The Many Meanings of Jihad to 2 Prominent Muslims

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Below are excerpts from "On Faith," an Internet feature sponsored by The Washington Post and Newsweek. Each week, more than 50 figures from the world of faith engage in a conversation about an aspect of religion. This week, On Faith sponsored a special conversation: "Muslims Speak Out: What Islam Really Says About Violence, Human Rights and Other Religions." The excerpts below, by Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, a cleric considered the leading Shiite Muslim intellectual in Lebanon and known for his support of the armed Shiite movement Hezbollah, and Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Egypt, who oversees Dar al-Ifta, Egypt's highest body for delivering opinions on religious law, examine the meaning of jihad.

Jihad Is Not Just Armed Struggle

Within Islam the term jihad refers to a large category of meanings. Today, however, there are attempts to isolate this term to only one form of jihad to the exclusion of all others. This includes a conception of jihad that at best refers only to armed struggle, and at worst to a barbaric form of warfare that seeks to destroy whatever peace may still remain in the world. This could not be farther from the concept of jihad as understood by Muslims throughout history and the world over.

For Muslims, jihad is much more than armed struggle against an enemy from the outside, for it includes constant struggles within both oneself and one's own society. . . .

Once, upon returning from a battle, the prophet Muhammad said to his companions, "We have returned from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad; the jihad of the soul." This is referred to as the greater jihad since people spend their entire lives struggling against the base desires within them. Jihad is also used to refer to the pilgrimage to Mecca. . . . The term jihad is also used to refer to speaking truth to those in power, so in Islam government oversight is a form of jihad.

In addition to these meanings, the term jihad refers to the defense of a nation or a just cause. These characteristics that amount to "in the way of God" are summed up in the Koran, "Fight in the way of God against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression -- for, verily, God does not love aggressors." (2:190) . . .

As for suicide bombing, Islam forbids suicide, it forbids the taking of one's own life. Attacking civilians, women, children and the elderly by blowing oneself up is absolutely forbidden in Islam. No excuse can be made for the crimes committed in New York, Spain and London, and anyone who tries to make excuses for these acts is ignorant of Islamic law (Sharia), and their excuses are a result of extremism and ignorance.

-- Ali Gomaa, grand mufti of Egypt

Jihad Is Self-Defense

Jihad in Islam (the violent confrontation of the enemy) is the fighting movement that aims at preventing the enemy from forcing its hegemony over the land and the people by means of violence that confiscates freedom, kills the people, usurps the wealth and prevents the people's rights in self-determination. Therefore, Jihad is confronting violence by means of violence and force by force, which makes it of a defensive nature at times and a preventive one at others.

And this is what the Glorious Koran has maintained in the following verses. Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loves not aggressors. (2:190 ) Sanction is given unto those who fight because they have been wronged. . . . (22:39 ) "If thou fears treachery from any group, throw back (their covenant) to them, (so as to be) on equal terms."(8:58)

In the light of this, jihad is no different than any human and civilized concept of self-defense. It expresses the innate human nature of self-defense, or preventing the others from building the ability for a sudden aggression. There is also the case of defending the downtrodden who are prosecuted by the arrogant and who have no means of defending themselves.

As for those suicidal bombers who kill innocent people, as well those who accuse others of unbelief, just because they differ with them in some sectarian views even within the same religion, or those who explode car bombs, killing women, children, elderly and youth who have nothing to do with any war of aggression. To those we say that their inhuman brutal actions have nothing to do with Islam whatsoever, and that what they are doing will lead to God's wrath and not His satisfaction.

-- Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah grand ayatollah

To read the complete essays and see more "On Faith" online commentary, hosted by Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn, go to

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