The outer jihad
connotes a wide range of meanings embracing: (i) the tongue, (ii) the hand and (iii) the sword. It can refer to the act of enjoining others to good and forbidding them from evil, as in the hadith
: “So whoever strives against them with his hand is a believer; whoever strives against them with his tongue is a believer; whoever strives against them with his heart is a believer. Beyond this, there is not even a grain of faith.”
It includes speaking truth to power: “The greatest jihad
is to speak a word of truth in front of a tyrannical ruler.”
Striving in dutiful service of our parents is also a form of jihad
, as in the Prophet’s reply ﷺ to a young man who desired to participate in armed combat, and whose parents were still alive: “Strive in their service—fa fihima fa jahid
Then there is that all-important mode of jihad
—inviting others to Islam by conveying its teachings: “Strive against them with it [the Qur’an], with the utmost striving” [Qur’an 25:52]. And of course there is fighting in war. In brief: not all jihad
is fighting, but nor is all fighting jihad.
Without doubt, jihad
in the sense of qital
(“fighting,” “war”) is enjoined on the faithful at numerous places in the Qur'an and is seen as a highly meritorious form of duty and sacrifice in Islam. Let us refer back to al-Raghib’s schematic of jihad
is of three types: jihad
against the apparent enemy, against the devil, and against the ego (nafs
). All three types are included in Allah's words, exalted is He: And wage jihad
in Allah’s path with all the striving that is due to Him [Qur’an 22:78]. And wage jihad
with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah [Qur’an 9:41] ... Jihad
is to be waged with the hand and the tongue, as he [the Prophet] ﷺ said: ‘Wage jihad
against the unbelievers with your hands and your tongues.’”
That said, the idea of jihad
being a ‘holy war’ is alien to the Islamic vocabulary. When rendered into Arabic, the term reads al-harb al-muqaddas
, which doesn't exist in any form in any Islamic teachings. War in Islam may be sanctioned or unsanctioned, but never holy.
Islam’s overall take on warfare can best be seen in these words of our Prophet ﷺ: “Never wish to meet your enemy, but ask Allah for safety. If you do meet them, be firm and know that Paradise lies beneath the shades of swords.”
That is to say, pursue the path of peace and reconciliation; if such a path be denied by hostile intentions, then be prepared to act differently. The next hadith
might also be used as a support: “After me there will be conflicts and affairs. If you are able, resolve them peacefully.”
Also revealing are these words expressed by the Prophet ﷺ: “The most detested of names to Allah are War (harb
) and Bitterness (murrah
Given the above, and given also the numerous peace accords and ententes the Prophet ﷺ initiated so as to halt or mitigate the woes of war, let alone how he forgave and pardoned mortal enemies wherever he could, it's simply fictitious, mischievous, or fallacious to describe the Prophet as a ‘warmonger.’ A reluctant warrior, and a leader who took to combat to safeguard his nation from extinction or subjugation, are far truer descriptions of him ﷺ.
In classical Islam, warfare is regulated by an all-important shari‘ah
dictum that says about jihad
: wujubuhu wujubu’l-wasa’il la al-maqasid
—”Its necessity is the necessity of means, not of ends.”
That is, jihad
of the military kind is not the goal; it's a means to a goal, that goal being the free and unhindered invitation to Islam and the summons to worship God alone. Islam treats war, given the harm, destruction, and loss of life that takes place, as a necessary ‘evil’ of sorts: “For had it not been for God's checking some men by means of others, monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques wherein God's name is often mentioned, would have been destroyed” [Qur’an 22:40]. Two or three centuries after Islam's birth, its jurists would define jihad
in terms of armed combat against disbelievers who did not have a peace treaty, for advancing the religion. Al-Kasani said jihad
involves: “Expending one's utmost abilities and strength to fight in Allah's way, with one's person, property, tongue, or other than this.”
And al-Qastalani defined it as: “Fighting the disbelievers, so as to support Islam and make the word of God supreme.”
This martial jihad
has rules and codes of conduct too. Among them are that the head of state carefully evaluate the potential pros and cons of war, ensure non-combatants [civilians] are not killed or willfully targeted, abide by any peace treaty or international agreement it has signed, and keep in mind receptivity to the call of Islam. The classical Islamic doctrine which forbids killing civilians in a military jihad
takes its cue from the Prophet’s saying ﷺ: “March forth in the name of God, trusting in God and adhering to the religion of God. Do not kill elderly men, infants, young children nor women.”
And Ibn ‘Umar narrates that the Prophet ﷺ “forbade the killing of women and children.”
After quoting the last hadith
, al-Nawawi stated: “Scholars agree upon acting by this hadith
and forbid the killing of women and children, provided that they do not engage in combat. If they do, the great majority of scholars (jamahir al-‘ulema
) hold that they can be fought.”
And al-Buhuti reminds us: “Declaring jihad
or not is entrusted to the head of state and his decision, for he best knows the conditions of the Muslims and of the enemy.”
This brings us to another vital aspect about jihad
in Islam: who may be fought? Are Muslims required to wage jihad
against disbelievers due to their disbelief (kufr
)? Imam Ibn Taymiyyah takes up the issue, stating: “The disbelievers, they are only to be fought on condition of them waging war first—as is the view of the majority of scholars, and as is proven by the Book and the Sunnah
Which is to say, Islam permits fighting disbelievers, not because of their disbelief, but only if they initiate war against Muslim societies, or manifest belligerence towards them. The Qur'an [2:190] says: “Fight for God's sake those that fight against you, but do not transgress the limits.” Along similar lines, Ibn al-Qayyim, another medieval jurist, held that: “Fighting is only a duty in response to being fought against, not in response to disbelief. This is why women, children, the elderly and infirm, the blind, and monks who stay out of the fighting are not fought. Instead, we only fight those who wage war against us.”
Ibn al-Qayyim also said about the Prophet ﷺ: “Never did he force the religion upon anyone, and he only fought those who waged war against him and fought him. As for those who entered into a peace treaty with him, or concluded a truce, he never fought them, nor ever coerced them to enter his religion, abiding by his Lord's order: There is no compulsion in religion. True guidance has become distinct from error [Qur’an 2:256] ... It will be clear to whoever ponders the life of the Prophet ﷺ, that he never coerced anyone to enter his religion and that he only fought those who fought against him first. As for those who ratified a peace treaty with him, he never fought them, provided they kept to their covenant and did not violate its terms.”
Such was the majority juristic view, that jihad
is waged in response to hostility, not religious affiliation, and eventually prevailed within Sunni Islam. Thus, the Prophet's defensive battles, like Badr, Uhud, Ahzab, and Hunayn, occurred in circumstances in which the enemy launched an offensive against the Muslims who then had to defend religion and realm. In other battles like Khaybar, Mu‘tah, or Tabuk, where the Muslim state was aware of the enemy’s impending aggression, there was a need to strike preemptively as a form of defense.
In light of the above, how do we explain jihad talab
—”offensive” war? Classical law manuals almost invariably include the likes of the following statement in their martial codes: “Jihad
in Allah's path [is to be waged] every year.”
Also: “It is a communal duty once each year.”
So how does this square with what's previously been stated? Well, jihad
doctrines were based on defense, not only in terms of actual hostilities launched against Muslims, but also preemptively in cases of likely aggression. This doctrine was devised at a time when the Islamic state was surrounded by other states with whom there was no peace treaty, or who were openly belligerent. In such a dog-eat-dog world, one either attacked first, or else was attacked. Such was the state of affairs throughout the pre-modern world. The twentieth century, however, changed all that. The U.N. Peace Charter effectively made peace the default between nation states—at least in theory. As such, Muslim juristic voices began to reflect this new reality: “It is essential to note that the world today is united under a single organization where each member [state] adheres to its terms and conditions. The Islamic ruling in this case is that it is obliged to fulfill all agreements and treaties that the Islamic lands commit themselves to, as is stipulated by the law of fulfilling treaties endorsed by the Qur’an. Based on this, those non-Muslim countries that are members of this world organization are not deemed as the Abode of War (dar al-harb
). Instead, they should be seen as Abodes of Truce (dar al-‘ahd
It is worth stating that Islamic jurisprudence isn't only shaped by ideals, but also by realities. That is to say, if non-aggression or peace between countries is only honored in the breach, rather than the actual observance, there is no reason why Muslim juristic voices should not reflect the reality on the ground.
Most qualified jurists and recognized fatwa
committees of our age hold—and their word in shari‘ah
affairs is authoritative and represents orthodoxy—that a state of war shall not exist between Muslims and others unless hostility against a Muslim land is initiated or barriers to da‘wah
erected. Al-Khallaf wrote: “The legislated jihad
is there to carry the Islamic call and to defend the Muslims against any belligerency. Whoever does not respond to the call, nor resists its taking place, nor initiates hostilities against Muslim polities, then it is not permissible to fight them. A state of security cannot be altered for that of fear ... A state of war will not exist between the Muslims and others except in cases where hostility towards Muslims is initiated, or barriers to da‘wah
are erected, or harm is perpetrated towards the callers or the call.”
Inarguably, in an age of the Internet and social media, as well as global movement or displacement, it’s nearly impossible for countries to erect barriers to prevent da‘wah
to Islam. Being a double-edged sword, it is precisely the same social media that also allow the alarming growth of Islamophobia and anti-Islam sentiments to gain wider and wider societal traction.
As for when the Muslim army is in the thick of a religiously-sanctioned war, this is where the following passages of the Qur'an (and their like) come into play: “Slay them wherever you find them; drive them out of the places from which they drove you” [Qur’an 2:190-91]. Also: “Slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them [captive] and besiege them, and lie in ambush for them everywhere” [Qur’an 9:5]. And then, of course, there is this: “But if they incline towards peace, incline to it too” [Qur’an 8:61]. Observing peace accords with non-Muslim polities again demonstrates Islam's willingness to live peacefully with its neighbors, regardless of their religion. When Muslims are instructed to fight treaty-breakers, it is the breaking of a treaty that invites conflict, not the fact that the treaty-breakers are disbelievers: “Will you not fight a people who have broken their pacts and desired to drive out the Messenger and attacked you first?” [Qur’an 9:13].
If any Muslim state contracts a truce with a non-Muslim one, other Muslim states aren't bound by this peace treaty. For each Muslim country has its own peace accords and foreign policies that are specific to itself. The cue for this is taken from the Treaty of Hudaybiyah in which the persecuted Makkan Muslim fugitives, like Abu Busayr, Abu Jandal and their men, weren't covered by the treaty ratified by the Prophet ﷺ with the Makkans. Nor was their guerrilla warfare against the non-Muslim Makkans, nor their raids against their caravans, seen as breaches of the Prophet's truce ﷺ: for they were essentially a self-governing state not bound by the political jurisdiction of the Prophet ﷺ. Ibn al-Qayyim stated: “The peace treaty between the Prophet ﷺ and the [Makkan] idolaters wasn't a treaty that included Abu Busayr or his followers.”
In other words, each Muslim state is required to honor its own international accords, and not aid or support other Muslim states against those with whom they have a pact of non-aggression. Such is the weight that the Qur'an places on covenants of security and peace accords and truces; as Allah says: “But if they seek help from you in the affair of religion then it is your duty to help them, except against a people between whom and you there exists a treaty” [Qur’an 8:72].
Ibn Taymiyyah once wrote: “The Prophet ﷺ was the most perfect in terms of this bravery—which is appropriate for commanders in war. He did not kill anyone [in war] save Ubayy b. Khalaf, killing him on the day of Uhud. He didn't kill anyone else before or after this.”
Of the twenty-seven battles (ghazwat
, sing. ghazwah
) that took place in his life, the Prophet ﷺ participated in nine.
The total number of deaths on both sides was one thousand and eighteen persons. Of those, seven-hundred and fifty-nine were enemy deaths; two-hundred and fifty-nine were Muslims. In fact, the number of enemy fatalities drops to three-hundred and fifty-nine when limited to those killed on the actual battlefield.
Such were the pious restraints that infused the spirit of jihad
of the Prophet ﷺ. What's remarkable, Gai Eaton wrote, isn't just the rapid pace with which Islam spread across the then known world, but “the fact that no rivers flowed with blood, no fields were enriched with the corpses of the vanquished … they were on a leash. There were no massacres, no rapes, no cities burned. These men feared God to a degree scarcely imaginable in our time and were in awe of His all-seeing presence, aware of it in the wind and the trees, behind every rock and in every valley... [T]here had never been a conquest like this.”
The historical record belies the bloodthirsty image that ISIS-like extremists, on the one hand, and Islamophobes on the other, continue to portray of Islam and the Prophet ﷺ.
Speaking of death tolls in war, Dr. Naveed Sheikh's essay, Body Count
, is something of an eye-opener. It's a statistical study which attempts to put numbers on the human death toll of religious and political violence during the last two thousand years, and relates these to religio-cultural civilizations. These civilizations, as well as their locales, are: Antitheist (former Communist bloc); Buddhist (East Asia, parts of South Asia); Christian (Europe, the Americas, few parts of Africa); Indic (India, Nepal, Mauritius); Islamic (Middle East, parts of Asia, parts of Africa); Primal-Indigenous (parts of Africa, the Americas before colonialism); and Sinic (China, some neighboring states). Key findings showed that the Christian world was responsible for the highest death count in this historical period (responsible for 31% of all deaths: 178,000,000), followed by the Antitheist (22%: 125,000,000), then the Sinic world (19%: 108,000,000), then Primal-Indigenous (8%: 46,000,000), after which came the Islamic world (5%: 31,000,000), and lastly the Indic (less than 0.5%: 2,000,000 fatalities). In contrast to the Islamic world, Buddhist civilization has experienced exceptionally good press in the West. Yet the Buddhist contribution to world fatalities is three times higher than the Islamic; the Christian world's being six times higher, while the Antitheist four times. Yet despite only the Indic civilization having a lower death toll, the Muslim world tends to always be on the receiving end of media charges and stereotypes of violence, murder, and intolerance.
Lastly, let's touch on the following: a believer’s love for martyrdom. In one hadith
, we see the Prophet ﷺ relish the following: “By Him in whose hand is my life. I would love to be killed in Allah's way and then be brought back to life; then be killed and be brought back to life; then be killed and be brought back to life; then be killed.”
The Prophet ﷺ cherished martyrdom, not because of the love of blood and gore, nor for the glory of war itself, nor for the clanging of steel or the thrill of the fight. He loved it because it represented the highest service to, and the ultimate sacrifice for, God. To surrender to Allah one's actual life, for a cause Allah loves and honors, is the greatest possible expression of loving Allah. It's no wonder, then, that the Prophet ﷺ said: “Whoever dies without participating in a battle, or even desiring to do so, dies upon a branch of hypocrisy.”
Believers, though, whilst they long to meet a martyr's death, strive to live a righteous life. For how can one truly desire to die for God, if one does not sincerely try to live for God?