Noah, Shoaib, and Saleh (May peace be upon them) met this fate.

b) If the Rasūl gathers a sufficiently large party of believers and is also able to obtain political power in an independent piece of land, the unbelievers do face the wrath of God but now the scourge appears clad in the swords of the believers and they are wiped out by the armed forces of the Rasūl.

It is this fourth type of Jihād that was waged during the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sws). As we know, all the Banī Ismail either accepted faith or were killed in the battlefield. But it is evident that this form of Jihād was permissible only during the life time of the Prophet of God and citing this Jihād as an example from the Prophet’s age to justify the current war efforts would amount to willful distortion of both Islam and history.

So what are our so-called Mujahidīn up to? Which of the above mentioned forms of Jihād are they carrying on? It is clear that unless an armed effort is being declared by a sovereign Islamic State or by a Rasūl of God, it does not qualify to be termed as Jihād. Then what is the legal status of the armed activities of these groups?

Here, let me introduce another term of Islamic law Khurūj (rebellion). Rebellion against a government is allowed in Islam. But it is linked with a set of conditions. A rebellion can only be allowed when:


1. The ruler is non-Muslim or is Muslim who is guilty of explicit rejection of faith.

2. The rule is oppressive and it is not possible to change it through constitutional means.

3. The rebels enjoy the support of the majority of the nation and are united under an undisputed leader.


Even when this set of conditions is met, a rebellion does not become obligatory (fardh) but is at best permitted (mubah).

If we review the militant efforts going on around us in the name of Islam, we would discover that most of them do not qualify to be termed as either Jihād or Khurūj. They are terrorism pure and simple, under the garb of ‘reformation’ and Jihād, only bring a bad name to Islam, and to add intolerance, hatred and blood to the world already groaning under various forms of narrow-mindedness and bigotry.

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