Experiences and Emotion
The term jihād is derived from the Arabic root meaning ‘to strive,’ ‘to exert’ or ‘to struggle’. While struggle on the path of God might be considered ‘holy’, there is no historical conjunction of the words holy and jihād in Islam. Exact meaning of jihād depends on the context of the term; it can express an internal struggle against one’s evil inclinations, a struggle for the moral improvement of the Islamic community (ummah), or as the only kind of legal warfare in Islam (i.e. just war).
Regardless of the sphere of action, jihād is usually understood as an act of true and total devotion to God. Jihād is a term that captures the struggle a Muslim may have to live according to the high standards set forth by God. Jihād can be distinguished into two categories.
- Internal Jihād: ‘Internal’ jihād refers to the efforts of a Muslim to live in accordance with their faith. Actions that reflect internal jihād include spiritually purifying one’s own heart by battling with evil inclination (e.g. giving up smoking, or overcoming strong negative emotions such as greed or pride), sharing the teachings of Islam, and supporting what is right and correcting what is wrong (particularly within the Islamic community).
- External Jihād: ‘External’ jihād refers to the duty of war in accordance with Islamic law. There are a number of permissible reasons for external jihād, such as self-defence, protecting the freedom of Muslims to practice their religion and protecting Muslims against oppression (such as overthrowing a tyrannical ruler).
A war, battle or action is not considered just or jihād if it transgresses the limits set forth in Islamic law. Some examples of what jihād does not permit include:
- Intentionally starting a war for the purpose of forcing people to convert to Islam or to claim/gain territory.
- Initiating a war or violent act for the purpose of conquering or .
- Initiating a war with knowledge that property such as homes, places of worship, crops and animals are likely or definitely to be destroyed.
- Risking the lives of non-combatants such as civilians, women, children and elderly.
Contemporary thought about jihād offers a wide variety of views, including those who look to classical Islamic law on the subject, those who understand it solely as an internal struggle with one’s moral inclinations, and Islamists or radicals who promote a violent (and, to the overwhelming majority of Muslims, as illegitimate) jihād.
Non-Muslim Understandings of Jihād
The rise of Islamist movements in the late 20th to early 21st century has created misunderstandings of the term jihād for those outside of Islam. Particular events such as the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001 by al-Qaeda (an international Islamist terrorist network) have led to the common but mistaken view that Islam and Islamist movements (or Islamic ) are closely related, if not identical.
Importantly, unlike Islamists or Islamic fundamentalists, most Muslims are not ideologically nor dogmatically committed to the idea of a society and state based on Islamic law (sharī‘ah). This is especially prominent when regarding jihād in the instance of war. Many Muslims hold the belief that a war is considered just or a jihād if, and only if, the war is a last resort, aims to restore peace, and is regulated and controlled.
The term dhikr refers to the devotional practice of reminding oneself of God. In Ṣūfī devotional practices, the term is used to describe the regular activity of remembrance and for the prayers involved in the acts of dhikr. The term can refer to individual or collective devotion. Examples of dhikr are the frequent recitation of simple phrases in praise of God that punctuate daily speech. For example, lā ilaha illā Allāh (‘there is no god but God’) and Allahu akbar (‘God is greatest’).
In Islamic thought, one does not ‘convert’ but rather returns or reverts to Islam. This is due to the belief that all people were originally Muslims who submitted to God but through external influences have diverged from Islam. The general minimum expectations to be a Muslim is at least minimal knowledge in the fundamentals of Islamic theology, such as the belief in one God, the belief in prophets and messengers, the belief in the holy texts, the belief in the angels and genies, and the belief in the day of resurrection. Another requirement is declaring the testimony of faith (shahādah) in the presence of at least one witness. For males, circumcision (khitān) is highly encouraged.
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