Jihad - Qital - Harb - Holy War

Part 2



Jihad: Meaning and Forms

To start with there is no consensus (ijma) in the Muslim community (ummah) on the various forms and classifications of jihad or on the importance to be attributed to individual aspects of jihad. The subject is complex and has been the subject of many volumes. As the word is associated with violent action in the west and as there are some who indulge in semantic games we shall also extend our discussion to include the concepts of "qital", and "harb", physical fighting as that is also contained in the concept of "jihad".

jihad (jhd) means "struggle", or "utmost effort" and there are various words derived from it. 1 Jihad is not any form of struggle but struggle with a religious dimension, motivation and objective and is not necessarily physical. One possible definition of jihad might be: "struggling with the utmost effort to be a better person following the guidance of Allah and his messenger, and to establish and consolidate the Islamic way of life". The word is often accompanied by the phrase "in the path (way or cause) of Allah" 2 as we have in the title of these pages. Jihad includes physical fighting (qital and harb ) but cannot be identified with it. Qital and harb, on the other hand, do not necessarily have a religious dimension and are always physical. Jihad is permanent, qital and harb temporary and can be suspended.

Contrary to common belief the Qur'an is not the only source of faith for Muslims. The Qur'an, Sunnah, Hadith and Sīra are all sources of Islamic teaching, law and belief. 3 To simplify things somewhat we can say that according to these sources we may legitimately classify jihad into three interrelated forms:  jihad al-nafs (jihad of the soul), jihad al mal (jihad of one's wealth, financial jihad) and jihad al saif (jihad of the sword).4 The justification for this threefold classification is to be found in the Qur'anic texts: 9:20, 34-35, 41, 88 5:

The higher rank with Allah is for those who believed and migrated and strove in His cause with their belongings and their persons. It is they who are triumphant. (Q. 9:20)
And there are those who amass gold and silver and do not spend it in the Way of Allah. Anounce to them the the tidings of a painful chastisement on a Day when they shall be heated up in the Fire of Hell, and their foreheads and their sides and their backs shall be branded with it. (Q. 9:34-35)
March forth whether light or heavy, and strive in the way of Allah with your belongings and your lives. That is best for you if you only knew it. (Q. 9:41)
But the Messenger and and those who shared his faith strove with their belongings and their lives ... It is they who shall prosper. (Q. 9:88)

 1. Jihad al-nafs, is the inner struggle to maintain faith and to progress spiritually in the path indicated by the Qur'an by battling with the lower self: "The strong one is not the one who overcomes people, the strong one is he who overcomes his ego and the natural tendency towards egoism" 6. This is what Christians would call walking in holiness by dying to self. It is a constant permanent battle with the ego without which progress towards union with God and other forms of jihad cannot be achieved. This entails also jihad against shaytan (Satan).
2. Jihad al mal is the struggle with one's wealth in the path of Allah. A person engaged in the jihad al-nafs, the surrender of self to Allah will naturally also participate in the jihad al-mal, the surrender of one's wealth to God, to the ummah (community) and to the spreading of the message of Islam. Detachment from material riches is often a condition for attachment to Allah, as the Sufis will tell us. This is also a familiar concept in Christianity "for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" 7. If a person has sufficient wealth and uses it for the propagation of Islam and to help other Muslims this is jihad al-mal. This is based on the following verses of the Qur'an:

[...] If your fathers, sons, brothers, spouses, and other kinsfolk, if the wealth which you have gained, the trade whose decline you fear, and your houses in which you delight, [if all of this] is dearer to you than God, His Prophet, and jihad for His sake, then wait until God pronounces His judgment [...]” (Q. 9:24).
March forth whether light or heavy, and strive in the way of Allah with your belongings and your lives. That is best for you if you only knew it. (Q. 9:41)

Zakah, the giving of alms, one of the fundamental pillars of Islam may also be considered a form of jihad al-mal on the basis of Q. 9:60:

The alms are meant only for the poor and the needy and those who are in charge thereof, those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to free those in bondage, and to help those burdened with debt, and for expenditure in the Way of Allah and for the wayfarer. (Q. 9:60)

Progress in the path of jihad al-nafs predisposes one to give of himself and his possessions. This does not mean that one comes before the other. They actually go hand in hand together with the third form of jihad, jihad al saif.

These two forms of jihad are part of what is sometimes erroneously called the "greater" jihad and concern the individual and the relation of the individual to the community, where the key note is peace, harmony and solidarity. These are two of the peaceful dimensions of jihad to be distinguished from the third form, jihad al-saif, jihad of the sword. When it is said that Islam is a peaceful religion this is what is meant and this is what we normally experience here in the west except for the acts of terrorism that hit the headlines. However, this is not the whole story.

3. The third form, jihad al saif, sometimes erroneously called the "lesser" jihad, is the struggling, battling, fighting with the sword (saif), this is "qital or "harb" with the added religious dimension: fighting for the defence and spread of Islam. It is armed jihad, militant "in the way of Allah", ideally not for personal, national or territorial interests. It is often claimed that this is exclusively defensive. This form of jihad has to do principally with the relation between the believers (Muslims) and unbelievers (non Muslims, agnostics, atheists, polytheists, Jews and Christians and others). It is here that things become a little more complicated and it is here that the west perceives Islam to be no longer a religion of peace but a religion of violence.

The concept of jihad, therefore, is all inclusive, spanning the whole of a Muslim's life and his relations with the community (ummah) and the outside world. It is precisely the concept of jihad that unites religion and politics with jihad al mal being the connecting link between the three forms of jihad. Inner jihad creates the necessary attitude to become detached from one's wealth and donate towards the jihad al saif, the armed protection and spreading of Islam. In particular jihad al saif is the greatest deed a Muslim can perform:

A man came to Allah's Apostle and said, "Instruct me as to such a deed as equals Jihad (in reward)." He replied, "I do not find such a deed." Then he added, "Can you, while the Muslim fighter is in the battlefield, enter your mosque to perform prayers without cease and fast and never break your fast?" The man said, "But who can do that?" Abu Huraira added, "The mujahid (i.e. Muslim fighter) is rewarded even for the footsteps of his horse while it wanders about (for grazing) tied in a long rope." 8

In addition to these classical forms of jihad we might also add a fourth: cultural jihad, which has arisen in the twentieth century and which has essentially the same objectives: the propagation of the Islamic faith by rendering it more palatable to the western world and the domination of western culture. This form of peaceful jihad runs parallel to the resurgence of the classical jihad of the sword, violent jihad arisen, in part, as a response to European colonisation. The relatively new form of cultrural jihad is sustained by jihad al mal through the financial support of Saudi Arabia. Prominent Islamic thinkers have long lamented the oblivion into which jihad of the sword has fallen and have asserted that it is now time to revive. One need only quote from Mawdudi in chapter 28, "Meaning of Jihad" in his book Let us Be Muslims in the section entitled "The Ultimate Objective":
Stated simply: the ultimate objective of Islam is to abolish the lordship of man over man and bring him under the rule of the One God. To stake everything you have - including your lives - to achieve this purpose is called Jihad. The Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving and Pilgrimage, all prepare you for Jihad. But as you have long since forgotten this objective as well as the mission entrusted to you, and because all acts of worship have been reduced to their spiritual contents, this brief statement may be difficult to understand. 9



1 The root of the Arabic word "jihad" is "jhd". Other words that derive from the same root are: Jihad, jahadaka, jahadu, jahidhum, jahadi, jahidu, jahadan, jihadihi, jihadin, Al-Mujahidina, Al-Mujahiduna, tujahiduna, yujahidu, yujahiduna.

2 Jihad fi sabilillah.

3 Sunnah denotes the practice of Prophet Muhammad and includes his specific words, habits, practices, and silent approvals. This is the second primary source of Islamic faith. Hadith, (plural ahadith) are sayings, acts or tacit approvals ascribed to Muhammad. Technically they are part of the Sunnah. The sīrat rasūl allāh (Life of the Messenger of God), sirah means "life", "journey", the biography of the prophet Muhammad.

The names most often associated with the sīra literature are ʿUrwa ibn al-Zubayr (d. 713), Wahb ibn Munabbih (d. 725?), Ibn Shihāb al-Zuhrī (d. c. 737), Musa ibn ʿUqba, Muhammad ibn Ishaq (d. 767?).

4 There are other classifications. 'Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani, d.1166, talks of the inner and outer jihad (Al-Fath al-rabbani wa-l-fayd al-rahmani, Cairo 1988, p. 83). Bernard Lewis has four categories: Jihad against the soul, Jihad against Shaytan, Jihad against the disbelievers and hypocrites, Jihad against heretics, liars, and evil folk.

Abdessalam Yassine's classification is as follows: 1) jihad against the lower self; 2) jihad with one's possessions; 3) jihad of spiritual education; 4) jihad of enjoining good acts and forbidding evil; 5) jihad of word and argument; 6) jihad of mobilization and construction; 7) jihad of politics; 8) jihad of implementation); 9) jihad against unbelief; 10) jihad of example; 11) jihad of unification.

in his Muqaddimaat Ibn Rushd divides Jihad into four types:
Jihad of the heart; Jihad by the tongue; Jihad by the hand; Jihad by the sword.

Yet another: 1. jihad with the heart, 2. with the hand, 3. with the tongue on the basis of a text in Sahih Muslim: "I heard the Messenger of Allah as saying: He who amongst you sees something abominable should modify it with the help of his hand; and if he has not strength enough to do it, then he should do it with his tongue, and if he has not strength enough to do it, (even) then he should (abhor it) from his heart, and that is the least of faith." (Sahih Muslim, book 001, hadith 0079 'The Book of Faith, Kitab Al-Iman)'.

5 Cfr. also Q: 49:15 and 61:10-11.

6 Majma` al-zawa'id, section on Jihad

7 Luke 12:34

8 Bukhari Vol 4 Book 52 No. 44

9 Sayyid Abul A 'la Mawdudi, Let Us Be Muslims, ed. Khurram Murad, The Islamic Foundation, Markfield (Leicestershire), 2009, p. 285.



Know Britain Home Page
General Index