By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
Islam is, in essence, a peaceful religion. In Islam, peace is the general rule or norm. On the other hand, war is only a rare exception in Islam, as a compulsion in response to the actions of others. It is not something that Muslims should initiate on their own.
The basic aim of Islam is to transform people’s thinking and to bring about an intellectual revolution in their minds based on Tawhid, or the oneness of God. Our actions depend on our thoughts. That is why Islam gives great stress to reforming our thought process and on our intellectual awakening. Hence, war is not part of Islam’s basic plan of life. In fact, war is something that goes diametrically against this plan. No matter what one’s religion, the fact is that through war or any other form of violence, no positive gains or achievements are possible. This is why if all possible efforts to prevent war are made but, yet, these fail and one is compelled to take to war, the followers of Islam must seek to put an end to war as soon as possible so that in a climate of peace the true constructive work of Islam can carry on unimpaired.
In this context, it is pertinent to discuss the notion of jihad in Islam. Jihad is, in fact, another name for peaceful struggle. In today’s parlance, it could be called ‘peaceful activism’, or, in other words, using peaceful means to try to attain certain lofty objectives.
The literal meaning of jihad is ‘effort’ or ‘struggle’. The Quran speaks about engaging in a jihad through the Book of God (25:52). According to a Hadith report, a Mujahid, one who engages in jihad, is he who for the sake of obedience to God combats his own base self or Nafs. According to another tradition, when the Prophet (s.a.w.) returned from the Tabuk campaign (in which no war took place), he said, ‘We have returned from lesser jihad to greater jihad.’ The ‘lesser jihad’ is a military struggle, while the ‘greater jihad’ is the struggle against one’s own base desires.
Jihad, if understood correctly, is an entirely peaceful action. At the individual level, to engage in jihad is to refuse to deviate from the path of God despite the desires of one’s baser self and the difficult environment one confronts. It is to face the challenges that stand in one’s path and remain steadfast on the Truth. At the collective level, jihad can be called a peaceful struggle. At the very basis of this struggle is an intellectual awakening among people, leading them to positive and constructive action and refining their character. Jihad, understood in this sense, inspires people to seek to become beneficial to others, and to be concerned about their welfare. The weapon deployed in true jihad is love, not hatred and violence.
Some people misunderstand jihad as the equivalent of war, or what is called Qital in Arabic. Equating the two is to completely undermine the significance of jihad. The fact of the matter is that Qital is a very limited action, and it is of a temporary nature. On the other hand, jihad is a continuous and comprehensive action. Jihad is an exalted action in Islam, which should carry on continuously, every day and at every moment in our lives. Under no conditions should it stop.
When a person is overwhelmed by the quest for Truth, he is immersed in an intellectual jihad. When he realizes the Truth, his jihad takes on added dimensions. He engages in jihad or struggle to the utmost against his own self and his base, Satanic, desires, and in this way he strengthens and deepens his faith and trust in God. He engages in continuous constructive intellectual development, and so his realization of the Truth continuously develops till at last he reaches the highest possible stage.
According to a Hadith report, one’s faith increases and decreases. To save one’s faith from erosion itself requires a continuous jihad. Living along with other people, one is repeatedly attacked by negative feelings or emotions, such as anger, jealousy, revenge, pride, ingratitude, greed and so on. These negative emotions constantly threaten to weaken or decrease one’s faith. In this regard, one has to awaken one’s consciousness and struggle against these negative tendencies and quash them. This is a jihad, and without this jihad no one can save his or her faith from decrease or erosion.