Dec 232006
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.

Peaceful jihad includes each and every effort that the person who embraces Islam makes in order to change himself to what this religion wants him to be. Behaving as a true Muslim means giving up evil personal and social habits; resisting bad desires; sharing with the poor; helping the needy; being patient, forgiving, fair, kind, compassionate …etc. All these aspects of good behavior are forms of peaceful jihad. Peaceful jihad is the struggle against the bad qualities of the lower self.
This form of jihad includes also every peaceful effort to change others and the world for the best. For instance, spreading the message of the Qur’an and the values of Islam – such as justice, compassion, and forgiveness – is peaceful jihad. It is certainly true to state that peaceful jihad is what the life of the Muslim is all about, as he/she must be in continuous struggle against evil, whether inside him/her or in the world.
Throughout the Qur’an, Allah urges the Muslims to combine “faith” and “righteous deeds.” The expression “those who believe and do righteous deeds” and its variations occur tens of times in the Book. The term “righteous deeds” is almost synonymous with the term “jihad,” though each emphasizes different aspects of those deeds. The term “jihad” stresses the fact that these deeds are not things that the human is naturally inclined to or easily accepts, so the emphasis is on the struggle involved. For instance, making a habit of donating one’s money and giving it to the needy, rather than using it to seek personal pleasures and worldly riches, is not something that the person feels comfortable with. So, this form of “righteous deeds” is jihad. At the same time, this kind of behavior benefits the charitable individual, spiritually and psychologically; the recipients of that help; and, ultimately, society as a whole. Most acts of peaceful jihad have other beneficiaries in addition to the acting Muslim himself. The Qur’an describes these actions with the term “righteous” because they put right flaws in individuals and society.
The Qur’an contains so many verses that do not mention the word “jihad” explicitly but still teach aspects of peaceful jihad. Let’s look, for example, at the following verses:

Successful indeed are the believers (23.1). Who are humble in fear in their prayers (23.2). And who keep away from vain talk (23.3). And who pay the obligatory alms (23.4). And who guard their private parts (23.5). Except before their mates or those whom their right hands possess, in which case they won’t be blameworthy (23.6). But whoever seeks to go beyond that, these are the transgressors (23.7). And [successful are] those who observe their trusts and covenant (23.8). And those who keep up their prayers (23.9).

These verses detail some of the attributes of the true believers, teaching aspiring Muslims what they need to do. Every effort in emulating those attributes is, therefore, an act of peaceful jihad. All these actions involve some form of struggle in overcoming the resistance of the lower self. Naturally, different actions of jihad involve different degrees of struggle. Let’s go through the verses above on peaceful jihad in some detail.

Verse 23.2 talks about praying to Allah with respect and fear. This is not an easy thing to learn. The Muslim is required to pray five times a day as a compulsory duty, but is also required to do extra prayers and remember Allah until He becomes on his mind all the time. The true believer prays a lot, which makes the above command even more difficult to implement, as it is very easy to lose concentration and fall in absent-mindedness while praying.

The next verse commands the Muslim not to get engaged in useless conversation and talk that might harm him spiritually. This, again, is not as easy as it may sound. It is very difficult to resist the temptation of getting involved in all kinds of worthless exchanges that carry no intellectual value. Note that this is not a command to prevent the Muslims from debating with people who don’t share their belief. The Qur’an throughout encourages Muslims to debate and establish dialogue with non-Muslims, as in verse 16.125. Verse 23.3 emphasizes the Qur’an’s promotion of intellectualism.

Then verse 23.4 describes the believer as someone who helps the poor and the needy and pays their due. Spending one’s money to help others is another thing that is difficult for the self. Depending on circumstances, this payment can be substantial. When the early Muslims emigrated from Mecca, losing in the course of doing so all their possessions and wealth, the Muslims of al-Madina shared with pleasure their belongings with their immigrant brethren.

Verses 23.5, 23.6, and 23.7 command the believer to adhere to sexual chastity and have sex only with legitimate partners. Sex is one of the strongest instincts and biological drives, so controlling and regulating the sexual desires is bound to involve inner struggle against the lower self.

In the next verse, the believer is described as someone who observes what he is entrusted with and keeps his covenants. At the time of the revelation of the Qur’an and for a long time afterward, people used to entrust each other with their belongings, for instance when they traveled. That common practice was the equivalent of one of today’s essential storage and banking services. In those days, trust used to play a greater role in people’s dealings with each other, hence Allah’s reference to it in several verses. But where is the struggle involved in this? It is the trustee’s resistance to any temptation not to return the belongings he was entrusted with. Equally tempting would be denying some verbal agreement for the sake of some illegitimate profit. Resisting such temptations is peaceful jihad. Observing the trust and keeping the promise are righteous deeds that promote moral values in society.

Even before the revelation of the Qur’an, Prophet Muhammad was known to the Meccans as “asSadiq, al-Amin” or “The truthful, the trustworthy.” People used to entrust him with their belongings. When the Prophet had to flee Mecca to al-Madina, he asked his cousin and closest follower ‘Ali bin Abi Talib to stay in Mecca to return to people their trusts before joining him in al-Madina.

Note the difference between this position and the Old Testament’s claim that God instructed the Israelites to despoil the Egyptians before leaving Egypt:

And the Israelites had done according to the word of Moses – they had asked from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing. The Lord gave favor to the people in the eyes of the Egyptians, and they gave them whatever they wanted, and so they plundered Egypt (Exodus 12:35-36).

Finally, Allah describes the believers in verse 23.9 as “those who keep up their prayers“. Note that He didn’t simply say “those who pray.” “Praying” is a lot easier a duty than “keeping up prayers.” The latter means consistency, persistence, and continuity in observing the praying duties. It takes struggle, for instance, to resist the temptation to stay in bed and do the prayer of dawn later in the morning instead of waking up every day for the dawn prayer before sunrise.

Let’s study the following two verses that mention a number of acts of peaceful jihad that Allah attributes to the “muttaqin,” a term which may be translated as “dutiful ones,” “pious ones,” or “Allah-fearing ones“:

Those who spend [in the way of Allah] in ease and in adversity, restrain [their] anger, and pardon people; and Allah loves the doers of good (3.134). And those who when they commit an indecency or wrong themselves remember Allah and ask forgiveness for their sins — and who forgives sins save Allah? — and will not knowingly repeat what they did (3.135).

Even at times of affluence, it is difficult to give one’s own money away to someone else in need instead of saving it or using it to buy personal pleasures. What Allah orders those who seek His pleasure is even harder. He wants us to spend on the more needy even when we ourselves are in some need. At such times, we tend to become a lot more apprehensive about the future and fear the worst. Allah, however, wants us to rely on Him, put those fears behind us, and not allow difficult circumstances to keep us from helping the needy.

Note how He ends verse 3.134 by saying “and Allah loves the doers of good,” describing the mentioned qualities as good. Thus, He encourages us to buy His love with the money that we give to the poor and the needy, restraint of anger, and forgiveness that we offer to those who mistreat us. We have already seen this latter attribute mentioned in verse 42.37 (see here) which describes those believers as those who “when they get angry they forgive.”

Verse 3.135 emphasizes another aspect of the behavior of the true, dutiful believers: their readiness and willingness to acknowledge the sins they commit, ask for forgiveness, and desist from committing them. Falling in those sinful acts indicates that the person has motives and desires that try to steer him away from Allah’s path. It is the persistent and successful resistance to those drives that peaceful jihad is all about.

The word jihad does not occur in any of the verses of chapters 23 and 3 that I cited above. The acts those verses describe, nevertheless, are all patterns of peaceful jihad. These are forms of struggle that the Muslim has to engage in from day one of his recognition of his Islamic identity, acceptance that life shouldn’t be led arbitrarily, and adoption of the Islamic way of living. The verses above talk about everyday challenges, which is why peaceful jihad is an essential aspect of the life of the Muslim.


Copyright © 2004 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

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