Real Meaning and Purpose of Jihad

One of the most confusing words which we have in Islam is Jihad. I’d like to ask about the real meaning, and the purpose of Jihad.

Jihad, Arabic word, means to struggle, to strive, to do something good, to overcome something evil. The Prophet (ﷺ) said,

“The best Jihad is a perfect Hajj, A perfect pilgrimage”. [1]

Because in going to make pilgrimage, you have to control yourself. People will step on your toes, maybe you’ll lose some of your, provisions. You know you will find difficulty, and people crush together - three million people in one location - you can imagine there will be peoples' tempers, all these things will be there and you’ll be driven to want to argue, to shout or to get upset but you’re told to be calm, to be patient. The perfect Hajj in which one is able to get through that - those eight days - without flying off the handle, you know arguing with people next to you, shouting at somebody else, but patiently bearing whatever difficulties you find. So, the Prophet (ﷺ) says, this was the best Jihad. Hajj was the best Jihad.

This is telling us that the term ‘Jihad’ though today it is associated with picking up a gun and trying to kill somebody, this is not the original meaning of the term. Now Jihad has a variety of different levels, it may require, you know, that one picks up a gun, to defend one’s life, to defend one’s community where one comes under attack, this is there too. But it starts at the most basic level, in the heart. On another occasion the Prophet (ﷺ) had said that, “The greater Jihad is the Jihad of the heart, where one struggles against the evil tendencies within the heart. Because God has created us with an awareness of both good and evil, each human being is born with that. And religion is supposed to help the good side, support the good side, help the person to make the right choices.

But still it is the individual who has to make those choices, so when that individual struggles against his or her tendencies, they’re involved in Jihad at the most basic level. And if one cannot engage in that level of Jihad then no, of the other levels, none of the other levels are true Jihad. Because we do this for the sake of God, believing that this is what is pleasing to God, this is what God wants from us, that we be good people, we promote goodness, we live goodness. So on the basic level which is required of us if we cannot do that, then even on the highest levels where we’re fighting, offering our lives up, supposedly to defend the faith, or the believers, or the country of the believers, or whatever level it is, it will be missing that most vital component.  And the Prophet (ﷺ) had said that such a person who fights there without that vital component, in fact will not earn the reward, will not be a true martyr, will in fact end up, a loser in the next life.  So, Jihad is the struggle against evil on all levels.


[1] [Sahih al-Bukhari 1520]

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