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Jihad is an Islamic term referring to the religious duty of Muslims to maintain the religion.
In Arabic, the word jihād is a noun meaning the act of "striving, applying oneself, struggling,
persevering".[1] A person engaged in jihad is called a mujahid, the plural of which
is mujahideen (‫)مجاهدي ن‬. The word jihad appears frequently in theQuran,[2] often in the
idiomatic expression "striving in the way of God (al-jihad fi sabil Allah)", to refer to the act
of striving to serve the purposes of God on this earth.[1][3][4][5]
Muslims[6] and scholars do not all agree on its definition. Many observers—both
Muslim[7] and non-Muslim[8]—as well as theDictionary of Islam,[3] talk of jihad having two
meanings: an inner spiritual struggle (the "greater jihad"), and an outer physical struggle
against the enemies of Islam (the "lesser jihad")[3][9] which may take a violent or nonviolent form.[1][10] Jihad is often translated as "Holy War",[11][12][13] although this term is
controversial.[14][15] According to orientalist Bernard Lewis, "the overwhelming majority of
classical theologians, jurists", and specialists in the hadith "understood the obligation of
jihad in a military sense."[16] Javed Ahmad Ghamidi states that there is consensus among
Islamic scholars that the concept of jihad will always include armed struggle against wrong
It was generally supposed that the order for a general war could only be given by
the Caliph (an office that was claimed by the Ottoman sultans), but Muslims who did not
acknowledge the spiritual authority of the Caliphate (which has been vacant since 1923)—
such as non-Sunnis and non-Ottoman Muslim states—always looked to their own rulers for
the proclamation of a jihad. There has been in fact no universal warfare by Muslims on nonbelievers since the early caliphate. Some proclaimed jihad by claiming themselves
as mahdi, e.g. the Sudanese Mahommed Ahmad in 1882.[18] In classical Islam, the military
form of jihad was also regulated to protect civilians.[19]
Jihad is an important religious duty for Muslims. A minority among the Sunni
scholars sometimes refer to this duty as the sixth pillar of Islam, though it occupies no such
official status.[20] In Twelver Shi'a Islam, however, jihad is one of the ten Practices of the
In Modern Standard Arabic, the term jihad is used for a struggle for causes, both religious
and secular. The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic defines the term as "fight,
battle; jihad, holy war (against the infidels, as a religious duty)".[22] Nonetheless, it is
usually used in the religious sense and its beginnings are traced back to the Qur'an and
words and actions of Muhammad. In the Qur'an and in later Muslim usage, jihad is
commonly followed by the expression fi sabil illah, "in the path of God."[25] It is sometimes
used without religious connotation, with a meaning similar to the English word "crusade"
(as in "a crusade against drugs").[26]
Quranic use and Arabic forms
According to Ahmed al-Dawoody, seventeen derivatives of jihād occur altogether forty-one
times in eleven Meccan texts and thirty Medinan ones, with the following five meanings:
1. striving because of religious belief,
2. war,
3. non-Muslim parents exerting pressure, that is, jihād, to make their children abandon Islam,
4. solemn oaths ,
5. physical strength
According to Jonathon Berkey, jihad in the Quran was originally intended for the nearby
neighbors of the Muslims, but as time passed and more enemies arose, the Quranic
statements supporting jihad were updated for the new adversaries.
The Messenger of Allah was asked about the best jihad. He said: "The best jihad is the one
in which your horse is slain and your blood is spilled."
Current usage
The term 'jihad' has accrued both violent and non-violent meanings. According to John
Esposito, it can simply mean striving to live a moral and virtuous life, spreading and
defending Islam as well as fighting injustice and oppression, among other things.[128] The
relative importance of these two forms of jihad is a matter of controversy.
According to scholar of Islam and Islamic history Rudoph Peters, in the contemporary
Muslim world,
Traditionalist Muslims look to classical works in their writings on jihad, and "copy
phrases" from those
Islamic Modernists "emphasize the defensive aspect of jihad,
Islamist/revivalists/fundamentalists view it as a struggle for the expansion of Islam
and the realization of Islamic ideals."
Contemporary Fundamentalist usage
With the Islamic revival, a new "Fundamentalist" movement arose, with some different
interpretations of Islam, often with an increased emphasis on jihad.
The Wahhabi movement which spread across the Arabian peninsula starting in the 18th
century, emphasized jihad as armed struggle.[70] Wars against Western colonial forces were
often declared jihad: the Sanusi religious order proclaimed it against Italians in Libya in
1912, and the "Mahdi" in the Sudan declared jihad against the British and the Egyptians in
Evolution of jihad
Some observers[121][122] have noted the evolution in the rules of jihad—from the original
“classical” doctrine to that of 21st century Salafi jihadism. According to legal historian
Sadarat Kadri,[121] in the last couple of centuries incremental changes of Islamic legal
doctrine, (developed by Islamists who otherwise condemn any Bid‘ah (innovation) in
religion), have “normalized” what was once “unthinkable."[121] "The very idea that Muslims
might blow themselves up for God was unheard of before 1983, and it was not until the
early 1990s that anyone anywhere had tried to justify killing innocent Muslims who were
not on a battlefield.” [123]
The first or “classical” doctrine of jihad developed towards the end of the eighth century,
dwelled on jihad of the sword (jihad bil-saif) rather than “jihad of the heart”,[124] but had
many legal restrictions developed from Quran and hadith, such as detailed rules involving
“the initiation, the conduct, the termination” of jihad, treatment of prisoners, distribution of
booty, etc. Unless there was a sudden attack on the Muslim community, jihad was not a
personal obligation (fard ayn) but a collective one (fard al-kifaya),[54] which had to be
discharged `in the way of God` (fi sabil Allah),[125] and could only be directed by the caliph,
"whose discretion over its conduct was all but absolute."[126] (This was designed in part to
avoid incidents like the Kharijia’s jihad against and killing of the Caliph Ali, who they
judged a non-Muslim.) Martyrdom resulting from an attack on the enemy with no concern
for your own safety was praiseworthy, but dying by your own hand (as opposed to the
enemies) merited a place in hell.[127]
Based on the 20th century interpretations of Sayyid Qutb, Abdullah Azzam, Ruhollah
Khomeini, Al-Qaeda and others, many if not all of those self-proclaimed jihad fighters
believe defensive global jihad a personal obligation, that no caliph or Muslim head of state
need declare. Killing yourself in the process of killing the enemy is an act of martyrdom and
brings a special place in heaven, not hell; and the killing of Muslim bystanders, (never mind
non-Muslims), should not impede acts of jihad. One analyst described the new
interpretation of jihad, the “willful targeting of civilians by a non-state actor through
unconventional means.” [122]