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Untitled Essay, Research Paper

By: The Institute of Islamic Information & Education

In the linguistic sense, the Arabic word “jihad” means struggling or striving

and applies to any effort exerted by anyone. In this sense a student struggles

and strives to get an education and pass course work; an employee strives

to fulfill his/her job and maintain good relations with his/her employer;

a politician strives to maintain or increase his popularity with his constituents

and so on. The term strive or struggle may be used for/by Muslims as well

non-Muslims; for example, Allah, One and Only True God says in the


“We have enjoined on people kindness to parents; but if they strive

(jahadaka) to make you ascribe partners with Me that of which you have

no knowledge, then obey them not…” 29:8, also see 31:15.

In the above two verses of the Qur’an, it is non-Muslim parents who strive

(jahada) to convert their Muslim child back to their religion.

In the West, “jihad” is generally translated as “holy war”, a usage the media

has popularized. According to Islamic teachings, it is unholy to instigate

or start war; however, some wars are inevitable and justifiable. If we translate

the words “holy war” back into Arabic we find “harbun muqaddasatun”,

or for “the holy war”, “al-harbu al-muqaddasatu”. We challenge

any researcher or scholar to find the meaning of “jihad” as holy war in the

Qur’an or authentic Hadith collections or in early Islamic literature.

Unfortunately, some Muslim writers and translators of the Qur’an, the Hadith

and other Islamic literature translate the term “jihad” as “holy war”, due

to the influence of centuries-old Western propaganda. This could be a reflection

of the Christian use of the term “Holy War” to refer to the Crusades of a

thousand years ago. However, the Arabic words for “war” are “harb”

or “qital”, which are found in the Qur’an and Hadith.

For Muslims the term jihad is applied to all forms of striving

and has developed some special meanings over time. The sources of this

development are the Qur’an (the Word of God revealed to Prophet

Muhammad(S)) and the Hadith (teachings of Prophet

Muhammad(S) [(S) denotes Sall-Allahu 'alayhi wa

sallam meaning peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). The Qur'an

and the Hadith use the word "jihad" in several different contexts which are

given below:

1. Recognizing the Creator and loving Him most.

It is human nature to love what is seen with the eyes and felt with the senses

more than the UNSEEN REALITY. The Creator of the Universe and the One God

is Allah. He is the Unseen Reality which we tend to ignore and not recognize.

The Qur'an addresses those who claim to be believers:

"O you who believe! Choose not your fathers nor your brethren for protectors

if they love disbelief over belief; whoever of you takes them for protectors,

such are wrong-doers. Say: if your fathers, and your children, and your brethren,

and your spouses, and your tribe, and the wealth you have acquired, and business

for which you fear shrinkage, and houses you are pleased with are dearer

to you than Allah and His Messenger and striving in His way: then

wait till Allah brings His command to pass. Allah does not guide disobedient

folk." 9:23,24

It is indeed a struggle to put Allah ahead of our loved ones, our wealth,

our worldly ambitions and our own lives. Especially for a non-Muslim who

embraces Islam, it may be a tough struggle due to the opposition of his family,

peers and society.

2. Resisting pressure of parents, peers and society:

Once a person has made up his mind to put the Creator of the Universe above

all else, he often comes under intense pressures. It is not easy to resist

such pressures and strive to maintain dedication and love of Allah

over all else. A person who has turned to Islam from another religion may

be subjected to pressures designed to turn him back to the religion of the

family. We read in the Qur'an:

"So obey not the rejecters of faith, but strive (jahidhum) against

them by it (the Qur'an) with a great endeavor." 25:52

3. Staying on the straight path steadfastly.

Allah says in the Qur'an:

"And strive (jahidu) for Allah with the endeavor

(jihadihi) which is His right. He has chosen you and has not laid

upon you in the deen (religion) any hardship ..." 22:78

"And whosoever strives (jahada), strives

(yujahidu) only for himself, for lo! Allah is altogether independent

of the universe." 29:6

As for those who strive and struggle to live as true Muslims whose lives

are made difficult due to persecution by their opponents, they are advised

to migrate to a more peaceful and tolerant land and continue with their struggle

in the cause of Allah. Allah says in the Qur'an:

"Lo! As for those whom the angels take (in death) while they wronged themselves,

(the angels) will ask: in what you were engaged? They will say: we were oppressed

in the land. (The angels) will say: was not Allah's earth spacious that you

could have migrated therein? ..." 4:97

"Lo! those who believe, and those who emigrate (to escape persecution) and

strive (jahadu) in the way of Allah, these have hope of Allah's

mercy ..." 2:218

Allah tests the believers in their faith and their steadfastness:

"Or did you think that you would enter Paradise while yet Allah knows not

those of you who really strive (jahadu), nor knows those (of

you) who are steadfast." 3:142

"And surely We shall try you with something of fear and hunger, and loss

of wealth and lives and fruits; but give glad tidings to the steadfast."


We find that the Prophet Muhammad(S) and his clan were boycotted

socially and economically for three years to force him to stop his message

and compromise with the pagans but he resisted and realized a moral victory.

4. Striving for righteous deeds:

Allah declares in the Qur'an:

"As for those who strive (jahadu) in Us (the cause of Allah),

We surely guide them to Our paths, and lo! Allah is with the good doers."


When we are faced with two competing interests, it becomes jihad to choose

the right one, as the following Hadith exemplify.

Aisha, wife of the Prophet(S) asked, "O Messenger of Allah, we

see jihad as the best of deeds, so shouldn't we join it?" He replied, "But,

the best of jihad is a perfect hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah)." Sahih

Al-Bukhari #2784

At another occasion a man asked the Prophet Muhammad(S):

"Should I join the jihad?" He asked, "Do you have parents?" The man

said, "Yes!" The Prophet(S) said, "then strive by (serving)

them!" Sahih Al-Bukhari #5972

Yet another man asked the Messenger of Allah:

"What kind of jihad is better?" He replied, "A word of truth in front

of an oppressive ruler!" Sunan Al-Nasa'i #4209

The Messenger of Allah, Muhammad(S) said:

"... the mujahid (one who carries out jihad) is he who

strives against himself for the sake of obeying Allah, and the

muhajir (one who emigrates) is he who abandons evil deeds and sin."

Sahih Ibn Hibban #4862

5. Having courage and steadfastness to convey the message of Islam:

The Qur'an narrates the experiences of a large number of Prophets and good

people who suffered a great deal trying to convey the message of Allah to

mankind. For examples see the Qur'an 26:1-190, 36:13-32. In

the Qur'an, Allah specifically praises those who strive to convey His message:

"Who is better in speech than one who calls (other people) to Allah, works

righteous, and declares that he is from the Muslims." 41:33

Under adverse conditions it takes great courage to remain a Muslim, declare

oneself to be a Muslim and call others to Islam. We read in the Qur'an:

"The (true) believers are only those who believe in Allah and his messenger

and afterward doubt not, but strive with their wealth and their selves

for the cause of Allah. Such are the truthful." 49:15

6. Defending Islam and the community

Allah declares in the Qur'an:

"To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to defend themselves),

because they are wronged - and verily, Allah is Most Powerful to give them

victory - (they are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance

of right - (for no cause) except that they say, 'Our Lord is Allah'.... "


The Qur'an permits fighting to defend the religion of Islam and the Muslims.

This permission includes fighting in self defense and for the protection

of family and property. The early Muslims fought many battles against their

enemies under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad(S) or his

representatives. For example, when the pagans of Quraysh brought armies against

Prophet Muhammad(S), the Muslims fought to defend their faith

and community. The Qur'an adds:

"Fight in the cause of Allah against those who fight against you, but do

not transgress limits. Lo! Allah loves not aggressors. ... And fight them

until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah. But if they desist,

then let there be no hostility except against transgressors." 2:190,193

7. Helping allied people who may not be Muslim:

In the late period of the Prophet Muhammad's(S) life the tribe

of Banu Khuza'ah became his ally. They were living near Makkah which was

under the rule of the pagan Quraysh, Prophet Muhammad's(S) own

tribe. The tribe of Banu Bakr, an ally of Quraysh, with the help of some

elements of Quraysh, attacked Banu Khuza'ah and inflicted heavy damage. Banu

Khuza'ah invoked the treaty and demanded Prophet Muhammad(S) to

come to their help and punish Quraysh. The Prophet Muhammad(S)

organized a campaign against Quraysh of Makkah which resulted in the conquest

of Makkah which occured without any battle.

8. Removing treacherous people from power:

Allah orders the Muslims in the Qur'an:

"If you fear treachery from any group, throw back (their treaty) to them,

(so as to be) on equal terms. Lo! Allah loves not the treacherous."


Prophet Muhammad(S) undertook a number of armed campaigns to remove

treacherous people from power and their lodgings. He had entered into pacts

with several tribes, however, some of them proved themselves treacherous.

Prophet Muhammad(S) launched armed campaigns against these tribes,

defeated and exiled them from Medina and its surroundings.

9. Defending through preemptive strikes

Indeed, it is difficult to mobilize people to fight when they see no invaders

in their territory; however, those who are charged with responsibility see

dangers ahead of time and must provide leadership. The Messenger of Allah,

Muhammad(S), had the responsibility to protect his people and

the religion he established in Arabia. Whenever he received intelligence

reports about enemies gathering near his borders he carried out preemptive

strikes, broke their power and dispersed them. Allah ordered Muslims in the


"Fighting is prescribed upon you, and you dislike it. But it may happen that

you dislike a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that you love

a thing which is bad for you. And Allah knows and you know not." 2:216

10. Gaining freedom to inform, educate and convey the message of Islam in

an open and free environment

Allah declares in the Qur'an:

"They ask you (Muhammad) concerning fighting in the Sacred Month. Say, 'Fighting

therein is a grave (offense) but graver is it in the sight of Allah to prevent

access to the path of Allah, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred

Mosque, and drive out its inhabitants. Persecution is worse than killing.

Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith,

if they can. ..." 2:217

"And those who, when an oppressive wrong is inflicted on them, (are not cowed

but) fight back." 42:39

To gain this freedom, Prophet Muhammad(S) said:

"Strive (jahidu) against the disbelievers with your hands and

tongues." Sahih Ibn Hibban #4708

The life of the Prophet Muhammad(S) was full of striving

to gain the freedom to inform and convey the message of Islam. During his

stay in Makkah he used non-violent methods and after the establishment of

his government in Madinah, by the permission of Allah, he used armed struggle

against his enemies whenever he found it inevitable.

11. Freeing people from tyranny

Allah admonishes Muslims in the Qur'an:

"And why should you not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being

weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? - Men, women, and children, whose

cry is: 'Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors;

and raise for us from You, one who will protect; and raise for us from You,

one who will help'." 4:75

The mission of the Prophet Muhammad(S) was to free people from

tyranny and exploitation by oppressive systems. Once free, individuals in

the society were then free to chose Islam or not. Prophet

Muhammad's(S) successors continued in his footsteps and went to

help oppressed people. For example, after the repeated call by the oppressed

people of Spain to the Muslims for help, Spain was liberated by Muslim forces

and the tyrant rulers removed. After the conquest of Syria and Iraq by the

Muslims, the Christian population of Hims reportedly said to the Muslims:

"We like your rule and justice far better than the state of oppression and

tyranny under which we have been living."

The defeated rulers of Syria were Roman Christians and Iraq was ruled by

Zoarastrian Persians.

What should Muslims do when they are victorious?

Muslims should remove tyranny, treachery, bigotry, and ignorance and replace

them with justice and equity. We should provide truthful knowledge and free

people from the bondage of associationism (shirk or multiple gods),

prejudice, superstition and mythology. Muslims remove immorality, fear, crime,

exploitation and replace them with divine morality, peace and education.

The Qur'an declares:

"Lo! Allah commands you that you restore deposits to their owners, and if

you judge between mankind that you judge justly. Lo! It is proper that Allah

admonishes you. Lo! Allah is ever Hearer, Seer." 4:58

"O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah's witnesses to fair dealing,

and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart

from justice. Be just: that is next to Piety and fear Allah. And Allah is

well acquainted with all that you do." 5:8

"And of those whom We have created there is a nation who guides with the

Truth and establishes justice with it." 7:181

"Lo! Allah enjoins justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk, and forbids

lewdness and abomination and wickedness. He exhorts you in order that you

may take heed." 16:90

"Those who, if We give them power in the land, establish prescribed prayers

(salah) and pay the poor-due (zakah) and enjoin right conduct

and forbid evil. And with Allah rests the end (and decision) of (all) affairs."


Did Islam spread by force, swords or guns?

The unequivocal and emphatic answer is NO! The Qur'an declares:

"Let there be no compulsion (or coercion) in the religion (Islam). The right

direction is distinctly clear from error." 2:256

Here is a good study of the question of the spread of Islam by a Christian

missionary, T.W. Arnold:

"... of any organized attempt to force the acceptance of Islam on the non-Muslim

population, or of any systematic persecution intended to stamp out the Christian

religion, we hear nothing. Had the caliphs chosen to adopt either course

of action, they might have swept away Christianity as easily as Ferdinand

and Isabella drove Islam out of Spain, or Louis XIV made Protestantism penal

in France, or the Jews were kept out of England for 350 years. The Eastern

Churches in Asia were entirely cut off from communion with the rest of

Christiandom throughout which no one would have been found to lift a finger

on their behalf, as heretical communions. So that the very survival of these

Churches to the present day is a strong proof of the generally tolerant attitude

of the Mohammedan [sic] governments towards them.” (Emphasis added.)

Islam does not teach nor do Muslims desire conversion of any people for

fear, greed, marriage or any other form of coercion.

In conclusion, jihad in Islam is striving in the

way of Allah by pen, tongue, hand, media and, if inevitable, with arms.

However, jihad in Islam does not include striving for individual or national

power, dominance, glory, wealth, prestige or pride.

M. Amir Ali, Ph.D.


1. For the sake of simplicity and easy reading, masculine pronouns have been

used throughout this brochure. No exclusion of females is intended.

2. Haykal, M.H., THE LIFE OF MUHAMMAD, Tr. Ismail R. Faruqi, American Trust

Publications, 1976, p. 132.

3. Haykal, pp. 216, 242, 299 and 414 for the Battles of Badr, Uhud, Al-Khandaq

and Hunayn, respectively.

4. Haykal, p. 395 for the Conquest of Makkah.

5. Haykal, pp. 245, 277, 311 and 326 for campaigns agaist the tribes of Banu

Qaynuqa’, Banu Al-Nadir, Banu Qurayzah and Banu Lihyan, respectively. Also,

see p. 283 for the Battle of Dhat Al-Riqa’.

6. Haykal, pp. 284, 327, 366, 387, 393, 443 and 515 for the Battles of Dawmat

Al-Jandal, Banu Al-Mustaliq, Khayber, Mu’tah, Dhat Al-Salasil, Tabuk and

the Campaign of Usama Ibn Zayd, respectively.

7. Hitti, Philip K., HISTORY OF THE ARABS, St. Martin’s Press, New York,

1970, p. 153.


OF THE MUSLIM FAITH, Westminister A. Constable & Co., London, 1896, p.


E-mail us at: iiie@cssn.net

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