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17. Understanding Islam

4.6. PILLAR 6: Jihad (holy struggle)

While some scholars do not consider Jihad to be a pillar of Islam at all, some scholars consider it to be the fifth pillar of Islam in place of Hajj, and the majority considers it an additional, sixth pillar. Today it has drawn particular interest from non-Muslims due to the effect of militant Islam. It is also one of the subjects most discussed by Muslim scholars, and it is one subject where we get very little agreement between Muslims on what it is and what it isn’t. Muslim apologists try to explain it away, usually by explaining that the meaning of the word Jihad means “struggle” and not “holy war” as it is often translated, explaining that this struggle doesn’t have to be by force. This is in fact technically true; Jihad can refer to an inner struggle or striving. However, in Islamic sources, it almost always refers quite specifically to an armed struggle aiming at establishing Islam as the religion of the state and establishing Islamic laws as the laws of the land.

To understand the importance of Jihad in Islam, we have to go to the HADITH and the Qur’an. Mohammed explains the importance of Jihad by saying:

“[K]now that Paradise is under the shades of swords (Jihad in Allah's Cause).” (Hadith of Bukhari, 2818)

Elsewhere in the Hadith, Mohammed explains that Jihad was why he was sent:

“I have been commanded to fight the people until they bear witness that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah, and believe in me and that which I have brought. If they do that, their blood and wealth are protected from me, except for a right that is due, and their reckoning will be with Allah.” (agreed upon by Muslim and Bukhari).

Thus Muslim scholars see the main goal of Jihad as making people worship Allah and follow Mohammed. The Qur’an states the same goal:

“And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah) and (all and every kind of) worship is for Allah (alone). But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against Az-Zâlimûn (the polytheists, and wrong-doers).” (Qur’an 2:193)

Elsewhere he is quoted as follows, making it quite clear that Jihad involved violence:

“I swear by Him who has my soul in his hands, I was sent to you with nothing but slaughter” (Sahih Ibn Haban),


”I was sent by the sword preceding the judgment day and my livelihood is in the shadow of my spear and humiliation and submission are on those who disobey me.” (Musnad Ahmad)

Mohammed established Jihad as a perpetual goal and warned Muslims not to abandon it, saying:

“[W]hen you enter into the Inah transaction, hold the tails of oxen, are pleased with agriculture, and give up conducting Jihad (struggle in the way of Allah), Allah will make disgrace prevail over you, and will not withdraw it until you return to your original religion (of Islam).” (Sunan Abi Dawud).

Inah is the name given to trading with interest. Essentially what Mohammed was saying is that one’s livelihood does not come from the traditional occupations of trading or farming, but rather from Jihad, which will not cease until the whole world submits to Islam.

So we’ve seen what Mohammed said about Jihad, as recorded in the Hadith. What does the QUR'AN say about Jihad? In the Qur’an, fighting came in stages: first defensive, then offensive. We see this development of the concept of Jihad over time in the following verses:

“Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits, for Allah does not love transgressors.” (Qur’an 2:190)
“And slay them (the infidels) wherever you catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out, for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter.” (Qur’an 2:191)
“And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and polytheism, i.e. worshipping others besides Allah) and the religion (worship) will all be for Allah alone [in the whole of the world]. But if they cease (worshipping others besides Allah), then certainly, Allah is All-Seer of what they do.” (Qur’an 8:39)
“Fighting is prescribed for you, and you dislike it. But it is possible that you dislike a thing which is good for you, and that you love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knows, and you know not.” (Qur’an 2:216)
“Let those fight in the cause of Allah who sell the life of this world for the Hereafter. To him who fighteth in the cause of Allah, whether he is slain or gets victory, soon shall we give him a reward of great (value).” (Qur’an 4:74)
“Seize them and slay them wherever you find them: and in any case take no friends or helpers from their ranks.” (Qur’an 4:89)
“Allah has granted a grade higher to those who strive and fight with their goods and persons than to those who sit at home.” (Qur’an 4:95)
“Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies of Allah and your enemies, and others besides, whom ye may not know, but whom Allah doth know. Whatever ye shall spend in the cause of Allah, shall be repaid unto you, and ye shall not be treated unjustly.” (Qur’an 8:60)
“O Prophet! Rouse the Believers to the fight. If there are twenty amongst you, patient and persevering, they will vanquish two hundred: if a hundred, they will vanquish a thousand of the Unbelievers: for these are a people without understanding.” (Qur’an 8:65)
“Fight them and Allah will punish them by your hands, (he will) cover them with shame, (he will) help you to victory over them, and (he will) heal the breasts of the Believers.” (Qur’an 9:14)
“Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of truth, from among the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (Qur’an 9:29)
“Say: can you expect for us (and fate) other than one of two glorious things (martyrdom or victory)? But we can expect for you either that Allah will send his punishment (for not believing in Allah) from Himself, or by our hands. So wait (expectant); we too will wait with you.” (Qur’an 9:52)
“But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular Prayers and practise regular Charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Qur’an 9:5)

Thus we can see that both the Qur’an and Hadith order Muslims to fight in order to establish Allah’s kingdom on earth (all of the earth) by any means. Muslims view this as a zero-sum game where they must win and all non-Muslims must lose. Some Sunni scholars say Jihad is an obligation on Muslims until Islam is accepted as the law of the land in every country of the world. That doesn’t mean every one must become Muslim, but it means every country must submit to the rule of Islam. As for non-Muslims, their fate is outlined in the verses above: Christians and Jews will be allowed to keep their beliefs as long as they pay Jizya, a yearly tax levied on adult, free, sane, male non-Muslims, as per the verses above. There is no specific rate for Jizya, and historically in countries under Islamic rule it was increased or decreased based on the need or the whim of the ruler. For those who believe in any religion other than Christianity and Judaism, there are only two options: become a Muslim or die. Scholars also say Muslims may have peace treaties with non-Muslims only in the case of Muslims being weak and unable to defeat their enemies; in such cases they are allowed to have peace until they are strong enough at which point they should break the treaty and engage in Jihad.

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