“Jihad” is a word that has come to mean a myriad of things: terror, kidnapping, armed attacks, suicide bombings, masked gunmen shouting violent slogans of hatred, Islam and Muslims… the list goes on. It may come as a surprise that Jihad does not actually mean any of these. The following article briefly examines the meaning of Jihad and provides a contextual explanation.
The word “Jihad” in Arabic simply means “struggle”. It comes from the root word “Jahd” which means to spend energy for a certain cause. In the Islamic context, this jihad or struggle, is classed into different categories. The highest category is the struggle against one’s “nafs” or against one’s own desires, inclinations or baser instincts. The struggle to overcome one’s own weaknesses is regarded as the highest form of jihad. For some this could be giving up an addiction, for others it could be replacing a bad habit with a good one. Some may struggle with their life circumstances just to put food on the table while others may struggle to overcome mental health issues, suicidal tendencies or drug abuse. This jihad with oneself necessarily involves introspection, self-reflection and self-critique. Improving one’s character and soul to be true to Islam, is jihad. Only people with complete honesty and the ability to look within for solutions, are able to attain this level of jihad. Refraining from following Satan and his temptations that lead away from the path that is approved by Allah, is also the highest jihad.
Spending money in a way that pleases Allah, is classed as jihad. This may include obligatory charity (zakah), voluntary charity (sadaqa), or money spent in any other cause intended for the welfare of people or communities or to spread the message of Islam (dawah).
Finally, jihad also refers to armed resistance undertaken for self-defence. It must be noted that Islam prohibits offence, and only allows self-defence when one is under attack or threat. Non-combatants, civilians women and children are automatically immune from attack and mistreatment. Obviously the tenets of Islam are laid down as explicit expectations for people to follow. However, unfortunately, jihad has come to mean unprovoked, vicious and violent attacks against Muslims and non-Muslims by people purporting to be Muslim. Such irony is unparalleled. It is indeed time for discernment between the true essence of jihad, and what its layered and controversial understanding has become.
In today’s world we are always planning for our future. Our present is constantly engaged in planning for the tomorrow that is to come. Jobs, careers, education, housing, income, investments and retirement plans are all subject to a lot of consideration and scrutiny.
So much time, money and effort is spent on organizing our life so that we achieve what we have defined as success- be it earning a certain income, cultivating a particular persona, looking or dressing in a manner that reflects our status or buying an item that represents our success.
Now for a moment imagine yourself without any of the external and material things that you have accumulated or achieved in your life so far. Right now, at this instant, if you were picked out of your surroundings and dropped in the middle of a featureless plain, how would life be? What if you had no clothes, food, water, shelter, conveyance, friends or relatives to help you? The helplessness and desolation anyone would feel in that situation can only be imagined. And yet, no matter what our life circumstances are today, that is a situation we are heading to without any doubt. I am not talking about a post-apocalyptic world after a crisis, but the condition of each one of us on the day of judgement when we are awoken after death. Some of us might have been dead for many centuries and some might have died when the trumpet is blown by the angel Israfeel whose job it is to announce the end of the world. Some of us may have been rich and comfortable in this world and some impoverished and in hardship. In any case, on the day of resurrection we will all be the same- with no clothes, riches, helpers or any markings of wealth, status or education.
And that is the day we need to plan for. All our planning and organization, and strife and struggle, needs to be focused on the day when we will be bereft of anything from this world. So what is the point? The point is not to step out of our worldly commitments but to continue living with the awareness that there is more to life than just planning for our remaining worldly life. Post-future planning refers to the accumulation of a different kind of currency, one that will carry over with us when nothing else will. And that is the currency of deeds and actions.
Allah tells us in several places in the Quran that the reward of good deeds is paradise:
But those who believe and do deeds of righteousness, We shall admit them to gardens under which rivers flow (i.e. in paradise) to dwell therein forever. (Chapter 4 verse 57).
And whoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, while being a believer- those will enter paradise and will not be wronged, (even as much as ) the speck on a date seed. (Chapter 4 Verse 124).
Indeed, those who believe and do righteous deeds- for them are the gardens of pleasure, wherein they abide eternally; (it is) the promise of Allah (which is truth). And He is the exalted in Might, the Wise. ( Chapter 31 Verses 8 & 9).
So the risk of not planning for our post-future is too great to contemplate. Our eternal life is at stake right now, more so than our future on earth.
So let us collect the currency of good deeds and future-proof our post-future while we still can.
Allah tells us in the Quran (Chapter 5 Verse 3) that “This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion”. Upon comparison, we realize that Islam is the only religion among all other religions of the world, that has covered all aspects of human life extensively. From the rites of birth to those of death, from the mundane to the sublime, everything has been meticulously explained. Food, drink, marriage, upbringing of children, nursing, education, marital relationships, care of parents, rights of friends and neighbors, rights of spouses, rights of women, inheritance, social welfare, care and protection of orphans and widows, health and medicine, crime and punishment, trade and business, contractual obligations, the creation of the universe and everything in it…. The list is endless.
When Allah, who is the source of everything that is perfect and beautiful, says to something “Be”, it comes into existence in exactly the way commanded by Allah (The Quran, Chapter 36, Verse 82):
His command is only when He intends a thing that He says to it “Be” and it is.
It is part of the Islamic faith that the word of Allah cannot be doubted, and what is stated in the Quran, is the direct and unchanged word of God. This being the case, the Quran is the greatest proof and affirmation of the perfection of Islam and its status as the religion chosen by Allah for all His created beings who have free will (humans and the jinn).
So how is it that the way of life that Allah has perfected and completed, is perceived as lacking or inferior in so many respects today? Obviously, the deep chasm between the intended essence of Islam and reality, cannot be ignored. In fact, even Muslims who are not familiar with true Islam and accept that the way it is being represented, as its true form, are being misguided away from Islam. The abuse of women, the kidnapping of young schoolchildren, the killing of innocents, war crimes against women and children, the injunction against girls from getting educated, domestic violence, honor killings, demand for dowry, global terrorism and many such atrocities are being committed in the name of Islam. The perpetrators of such violence have little or no understanding of the perfect way of life advocated by Islam and exemplified by prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him). It is a tragedy of unimaginable proportion that we live in a period when the essence of Islam is being overshadowed by its very antithesis perpetrated by people who call themselves Muslim. It is the responsibility of each one of us to first, educate ourselves in the matter of our religion and second, to spread this knowledge to as many people as possible. Only by taking on individual and collective responsibility can we hope to realize the potential of our perfect religion to live our lives as a peaceful, productive and progressive community.
Indeed, the following dua reported from the hadith of prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) is most appropriate for overcoming our deep divisions, factions and hatred:
O Allah! Reconcile (with love and understanding) between our hearts. And resolve our (broken) affairs. And guide us toward peace and paths of guidance. And take us out of the darkness (of falsehood, ignorance, evil, etc.) to the brightness (of truth and guidance).
Allah tells us in the Quran (Chapter 51 Verse 56) that the only reason mankind and the jinn (another creation of Allah made of smokeless fire) were created, is to worship Him. But in order to fulfill this purpose of our life, it is necessary for us to recognize who our Creator is. Countless people have lived and died without paying much attention to who their Creator is, so it was impossible for them to worship Him as was His sole right.
Allah tells us in many places in the Quran, that His nature is such that our limited human minds cannot fully comprehend His immense power, grandeur and supremacy. Indeed, “There is nothing like unto Him” (The Quran, Chapter 42 Verse 11). This being the case, it is pointless to compare Allah to any of His creations or to believe that He has any of their attributes, qualities, nature, limitations or essence. Likewise, Allah tells us in Surah Ikhlas (The Quran, Chapter 112) that He is the One, who is unique, single and indivisible, and “Nor to Him is any equivalent” (Verse 4). As He was also not begotten nor does He beget (verse 3), there is no possibility of Allah having ancestors or descendants who share His unique features.
All the creations of Allah contained in the universe, animate and inanimate, are not part of Him, and neither does He reside in any of them. This refutes the “God is everywhere and in everything” claim. This means that Allah is not in all His created things, but that His knowledge about them is complete and perfect, and that they are under His control in every respect. One of the names of Allah, Al-Aliim (the All-Knowing) has been mentioned 157 times in the Quran, emphasizing His perfect knowledge, “from whom not even an atom’s weight is hidden” (Chapter 34 Verse 3).
While differentiating between the Creator and what He has created may seem like a trivial thing, it is anything but. If we cannot make this important distinction, we fall into a very serious error of judgment, confusing what we must consider mundane and whom We must worship as the Supreme. The reverence accorded to people, animals, places, astral bodies, natural phenomena, and even body parts, are all a result of this confusion. The difference between the created and the Creator, therefore, is the difference between shirk (association or partnership with Allah) and tawheed(belief in the Oneness of Allah).
The three existential questions asked again and again, in various forms and permutations, over the centuries are:
Where did we come from?
Why were we created?
Where will we go after death?
All three have been answered in great detail in Islam. However, for the purpose of this brief paper, the last of these will be discussed. Death has been called many things, among them is the popular title of “the great leveler”. What this means is that the way a person lived in this world, their status, occupation, wealth, reputation, family connections, children, authority, poverty, vulnerability, health, weakness, and all these categories which together form our identity- will all ultimately be leveled, or made equal in the grave. Sure, some people may get a grand farewell, some people may be buried with riches or laid to rest in an expensive coffin laced with satin and silk. However, once the grave closes in, a person is all alone.
Correct Islamic belief teaches us that this is not the end of life. Rather, it is the essential stage for entering the afterlife. What happens to the body and soul of a dead person is not visible to the human eye. It is instead part of our belief in the unseen, and cannot be doubted as its basis is in the Quran and the hadees.
Once in the grave, a person’s soul is taken to heaven by the angels who extracted the soul at the time of death. A person whose deeds merit heaven, his or her soul will be taken up to the third heaven, they will be told that they have been successful on account of their deeds, and have earned the right to heaven. They will be congratulated by a multitude of angels and their name will be entered into a register of the inhabitants of paradise, called Illiyuun. The victorious soul will then be carried ceremoniously back to the grave, and returned to the body. The body will be anointed in perfume and clothed in fine clothes. The grave will be expanded and lit up brightly.
At this point, two angels, called Munkar and Nakeer will enter the grave. They will be very stern in their manner and their appearance will be fearsome. They will have teeth like the horns of a bull and they will come ripping the grave open. They will question the dead person and ask these three questions which will be asked of everyone who has died:
Who is your God?
Who is your prophet?
What is your religion?
The answers to these questions are straightforward: Allah, Mohammed (peace be upon him- or the prophet of the time when the person was alive), and Islam respectively. When a person answers Munkar and Nakeer correctly, two windows will be opened in the grave. One will show the sight of hell with all its punishment and suffering. The other will show the eternal blessings of heaven. The first window will be closed, and the person will be told they have redeemed themselves from hellfire due to their deeds. They will be told to sleep a peaceful sleep until the day of judgment when they will enter paradise. A companion with a pleasing countenance will be sent to the grave, to be with its occupant until resurrection. The person will be told that this companion is the representation of the good deeds done by the person in life, which accompany them to the grave.
The matter of the unsuccessful soul, however, is altogether different from the above account. When the grave closes in over such a person, their soul is taken up to heaven but the doors of heaven are closed upon it and it is unceremoniously thrown back into the grave. The angels are commanded to enter the person’s name into Sijjiin, the register of those who will inhabit hell. The grave is made dark and tightened over the body. When Munkar and Nakeer enter the grave and ask the three questions, the person will not be able to answer them. The two windows showing paradise and hell will be opened, but the sight of paradise will be closed, and the person told that they have forfeited the right to paradise on account of their deeds. An ugly, fearsome companion will be ordered to remain with the unsuccessful person until the day of resurrection, and these are the represented deeds the person committed in the world. Such a person will be clothed in fire and made to lie on a bed of fire until resurrection.
These are brief details of what will happen to a person after death. When we have this knowledge, specific parts of the Quran alert us to live a life which will enable us to be registered in the book of Illiyuun and to earn a place in paradise:
Competition in [worldly] increase diverts you
Until you visit the graveyards.
No! You are going to know.
Then, no! You are going to know.
No! If you only knew with knowledge of certainty…
You will surely see the hellfire.
Then you will surely see it with the eye of certainty.
Then you will surely be asked that Day about pleasure. (The Quran, Chapter 102).
Allah tells us in Surah Al-Imran (Chapter 3 Verse 103) to “hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided”. Think of the times when someone might need a rope- when someone is drowning, has fallen into a pit, or is stuck in quicksand, or experiencing any other such crisis. A rope is a strong, reliable thing you would trust in such a situation, and hold on to tightly to get out of danger. The metaphor Allah gives us here is one which is open to many rich meanings and possibilities. The general meaning conveyed is that if we want safe passage to the afterlife, the rope of Allah, or the true Islamic way, is our surest way of getting there.
The rope of Allah, according to the scholars of tafseer or exegesis, could mean the covenant of Allah or the Quran. We are directed to unite as a community and strengthen the bonds of brotherhood; by allowing division and factionalism, we cannot create a community which will be able to hold on to this rope effectively. The pledge or covenant of Allah is further explained in the next verse:
And let there be [arising] from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful.
When a person gets a tight hold of the “rope”, it means that he or she does not let go of the principles by which a Muslim is to live. This deen of Islam is what is regarded as the most important possession and savior of a true Muslim. Right, wrong, permissible, impermissible, halal and haram, are decided in accordance with the laws of Allah, not by personal choice. The world is likened to a crisis, out of which an individual can escape unharmed by holding on firmly to the rope of Allah. The promise of Allah explained above, is a solemn oath by our Creator and hence cannot be doubted. This is not a weak rope or a fleeting promise. It is not a rope which will buckle or break under pressure or over time. It is a strong, sturdy, dependable rope which can never break until the end of time. It is the supreme life-line extended by Allah to us, and it is a favor that He has done us by giving us such an unfailing security of success, if only we hold on firmly.
If we individually or collectively, allow all that is good and forbid what is wrong, allowing peace and harmony on earth, we are to be successful, and the rightful occupants of jannah.