Dec 172007
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 is the approach, attitude, and practice that ensure that the Muslim is in continuous progress toward the ideal state of man: perfect servanthood to Allah. The failure to recognize peaceful jihad as the main, not only as one, form of jihad is bound to reflect negatively on the soul and character of the Muslim person and his spiritual progress. This failure effectively indicates the person’s willingness to cohabit with various bad qualities that he has.
The mere acceptance of Allah as the one Lord and Muhammad as His Messenger without trying to emulate the jihad of the Prophet would not be enough to purify the person spiritually. Those who are Muslims in name only can do considerably more damage to the public image of Islam than an outright enemy of Islam. It is true that no misbehavior of any number of Muslims can change the beautiful truth of Islam, but it is also true that many people develop ill-informed views of Islam when observing such misdeeds. If Muslims can be so ignorant about Islam, then it should come as no surprise that non-Muslims know more distorting myths than facts about this great religion, with Muslims being main suppliers of those myths.
The endemically widespread unawareness of peaceful jihad resulted in the Qur’anic concept of jihad being equated with fighting in the way of Allah. This misconception was precipitated by an equally important error of equating non-equals, this time including the terms “jihad” and “qital.” When this confusion is coupled with the Qur’anic fact that jihad is a permanent duty on the Muslim, it becomes inevitable to conclude that fighting in the way of Allah is a timeless duty. The consequences of this misguided conclusion are made even worse by the fact that the rules governing fighting in the way of Allah are also misunderstood. Jihad is erroneously reduced to fighting in the way of Allah, and the conditions under which such fighting becomes permissible are also misunderstood.
This compound recipe of confusion and misunderstanding is behind the rife abuse and interchangeable use of the concepts of jihad and fighting in the way of Allah. One form of the abuse of these concepts has been portraying them as the means to forcing an Islamic state. This view of jihad and fighting in the way of Allah has no foundations in the Qur’an. This particularly dangerous misconception has played in the hands of militant individuals and groups who dream of leading the sought after Islamic state. The name of Islam is then fully utilized to cater for personal ambitions. This approach of putting principles in the service of personal ambitions is no different from what politicians and militants of various backgrounds and affiliations did and do everywhere in the world.
Those who don’t know the true meaning of jihad, let alone practice it, can never create an Islamic state. Some of them may take control of a country and start applying what they consider to be Islamic law. That, contrary to what they believe, does not turn any country into an Islamic state. A leader who is ignorant of what jihad is may well fail even to rule with justice, never mind set up an Islamic state. An Islamic state is a state of the highest standards, which can be founded only by people of the highest standards who possess both knowledge and piety. Proper understanding and application of jihad are essential requirements for any Muslim who would like to provide genuine Islamic leadership.
One very important point that should be made clear here is that while jihad requires a degree of understanding of Islamic concepts and issues, scholarly study of Islam is no substitute for jihad. Islamic scholarship does not guarantee that a scholar is a true Muslim. An Islamic educational institute might graduate scholars in various fields of Islamic thought, but those graduates would not be by default mujahidin (those who do jihad) in the Qur’anic sense of jihad. Seeking knowledge is a major duty on the Muslim, as I already mentioned in Chapter 1, but putting that knowledge into practice is the ultimate aim.
A knowledgeable scholar who is short of jihad is like someone who worked hard to gain knowledge just to waste what he earned. The rulings of such a person are very likely to be influenced as much by his undisciplined and uncontrolled lower self as by his degree of knowledge. This scholar cannot provide sound and trusted leadership. If in any doubt, a quick look at the atrocities and injustice committed in supposedly Islamic states should remove those doubts. If still not totally convinced, one only needs to remember the numerous terrified Muslims who had to flee their supposedly Islamic states seeking refuge in non-Islamic states. This sad fact is certain to put to rest all lingering doubts.
There have been, and perhaps will always be, countries that claim to be “Islamic.” These are simply countries whose population is mostly Muslims and which apply a legal system that reflects a particular doctrinal interpretation of Islam. Rather than serving Islam, as these states claim, they did and do the most damage to the image Islam. Those who do not know much about Islam are likely to try to understand Islam through the examples set by those states. The reality is that there is no true Islamic state anywhere on this planet today.
Those who dream up an Islamic state often refer to the early history of Islam to validate their attempts. In the course of doing so, they overlook fundamental differences between the history they cite and the one they try to create. It is true, of course, that the Prophet did establish what can be described as an Islamic state. However, before hastening to draw conclusions from this, we need to remember a few very important facts.
First, it was the Prophet himself, the perfect Muslim, who founded the state. Second, the creation of that state was a byproduct of the evolvement of great Muslim individuals, not the other way around. It is very significant that the Meccan verses focused on what might be described as the process of developing the individual, whereas it was al-Madina that later witnessed the revelation of the relatively large number of verses that regulated the affairs of the emerging Islamic community.
Third, historical events cannot simply be copied to and recreated in a totally different era. Those who fail to recognize this simple fact are certainly incapable of creating and leading a state, Islamic or otherwise. They try to apply their misunderstanding of the Qur’an and Islamic history in a world they have also misunderstood. 



 Copyright © 2004 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

Apr 082007
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.

There are a number of sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad that mirror the Qur’anic emphasis on the centrality of peaceful jihad to Islamic life. He is reported to have said:

Do jihad against your lower drives as you do jihad against your enemies.1
The Mujahid (the person who does jihad) is he who does jihad against his lower self in obeying Allah, the Mighty, the Sublime.2
Die before you die.
The last saying means that the Muslim should kill his lower self before he faces physical death.
These sayings totally agree with the Qur’anic concept of jihad and its pivotal role in the life of the Muslim. Peaceful jihad is the quality control measure that the Qur’an has put in place to ensure that the true Muslim, as opposed to that who is Muslim only in name, acquires noble attributes.
Many would be surprised to know that jihad is not only about fighting, and that peaceful jihad — which covers all peaceful efforts to oppose evil and promote good — is a form of jihad that is far more present in the Muslim’s life than armed jihad. Many more would be astonished to learn that one major form of peaceful jihad is an ongoing war against the enemy inside the individual. This enemy is the lower self. It is this particular enemy, not an external enemy, which poses the greatest threat to the human being.
An overly aggressive external enemy whose threat cannot be fended off can turn killer — bringing about the physical death of his victim. But regardless of his power, means, and aggression, he would be completely incapable of causing the spiritual demise of that victim. Killing an innocent person is, in fact, a serious threat to the spiritual well-being of the murderer himself not the victim. While the murderer is a deadly external enemy as far as the victim is concerned, he is still a substantially more dangerous internal enemy for himself. The murderer might well see his successful execution of a crime as a victory of some sort, but it is in reality a complete and disastrous personal defeat.
The enemy within is far more dangerous than the enemy without, because it can cause the person’s spiritual demise, the ultimate death. Most physically living people are spiritually dead, because they are in a state of surrender to and refusal to fight their lower selves. The Qur’an is clear that it is one’s own sins that could make him ultimately a loser who ends up in hell, and that it is for those sins that repentance is required. These sins, it goes without saying, are the making of the lower self, that is the inner rather than an outer enemy.
It should have become perfectly clear by now that peaceful jihad has a far greater scope and presence in the life of the Muslim than armed jihad. The Muslim is required to be always in a state of peaceful jihad because no matter how better a Muslim is at any moment, there would always be more spiritual diseases to treat, and more refinement to do to the soul to bring it nearer to Allah. The Muslim must remain in jihad against the enemy inside him until he dies. Only then, this peaceful war should come to an end.
Armed jihad is the Muslim’s last resort to live in peace with others. That peace he needs for his unrelenting peaceful war against his lower self and all forms of evil in the world! Armed jihad ultimately paves the way for peaceful jihad. This is not what many think. It is, nevertheless, the conclusion drawn from the Qur’an.
The Qur’an does not teach the killing of non-Muslims. Absolutely the opposite. It portrays non-Muslims as targets for the peaceful efforts to teach the truth of Islam. The Muslim resorts to armed jihad when his right to choose his preferred faith and to teach it is eroded by violent and deadly oppression. So, the ultimate goal of armed jihad is to create the free and tolerant environment necessary for peaceful jihad.
It is fitting to end this chapter with a reported story that singularly shows the prominence that Prophet Muhammad gave to peaceful jihad, particularly fighting the lower self, over armed jihad. Upon returning from one battle, the Messenger of Allah said to his companions: “We have returned from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad.” The Prophet’s reference to “the lesser jihad” was clear to the companions, but some could not understand what he meant by “the greater jihad.” When asked about it, the Prophet explained: “The jihad against the lower self”! There is no better way of emphasizing the special status of peaceful jihad in Islam.


1 Cited by al-Asfahani in the entry for the word juhd in his book Mufradat al-fadh al-Qur’an (Glossaries of the Qur’an).

2 Musnad Ahmad, saying 24678.



 Copyright © 2004 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved

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

Sep 242006
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.

As mentioned earlier, Muslims were given the permission to resort to armed jihad in al-Madīna in the second year after the immigration of the Prophet to that city. Any mention of jihad in verses that were revealed in Mecca must, therefore, refer to peaceful jihad. This means that peaceful jihad existed long before armed jihad. In fact, it was present since the early days of Islam, as we will see later on.
This is one of the Meccan verses that mention jihad:

Had it been Our will, We could have sent a warner to every town (25.51). So do not [O Muhammad!] obey the disbelievers, and jahidhum (do jihad against them), with it [the Qur’an], a mighty jihadan (jihad) (25.52).

Allah’s reference in verse 25.51 to sending Messengers to warn of the Day of Resurrection indicates that doing jihad using the Qur’an in verse 25.52 means preaching its teachings. This is described as jihad because it involves a struggle against the disbelievers who would resist, often violently rather than peacefully, the new religion. It also involves personal struggle on the part of the Prophet who would have to force himself to accept the suffering that this duty puts him through.

Verse 29.6 is another Meccan verse that refers to jihad:

Whoever hopes to meet Allah, the term appointed by Allah will surely come; and He is the Hearing, the Knowing (29.5). And whoever jahada (does jihad), he yujahidu (does jihad) only for the benefit of his own soul. Surely, Allah is in no need for anything from the people (29.6). And [as for] those who believe and do righteous deeds, We shall certainly remit from them their bad deeds, and We shall certainly reward them according to the best of their past deeds (29.7).

Both verses that surround verse 29.6 talk about the righteous people, indicating that jihad in verse 29.6 refers to behavior of those people. In other words, jihad is proper behavior in the way to Allah.

The term jihad in the Meccan verses 29.69 and 16.110 also refers specifically to peaceful jihad:

And who does greater wrong than he who forges lies against Allah or denies the truth when it has come to him? Is hell not the [fitting] abode for the disbelievers? (29.68). And [as for] those who jahadu (do jihad) for Us, We shall certainly guide them to Our ways; and Allah is surely with the doers of good (29.69).

Those (the disbelievers) are they on whose hearts, hearing, and eyes Allah has set a seal, and those are the heedless ones (16.108). No doubt that in the hereafter they will be the losers (16.109). Then surely your Lord [O Muhammad!], with respect to those who immigrated after they were persecuted, then jahadu (did jihad), and were patient, surely your Lord after that is Forgiving, Merciful (16.110).

 It is, thus, obvious that jihad is not only about fighting in the cause of Allah. In fact, peaceful jihad is by far the most common form of jihad in the life of the Muslim. Before the revelation of the verse that granted the early Muslims permission to armed jihad, they were involved in peaceful jihad only. For about fourteen years peaceful jihad was the only form of jihad in the life of the early Muslims. 


 Copyright © 2004 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved