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Free «The Concept and Practice of Jihad and the Exploitation of Weaknesses in Terrorist Organizations» Essay Sample


Being an Islamic religious term, the word “jihad” has a long history and quite a complex set of meanings. It is familiar to everyone in the abstract meaning of 'the holy war'. However, some contemporary Muslim scholars tend to emphasize the peaceful nature of the concept. This paper reveals the connotations of the term “jihad” on the basis of analysis of its historical development. It also studies its exploitation as a possible weakness of terrorist organizations. The issues raised in the paper include the meaning of jihad, its evolution, types, and aspects of its declaration. A conclusion is made that the use of jihad by terrorist organizations is a sin in the context of Islam, and this fact must be used by anti-terrorist movements worldwide.

Jihad and Its Meaning

The meaning of jihad, which is “the holy war”, is familiar to everyone. Such definition became widespread as a result of the Crusades (Cook, 2005, p. 1). A lot of contemporary Muslim scholars, on the other hand, tend to emphasize the peaceful side of the time and its peaceful purpose – spiritual struggle. The contradiction lies in the fact that the concept of jihad is based on the subjective perception of the individual, the leader. The term 'jihad' was historically developed and influenced by the context of time and place.

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Etymologically, this word is a verbal noun with the literal meaning of 'struggle'. More often it can be found in Islamic literature in a more advanced form – 'the fight in the way of Allah' (jahada – an Arabian verb, translated as 'to exert effort'). The Quran contains 6236 verses, among which 275 directly or indirectly speak of fighting and war. In turn, the word “jihad” is used only 41 times in various forms of the verb. Of this total number “Jihad” is used 6 times to refer to “fighting for God” with a clear reference to non-violent nature of this struggle. Only in two cases the word is used in the meaning of fighting against unbelievers using violence towards them. In other cases, the word is used in a different meaning – 'the fight for one’s property or belongings' (Streusand, 1997).

In Imam Bukhari’s “Al-Jami-al-Sahih” (Sahih Al Bukhari), which belongs to a different group of sources of Islamic theology, jihad in 199 cases is used to refer to a means of armed action, as indicated by Douglas E. Streusand (1997). The author also cites the opinion of Bernard Lewis who writes: “the overwhelming majority of classical theologians, jurists, and traditionalists [i.e., specialists in the hadith]... understood the obligation of jihad in a military sense” (Lewis, 1988, p. 72). The main provisions of the “Book of Jihad” in one of the chapters of “Al Jimi Al-Sahih” identifies common points about the meaning of jihad as 'the military action'. It is worth noting that “Sahih” was formed in the period of confrontation of European states and the Caliphate, a fierce struggle for Spain, which might as well have had an impact on the content, form, presentation, understanding, and subsequent interpretation of this term.

Originally, jihad applies only to those who practice Islam and are a part of the Muslim community - the Ummah. Jihad is not possible without adoption of the First Pillar of faith – shahada. Thus a certain model of priorities is offered: the initial belief, subsequent effort, and the struggle. Therefore, it is appropriate to recognize this factor as an indirect proof that the effort in the way of Allah (jihad) refers to the pillars of faith. Accepting the first pillar, a Muslim accepts the duty to accept subsequent remaining pillars. Taking into account this idea, jihad can really be attributed to five pillars of the faith. It not only concerns radical Islamic groups, but also quite liberal ones. The difference is represented only by the vector of this issue. In one case, it tends to direct military action. In this case the term 'jihad' is understood as 'holy war'. Another meaning is a 'spiritual struggle', a personal struggle against oneself and one’s passions. It is worth pointing out that the first group of Muslim society often perceives jihad meaning the war against the infidels. Given this fact, jihad is justified by the same rules that every Muslim must adhere to.

The above mentioned meanings prove an obvious superiority of jihad in the spiritual life. It is as important as a prayer accompanied by a strict fast from the beginning of the jihad to the end. This means a person performing jihad performs an act of special spiritual kind, which is above prayers or fasting in terms of morality: “a form of personal jihad... part of the more difficult inner struggles with the flesh and worldy appetites” (Fluehr-Lobban, 1994, p.28). Here one can see how jihad is involved into the superlative degree. It is defined as the best deed, which does not have analogues in the whole world. Not less important is a subsequent award, which is determined during life as wealth, the product of conquest. If the Muslim dies during the jihad, it is perceived as an instant reward from Allah, the entry to heaven (Esposito, 1999).

Jihad guarantees spiritual and administrative exemption from penalty imposed for murder. In fact, some verses suggest that the acceptance of Islam itself is a guarantee of exemption from sins. Particular attention is drawn to the goal of struggle and the intent with which it was carried out in the course of jihad. The basis of action is personal motivation, which encourages moral deeds and is a root cause of jihad. Mercenary intentions based on personal gain are strongly condemned. The bliss of selfless jihad is greatly praised. Selfless jihad is a total dedication and absence of fear of death. Jihad is accepted as the supreme reality and the ability to serve the highest ideals with an aim to exalt the name of Allah. The desire for jihad is perceived equally as the action in case if it is not possible to execute it. Taking into account these facts, it is possible to make a conclusion that jihad is an obligatory tool in the fight for one’s own religious values and property, and it is based on purely disinterested intention.

Types of Jihad

According to contemporary Muslim theologians, who refer to the views of their predecessors, there are several types of jihad. For example, Abu al-Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rushd, better known in the Latin West as Averroes, distinguished between four types of jihad: the heart, tongue, hand, and sword.

-         Jihad by the heart – the opposition to one’s own inclinations, the struggle with one’s passions;

-         Jihad by the tongue – a struggle by means of words and mission. For example, a contemporary Muslim theologian, Muhammad Sa’id Ramadan Al-Buti, a PhD holder and dean of the Faculty of Religion at Damascus University, uses Muhammad as an example, stating that before starting executing jihad by means of the sword, Muhammad preached the word peacefully (Al Buti, 1996).

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-         Jihad by the hand – the punishment of criminals (this form of jihad is expressed in the system of Sharia);

-         Jihad by the sword – fighting through warfare.

Three of the four above-mentioned forms of jihad are based on moral principles. They belong to the group of “high call”. Only the fourth form is understood as a struggle in a literal sense, which refers to the “small call”. The basis of the call for protection of personal Islam is the acceptance of the first pillar of faith, which in its turn requires being in a constant struggle for one’s faith as well as with one’s inclinations. The call for jihad as an armed struggle should be justified by specific factors:

-         existence of intent aggressive nature directed against Islam;

-         the risk of loss of personal property or territory (in this case, jihad will have a personal character);

-         the military campaign against the Islamic state.

The first factor can also be attributed to the conditions of the first type of jihad, considering its spiritual side. According to Don McCurry (2001), better understanding of the reasons for the call to jihad requires understanding of the philosophy of the Muslim world. Thus, Islamic law divides the world into Muslim and non-Muslim areas: Dar al-Islam, the house of Islam and Dar-al-Harb, the house of war. The territory of Dar-al-Islam is the Islamic state and home to the Muslim Ummah, administered by Shariah. The territory of Dar al-Harb includes all other states with two groups of people living in it: Ahl al-Kitab (People of the Book) and “mushriks” (polytheists). According to the Quran, People of the Book include Christians, Jews, and Sabeans (Indians). According to the Muslim doctrine, they have a special status because they follow the true faith and have an incomplete revelation of the true prophets. These people may live under Muslim rule until they accept the submission status, which entails payment of a certain tribute and involves a wide range of constraints.

The Islamic law is much harsher towards “mushriks”. They have a choice of either following Islam or dying. There are additional intermediate zones called Dar al-‘Ahd (the House of Truce) and Dar al-Hudna (the House of Calm). These areas are either allied areas or neutral with respect to Muslim countries. The history of Islam involves a series of peace treaties, which were concluded with people belonging to other religions. In 630, Muhammad signed a treaty with the people of Yathrib (Medina). In more recent times some of the caliphs entered into similar agreements with the Byzantine Empire. There existed an opinion that Dar-al-Harb must have gradually been transformed into Dar-al-Islam (SEI, 1974).

If there is a real military threat from Dar-al-Harb, according to some Islamic scholars, jihad as an act of war becomes a must for every single Muslim and for the whole Muslim community of the world (Streusand, 1997, p. 16).  Only the ruler, the Imam, the head of the Islamic state (the first Imam was Muhammad and Caliphs were after him) may declare and call all Ummah to implement provisions related to jihad. Only the ruler, who is the leader of all Muslims, may ratify a peace treaty to end jihad. Based on the history of spread of Islam, no group can lead an independent struggle and declare jihad. Muhammad never started the fight without full support. This can be perceived as a purely practical consideration.

During the jihad, the military service is obligatory for all young men if they have parental permission to take part in the war. The only exception is when the enemy has already entered the territory of Dar-al-Islam and threatens the Muslim state. In this case jihad becomes an obligation for every Muslim who can bear arms. The society must obey the leader no matter what, even if his rule is not just. In this case, it is worth noting that the meaning of jihad depends entirely on subjective views of a leader, who can easily manipulate the minds of Muslim people.

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Comparing the forms of jihad, it is possible to make a conclusion that they are closely connected with each other. They have a relationship, which represents some type of radial circles. The first of these circles is jihad by the heart, which is based on adherence to principles of faith. It is intended to protect spiritual world of an individual, built accordingly to Islam rules. In this way Muslim identity is formed.

The second circle, jihad by the tongue, is based on the established Muslim identity. It is manifested by  the mission, the fight of convicting words. Here it is appropriate to recall the establishment of Muhammad as the Islamic prophet, who began to preach only after he completed the formation of his individuality called for a special service. Having been secretly preaching for several years, Muhammad formed the basis of the future Muslim community, after which the mission took on a new form of public proclamation of the divine will (Al-Buti, 1996).

Once the identity is formed and the first group of like-minded people united in a single faith appears, the third circle is formed – jihad by the hand. The purpose of this type of Islamic jihad is to protect the newly formed Islamic society by means of regulating social relations within the Muslim through Shariah. A rather interesting fact is the first perception of Muslim society, the Ummah, which was originally defined not by religious belonging, but by territorial one, as it is evidenced by the Medina Charter (Constitution of Medina). According to its main provisions, the Ummah included Muslims, Jews, and gentiles, who lived in Yathrib (Medina). Later, however, this theory was reinterpreted. The aforementioned three types of jihad form a common group of “high call”, which covers the united area of Dar-al-Islam (SEI, 1974).

The fourth type is jihad by the sword. Its task, as it was already stated, is to protect Islam from external enemies, that is Dar-al-Harb. This type of jihad is designed to protect the Islamic state and society from external enemies and creates the concept of “small call”. Thus, it is possible to see the historical development of the concept of jihad. It has developed as a complex system, which was constantly changing in accordance with historical realities of Islamic society.

An important aspect in the system of jihad is the notion of reward, which can be divided into two types: material and spiritual. The first type includes different material belongings gained during the fight. Financial reward is not the ultimate aim in itself, but is a kind of additional reward for participating in the “small call” for those who survived the battle and did not become a shahid (a martyr). Material type of reward is thus gained when the winner takes the property of the vanquished. This kind of reward can be disorienting, since a boundary between jihad and a foray having no spiritual context and being intended for personal gain may be unclear. To differentiate between the terms one should recall the selfless intentions of jihad, which were mentioned above. This consideration allows to perceive an award as a secondary phenomenon, a kind of motivation for soldiers, which can be absent at all. The next type is the spiritual reward. Participating in a holy war guarantees the highest heavenly benefit in case of death during the jihad. A person becomes a martyr, which allows him to instantly and easily go to paradise after death.

Describing military actions, Muslim historical literature uses words “kital” and “harb”. Therefore, it is possible to assume, that the term jihad in its own value acts as a struggle of certain kind, which in turn should be different from meanings of words “kital” (armed struggle) or “harb” (general meaning of war). This difference makes the word “jihad” unique in its meaning, giving it a spiritual or even sacred shade. It secures its use in exceptional circumstances, such as protection of Islam, which forms the system of concepts and principles of fighting a holy war. Taking this into account, it becomes clear that not every military action that was or is taken by Muslims is jihad.

The purpose of jihad is to protect Islam. The first purpose is to protect the inner Islam of every individual and adept. The aim is also to protect his faith. He jihad acts as a means of spiritual awakening used exclusively for oneself and one’s soul. Secondly, jihad serves to protect the outer Islam, expressed in the form of religious polity that is guided by Shariah, and presented in the form of real power - the Ummah. Choosing its aim to protect the Islamic faith, jihad carries out a social religious protective function, which has a sacred significance. It is rooted in absolute truths and dogmas of Islam. This striking feature distinguishes Islam from other religious systems. Jihad serves as a unifying tool that at the same time guarantees protection against any form of aggression aimed at the individual or society as a whole.


Taking into account the meaning of the concept and practice of jihad described above, it is possible to make a conclusion that misinterpretation of jihad is a weakness of terrorist organizations. As a matter of fact, terrorists use the concept of jihad to justify terrorist acts, claiming that they are leading a holy war. However, the war they lead has little in common with real jihad. As it was mentioned earlier, jihad can be declared only under certain circumstances. These facts should be used by Muslim theologians and world anti-terrorist organizations to fight terrorists. The following facts represent the main components of propaganda work against terrorists:

-         The first meaning of 'jihad' is 'spiritual struggle', a personal struggle against oneself and one’s passions;

-         Mercenary intentions with the purpose of personal gain are condemned;

-         Of four types of jihad, only one refers to warfare;

-         Only the ruler, the Imam, the head of the Islamic state, may declare jihad;

-         Young people must have parental permission to take part in the war;

-         Muhammad preferred peaceful preaching;

-         The main purpose of jihad is to protect the faith, which is not in danger in modern world.

These facts concerning jihad present a significant drawback in the ideology of terrorist organizations. These notions can be easily spread among Muslim population to educate people and prevent youngsters from joining terrorist organizations. The concept of jihad has definite meanings, and what terrorists do is nothing but breaking the holy law of Islam and jihad.


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