What is jihad?

The Muslim concept of jihad is often confused with the idea of holy war. Jihad means 'to struggle in the way of Allah', and refers at least as much to an inner or personal spiritual struggle as it does to war and fighting.

Most Muslim scholars agree there are two levels of jihad, and that of these, greater jihad is the more important.

Greater jihad

This refers to the personal spiritual struggle of every Muslim to follow the teachings of Allah in their daily lives, and includes overcoming evils such as anger, greed, pride and hatred, forgiving people who hurt them, and working for social justice.

Lesser jihad

Most Muslims are not pacifists, and believe it is justifiable to struggle to defend Islam, for justice, or in self-defence, and to use force if necessary. If all peaceful means fail, a Muslim should be ready to fight to defend the ummah against aggression, to defend the oppressed, or to combat injustice. This is lesser jihad.

According to traditional teachings, war is acceptable as long as:

  • the war has a justified cause
  • the war is a last resort
  • the war is to protect Allah's creation
  • the war aims to restore peace
  • the war is controlled by a religious leader
  • the war is not fought as an act of aggression
  • the war is not fought to gain territory

A war cannot be described as jihad if:

  • the war is for political reasons
  • the purpose of the war is to force people to convert to Islam
  • the war puts women and children at risk
  • the war involves destruction of homes or places of worship
  • the war is likely to destroy trees, crops and animals

Muslims must fight on behalf of Allah to defend themselves and obey the rules of war:

Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors.Qur'an 2:190