“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.