Q1: What is Jihad? (Back to Top)

A: The Arabic word Jihad is derived from the verb Jahada - meaning to strive or struggle. In Islamic terminology it means to make an effort, to endeavour and to strive for a noble cause. The word is generally used to describe any type of striving in the cause of Allah (God).  According to Islamic teachings there are three main types of Jihad and they all seek to establish and promote peace in society, as explained below.

Types of Jihad

According to Islamic teachings there are three main categories of Jihad:

(i) Jihad-e-Akbar ie jihad of the highest order.
This is the jihad (struggle) for self-reformation. The struggle is against our own temptations such as greed, lust and other worldly temptations. This is a journey of a person from an ‘animalistic’ state of existence ie living for immediate gratification or gain to one where his psyche is disciplined enough to exercise moral control. This type of jihad is obligatory on every Muslim throughout his life.

(ii) Jihad-e-Kabir ie major jihad.
This is the jihad of propagation of the truth, the message of Qur’an. The Qur’an also instructs us to spread this message with wisdom, tolerance and respect to others and their beliefs,

16:126 - Call unto the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation...;

6:109 – And revile not those whom they call upon beside Allah, lest they, out of spite, revile Allah in their ignorance. Thus unto every people have We caused their doing to seem fair. Then unto their Lord is their return; and He will inform them of what they used to do.

It prohibits the use of any coercion or force,

2:257There should be no compulsion in religion. Surely, right has become distinct from wrong; so whosoever refuses to be led by those who transgress, and believes in Allah, has surely grasped a strong handle which knows no breaking. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.

According to the Qur’an anyone who devotes his time, effort, wealth or knowledge to the cause of righteousness is practising Jihad-e-Kabir. This is also obligatory on all Muslims.

(iii) Jihad-e-Asghar ie jihad of the lower order.
This is the jihad of a defensive battle. The Qur’an has clearly restricted this type of jihad to certain conditions while forbidding transgression of any sort.

            1. The battle can only be defensive and not an offensive one.

(2:191- And fight in the cause of Allah against those who fight against you, but do not transgress. Surely Allah loves not the transgressors.)

2. Muslims should have faced oppression in the practice of their religion and a threat to their life.

3. Muslims should have been driven out of their homes; the teaching is to initially leave from where the oppression is taking place, and if the oppressor attacks the Muslims to stop them from practice of their religion in the new abode and also threaten their lives, only in these circumstances are the Muslims allowed to take up arms in a defensive battle.

Further on, there are clear directions in what can and cannot be done in a battle fought by the Muslims.

Hence it is very clear that the purpose of any such battle is still to restore peace and not to promote aggression. It is important to note that starting of such a battle is not in the hands of the Muslims but can only be initiated by an oppressor fulfilling the aforementioned conditions.

Jihad and the Holy Prophet(saw)

Prophet Muhammad’s(saw) entire life was devoted to Jihad. Of this a mere four months (approx) was spent by way of defensive battles and in them the cause and objective is beyond dispute.

He spent the first 13 years of prophethood in Makkah striving to spread the message of Qur’an against intense and fierce oppression but he never raised a finger in response. He left Makkah for Madinah but the Makkans continued to pursue him in Madinah. It was only when they launched a battle to kill Muslims in Madinah that a physical battle in self-defence was permitted and even then only to the extent to preserve their freedom to live in peace and to worship God.

Once while returning from a battle (of the above description) Prophet Muhammad(saw)  reminded his followers that they are returning from the jihad of a lower order to jihad of the highest order ie that they need to resume the effort of self-reformation without any delay.

On another occasion the Prophet(saw) has said that out of all those who carry out jihad, the most exalted is the one who strives against his own passions (Ibne Maja, Kitabul Fitn)


Q2: Who can engage in Jihad? (Back to Top)

A: As far as jihad-e-akbar, the jihad of self-reformation, a struggle against one’s own passions, and jihad-e-kabir, struggle in the spread of the Word of God, are concerned, they are incumbent on all Muslims throughout their life.

Regarding jihad-e-asghar, the defensive battle to protect the freedom of worship of God, this is only obligatory on the able bodied adults. See above for details on this type of Jihad


Q3: Does Jihad mean the extermination of all non-Muslims? (Back to Top)

A: No.

The purpose of jihad is development of a peaceful society through self-reformation of Muslims towards higher standards of righteousness, and spread of the teachings of peace, justice, tolerance, respect of other religions and their followers. Muslims are only permitted to fight in self-defence if they are being attacked for their faith and being prohibited from worshiping God. It is an act of self-defence and not an act of aggression. If the aggressor ceases to fight then Muslims are obliged to stop as well for the sake of peace.

8:62And if they incline towards peace, incline thou also towards it, and put thy trust in Allah. Surely it is He Who isAll-Hearing All-Knowing .

See above for details.

The example of the founder of Islam, Prophet Muhammad(saw)  is a very clear demonstration of this point. After eight years of exile and being forced to fight some defensive battles against the oppressors who had the intention of killing the Muslims including the Prophet(saw)  himself and to ‘wipe off the religion of Islam’, the Prophet(saw), at the conquest of Makkah, declared a general pardon for all Makkans. They were also granted freedom to continue to practise their own religion.

Some of the Makkans were so surprised at this that they did not initially believe it and still fled, including one of their leaders, Ikrama. He was called back by his wife who reassured him that she had personally met with Prophet Muhammad(saw) and confirmed that the pardon was a reality. Ikrama returned, still fearful, but when he realised the facts, he was so impressed that he chose to convert to Islam. In fact this example is typical of the manner of spread of Islam amongst the non-Muslims during its early history.

There are examples of the Muslim army fighting to protect its citizens including those who were non-Muslims. Testimony to protection of the right of people of other religions to live and think freely and practice their own religion in an Islamic state have been repeatedly quoted by several Jewish and Christian historians relating to the early centuries of the Muslim states in Spain, Iraq, Arabia, North Africa and Syria.

The Promised Messiah(as) has said, ‘None of the true Muslims who ever lived, maintained that force should be employed in the spread of Islam. On the other hand Islam has always flourished on the strength of its inherent qualities of excellence’. (Tiryaq ul Qulub, Roohani Khazain, Vol.15, p167)

Furthermore it is evident from the Qur’an  that people of different faiths must be free to practice their own religion (2:257); Islam does not claim monopoly over salvation or truth (2:63 , 3:114-116 , 35:24-25) ; accepts truth and authenticity of founders of other Divinely revealed religions (16:37, 2:286, 4:151-153) ; teaches the followers to remain just and respectful towards followers of other religions ( 60:8 , 5:3).



Verse references to the Holy Qur’an item count ‘Bismillah...’ (In the Name of Allah...) as the first verse of each Chapter. In some non-standard texts, this is not counted and should the reader refer to such texts, the verse quoted in Islamic FAQs will be found at one verse less than the number quoted. All Quranic quotes are from the translation by Maulawi Sher Ali as edited by Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ru).

In Islamic FAQs, for the ease of non- Muslim readers, ‘(saw)’ or ‘saw’ after the words, ‘Holy Prophet’, or the name ‘Muhammad’, are used. They stand for ‘Sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam’ meaning ‘Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him’. Likewise, the letters ‘(as)’ or ‘as’ after the name of all other prophets is an abbreviation meaning ‘Peace be upon him’ derived from ‘Alaihis salatu wassalam’ which are words that a Muslim utters out of respect whenever he or she comes across that name. The abbreviation ‘ra’ or (ra) stands for ‘Radhiallahu Ta’ala anhu and is used for Companions of a Prophet, meaning Allah be pleased with him or her (when followed by the relevant Arabic pronoun). Finally, ‘ru’ or (ru) for Rahemahullahu Ta’ala means the Mercy of Allah the Exalted be upon him.

In keeping with current universal practice, local transliterations of names of places are preferred to their anglicised versions, e.g. Makkah instead of Mecca, etc. For Biblical references the King James translation is used unless otherwise stated.