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Jihad – What Does it Really Mean

Some days ago I was having a theological conversation with my friend and I asked him what Islam was all about, he replied to me by saying that it is similar to all other religions. It is like polymorphism in the sense of having one god with different forms of worship. He also stated that if one has read Quran sincerely, one would know that any kind of mischievous, mean or rogue act dispels you from practising the religion. He said a true Muslim would know that. This led me to contemplate on a word which has for very long been surmised as an object of stringent decryption. The word which has its roots steadied down deep within one of the world’s most prominent culture and has been a source of inspiration, motivation, incitement and above all provocation. A word that has led to the rise of great empires and has also been the source of their degeneration.A word so vulnerable to adaptation that its mere interpretation and misinterpretation can have significant consequences in the future. Yes, the word I am talking about here is Jihad.

The word – Jihad

jihadThe word Jihad is in itself exceedingly polemical. Prone to many interpretations Jihad refers to the obligatory duties Muslims must adhere to maintain their religion. Taken from the Quran itself where it appears 164 times it also refers to the striving one must do on his way to reaching God or in this case Allah. According to The Dictionary of Islam, there are two types of Jihad- “greater Jihad” i.e. the struggle within oneself and the “lesser Jihad” which might or might not include violent practises against the enemies of Islam. Some scholars believe that though some might interpret it in the military sense, but literally it points out the inner struggle that one must overcome in the path of god. They say that war is unholy and no holy book ever preaches that. People who practice Jihad are known as Mujahedeen. Most see Jihad as an important duty of Muslims to protect their religious integrity and punish the wrongdoers.

History of Jihad

153Initially, it was assumed that the authority of waging a war in the name of Jihad solely rests in the hands of Caliphs. But some others who do not agree to adhere this spiritual authority in the hands of the caliphs proclaimed their own decree by handing it over to their own sultans. A Hadith which is a collection of contexts in Quran has been interpreted and compiled differently by different authors. A Hadith called Bukhari states that when a messenger of Allah was asked for best Jihad he replied by saying that it is one in which your horse is slain and your blood is spilled until your last breath. But again this just a version of one’s understanding. Extremists believe that under Jihad it is permissible to carry out a warfare and punish the rebels, the nonbelievers and the evildoers.

An example of such extremist was Abdullah Azam also known as the father of modern jihad. He was a well-known cleric of the Muslim Brotherhood group and is famously known for teaching Osama Bin Laden. He convinced people that the current depreciating state of the Muslim countries was because of not practising jihad. He issued a fatwa in the name of jihad proclaiming that every man should help him in waging a war against Soviet in Afghanistan. It was he who laid the foundation of the modern terrorist groups that endanger the life of many innocents in the name of jihad. Not only this, he was also able to convince people about an exception in a Hadith that intercepts mujahedeen from killing innocent women and children even in case of a war.

Now to Shia’s Jihad serves a different purpose. It is one of their ten practises of religion. They are known to give lesser priority to jihad unlike Sunni’s. According to them, jihad can only be carried out under the authority of an Imam unlike Sunni’s who can proclaim a war under any ruler. If someone has to draw parallels one will see that this philosophy is very close to that of Kalki Avatar according to Hindu mythology who will wage a war against the evildoers. This is an illustration to depict how all religions preach the same thing but differently, like a paradox. Anyway like I said this term is opened to interpretation so accounts suggest that people living in different countries have different ideologies towards jihad. A poll by Gallup in Indonesia shows that for them Jihad refers to making sacrifices in terms of military connotation whereas, in countries like Lebanon, Morocco  Jihad is a way of serving god by moral and social improvement. Not only this most people with intellect have brought out their own meanings to this word. A Pakistani professor terms it as a “struggle to restore social and economic order” while some claim it to be the “struggle to build a good society”.

The correct meaning of Jihad

In the end, it would be correct to state that until now none has deciphered the correct meaning behind this simple word. Can you imagine a keystone that though is so small but has the mightiness to bring a significant change in the world. I believe that even though people know what it actually means, they are not ready to accept the reality. They choose to believe what they want to believe. This is a result of their subconsciousness and past experiences. Some call it the holy war; some call it the path to god.

People even have divided it into categories and subcategories like the jihad of the heart, the jihad by the tongue, jihad by the hand and jihad by the sword. There are the even missionary, intellectual, educational and economic types of jihad. Funny isn’t it!! Whatever the case may be but one thing is true that this word lost its charm the first time someone used it to accomplish an evil and selfish task. I hope they can forgive themselves for misinterpreting the word of god.

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