An Explanation for Islam's Understanding of Jihad

“If a person causes trouble in a house or blocks a road or harasses a believer on the ground of jihad, what he does is not jihad. (Abu Davud, Jihad, 89)

In the period of Makkah, the Muslims were weak; therefore, Allah ordered them to show patience to all kinds of oppression, pressure and tortures from the polytheists. In that period, the Muslims avoided doing all kinds of deeds that would irritate the polytheists, reciprocating and challenging them. They worshipped secretly, without being seen by the polytheists.

When the pressure of the polytheists increased and became unbearable, Allah allowed the Muslims who could not bear it to migrate. The Muslims who were overwhelmed by the pressure in Makkah migrated to Abyssinia, which was the safest country at that time, at two different times in two different caravans of migration.

What mattered at that period for a Muslim was to practice his religion easily, to stand upright against the oppression and pressures without losing his self-confidence and to protect himself from falling into despair that could make him give up his belief.

After the migrations to Madinah, the Muslims increased in number. They became stronger and more organized. They became strong enough to resist the attacks of the polytheists. Thereupon, Allah gave the Muslims the permission to resist the enemy attacks and to reciprocate, which was called jihad. This permission meant fighting the enemy. This permission also meant it was permissible to use force in order to convey the message of Islam and spread Islam.

The permission of jihad given to the Muslims at first aimed to prevent attacks against the Muslims, the harms to and destruction of the Islamic community and to eliminate the barriers that prevented practicing Islam freely. To this end, the Muslims fought in the battles of Badr, Uhud and Khandaq, and several other battles.

When the Muslims got even stronger, the purpose of conquest was added to the concept of jihad. This conquest was not only conquest of land. What mattered was the conquest of the hearts. It was to convey the message of Islam to people in the best way. It was the effort of making people meet Islamic belief. Eliminating all kinds of drawbacks that prevented the message of Islam from being conveyed was included in the content of jihad.

Another purpose of jihad's moving from defense to conquest was to ensure the security of Islam and the Muslims.

In the jihads that aimed conquest, two purposes were pursued together. The first one was to enable people to know the religion of Islam, to tell them about the beauties of Islam and to show them Islam by practicing it.

The second one was to show the power of Islam to the states and countries that did not accept Islam, to dissuade them from hostile attacks by forcing them to accept peace. War was the last option in jihad. If the enemy did not accept Islam and did not accept peace by accepting the authority of the Islamic state, using force against the enemy became inevitable. In that case, the countries that were conquered as a result of fighting were added to the Islamic land; and the goods and things that were grabbed from the enemy were regarded as booty.

War means violence.

War means loss of life, death.

However, it is seen that big limitations are introduced to violence and fury in the war in the understanding of jihad in Islam. There are important measures that decrease shedding human blood to a minimum.

The primary measure is that it is definitely forbidden to kill children, women, old people and clerics in the war.

Islam allows killing the soldiers that take part in the war only. It is not regarded appropriate to kill a soldier when it is possible to hold him captive.

One of the strategies that the Messenger of Allah used in order to decrease human loss was to catch the enemy unawares before they prepared for the war. For, if the enemy made preparations, it would mean shedding a lot of blood, a long war and death of a lot of people.

We see the benefits of this strategy of the Messenger of Allah's in the conquest of Makkah, a big war that ended with the death of very few people.

Then, it would not be wrong to say that in the understanding of jihad in Islam, to reach the target with minimum loss of lives is essential.

Besides, the main target of Islam, the purpose of its emergence is not to eliminate people and to destroy houses by killing the residents. Islam was sent to make people attain an endless life and eternal bliss.

It is possible to deduce this meaning from the following statement of the Messenger of Allah: “I was sent for mercy, not for torture or punishment.”

Unfortunately, some Muslims today misunderstand jihad and apply it in a wrong way. The understanding of jihad that applies jihad in the form cutting people's heads off, chopping people and not leaving even one unbeliever alive on the earth and turning some people into suicide bombers damages Islam more than anything else.

The concept of jihad which means to eliminate the barriers preventing people from knowing Islam was unfortunately transformed into the biggest barrier preventing people from accepting Islam.

Another issue that is misunderstood related to the understanding of jihad in Islam is as follows:

Jihad is not valid within an Islamic country. That is, a Muslim cannot make jihad against another Muslim. The uprising and killing within a country is called baghy, not jihad.

A baghi cannot be a mujahid of Islam. A person who says "La ilaha illallah" has no right to kill another person who says "La ilaha illallah" by accusing him of unbelief and calling this murder jihad.

Jihad is a legitimate struggle against those who pose a threat to Muslims in non-Muslim land. Its purpose is to secure the property and lives of Muslims and to prevent any threat before it is put into action.


The biggest barrier preventing a Muslim from practicing Islam is usually not an outer enemy but his illegitimate desires, which we call evil-commanding soul, in him. If man cannot control his soul and cannot make it obey the orders and prohibitions of Islam, he does not have to look for an enemy that prevents him from practicing Islam.

His soul is the biggest barrier for him. Therefore, the biggest jihad in Islam is a person's struggle against his own soul. The war against the outer enemy is small compared to the war against the soul. For, if a believer is killed in the war against the enemy, he becomes a martyr; if he survives, he becomes a war veteran. However, a believer who loses the war against his soul loses everything. He goes bankrupt spiritually.

While returning from the Battle of Badr to Madinah, the Messenger of Allah is reported to have said,

- "We have finished minor jihad; now we are returning to major jihad." What is meant by minor jihad here is the Battle of Badr against Makkans; major jihad is the struggle against the soul.

The fight against the outer enemy takes place at a certain place and certain time. However, jihad against the soul takes place everywhere and all the time; it is a struggle that continues 24 hours a day and everywhere.

In conclusion, we can state the following: It is doubtful whether a Muslim who cannot win the jihad against his soul will win the jihad against the outer enemy or not. It is definitely necessary to win the fight against the soul in order to become a mujahid at the battlefront.

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