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The Meaning of Jihad and Its Implications in the World Today

The Meaning of Jihad and Its Implications in the World Today

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Published by: kbgreat14471 on Jan 17, 2010
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January 16th, 2010 bykbgreat14471Adyad, Makkah, KSA
The first revelation Muhammad ever received from God was “Read!” (Ali 1672).This was a fitting command for the final prophet of Islam to receive, commandinghim to take an action. Taking action would be important for a religion that wouldsoon be largely centered on doing deeds to emphasize faith in and submission toGod. The actions that Muslims carry out in the course of their lives are quite far-ranging, but all actions are performed with God in mind. From the pilgrimage toMecca to praying five times daily, Muslims carry out these religiously prescribedactions with strict devotion to God, never forgetting that submission to Him is thepinnacle of their faith and the essence of their actions.One action in particular which has drawn much attention to the Muslim faith is jihad. The original meaning of jihad and the way it is still practiced today by thevast majority of Muslims is admirable, emphasizing perseverance towards a just,ever-lasting and rewarding goal—spiritual enlightenment (Gilen 208-227).However, jihad has recently been misinterpreted, misunderstood, and misusedby many non-Muslims and by a few Muslim extremists. This has resulted in manygreat mistakes, made both by the extremists and non-Muslims alike. Theextremists have taken jihad and manipulated its meaning to suit their own beliefsand dogmas. The end result of all this has been and will continue to be heavycriticism and scrutiny of Muslims for performing an action that in actuality is verypeaceful and responsible in its meaning. The true meaning of jihad is to struggle,to persevere and the meaning of the word does not include implicit or explicitapproval of the radical acts of terrorism that have been committed by extremists;such people have simply misinterpreted its meaning.To strive or struggle is the most suitable translation of the word jihad (Gilen 208-227). Jihad is carried out (or at least is prescribed to be carried out) by Muslimsboth collectively and individually. There are two parts of jihad: the lesser and thegreater. The greater jihad is the inner struggle that an individual Muslim goesthrough in order to fight against superstition, wrong belief, carnal desire, and evilinclinations while striving to obtain intellectual and spiritual enlightenment. Thelesser jihad is encouraging others to strive for and reach the same goal of enlightenment. Both aspects are carried out in the name of God and bothaspects are interdependent on each other, since one cannot work without theother.If Muslims want to be successful in the greater jihad they must make their focusin life striving for the sake of God. This includes all aspects of their lives, fromsleeping to coming home from work at the end of the day. Every thought andevery action Muslims take up must be directed towards God so that they canovercome their primitive carnal impulses. The goal of this, as mentioned before,is to obtain spiritual and intellectual enlightenment (Gilen 208-227). The caliph
Umar exemplified his jihad through some of his actions. An example is a storyrelated about this caliph in which he was giving a sermon and interrupted his ownsermon, saying: “O Umar, you were a shepherd taking care of your father’ssheep!” Later, he was asked why he had said this, and he replied: “I rememberedthat I was the caliph, and was afraid of feeling proud.” Another story whichexemplifies his jihad is when Umar was asked why he was carrying a sack on hisback, to which he replied “I felt some pride, and wanted to get rid of it” (Gilen18-31). Through these two examples we can see how Muslims in the past strove toachieve spiritual enlightenment.The lesser jihad a Muslim will strive for includes all outward actions towardsothers that are done for the cause of God. In other words, this means conveyingGod’s message to others through all aspects of a Muslim’s daily life. Given thisidea, the lesser jihad will be practiced while going to war with others, but let usnot forget that it will also be practiced in other more prosaic actions, such asshaking hands with someone. If the outwardly action will help one person or many people and it is carried out in the name of God then it is considered to be jihad. Forceful jihad is resorted to and permitted only when a person or manypeople seek to maintain a society or group that has been built on corruption, self-interest, oppression, and the degradation of the rights of others. This means thatforceful jihad is only permitted when a society or group seeks to contain or evendeflate the basic principles of Islam and in essence, Islam itself (Gilen208-227).This point is clearly illustrated in the history of the persecution that the firstconverts to Islam faced while living in Mecca. Moustapha Akkad outlines thispoint successfully in his film, The Message: Muslims who were living in Meccawere facing extreme persecution from the pagans. It was upon God’s commandthat Muhammad, who was with his some of his followers in Medina, led hisfollowers into battle against the persecuting Meccans. The Muslims in Medinatook arms against the Meccans only because numerous Muslims in Mecca werefacing severe persecution for their beliefs and practices. Thus jihad wasnecessary in order to save those who were victims of persecution. In hiscommentary on the revelation associated with this event, Abdullah Ali states how jihad was used justifiably,Even from the human point of view, the cause of God is the cause of justice, thecause of the oppressed. In the great persecution, before Mecca was won again,what sorrows, threats, tortures, and oppressions were suffered by those whosefaith was unshaken? Muhammad’s life and that of his adherents was threatened:they were mocked, assaulted, insulted, and beaten; those within the power of theenemy were put into chains and cast into prison … they could not even buy thefood they wanted or perform their religious duties. (208)Thus, there was need and justification for Muhammad and his followers to fightthe persecuting Meccans. It is easy to see from this example that forceful jihad isused only as a method of last resort and it is only a small aspect of the lesser  jihad. Hence, lesser jihad incorporates all aspects of Muslims’ outwardly actions,which unless otherwise directed by God, will be peaceful, since they will strive toshare the message of God with others.
Lesser and greater jihad are interdependent of each other; Muslims must first bestruggling and striving within their self before they can strive outwardly in thename of God. Fethullah Gilen explains this idea exceptionally well by saying, “thedeeper [the believers’] belief in and submission to God, the deeper their concernfor all creatures” (208-227). Gilen’s quote reflects the idea of individual inwardlyaction (deep belief in God), being interdependent of outwardly action (deepconcern for all creatures). Thus he emphasizes the point that the lesser andgreater jihad are dependent on each other.It is important for Muslims to constantly be striving for God; if Muslims abandonthis goal, they will become without an aim and this will be the cause of their ownfailure in the quest for intellectual and spiritual enlightenment (Gilen 208-227).To further emphasize devotion to jihad I will examine some passages from theQur’an. The first is found in chapter 9, verses 38 to 39. This passage focusessolely on the individual Muslim, his/her jihad and the implications of the jihad.The verse stresses the actions of the individual both inwardly and outwardly,O you who believe! What is the matter with you, that, when you are asked to goforth in the Cause of God, you cling heavily to the earth? Do you prefer the life of this world to the Hereafter? But little is the comfort of this life, as compared withthe Hereafter. Unless you go forth, He will punish you with a grievous penalty,and put others in your place; But Him you would not harm in the least. For Godhas power over all things. (449-450)In this passage, God challenges the individual to go forth in God’s cause and toabandon clinging to worldly ideals. Focusing on the hereafter is an action thatleads to perseverance and devotion for Muslims. In challenging the individual togo forth, God is commanding them to strive within themselves to win the inner struggle. That struggle is acting justly in the name of God in day to day life (thegreater jihad). In giving the command to go forth, God also challenges theindividual to go out into the world and spread the message of God to everyone;this is the second part of jihad. Nowhere in this passage is harming, fighting, or killing others in the name of God spoken of. The message here is that throughpeaceful, inner struggle the individual will not be punished, but will rather beunharmed and able to live in the hereafter.The next section of the Qur’an to be looked at comes from chapter 8, verses 72to 74. These lines focus on the lesser jihad of a group of Muslims rather than justone individual Muslim. It emphasizes the promotion of Islam by a group of Muslims to others through jihad (fighting for God and also through hospitality toothers),Those who believed, And adopted exile, And fought for the Faith, With their prosperity and their persons, in the cause of God, as well as those who gave(them) asylum and aid—these are (all) friends and protectors, one of another. Asto those who believed but come into exile; You owe no duty of protection to themuntil they come into exile, but if they seek your aid in religion, it is your duty tohelp them, except against a people with whom you have a treaty of mutualalliance. And (remember) God sees all that you do. The unbelievers areprotectors, one of another: Unless you do this, (protect each other), there would

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