Many Misinterpretations of the Term Jihad: Defining the ethics of war in Islam

Mohammad Jamil
AL-Qaeda was the leading terrorist organization of the world, but Dr Aiyman al-Zawahiri could not control the organization after the assassination of Osama bin Laden with the result that the most violent terrorist organization of the history namely IS (Daesh) emerged. Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who was working under the command of Al-Qaeda before, claimed Caliphate under the flag of IS. Both Al-Qaeda and IS are misinterpreting Jihad, and misusing it, which is common denominator for almost all extremist ideologies in the Muslim world. They mostly commit atrocities on Muslims and forcing them to accept their interpretation of Islam which is at variance with a great majority of Muslims and also against the basic essence of teachings of Qur’an-o-Sunnah. Propaganda wing of ISIS is also spreading disinformation that democracy is against the basic rules of Islam, just to acquire power and rule the Muslims world.
Muslims believe that God’s messenger, the Holy Prophet (PBUH), was sent to the world as a ‘mercy to mankind’, and is introduced in the Holy Qur’an in these words: “And We have not sent you forth but as a mercy to mankind.” (Al-Anbiyaa’: 107). This shows that the Prophet’s distinctive quality is being a blessing incarnate in word and deed. It is important to remove confusion created by misinterpreting the word Jihad, which has been source of ignominy to Muslim Ummah. Contrary to the popular belief, Jihad is not a synonym for combat. In Arabic language, the word ‘Jihad’ means to strive and exert your utmost effort to achieve any given objective. According to Muslim scholars, in Islam, Jihad can be classified into several realms – Jihad by the heart, tongue, hand, and finally by the sword only when war is declared or planned by the enemies of Islam.
As a familiar illustration, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) had only resorted to Jihad by the sword when non-believers declared war against him and his message; thus there was no alternative except to fight back. For many years he had only employed peaceful invitations and deployed the three other forms of Jihad to achieve his objective. Another form of jihad that is usually overlooked in jihad is to alleviate religious persecution and establish freedom of religion. In Islam, religious persecution is unacceptable. Jihad is not declaring war against other religions, as the Holy Quran specifically refers to Jews and Christians as “people of the book” who should be protected and respected. However, Muslims were warned to be careful about misguided elements. the Holy Prophet (PBUH) had entered into treaties with Jews and infidels, and honoured those treaties till the other side revoked them. As a matter of fact, Islam is universal in its approach and presents a grand human rights charter.
It not only forbids unjust killing of a human being (Al-Qur’an 17:33, 6:152) but also defines the gravity of this crime by calling it akin to kill the whole humanity (Al-Qur’an5:32). The perfect philanthropic approach of Islam lies in the second part of the above verse in which saving the life of an innocent person is equal to saving the mankind. This sole verse will suffice to understand the actual concept and spirit of Islam in regard to the whole humanity. The problem is that Islam is one of the most misunderstood religions of the world whose real spirit is being intentionally concealed and distorted by non-Muslim writers propagating against Islam. It is deplorable fact that some Muslims are also contributing to the flawed perception of Islam due to their ignorance and limited knowledge.
To begin with, a general misconception in the West about Islam is that it is the religion revealed for Muslims, belongs to Muslims and articulates for Muslims’ rights ignoring the rest of the world. The fact of the matter is that Islam is revealed for the guidance and betterment of entire humanity, which ensures the rights of all human beings. Moreover, it forbids all those acts that are detrimental to human existence and ordains to carry out those, which could contribute to the benefit of this world. Of course, power has its own dynamics whereby some Muslim and non-Muslims rulers in the past resorted to adventurism and fought unnecessary wars. However after the 9/11 events, the US and the West carried out military expeditions in the name of war on terror whereby hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and children either lost their lives or limbs to suffer for the rest of their life.
On the other hand, Islam teaches the ethics of war to Muslims by prescribing: never go beyond the limits; never destroy properties unnecessarily not even the trees. Not a single instance could be quoted from reliable sources of history about the violation of any of the above terms in the era of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). In order to understand Islamic concept of peace, one must examine the concept of justice Islam presents in clear terms. In the Holy Qur’an, it is ordained to believers to stick to justice even if it goes against them (Al-Quran 4:135). At one place, it is commanded that “do not allow your hatred for others make you swerve to wrongdoing and turn you away from justice.” (Qur’an 5:8). The West should stop propaganda maligning Islam, as terrorists use it to justify their vile acts. Of course, the US has been instrumental in creating monsters like Osama bin Laden during Afghan Jihad against the former Soviet Union.


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