55. What is Jihad?

This Islâmic term, literally means exertion or a struggle on behalf of God. It is the duty of Muslims. Jihad appears 41 times in the Qur’an. A person engaged in jihad is called a Mujahid; the plural is Mujahideen. Jihad is an important religious duty for Muslims. A minority among the Sunni scholars sometimes refer to this duty as the sixth pillar of Islâm, though it occupies no such official status. In Twelver Shi’a Islâm, however, jihad is one of the ten Practices of the Religion.

Traditionally jihad was understood to be a military effort. In an offensive war it is an obligation on the Muslim community as a whole, and in a defensive war it becomes a personal obligation on every adult male Muslim. The war was primarily considered to be against unbelievers, those not of the Islâmic faith. Other interpretations put forward by reformers and modernisers in the nineteenth and twentieth century argue that jihad is primarily a moral and spiritual struggle. In western societies the term jihad is often translated by non-Muslims as holy war. Scholars of Islâmic studies often stress that these words are not synonymous. Muslim authors, in particular, tend to reject such an approach, stressing non- militant connotations of the word. They regard those who practice military jihad as fundamentalists. The beginnings of jihad are traced back to the words and actions of Muhammad and the Qur’an. This encourages the use of jihad against non-Muslims. The Qur’an, however, never uses the term jihad for fighting and combat in the name of Allâh; ‘qital’ is used to mean fighting. Jihad in the Qur’an was originally intended for the nearby neighbours of the Muslims, but as time passed and more enemies arose, the Qur’anic statements supporting jihad were updated for the new adversaries. The first documentation of the law of jihad was written by Abd al-Rahman al-Awza’i and Muhammad ibn al- Hasan al-Shaybani. The document grew out of debates that have surfaced ever since Muhammad’s death.

The Christian equivalent of the concept of ‘jihad’ is likened to exertion on behalf of God. Christians believe that the Holy Spirit gives them the power to witness and work for God. Christians often talk about ‘spiritual warfare’. In 2 Corinthians 10 verse 4 the Apostle Paul talked about the weapons of our warfare – ‘For we use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God.’ These are spiritual weapons not physical weapons.

In Romans 8 verse 4 it states that true believers are the ones ‘who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.’ Work done for God in one’s own strength, is regarded as inferior to that accomplished by God’s power working through the life of the believer. The Apostle Peter quoted the prophet Joel recorded in Joel 2 verses 28-32 when the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost fifty days after Jesus crucifixion. Jesus Christ promised his disciples in Luke 24 verses 46–53 that the promise of the Father, meaning the Holy Spirit, would come upon them to be witnesses, and the Spirit would give them power to do the work of God. So in a supernatural way Christians exert themselves on behalf of God not in their own strength, but in the mighty power of the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes Christians speak about spiritual warfare and non-Christians misunderstand this term and think they are going to attack them. This type of warfare is accomplished in prayer through the power of the Spirit, and not by human strength. Some of the weapons Paul talked about here are: ‘prayer, the authority in the name of Jesus, praise and worship, casting out demons, claiming the authority of the blood of Jesus over things and situations, fasting, reading scripture aloud, proclaiming the name of Jesus and exalting God in His majesty and power.’ These weapons all have supernatural power.