Sep 012007
This article is from the second edition of Jihad in the Qur’an: The Truth from the Source. The book is now in its third edition.

Muslims were almost continuously at war, i.e. involved in armed jihad, with enemies of the new religion, ever since the second year of the immigration of the Prophet to al-Madina. That particular period witnessed the revelation of most of the verses that mention jihad. To be more precise, twenty four of the thirty verses that contain one variation or another of the term “jihad” were revealed in al-Madina. The fact that four fifths of the verses that mention jihad are Madinite has been commonly taken to mean that the word jihad and its variations in all of those twenty four Madinite verses refer specifically to armed jihad. This is actually a serious misinterpretation.

There is a simple reason for the appearance of the term jihad significantly more in Madinite than in Meccan chapters. In al-Madina, jihad took the additional form of armed jihad, something that had an enormous impact on the life of Muslims as individuals and as a community. Armed jihad was crucial in establishing Islam itself and building its base of converts, as it provided the early and future followers of the religion with the freedom and security they needed to practice it. Muslims’ engagement in armed jihad was vital for the survival of their religion and, of course, their own survival.

Armed jihad does not involve a struggle against external enemies only, but also a great deal of struggle against the lower self. The compulsory duty of armed jihad continuously put the Muslims face to face with death for the sake of their religion — an enormous test that they could have chosen to bypass by simply abandoning their faith. Muslims needed a great deal of support and help from Allah to succeed in their armed jihad on both external and internal fronts. They needed divine support to defeat their much larger and better equipped external enemies. They were equally in need of Allah’s support to defeat their inner enemies: their lower selves. The lower self would try to weaken the Muslim’s determination to adhere to his religion and offer all sacrifices needed. These sacrifices could be as substantial as involving all of one’s possessions, or even one’s life. The lower self would find him excuses as to why he shouldn’t involve himself in armed jihad.

The help that a Muslim needed to overcome the weaknesses that emerged inside him at such difficult times came partially in the form of additional strength that Allah bestowed on him. Another form of the divine support was Qur’anic verses that praise those who partake in armed jihad and promise them good, and at the same time warn against the failure to discharge that most important religious duty. This is why the term jihad is mentioned in the Madinite chapters four times more than in Meccan ones.

Even though fighting was common practice in the life of the Arabs then, armed jihad was a totally different experience. Arabs before Islam were used to fighting to gain worldly riches, defend them, or defend themselves. Fighting for the sake of Allah, which is what armed jihad is about, was obviously not something they were accustomed to. It is not only that armed jihad was not about gaining worldly spoils, but it also required from the Muslim sacrifices in both life and property. This is the ultimate sacrifice that certainly merited the help Muslims got partly in the shape of many verses on jihad.

An important fact to realize here is that even in those Madi nite verses, jihad refers to both armed and peaceful jihad. Let’s first look at some sample verses:

Those who believed, immigrated, and jahadu (did jihad) in the way of Allah with their properties and selves are much higher in degree with Allah; and those are the winners (9.20).

O you who believe! Bow down, prostrate yourselves, serve your Lord, and do good that you may succeed (22.77). And jahidu (do jihad) [O you who believe!] in the way of Allah jihadihi (the kind of jihad that is due to Him). He has chosen you and has not laid upon you a hardship in religion; it is the faith of your father Abraham. He [Allah] has named you al-Muslimin (the Muslims) earlier and in this [the Qur’an], so that the Messenger be a witness over you, and you be witnesses over the people. Therefore keep up prayer, pay the obligatory alms, and hold fast to Allah; He is your Master; so how excellent a Master and how excellent a Supporter! (22.78).

O you who believe! Act dutifully toward Allah, seek means of nearness to Him, and jahidu (do jihad) in His way that you may succeed (5.35).

These and other Madinite verses talk about jihad in general; there is no reason to suggest that they refer only to fighting in the way of Allah.

There are some Madinite verses that mention jihad clearly in the context of talking about particular instances of armed jihad. For instance, this verse refers to Muslims who asked the Prophet for permission not to take part in armed jihad:

Those who believe in Allah and the Last Day do not ask you [O Muhammad!] that they do not yujahidu (do jihad) with their properties and selves. And Allah is aware of the dutiful (9.44).

The following verse refers to Muslims who chose not to join other Muslims in their armed jihad and didn’t go with their brethren to battle:

Those who were left behind were glad to stay home and not join the Messenger of Allah. They were averse to yujahidu (do jihad) with their properties and selves, and said [to other Muslims]: “Do not go forth in the heat.” Say [O Muhammad!]: “The fire of hell is far hotter,” if they understand (9.81).

Verse 9.86 below refers to those who sought permission from the Prophet not to take part in armed jihad with the Muslims. Verse 9.88 contrasts this with the jihad of the Prophet and those who believed with him:

And when a chapter is revealed, stating: “Believe in Allah and jahidu (do jihad) with His Messenger,” the wealthy ones among them [the Muslims] ask permission of you [O Muhammad!] and say: “Let us be with those who stay home” (9.86). They are content to be with those who stayed home, and a seal is set on their hearts so they do not understand (9.87). But the Messenger and those who believe with him jahadu (do jihad) with their properties and selves; and it is these who shall have good things, and it is these who shall be successful (9.88).

In the following set of verses, verse 9.73 clearly refers to armed jihad by the Prophet and Muslims against disbelievers and hypocrites who betrayed the Muslims and sought unsuccessfully to harm them:

O Prophet! Jahidi (do jihad) against the disbelievers and the hypocrites and be harsh to them; their abode is hell, an evil destination (9.73). They swear by Allah that they did not speak [evil]. And they certainly did speak the word of infidelity, disbelieved after they embraced Islam, and set out to do that which they failed to attain; they did not hold grudge except because Allah and His Messenger enriched them out of His grace. If they repent, therefore, it will be good for them; and if they turn away, Allah will punish them with a painful punishment in this world and the hereafter, and they shall not have on earth any close friend or helper (9.74).

While the verses above mention the term jihad in the context of talking about particular events of armed jihad, this doesn’t mean that jihad is reduced in those verses to armed jihad only. The failure to fight in a battle is a failure to do “armed jihad” and, ultimately, a failure to take part in “jihad” as a whole — the Qur’anic term for both armed and peaceful jihad.


Copyright © 2004 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved


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