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What is Jihad

The Arabic word Jihad is derived from the root word Jahada (struggle). Jihad has come to mean an offensive war to be waged by Muslims against all non-Muslims to convert them to Islam on the pain of death. Jihad is enjoined on all Muslims by the Quran.

Islamic Jihad has its beginnings at Mecca in 620 C.E. up to 9/11,till date and the lessons it has for us in today’s challenging times. If we are to understand Islam, we need to understand the temperament of its founder Mohammed (PBUH*), the way victorious Muslims have treated the subject people, and above all the reasons for the victory of Islam.
How the Jihad originated 1400 years back and how the nature and idol-worshipping pre Muslim Arabs were the first nation to be traumatized by Islam. The Arabs being the only nation who were not given the choice of paying Jaziya and remaining non-Muslim, a courtesy extended later to all non-Muslims. The choice for the nature and idol-worshipping pre Muslim Arabs was only Islam or Death. Hence there are no surviving nature and idol-worshipping non-Muslim Arabs today. A point missed by many Arab and Western historians.

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Many Muslims will thus claim that “Islam was not spread by the sword”, but this depends on precisely what is meant. In Europe, Arabia, Persia, the Levant, Anatolia, India and Africa jihad bis saif was used to conquer the lands, and the oppressive dhimmitude system was used to gradually convert their peoples, since (generally) one could not be a citizen without being Muslim and the dhimmi lived with great uncertainty and fear. (Let me state that this was not invariably so and history relates that in several periods of the Islamic hegemony non-Muslims -usually Jews or Christians- did indeed rise to prominence. Equally, there were also periods of pogrom and active persecution, which regrettably continue to today in some parts of the Dar-ul-Islam.)

Thus, in general, Islam did not “convert by the sword” in the sense of offering the choice “become Muslim or I will kill you”, but it did do so in the sense that it used the “sword” to gain territory and then set up a system that so discriminated against the non-Muslim that gradual conversion under social, economic, legal and political pressures inevitably followed, albeit with various degrees of success worldwide.

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When we consider the number of verses in the Quran which deal with the subject of Jihad or struggle in the cause of God, it becomes obvious that Jihad is one of the major themes of the Quran.

The 114 suras (chapters or parts) of the Quran are not listed in the chronological order in which Mohammad recited them, but seem to be listed in the order of length - from the longest to the shortest. Rather than list verses in the order they are placed in the Quran, I have listed them in the chronological order in which they came (according to the listing by Nöldeke). This will help to bring out the obvious progression of thought regarding Jihad.

The Ka’aba, a rectangular building in the city of Mecca, contained many idols and was the center of worship for the pagan Arabs at the time of Muhammad. Arabs from all over Arabia came to Mecca for an annual pilgrimage to worship those idols.

Mohammad began preaching Islam in 610 A.D. when he was still living in Mecca. His fellow Quraish tribesmen became increasingly angry because of his condemnation of their idolatry. 90 of the 114 suras originated during the 13 years he continued living in Mecca. These suras contained no instructions about fighting, in spite of the severe persecution, beatings, expulsion from their homes and death threats to which his small band of followers were subjected.

The last 24 suras are from the time after 622 when Mohammad and his followers migrated to Medina to escape from the persecution in Mecca. There Mohammad was made the political leader of the city and his followers increased significantly. The teaching about Jihad or fighting "in the way of Allah" began to develop in these Medinan suras.

(IN MECCA) - NO RETALIATION: [While still in Mecca, Mohammad and his followers did not retaliate or fight. The suras originating during that time contained teaching typified by the following verses:]

Sura 73:10,11 (be patient and bear with those who deny the truth)

"And have patience with what they say, and leave them with noble (dignity). And leave me (alone to deal with) those in possession of the good things of life, who (yet) deny the truth, [YA: "Men who enjoy the good things of life have special cause for gratitude to God, Who bestowed them. When they are in the ranks of God's enemies, none but God can adequately deal with them.."] and bear with them for a little while."

Sura 52:45,47,48 (leave them alone and wait in patience for the Lord to punish them)

"So leave them alone until they encounter that day of theirs, wherein they shall (perforce) swoon (with terror) ... And verily, for those who do wrong, there is another punishment besides this...Now await in patience the command of thy Lord, for verily thou art in Our eyes." [YA: "The man of God must strive his utmost to proclaim the message of God. As for results, it is not for him to command them. He must wait patiently in the knowledge that he is not forgotten by God, but is constantly under God's eyes - under His living care and protection..."]

(FIRST INSTRUCTION IN MEDINA) - DEFENSIVE FIGHTING PERMITTED: [Several months after arrival in Medina the Muslims began looting the Meccan caravans passing through the area. (It is very hard to understand how someone claiming to be a prophet could adopt the carnal, pagan Arab practice of robbing the caravans of other tribes, call it "striving in the way of God" and then say that one fifth of the loot belongs to God!) That practice eventually resulted in their being attacked by the Quraish from Mecca in several battles, beginning with the battle of Badr in 624. At that time permission was given to defend themselves by fighting and killing. The only enemies in the picture were the "unbelievers" of the Quraish tribe in Mecca, who were idol worshipers.]

Sura 22:39-41 (permission is given to go to war to defend themselves)

"To those against whom war is made, [YA: "Several translators have failed to notice that yuqataluna is in the passive voice, ‘against whom war is made,’ not ‘who take arms against the unbelievers’ as Sale translates it."] permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged, and verily, God is most powerful for their aid. (They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right, (for no cause) except that they say, ‘Our Lord is God.’ [YA: "This was the first occasion on which fighting - in self defence - was permitted. This passage therefore undoubtedly dates from Medina."] Did not God check one set of people by means of another, [YA: "To allow a righteous people to fight against a ferocious and mischief-loving people was fully justified. But the justification was far greater here, when the little Muslim community was not only fighting for its own existence against the Meccan Quraish, but for the very existence of the faith in the One True God. They had as much right to be in Mecca and worship in the Ka’ba as the other Quraish, yet they were exiled for their faith. It affected not the faith of one peculiar people. The principle involved was that of all worship, Jewish or Christian as well as Muslim, and of all foundations built for pious uses."] there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, in which the name of God is commemorated in abundant measure. God will certainly aid those who aid His (cause), for verily God is full of strength, exalted in might, (able to enforce His will). (They are) those who, if we establish them in the land, establish regular prayer and give regular charity, enjoin the right and forbid wrong. [A basic teaching, usually involving force if necessary, to keep other Muslims following Islam.] With God rests the end (and decision) of (all) affairs."

Sura 22:58 (rewards for those who die in jihad)

"Those who leave their homes in the cause of God, and are then slain or die, on them will God bestow verily a goodly provision. [YA: "all the provision necessary to equip the person for a full and happy future life, and also, I think, a provision for his dependants and near and dear ones in this life."] Truly God is He who bestows the best provision."

DEFENSIVE FIGHTING COMMANDED: [A few months after granting permission to fight in self-defense, the command was given making war (in self defense) a religious obligation. At first, the only enemies in the picture were the "unbelievers" of the Quraish tribe in Mecca, who were idol worshipers. They were the ones who had in a sense declared war on the Muslims. Starting with the battle of Uhud (see sura 3 references below) the hypocrites (Arabs who claimed to be Muslims, but really did not believe) began to show themselves as enemies, and later the Jews were considered enemies. In the beginning of this stage the Jews were not considered enemies because Muhammad was still expecting them to accept him as a prophet like Moses.]

Sura 2:109 (forgive and overlook unbelieving Jews and let God take care of them)

"Quite a number of the people of the Book [Jews] wish they could turn you back to infidelity after ye have believed, from selfish envy, after the truth hath become manifest unto them. But forgive and overlook, till God accomplish His purpose." [YA: "‘Afa’ (here translated ‘forgive’) means to forget, to obliterate from one's mind. ‘Safaha’ (here translated ‘overlook’) means to turn away from, to ignore, to treat a matter as if it did not affect one."] [For the time being, Muhammad forgave the Jews for their unbelief. Later, when they clearly rejected his claim of prophet-hood, they were no longer "overlooked"!]

Sura 2:190-194 (Fight defensively against an attack from fellow Arab Meccan opponents until persecution is stopped and Islam is established)

"Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, [YA: "War is only permissible in self-defense, and under well-defined limits."] but do not transgress limits; for God loveth not transgressors. [YA: "strict limits must not be transgressed: women, children, old and infirm men should not be molested, nor trees and crops cut down, nor peace withheld when the enemy comes to terms"] And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they ...

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