Meaning of Jihad

What is Jihad:

Jihad is a concept of Islamic doctrine that has been interpreted in the West as holy war. According to Muslims, however, the word, coming from the Arabic ﺟﻬﺎﺩ (ŷihād), can be translated as ‘effort’, and is related to different aspects of the practice of the doctrine of Muhammad.

In the interpretation of the meaning of jihad in the West, there has been a tendency to relate it to the religious decree of war and the call of the Koran to spread the law of Allah throughout the planet and impose a world Muslim society. In this sense, it has been considered as equivalent to a military term, to a call to war against the enemies of Islam.

On the other hand, from the point of view of the Muslims, jihad is nothing but a concept of the doctrine of Muhammad that appears referred to in the Koran and that has multiple applications. Thus, it would refer to the divine duty, to work for Allah, and to the obligation of Muslims to be better every day and to make Allah's law reign on Earth. This, in turn, can be understood in various ways: as the effort to improve the quality of life of society, the effort on the battlefield for self-defense, as well as the fight against tyranny and oppression.

According to Muslims, jihad does not precisely have the meaning of violently spreading the faith of Islam throughout the world. On the contrary, they consider that jihad comprises the set of measures and efforts of Islamism to achieve peace by resisting unjust aggressions. Hence, according to this, jihad can also be waged against other Muslims who do not act according to the law of Allah.

Expressions of jihad, however, were experienced during the period of expansion of Islam, between the 7th and 15th centuries, a time marked by wars directed against the Arabs, Jews and Christians, and against anyone who could be considered an enemy of the faith.

In recent years, due to the adoption of this term by Islamic extremist organizations, which have relied on the doctrine of Muhammad to commit terrorist acts and initiate a kind of holy war against the infidels of Islam, the term has been acquiring a meaning warlike rather than religious, associated with terrorism, violence and suicide attacks against liberal democracies and secular states. These types of groups are known by the name of Islamic jihad and this trend as jihadism.

However, it is always important to underline that it is a word with multiple connotations within Islamic doctrine, and that it can be used with both violent and non-violent religious connotations.

Great jihad and small jihad

Within the applications of the term jihad in Muslim religious practice, one can also distinguish between the great jihad and the small jihad. The great jihad refers to the struggle of the Muslim against his own passions, which divert him from the path of Allah, while the small jihad refers to the armed struggle that is carried out against an external enemy in defense of the Muslim community.

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