The word Jihad, which has become very infamous in the world media these days, has a completely different perspective on Islam. The word Jihad is frequently used by Islamists to justify their acts of terrorism against civilians, yet they do not know the real concept of Jihad according the teachings of Islam.
Over the last decade and a half, no word has been more misconstrued than “Jihad”. In today’s world the word “Jihad” has become synonymous with terms like “holy war”, “terrorism” and “mass murder”, but how much of this belief is true? This needs to be discussed.
For starters, the term “holy war” is not found in any Islamic scripture. The practice of killing innocents does not come under the definition of Jihad, in fact it would be more of an innovation, which is a blameworthy practice in Islam. Therefore, the word has been used wrongly by Islamists and subsequently by the media.
This short treatise aims to discuss the uses of the word Jihad in its correct context, its conditions and how it differs from the command to fight (Qital).
Definition of Jihad:
The Arabic word “Jihad” is a noun. Its singular past tense verb is “Jahada” (masculine) or “Jahadat” (feminine). The root of the word “Jihad” is “Juhd” which means “effort”. Another related word is “Ijtihad” which means working hard or diligently.
Jihad is derived from the Arabic verb “Jahada”, which means “to struggle or strive”. It simply means complete exertion. This relates to both internal and external struggle, to strive to be a good peaceful Muslim, to strive to be a servant of God and to strive to tell others about the religion of Islam. 1 But there is no Arabic meaning of Jihad that translates as “to kill”.
The word Jihad has also been used in a generic meaning as well as to achieve certain goals which are not Islamic. The Quran uses the verb of Jihad in its generic meaning in below verse.
وَوَصَّيْنَا الْإِنسَانَ بِوَالِدَيْهِ حُسْنًا وَإِن جَاهَدَاكَ لِتُشْرِكَ بِي مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ فَلَا تُطِعْهُمَا إِلَيَّ مَرْجِعُكُمْ فَأُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ
“And We have enjoined upon man goodness to parents. But if they Jahadak (do Jihad against you i.e. they try hard to convince you) to make you associate with Me (a god) of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them. To Me is your return, and I will inform you about what you used to do.” 2
Jihad in these verses refers to actions taken by non-Muslim parents against their Muslim offspring to force them to worship gods other than Allah. Clearly, this kind of Jihad is not Islamic. Ibn Manthoor stated Jihad can refer to fighting but this is actuality is rhetoric for “exerting effort” and “using ones strength”, which could be physical or verbal. 3
The term Jihad has been used thirty times in the Quran and two of them were used as in a generic meaning from which one of them is mentioned above.
The word Jihad is categorised in two different meanings in Islam.
What is meant by this categorisation is that before a person enjoining justice and forbidding oppression in the land, whether this is verbal or physical, he must first rectify his own level of spirituality and god-consciousness.
وجاهدوا في الله حقَّ جهاده
“And strive hard in Allah’s Cause as you ought to strive”4
Al-Qurtubi said about this:
Some said this Ayah is a command to engage in combat with ones enemies whilst others said it is incitement to better oneself and implement all of Allah’s commands and to halt anything that He has prohibited. Meaning, strive against yourself to become obedient and remove from yourselves your (evil) desires. Strive against Satan and his evil whispers. Strive against oppression and remove the oppressors. Strive against disbelief and put a stop to the disbelievers. 5
It is as if he is saying here, improve yourselves before you try to seek to spread betterment and this meaning is also reinforced from elsewhere.
Ibn al-Qayyim stated that Jihad is of four levels starting with Jihad against ones desires, then Jihad against Satan and only then against the enemy.6
Minor in the sense of objective – the objective of the concept of “Jihad” is to bring about justice and betterment. This cannot be achieved unless if the major Jihad is actualised first.
It is important to note; combatant Jihad cannot be classified as unjustified use of violence. It’s a military action conducted by the government under some strict rules and regulations. This military action can never be used individually or by any political or religious organization without its conditions being met. This type of action is only legally used by the state against the enemy state. In simple words, what is meant by the minor form of Jihad in today’s context of “war”, is something which has many personal and political prerequisites (more on this later).
The Command to Make Jihad:
There are verses where the word “Jihad” has been used to fight in the way of Allah. Now, and the crux of this treatise, this “fight” does not mean “to terror” or “to kill” innocent civilians but refers to military operations.
وَقَاتِلُواْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ وَلاَ تَعْتَدُواْ إِنَّ اللّهَ لاَ يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدِينَ
“Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you but do not transgress, for Allah love not transgressors.” 7
This Quranic verse has many meanings and a strong message behind it.
Ibn Jarir at-Tabari states, in his Tafsir of this Ayah, that it was one of the very first commands to fight the opposition in physical combatant Jihad. Some stated this verse abrogated by a later revelation to fight all disbelievers and not just “those who fight against you”. However, this is a weaker view. The majority who commented on this stated that the command here is binding – to fight the disbelievers and those who show pride and arrogance either in hand or by tongue until they show obedience to Me (i.e. Allah), but there is an important annotation in the latter part of the verse. “But do not transgress” means – do not kill and target civilian including women and children.
What this means is that we are not permitted to fight non-combatants. Jihad is only waged against those who fight you and not those who are not at arms against you.
Moreover, it also teaches us that those who do not wish to engage in war against the Muslims then we are not commanded to fight them. Therefore, the Prophet wasn’t commanded and didn’t fight every pagan tribe but settled to accept a tax from them (when his dominance became apparent).
He went on to say that by killing non-combatants, typically women and children, one would be regarded as transgressing the boundaries of Jihad; whereby making Halal (permitted) what has been made Haram (prohibited). 8
Regulation of War (Jihad)
Added to what has been stated in a primary exegesis, we also learn from other texts that combatant Jihad has mid-war regulations.
What is clear from this are following parameters:
Last two conditions are very important to apply in Islamic war.
But what about when they stop fighting you?
فَإِنِ اعْتَزَلُوكُمْ فَلَمْ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ وَأَلْقَوْاْ إِلَيْكُمُ السَّلَمَ فَمَا جَعَلَ اللّهُ لَكُمْ عَلَيْهِمْ سَبِيلاً
“So, if they withdraw from you, and fight not against you, and offer you peace, then Allah has opened no way for you against them” 9
Ibn Kathir said about this that these people are those who come to the Muslims and do not want to engage in war. They are neither allies nor foes, so it is an act of kindness from you to withhold from fighting against them, it is not befitting for you to fight them as long as they do not want to fight with you. This situation is similar to those from Bani Hashim (Meccan tribe) who came out with the Quraysh (Meccan tribe) for the battle of Badr (the name of the battle) but only did so in duress, such as al-Abbas and the likes. For this reason, the Prophet forbade killing al-Abbas and those like him when they were captured at Badr.10
From here, it is clear in Islam that if they stop fighting you, or withdraw from you or solely just don’t wish war against the Muslims – the Muslims must also reciprocate.
What if your enemy wants peace with you?
وَإِن جَنَحُواْ لِلسَّلْمِ فَاجْنَحْ لَهَا وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللّهِ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ
“But if they incline to peace, you (also) incline to it….” 11
Ibn Kathir explains that this verse refers to treaties and agreements of peace and betterment for both parties. If this is what they want, then give it to them – similar to the agreement of al-Hudaybiyyah (the name of the peace treaty) where fighting was conditionally paused for a period of nine years. 12
And this is in line with the view of majority of the scholars who have stated that the Muslim ruler can agree to a permanent or temporary treaty or pact – there is no exact duration for which such agreement may last. This is the opinion of Imam Ahmad. The Shafis and Malikis limited it to ten years. The Hanafis have stated, however, that a permanent treaty is not permitted and that the Muslim ruler is only allowed to make an agreement on a supposed period of weakness, and once that weakness from his camp is expected to be removed, that’s when such peace agreements should then end. 13
Whatever the case, application of the principle given in this noble verse in contemporary times doesn’t really affect this scholarly difference of opinion.
They are all agreed, all four Madhabs (schools of thought within Islamic jurisprudence), that if there is a need that the Imam feels is for the betterment of the Muslims or there is fear that their enemy will overcome them because of their strength over the Muslims then the peace treaty agreement may continue indefinitely. 14
Also see our later discussion on the condition of political ability and Muslim governmental powers today.
The fundamental of Islamic teaching from all of this is that Islam commands the spreading of peace and not to seek to pick up arms against just anyone. The primary command is to call people to Islam 15 and seek to make a peace treaty with the opposition in order to make peace and tranquility on earth.
Now, some Islamists believe in order to misguide or force people into Islam; they believe in fighting against non-Muslims until they embrace Islam. But the religion of Islam completely rejects these baseless claims.
لاَ إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ
“There is no compulsion in religion” 16
Allah also commanded Muslims to show kindness to Non-Muslims and not kill or harm them because of their faith.
لَا يَنْهَاكُمُ اللَّهُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ وَلَمْ يُخْرِجُوكُم مِّن دِيَارِكُمْ أَن تَبَرُّوهُمْ وَتُقْسِطُوا إِلَيْهِمْ
“God does not forbid you to show kindness to unbelievers who do not fight you because of your faith or drive you from your homes” 17
Ibn Kathir states that this means that Allah does not forbid Muslims to treat kindly non-Muslims who are not fighting Muslims because of their religion. We learn from this verse also the command to treat such non-Muslims kindly and to be fair to them. 18
This in brief is the concept of combatant Jihad, with some of its objectives and regulations. Before we put light on the Quranic terminology of “Qital”, we must also clarify the types of treaties and peace agreements, or lack of, that Islam recognise and are actually implemented today.
Types of Treaties and Peace Agreements:
Ibn Abbas reportedly said that the Mushriks (pagans) of Arabia used to be of two categories with the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and the Muslims (may Allah be pleased with them all): those who were at war (Harb in Arabic)), so they fought and were fought against; and those who had a treaty (Ahd), so they didn’t fight and were not fought against.19
Based on this, the scholars of Islam have categorised all countries according to their agreement with the Muslim ruler and government. They are as follows:
1-Daar al-Islam: Another Muslim country where Islam is apparent.
2–Daar al-Harb: Where Islam is not apparent and there is no peace treaty between them and the Muslims.
3–Daar al-Ahd: Where Islam may or may not be apparent but a treaty and peace agreement is settled in order for the betterment of the Muslims. In this scenario, there is no war and both countries and its civilians are at peace with one another.20
What’s the ruling on breaking treaties and peace agreements?
All treaties and covenants must be protected; all lives and properties are protected by it.
It appears in the following verse:
وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا النَّفْسَ الَّتِي حَرَّمَ اللَّهُ إِلَّا بِالْحَقِّ
“and kill not anyone whom Allah has forbidden” 21
Al-Qurtubi states that this Ayah places a prohibition on killing anyone who is protected, irrespective of whether they are a believer or a person under treaty and peace agreement (Ahd), except for when the religion permits such killing to take place (such as penal codes etc.) 22
As-Sadi said that treaties and peace agreements include all ages, genders and it also includes those who are pious and those who are sinful, those who are disbelievers but have been protected due to a treaty or peace agreement. 23
The Prophet also has been reported to say, “Whoever fights or kills a person under treaty/peace agreement (Ahd), will never smell the fragrance of paradise, despite its perfumed fragrance emanating from a distance of forty years.”24
Imam Ash-Shaafa’i (may Allah have mercy on him) even gave an example. He said concerning those who enters into a Non-Muslims land [who were at war with the Muslims or had no prior treaty or peace agreement (Harb)] and found themselves in a position to take something of their wealth: if said Muslim man into this land with a personal agreement (not a political Ahd agreement) then it is not permissible for him to take anything of it, great or small, because if he is safe from them, then they should be safe from him.25
In the Hanafi Madhab, ash-Sarkhasi said: It is not permitted for a Muslim who has been offered a (personal) protection to betray them, because betrayal is Haraam. 26
And there are many statements which are similar to these which concluded an overwhelming majority opinion that breaking treaties and peace agreements is not allowed and indeed a major sin.27
Civilian are not commanded to harm in any way. Therefore, it is very important to define who are civilian, what are their categories and differences.
Who is a Civilian?
There are different types of people who are either civilians or become temporary civilians.
First Category- Ordinary Citizen: Those people who are just ordinary citizens of the country, who are not working in the armed services or police forces. The common definition of a civilian is ‘a person who is not on active duty with a military, Naval, police or fire fighter, etc.’
Second Category- Non- Combatant: A person who is not engaged in fighting during the war, for example: army chaplain, army doctor or even a civilian citizen who helps them. This category of people normally works far from the war zone and operates behind the war. Therefore, they can be classified as Non-Combatant.
Third Category- Temporary Civilians: Those combatants also come under the definition of civilian who have no weapon or ammunition in their hands or no intention to participate in war.
For example: a combatant who is disabled or lacks one or more of his limbs, or someone who is not willing or not available to participate in war can also be classified as a non-combatant. Sometimes we call them military reservists or reserves. If they do not participate in a war zone, they would be classified as civilians.
Fourth Category- Civilian Defenders: The person who is a civilian and did not participate in wars but has possesses a weapon only to protect himself and his family and property. Can he be classified as a combatant? There is no evidence that he must partake in combatant activities and possess the arm or use the arm for anything else other than in order to defend himself or his family. For Example: an enemy soldier breaks the rules of war and his intention is to harm enemy civilians.
In this situation, a civilian who uses his arm against the soldier to defend himself would not be classified as combatant but a civilian who has no intention to participate in war or harm any enemy soldier but always uses his personal (legally licenced) arm to protect himself. If this category of civilian can be harmed by a soldier, this soldier has transgressed the limit of Islamic rules in war and also breached the army code of conduct and this soldier should be prosecuted under his country’s laws because his action is considered not only a war crime as per the international law but also a war crime under Islam.
These people are classified as civilians and cannot be hurt or harmed, even during the war. Islam prohibits to harm them during the state recognised war (Jihad). Those who kill those categorically stated civilians in a war automatically fall under the category of war criminals and the state should prosecute them according to their country’s laws.
I completely agree with Hyeran Jo an author of the book:
“When two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. The powerless suffer the most when the powerful fight. In the same vein, civilian often face much suffering during civil conflicts: disappearances, abductions, arbitrary arrests, rapes, beatings, extortions and summary executions are the harsh reality of ordinary people in internal conflicts.” 28
Civilian cum Combatant:
We can see now, when a civilian becomes a combatant and is it necessary to target those civilians cum combatants in a war (Jihad). There are four categories that turn a civilian as a combatant.
First Category- Civilian Employees: What about the civilian employees who work with armed forces? Some civilian employees do participate in armed conflicts and are not considered as civilians. For example; technicians, engineers, civilian operators, drone operators, etc. These people work directly with armed forces and when the war erupts, these civilian employees are the direct target of the military strikes because they work in the field of war to provide all necessary assistance for their army in regards to the attack. Therefore, according to some researchers, they are classified as civilian combatants.
Second Category- Private Contractors: For example: The world knows the very infamous US private contractor ACADEMI, previously known as “Black water”. They are private contractors but definitely participate in armed conflict by using the same ammunition as the army uses so, in this case they would be classified as private combatants. Once they are targeted in a war they would not come under civilian casualties.
Third Category- Private Militias: Private militias are armed military groups that are composed of private citizens and not recognised by the governments. They are also sometimes referred to as ‘private army’ and the definition of private army is ‘a military or paramilitary force consisting of armed combatants who owe their allegiance to a private person, group, or organization, rather than a nation or state.’ These people are not classified as civilians but instead as private combatants.
So far, you have understood who are civilians and in what situation or category a civilian becomes a combatant. In simple definition, a person who does not hold an arm at the time of war cannot be classified as a combatant but a civilian. There are also some disagreements on this definition but this our goal here right now is not to provide a counter narrative against the disagreement.
The Difference between Jihad (Strive) and Qital (Fight and Kill)
In most of the Quranic verses where Jihad mentions along with Fi Sabil Allah (for the sake of Allah), the word related to Qital was mentioned.
“And fight (Waqatilu) in the cause of Allah and know that Allah is Hearing and Knowing.”29
In this verse the word Waqatilu has been used, which means to fight. The fight does not mean to kill or annihilate anyone.30
Linguistically, Qital typically refers to fighting or killing. However, the word Qital can also have an alternative meaning, depending on the context. For instance, the word Qital is used in the following verse:
قُتِلَ أَصْحَابُ الْأُخْدُودِ
“Cursed were the people of the ditch.” 31
Ibn Abbas said about this, “Whenever the word Qutila is used in the Quran, it refers to the lack of guidance reaching them.” 32
Therefore “to kill” is not the objective and is not commanded in the Quran.
Ibn Taymiyyah said when discusses the different types of oppression and one of the overall objectives of the Sharia, which is to save and protect human life:
Cooperation in sin and transgression, such as helping to shed the blood of one who is protected by Shariah, or taking the wealth of one who is protected by Shariah, or beating one who does not deserve to be beaten, and so on. These are things that have been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger.
Shariah may be summed up in the words (interpretation of the meaning): “So keep your duty to Allah and fear Him as much as you can” [al-Taghaabun 64:16] and in the words of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him): “Whatever I enjoin upon you, do as much as of it as you can.” Narrated in al-Saheehayn. However, what we must strive to do is to achieve what is in the people’s best interests and to reduce or cancel what is detrimental to their interests. If there is a conflict, then we should see where the interests of the Muslims are greater, then pursue that, even if that is at the expense of another interest of the Muslims. We should also strive to ward off the greater evil even if that means allowing a lesser evil. This is what is prescribed in Islam.
The one who helps others in sin and transgression is the one who helps the wrongdoer in his wrongdoing. As for the one who helps the one who has been wronged to lessen that wrong, or helps to ensure that his rights are restored, he is working for the one who has been wronged, not for the wrongdoer, like the one who lends money to the one who has been wronged.33
The actual word used for (to fight) in the Holy Quran is “Qital”. This word has been used in the Quran at fifty-four places.
Qital means to use the force to repel or remove but the point here is not to kill.
Ibn Hajar eludes there being a difference between Qital and Muqaatalah:
“Fourthly (from the benefits of this Hadith), the objective of fighting here is to encourage people to enter into Islam and make the worship of Allah alone ever-present in the land. The point is not to kill and annihilate those who refuse. At times, (physically) fighting will help attain this objective and others accepting a tax or agreeing treaties (with non-Muslims).”
Fifthly, what is meant by fighting here is anything that can be used to attain the objective, even if it is non-violent such as accepting a tax.34
This point is even more enhanced by the statement of the early scholar, Ali bin al-Madeeni (d. 234H) who said:
“We have been commanded to fight them and not to kill them” 35
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:
أمرت أن أقاتل
“I have been commanded to fight” 36
He said “Uqaatil” and he did not use the word Muqaatalah that “I have been commanded to annihilate people or kill people.” The word “Uqaatil” would be used for “fight” however, the word “Muqaatalah” would be used for “killing” and this word is nowhere mentioned in the holy Quran. This is the difference between Jihad, Qital and Muqaatalah.
Ibn al-Uthaymin said also:
“The point of this Hadith is to take all necessary measures to make the correct interpretation of Islam become apparent, this is the meaning of Qatal which is much more precise in its meaning than al-Qital. Therefore, there is a difference between Qatal (endeavouring) and Qital (fighting). Not everyone who is made Qatal (endeavoured) against is killed (Qital)…Qatal doesn’t mean, in its absolute sense, that we are commanded to kill and annihilate [Muqaatalah].” 37
An even linguistically, there is difference between Qital (fight/kill) and Muqaatalah. Muqaatalah means to annihilate and its objective is to kill. This difference is highlighted quite directly by Ibn Manthoor in his dictionary 38.
Therefore, Qital’s objective is not to kill anyone, rather it is to repel (in defensive Jihad) or remove (in offensive Jihad).
NOTE: there is well known principle with the scholars of Tafsir: every word and sentence is understood in its context and not by isolating a word and understanding it with its linguistic definition. 39
Conditions for Offensive:
Perhaps is fitting to mention here that legislated fighting (offensive Jihad) has prerequisites for it to be established. From these include:
1) The threat of an opposition (therefore, can never include killing civilians or those under the treaty)
2) The presence of a Muslim government and ruler (therefore, rogue operations can never be an act of worship)
3) Ability (therefore, it doesn’t include taking arms against a greater power or calling for a revolution which will create even more instability)
4) Manhood (therefore, killing women, children and the elderly is NOT legislated – unless if said parties declared themselves as combatants)
5) Permission of parents (i.e. A person doesn’t compromise his domestic responsibilities)”40
Points two and three are extremely important to this whole treatise. The scholars are agreed that offensive Jihad can only be established if there is a Muslim ruler present to lead the campaign. This is obviously accompanied with the ability to lead the war. There is consensus on this.
However, today, we are living in a time where scholars state that there is no offensive Jihad. All of it is defensive, and with defensive the conditions change slightly.
There is an objection raised by some people who study Arabic language that in Arabic dictionary the word “Qital” comes from the root word “q-t-l” which means “to kill”, so, in this case Qital means “killing” not “fighting”.
The Quran is not explained on linguistic alone (q-t-l), etc. For example: Allah says in several places,
” قاتلھم اللہ” this does not mean that “Allah killed/murdered them”. Qatl here means “the curse of Allah” or for a better way of putting it as “Allah did not guide them”.
So, in this situation, we have seen the Quranic context of the verse, something the word is same but the meaning applied there has a different context than the concept of linguistic meaning of the word.
There are three types of Muslims who either misread or misunderstand the actual meaning of Jihad and the difference between Jihad and Qital.
The international media, non-Muslims and Muslims with above three categories do not know the concept of Jihad and Qital.
There is another type of Muslims who exists in the world, who are called extremists or Islamists, who use the word Jihad and kill innocents in the name of Islam, who even sometimes use the word Qital to annihilate others to achieve their political goals.
To summarise, we have discussed that there is a linguistic and technical difference to Jihad and Qital. Not all forms of Jihad are Qital but all forms of Qital will include a level of Jihad. However, this comes with conditions and boundaries and the objective of Islam is not spread hate and violence but to either liberate and spread justice, remove harm or oppression.
It’s unfortunate that the concept of Jihad is often translated as being a “Holy War” when no such concept exists in Islam. Just like every other practice, Islam regulates the life of the Muslim and sets conditions for his actions to be obligated and accepted in terms of reward, and enjoining good and forbidding evil in all its forms is no different.
What we know for certain is that killing people mindlessly and that which takes outside of a legitimate battlefield is foreign to Islam. Such act of violence in the name of Jihad by Islamists has no legitimacy in Islam. It is a reprehensible innovation. Such will be held accountable for breaching the Quranic commandments of what is supposed to be a noble cause.
Allah says in the holy Quran:
وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ لاَ تُفْسِدُواْ فِي الأَرْضِ قَالُواْ إِنَّمَا نَحْنُ مُصْلِحُونَ
“When it is said to them: “Make not mischief on the earth,” they say: “Why, we only Want to make peace!”41
NOTE: This report is edited (Islamic Information) by Imam Ariff Abi Bakr Olla
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