In virtually all nations of the world today, the term Jihad has become synonymous with violence and disorder. Even Middle Eastern citizens who are well aware of the real meaning of the word jihad as revealed in the Qur’an often express negative sentiments when speaking about it. This is because international media organizations constantly attribute international acts of terrorism and murder to jihadists. It could be said that the word jihad has been hijacked by terrorists all over the world to justify their acts of savagery.
The word Islam actually means surrender to the will of God, and the word jihad is used in the Qur’an to refer to the process of struggling or striving to fulfill this mandate (Kiser, 2008). There is not much difference between the meanings of these two words as they both refer to the process of excelling in the service of God. Both words actually indicate that believers should aim towards maintaining purity and dedication to God in all circumstances. Indeed, it can be said that the notion of jihad is not just found in the Qur’an, but is also practiced by Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists. This is because all these religions exhort believers to struggle against internal sins, as well as external evil in society (Fatoohi, 2009).
There Are No Real Differences Between Islam and Jihad
There are no real differences between the words Islam and Jihad, but it must be pointed out that the latter has been accorded a negative meaning without cause in the 21st century. According to Khan (2010), the words Islam and Jihad both stand for the perpetuation of peace among citizens of the world. Few people realize that there is no mention of the expression holy war in the Qur’an. The word holy war was first used in 1095 by Pope Urban II, when he exhorted Christians in Europe to make a holy pilgrimage to Jerusalem in order to wage war and capture the land that Jesus Christ was born in (Tyerman, 2008).
The Qur’an actually mentions Jews in different passages, and also refers to Christians as People of the Book because of their dedication to the teachings of Jesus, Moses, and Abraham- all of whom are important prophets in Islam (Kiser, 2008). Muslims have actually co-existed peacefully with people of different faiths for centuries. According to Fatoohi (2009), Prophet Muhammad’s teachings, as recorded in the Sunnah, actually confirm that the first cases that will be tried, on the Day of Judgment, are those that have to do with the shedding of innocent blood. The Qur’an also condemns terrorist acts, and advises that believers who engage in them should be punished in the most severe way (Fatoohi, 2009).
In Islam, the word jihad actually refers to the process of dedicating one’s self to the service of God through external acts of mercy, as well as internal purification. According to Kiser (2008), there are different levels of jihad. A Muslim can wage inner jihad to fight evil desires and achieve high moral standards. A community can wage social jihad to deliver society from unjust rulers, or fight oppression (Kiser, 2008). Muslims are also expected to wage a physical jihad when their nations or communities are invaded by foreign tyrants. The physical jihad is recognized as the highest form of jihad because it could result in the death of the person who engages in it, and so calls for the ultimate sacrifice (Streusand, 1997).
The Qur’an states that physical jihad is only to be waged for defensive purposes, and not to terrorize the innocent citizens of other nations and faiths. There is no verse in the Qur’an that authorizes or encourages suicide bombing under any pretext. According to Fatoohi (2009), the Qur’an teaches that forcing people to convert to Islam by force is a crime that ought to be punished under the law.
The words Islam and Jihad can be said to be synonymous, as they both call on the Muslim believer to submit himself or herself to the will of God. Neither of them advocates that Muslims should wage war on citizens of other nations, or forcefully convert them to Islam. Both words encourage believers to strive to submit to higher moral values in the search of God, and operate in forgiveness and mercy when interacting with people from other religious faiths.