by Prof. Mohamed Elmasry
1. The word Jihad (from the Arabic root Ga-Ha-Da) is a
verbal noun meaning exerting an effort, expounding an
energy, striving, working to improve, struggling, doing
From the same Arabic root, there is Majhood (effort),
Mojtahed (a person who does his/her best), Ijtehad (Islamic
science of deducting Islamic laws from basic sources), Johid
(potential or energy as in electrical potential or energy)
and Jihad (persuasion as in (29:8), (31:15), (6:109)).
2. Jihad in Islam is waging peace and justice. Jihad is a
war against unjust, oppression, exploitation, tyranny, fear,
corruption and denying the masses basic human rights
(4:75-76) and to establish justice, peace, freedom,
especially freedom of religion, security, equity and social
The tools for launching this war are knowledge, effort,
resources, activism, awareness, praying, persuasion,
combativeness, advocacy in addition to exercising social,
political and military pressures (9:111), (8:60), (9:44-45).
The use of the military option is not ruled out and would be
used if and only if it is the only option to stop a greater
evil (2:216). The rules of engagement are so strenuous for a
given military option to qualify as Jihad. Not every
military campaign is a Jihad (2:244).
3. Jihad in Islam is not meant for domination, and not to
achieve personal, territorial and/or economical gains and
not to exercise power and control. Any type of aggression
would make Jihad null and void (2:190-191).
4. One of the most important objectives of Jihad in Islam is
to stand for those who are oppressed and/or forced out of
their homes just because of their religion (22:39-40).
5. Those who are performing outward Jihad must also
spiritually reform themselves by performing (al-jihad
al-akbar), an inward personal and more difficult type of
Jihad (29:69), (22:78).
This type of Jihad is the internal spiritual and moral
struggle which should lead to the victory over the ego. This
is an important, necessary, and meritorious type of Jihad.
In effect, this type of Jihad is the one which we wage
against our lower selves, according to the Prophetic
traditions. This personal effort made to overcome the self
is considered to be "the greatest Jihad", as mention in a
Hadith narrated by Imam Ahmed.
6. It is impossible for Jihad to be performed by an
oppressor, a tyrant, a transgressor or an exploiter; it does
not matter what that person/government/group calls
his/her/its actions. Nor there is Jihad for those who are
after personal, tribal and national gains (9:24).
It is precisely in such a context that Jihad meant not to
have a negative but a positive meaning both inwardly and
outwardly and it is in this sense that Islam has stressed
the positive aspect of combativeness; peace belongs to those
who are inwardly at peace and outwardly at war with the
forces of unjust.
7. Jihad is an unselfish and noble effort for the good of
humanity (29:6), involving many sacrifices; money, time,
effort, and the ultimate sacrifice of all, life itself. But
the rewards of this unselfish and noble act are immense
(29:69), (9:41), (4:74), (3:142), (9:16), (9:111), (49:15)
and its negligence is costly for humanity (9:38-39), (9:24),
8. For political and historical reasons, the word Jihad in
the West connotes violence. It is most often translated into
English not only as "a holy war," but also a war waged
against non-Muslims, a kind of Crusade in reverse.
Today in the West the term Jihad leads people to believe
that Muslims are supposedly encouraged to take up arms in
order to impose their faith by force, annihilating those who
This is contrary to the Islamic teachings that it is not for
man but for God alone to judge and punish disbelief and that
compulsion in religious matters is formally forbidden
(2:256). It is regrettable that in Western public opinion,
Jihad seems to have retained only the misleading meaning of
9. The Qur'an explicitly safeguards the clergy, declaring
that God protects non-Muslim places of worship: "Did not God
check one set of people by means of another, there would
surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches,
synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of God is
commemorated in abundant measure."
This prohibition is corroborated and elucidated by the
Prophetic tradition which forbids soldiers to do harm to any
religious persons, whereas they could logically have been
the primary targets if the motive of "holy war" had been
Without putting Western civilization on trial, we should
nevertheless mention by way of contrast that several
centuries later, the founders of international law in Europe
excluded the Muslim "infidels" from the benefits of the law
of wars. Yet, the concept of "holy war" remains branded as
the expression of the Muslims’ religious fanaticism. How
ineradicable are the prejudices!
10. Jihad was and still being invoked in Muslim protests
against foreign occupation, oppression and exploitation
during colonialism, post-colonialism, and neocolonialism, a
cause perceived as both just and necessary.
However some Muslims must bear responsibility for the bad
name given to Jihad. Today some contemporary governments and
groups in Muslim countries make reference to Jihad only in
its military meaning, through words and deeds, in order to
hide their moral, social and political bankruptcy. In the
process they kill the innocent, cause only death and
destruction and do not advance the cause of peace and
justice. But regrettably they are the ones who show up
regularly in the newspapers and on television.
11. Today Muslim’s outlook on Jihad are one of the
following: a. All types of Jihad is irrelevant to Muslims
today. b. All types of Jihad is justified except these
types which involve the use of armed resistance. c. All
types of Jihad is very much relevant and needed today, from
the inward spiritual struggle against one’s lower self, to
activism for peace, justice, social justice,...etc, to armed
resistance whenever armed resistance is justified; for
example against foreign occupation, oppression, tyranny and
[Prof. Mohamed Elmasry is national president of the Canadian