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Jihad: The Highest Peak of Islam

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A Muslim apologetic for Jihad.

10 Dec 2001

The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) stated in one hadith, "The head of its matter is Islam and its pillar is the Salah and its highest peak is the Jihad."

The discussion concerning Jihad is taking place throughout the Ummah and indeed many misunderstandings and distortions, some deliberate, have come forth. Some of these have been propagated by the likes of the government scholars both in the West and in the Muslim World, such as Jihad an-Nafs, Jihad against oneself and Jihad as a defensive war only.

We must realise that Jihad is a pillar of Islam and was described as its peak by Sayyidina Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam). It is the thing, which Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala) in the Qur'an states that gives the Ummah life; indeed Umar ibn al Khattab (ra) stated, "There is no izza (honour) without Jihad". Hence any misunderstanding of this vital concept would have huge ramifications. Hence, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of Jihad and make clear these corruptions, which have been propagated by the Kuffar, their agent rulers and their "scholars".

Jihad an-Nafs

Some have attempted to justify their stance on this concept with what is apparently intended as a daleel (Islamic evidence), and so have used a narration to justify this concept of Jihad an-Nafs or dealing with all the political and military problems we face by becoming introspective or looking inwardly as opposed to looking at the Ahkam Shari'ah and seeing what Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala) has demanded from us.

So they use what they claim is a hadith, or saying of Muhammad (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam), "We have returned from the lesser Jihad to the greater Jihad, that is the struggle against the evil of oneself." This is in fact a fabrication and is known as Mawdu' (spurious). Hafidh al Iraqi and Ibn Hajar al Asqalani, who were hadith masters and muhaditheen, who memorised one hundred thousand hadith by Isnad and were qualified to scrutinise hadith and their authenticity, stated that this was not a saying of the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) but was in fact a statement that was made by someone in the later generation named Ibrahim ibn Abi Yabla. Hence, this is not considered an evidence in the Islamic Shari'ah.

To elaborate further, it is in contradiction with the subject matter of Jihad that has been elaborated in over a hundred ayat of the Qur'an that have come with the meaning of Jihad being Qitaal, which means to slay or to kill or to fight. This was how the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) and the Sahabah (ra) understood it. To give an example from the Seerah that was narrated by Ibn Majah with a source in Bukhari, woman came to the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) and asked "O Messenger of Allah! Is Jihad obliged upon the women?" To which he responded, "Yes, a Jihad without Qitaal (fighting), it is the Hajj and the Umrah!"

This clearly demonstrates that Jihad is Qitaal i.e. Jihad is undertaking the physical fighting and this is how it was understood by the woman and the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam), as explained in the Prophet's (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) answer i.e. Jihad in Islam means fighting. The Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) did not respond by saying that there was the greater Jihad for everyone i.e. Jihad against oneself! Rather he informed her that Allah had prescribed the Hajj and the Umrah for her and that she would get the reward of the Mujahid for undertaking this action, as explained by Imam Sanani in his explanation in the book Sub us Salam.

A definition of the subject of Jihad can be extracted from the Islamic evidences rather than a mere linguistic understanding - so for example the term 'Salah' in the Arabic language means seeking maghfirah (forgiveness) or blessing or Du'a (supplication); however we know that in the Islamic Shari'ah it is referent to the five obligatory prayers. Similarly the term 'Zakah' means, literally, purification but in the Islamic Shari'ah, Zakah is referent to a specific amount of charity that is taken from specific types of wealth and distributed to particular categories of people. So when we scrutinise the Islamic daleel we can extract a clear definition or definitions. When the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) was asked who is in the way of Allah i.e. who is a Mujahid, he explained, "Whosoever fights to make Allah's word the highest, then he is in the way of Allah."[Bukhari and Muslim].

Similarly looking at the Ayat of Qur'an we can see that Jihad is undertaken to convey Islam, and to remove the barriers from implementing and propagating Islam, this can be seen from the rules to do with Jihad as well. So we can define Jihad as struggling to remove the material barriers to conveying the Islamic Da'wa, whether it is by the physical means, or by wealth or expressing an opinion concerning the same.

Myth: Jihad is only defensive

Another distortion that is promoted is the idea that Jihad is only defensive. The protagonists of this idea again utilise certain misinterpretations to justify their positions.

"Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress the limits. For Allah loves not the transgressors" [TMQ Al-Baqarah: 190].

"And if they incline to peace, you incline to it also, and trust in Allah. Verily! He is the hearer, the knower" [TMQ Al-A'raf: 61].

These two verses however, cannot abrogate the 119 other verses of Qur'an that suggest that Jihad is not merely limited to defensive war alone. These 119 verses, which are general and absolute, indicate that Jihad encompasses all of the following types of war:

  • Defensive war
  • Offensive war
  • Limited war
  • Unlimited war
  • Protective war

Before we go into the details of the subject let us first clarify what we mean by the terms "general" (aam) and "absolute" (mutlaq). When a verse is described as "general" it means that it covers everything related to the subject. "Absolute" means that the verse is not limited in a particular aspect of the subject in question. If a verse is general, another verse (or evidence from Sunnah) is required to make it specific (khass) otherwise it must remain as general. Similarly if the verse is absolute another evidence is required to "limit" (muqayad) it, otherwise it to remains absolute.

The verses concerning Jihad were revealed as general and absolute without limitation. Accordingly an evidence from Shari'ah is required to limit these verses concerning Jihad. However there are no evidences from Qur'an or Sunnah that place limitations on Jihad. Thus, Jihad encompasses all of the aforementioned types of war.

There are many verses concerning Jihad that could be drawn upon to illustrate this understanding. It is sufficient to focus on Surah At-Taubah (Repentance), which is one of the last Surahs to be revealed. Thus no one can claim that the verses are abrogated, limited or specified by later revelations.

"Fight against such of those who have been given the scripture as believe not in Allah nor the last day, and forbid not that which Allah hath-forbidden by his messenger, and follow not the Deen of truth, until they pay the Jizya readily, being brought low" [TMQ At-Taubah: 29].

"Verily! The number of the months with Allah is twelve months by Allah's ordinance in the day that he created the heavens and the earth, four of them are sacred: that is the right Deen, so wrong not yourselves in them. And wage war on all the idolaters as they are waging war on all of you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto him)" [TMQ At-Taubah: 36].

"O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites! Be harsh with them, their ultimate abode is hell, a hapless journey's end" [TMQ At-Taubah: 73].

"Verily! Allah hath bought from the believers their lives and their wealth because the garden will be theirs: they shall fight in the way of Allah and shall slay and be slain. It is a promise which is binding on him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Qur'an. Whoever fulfils his covenant better than Allah? Rejoice then in your bargain that you have made, for that is the supreme triumph" [TMQ At-Taubah: 111].

"O you who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto him)" [TMQ At-Taubah: 123].

If we examine these verses we see that they include:

"Fight against those who...have been given the scriptures as believe in Allah and the last day...until they pay the jizya."

"Fight all the idolaters as they fight you."

"Fight against the disbelievers and the hypocrites and be harsh with them."

" ...the garden, will be theirs, they shall fight in the way of Allah."

"Fight those of the disbelievers..."

These verses command Muslims to fight, generally and absolutely. The verses impose no restrictions or conditions. Therefore this is clear evidence that "Jihad" may be offensive or defensive.

These verses of At-Taubah were revealed under certain circumstances. The following verses chronologically precede these verses of Surah At-Taubah. They provide an insight into the circumstances in which Surah At-Taubah was revealed.

"Let not the unbelievers think that they can outstrip (Allah's purpose). Verily! They cannot escape" [TMQ: At-Taubah: 2].

"Make ready for them all you can of (armed) force and of horses tethered, in order that you may dismay the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others beside them whom you know not. Allah knows them. Whatsoever you spend in the way of Allah it will be repaid to you in full, and you will not be, wronged" [TMQ Al-Anfal: 60].

"And if they incline to peace, you also incline to it, and trust in Allah. Verily! He is the hearer, the knower" [TMQ Al-A'raf: 61].

The meaning of abrogation (naskh) is that the rule (hukm) of one revelation is completely cancelled by another later revelation. When something is specified it is abrogation of a kind i.e. partial abrogation but it is only in the stated areas of the subject. The criteria for abrogation and specification is that the abrogating or specifying revelation must have been revealed at a later date. It should be noticed that the verses of Surah At-Taubah were the last to be revealed concerning Jihad.

A misunderstanding of abrogation and specification by some of the Muslims may have resulted in these people saying that Jihad is a purely defensive war. Others however are happier distorting Islam in order to please the rulers in the Muslim lands or the Western lands rather than please Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala).

However a further point to be clarified is that the mere appearance of contradiction between two statements (either Qur'an or Sunnah) is not sufficient to claim abrogation. There must be a divine evidence to state that the abrogation is actually relating to the abrogated. There must be a clear context concerning the occurrence of the abrogation. There are a number of incidents where two, apparently contradicting revelations where implemented in total compatibility. Concerning the above verses from At-Taubah they should be understood without abrogation.

Two verses may refer to one subject, such as Jihad, but differ in their context and situation. Therefore one verse may be applicable to a particular situation, and a different verse, seemingly contradictory, is applicable in a totally different situation. Consequently there is no abrogation.

When we examine the verses of Jihad we see that they refer to the same subject but in different situations.

Therefore, Jihad cannot be understood as being neither purely defensive nor purely offensive. The two verses quoted at the beginning relate to the situation of peace and the verses from At-Taubah relate to the situation of conflict. Conflict and peace are two different situations. To explain this, one must look to the accepted explanations of Qur'an and the opinion of our great scholars.

Az-Zamakhshari in his Tafseer of the Qur'an, Al-Kashaf, says:

"If they tend towards peace you must accept it, but this depends on what the Imam sees as a benefit for Islam and Muslims. It is not a must on the Imam to fight always, nor is it a must on him to accept peace always."

Thus both are compatible, but used under different situations and conditions. Both As-Sadi and Ibn Zaid have stated:

"If they ask you for peace, accept it from them and there is no abrogation in it."

Hence according to As-Sadi and Ibn Zaid it is incorrect to say that the "sword verses" abrogate the "peace verses". Abu Bakr Ibn Arabi in his Tafseer of the Qur'an, Ahkam ul Qur'an comments; "The answer here differs...Allah says, 'don't weaken, don't call for peace whilst you have the upper hand. If Muslims are mighty with strength, invincible, and numerous in groups let there be no peace' [TMQ Muhammad: 35]."

Thus peace may be accepted but not if Muslims have the upper hand. In addition to the evidences of the Qur'an, Sunnah and Ijma-as Sahabah present clear evidences of the reality of Jihad.

Abdullah ibn Umar (ra) relates that the Prophet of Allah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) said:

"I have been ordered to initiate the fighting of people, until they testify that there is no god save Allah, that Muhammad is Allah's Prophet, establish Salat and pay Zakat. If they do that they save their blood from me, except by the right of Islam, their account will be to Allah" [Bukhari and Muslim].

In another hadith related by Anas ibn Malik:

"Three are the origin of faith, to refrain from saying; 'they are disbelievers,' if they say there is no god save Allah, merely because of a sin or bad action. Secondly, that Jihad is continuous until the Day of Judgement, till the last one of my Ummah fights the 'Dajjal'. Thirdly to believe in the Qadr."

If Jihad is only defensive war how can it continue until the Day of Judgement? If it was so Jihad would be periodic and would not be continuous. Moreover, this completely contradicts evidences from the life of the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) and the example of Sahabah.

In the nine years that followed the Hijrah to Madinah (where permission was given to fight) the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) personally led 28 military campaigns, and during the same period the Companions (ra) embarked on another 51 military campaigns.

If one looks in detail at these expeditions and battles one finds clear evidence that the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) and the companions undertook both defensive and offensive action. The battles of Uhud and Ahzab are clear examples of defensive battles - on the other hand, Tabuk and Mutah are clear examples of offensive wars. Indeed the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) took part in thirteen expeditions and eleven major battles in which he took the initiative and launched offensive action. Likewise of the 51 Sariyah (campaigns), 39 were offensive. How can one say, therefore, that Jihad is only defensive?


"Fight in the way of Allah, those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah verily loves not transgressors" [TMQ Al-Baqarah: 190].

The above verse describes the way in which Jihad is being carried out. It refers to the limits that have to be observed when engaging the enemy. It by no means implies that Jihad is defensive. Islam has its own regulations of war - the limits Muslims are strictly commanded to adhere to, are not to kill women, children, old men, and priests who do not participate in war against Muslims. To attack such people would be to transgress the limits set by Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala) because they are not "those who fight you". However, if they fight against Muslims on the battlefield then to fight them would not be transgression. Muslims are also commanded to treat war prisoners kindly not to torture them or mutilate dead bodies - all of these actions would amount to a transgression.

Transgression would also arise if a nation was attacked without first calling them to Islam. Muslims are ordained to call their enemies to Islam before fighting against them. If they refuse, Muslims should call them again to pay Jizya and submit to the laws of Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala). If the enemy refuses again, Muslims should fight them in order that there be no persecution, and the Deen should be for Allah alone. This procedure should be observed, otherwise the limits have been transgressed and, "Allah verily loves not transgressors."

The verse, "...it is permitted for those to fight, that they have been wronged," does not tell us to fight because we have been wronged. It merely gives us the permission to fight. The question of the reason for fighting does not enter into it. If being "wronged" were the reason then Muslims would have been able to fight in Makkah. In Makkah, after great suffering the Companions approached the Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) asking him for permission to fight the enemy. The Messenger (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) replied, "Be patient, I have not been permitted to fight" [Ibn Hisham].

The verse, "...it is permitted for those to fight, that they have been wronged" which was revealed in Madinah, gave the permission to fight.

The Call

Before a land is opened up to Islam the inhabitants must be invited to Islam. Without this call the fight is not allowed. This call may take a variety of forms: direct invitation, conferences, via the media and so on and so forth. The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) for example sent letters to the leaders, like the following letter sent to Heraclius of Rome:

"In the Name of Allah Most Gracious Most Merciful. From Muhammad, Servant and Messenger of Allah, to Heraclius Emperor of Rome. Peace be upon those who follow the Guidance. I invite you to Islam; accept Islam, you will be safe, Allah will grant you two-fold reward; if you turn away, the sin of (the wrongdoings of) all the people will be upon you. "O people of the Book come to an agreement between-us and you, that we worship none but Allah, and that we shall associate no partners to Him, and that none of us shall take other for words beside Allah and if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we have surrendered to Him." Muhammad, Messenger of Allah.

Prior to the Battle of Qadisiyyah, Sad ibn Abi Waqqas (ra) sent a delegation to Yazdagird, Emperor of Persia, headed by An-Nu'man ibn Muqarrin with the purpose of inviting the Emperor to Islam. Yazdagird greeted the delegation in the following way:

"Why have you come to our dominions and why do you want to invade us? Perhaps, you have designs on us...and seek to venture against us because we are preoccupied with you, but we do not wish to inflict punishment on you".

An-Nu'man replied:

"Indeed Allah has been Kind and Merciful to us and has sent to us a Messenger to show us the good and command us to follow it, to make us realise what is evil and forbade us from it. The Messenger promised us if we were to respond to what he commands, Allah would bestow on us the good of this world and the good of the hereafter. Not much time has elapsed but Allah has given us abundance in place of hardship, honour in place of humiliation and mercy and brotherhood in place of our former enmity. The Messenger has commanded us to summon mankind to what is best for them and to begin with those who are our neighbours. We therefore invite you to enter into our Deen. It is a Deen, which beautifies and promotes all good and which detests and discourages all that is ugly and reprehensible. It is a Deen, which leads its adherents from the darkness and tyranny of unbelief to the light and justice of Iman. Should you respond, positively to us and come to Islam, it would be our duty to introduce the Book of Allah in your midst and help you to live according to it and rule according to its laws. We would then return and leave you to conduct your own affairs. Should you refuse however, to enter the Deen of Allah we would take the Jizya (tribute) from you and give you protection in return. If you refuse to give the Jizya, we shall declare war on you" (Ibn Sad in his Tareekh).

This is the reality of the call to Islam and the manner in which it spread. It is a call to deliver people from the servitude of man to the service of Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala), not a desire for exploitation and domination.

Consider these noble words of Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra) to Sad ibn Abi Waqqas (ra) as he bade farewell to the Muslim army that was to confront the Persians at Qadisiyyah.

"O Sad! Let not any statement that you are the uncle of the Messenger of Allah or that I or you are the companion of the Messenger of Allah distract you from Allah. Allah Almighty does not obliterate evil with evil but he wipes out evil with good."

"O Sad! There is no connection between Allah and anyone except obedience to Him. In the sight of Allah all people whether nobleman or commoner are the same. Allah is their Lord and they are His servants seeking elevation through taqwa and seeking to obtain what is with Allah through obedience. Consider how the Messenger of Allah used to act with the Muslims and act accordingly..."

Are these the words of a leader to an army that is embarking on conquest for the sake of domination and exploitation? Clearly not.

The Opening of Lands

The opening of lands by the means of Jihad is to destroy the material obstacles that prevent people from entering Islam. The objective is not to exploit the lands in the manner of the imperialists but to free men from the servitude of other men to the worship of Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala). The proof that Islam never exploited or dominated in the manner of the imperialists is the success of Islam in melting the different nations into one Ummah.

History has proved that the unjust conquering of lands alienates the conquerors from the conquered. In the entire history of the world no nation has been able to impose its will on a people to the extent that the people themselves freely leave their own culture and nationality, and adopt freely the will of the conqueror. The Greeks, Romans, Nazis, British, French, Italians, and so on, all tried and all failed. In recent times we have seen countless examples of nations fighting for their independence and freedom from imperialism. The conquerors have always sought to dominate and the conquered have always been treated as second-class citizens.

The West has sought to tarnish Islam with the same brush - to accuse Islam of dominating by force; this however is so far from the truth. Islam spread all over the world until the authority of the Islamic Khilafah encompassed Persia, Iraq, Bilad as-Sham, North Africa and many more lands. The people of these lands were Persians, Berbers, Copts and Romans, who all had their own nationalities, cultures and languages. These people under the shade of the rule of Islam grew to understand it - they all embraced Islam and became one Ummah (nation). The success of the Islamic intellectual leadership in melting these people and cultures is unparalleled in the history of the World and proof that Islam was adopted by individuals out of conviction and not because a sword was placed to their necks. This is the picture that the West has sought to propagate so that Muslims would leave Jihad and leave conveying Islam to the entire world.

The reality is that any nation that has a doctrine, which deals comprehensively with the universe, man and life, must be a nation with the need to spread this doctrine. Islam is not simply a doctrine of thoughts and ideas. Islam is also a practical system and way of life. Faith in Islam is not based only on its thoughts and concepts. A Muslim must also have belief in its actual implementation as a comprehensive way of life. Belief in this must then be followed by action.

It is obligatory for the Islamic nation to invite people to Islam, to propagate it and to subjugate other nations to the Islamic system of ruling.

No Compulsion in Deen

Whilst other nations must be subjugated to the rule of Islam, the individual residing in a land opened by Islam must not be compelled to become Muslim. The Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) has said:

"I have been commanded to initiate the fighting of people until they say there is no god save Allah..."

The Arabic word used here is 'naas' -- people; which is plural and does not refer to individuals. Allah, the Supreme says in Qur'an,

"There is no compulsion in Deen the right direction is henceforth distinct from error and he who rejects false gods and believes in Allah has grasped a firm handhold which will never break. Allah is hearer, knower" [TMQ Al-Baqarah: 256].

The Messenger of Allah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) has said, "Whoever has been a Jew or Christian is not to be coerced from his Deen."

Jihad does not mean as the West intimate when they say Islam was spread by the sword that individuals are forced to become Muslims. Rather, it is the subjugation of the State and nation to the rule of Islam. The individual is compelled to abide by the Islamic ruling (with certain concessions permitted to non-Muslims by Shari'ah) but the Aqeedah (creed) of Islam is not forced upon him.


Jihad is the removal of obstacles, by force if necessary, that stand between people and Islam. It is the practical method of spreading Islam. The call to Islam is compulsory on Muslims. Jihad is included within this compulsory action. Like the call, Jihad is to be performed by the nation (Ummah).

Jihad is continuous and will always be so. This is an obligation imposed on Muslims by Shari'ah. However, this is not the Jihad that is carried by the nation whose intention is to open land to the justice of Islam. Practically speaking this is not going to take place until the Ummah can perform this Jihad and make the Call to Islam as a nation, and that nation must have a state that implements Islam i.e. Dar al Islam. Once this State has been established we can (Inshallah) carry on the work commenced by the Companions of our Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam), which is, to spread the Deen of Allah (Subhanahu Wa ta'ala) to all corners of the earth. The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) stated, "This Deen will never cease to exist. A party of the Muslims shall always fight for it until the Hour comes to pass" [Al Jami us Sahih of Imam Muslim].

Rashad Ali

Source:Khilafah Magazine December 2001 Edition

This article can be found on the khilafah.com website.

Copyright 2001-2020 OrthodoxyToday.org. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article is subject to the policy of the individual copyright holder. Follow copyright link for details.
Copyright 2001-2020 OrthodoxyToday.org. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article is subject to the policy of the individual copyright holder. See OrthodoxyToday.org for details.

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