Chapter 10: What is Islam by Dr. Muhammad Sharif Chaudhry



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What is Islam

By Dr. Muhammad Sharif Chaudhry


Jihad (War)

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What is Jihad?

The Arabic word ‘Jihad’ is derived from the verb ‘Jihada’ which means ‘he exerted’. Another derivative of the word is ‘Jahadun’ meaning ‘exertion’ or ‘striving’. So, literally Jihad means exertion, striving or struggle. It means to exert one’s utmost or to make effort or struggle for the achievement of one’s aim or objective. In order to achieve an objective, Jihad is waged through different means such as through the use of physical force or with the help of one’s tongue or with the help of one’s wealth. The Holy Qur’an has used word Jihad in various ways: “And whosoever striveth, striveth only for himself, for lo! Allah is altogether independent of (His) creature” _ (29:6): “And for those who strive in us, We surely guide them to our paths, and lo! Allah is with the good” _ (29:69): “And strive for Allah with the endeavour which is His right…..” (22:78): “Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities …..” (2:190): “Go forth, light armed and heavy armed, and strive with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah …..” (9:41) “Therefore listen not to the unbelievers, but strive against them with the utmost strenuousness, with the (Qur’an)__ (25:52). Thus the word Jihad has been used by the Qur’an to signify different meanings in different situations, right from earning of livelihood to fighting against the enemy. But the keynote remains the same i.e. the exertion or striving undertaken to achieve an objective. In this way Jihad has a wider meaning than war because it includes every sort of effort ─ physical or non-physical, mental or spiritual, martial or non-martial ─ made in the way of Allah or for a just cause.

Jihad generally means, however, a war undertaken by the followers of Islam for a just cause or for defence of Islam and Islamic State or for cause of Allah. Al-Kasaniy, a Muslim jurist of middle ages has defined jihad or the war of Muslims in these words: “Jihad in the technology of law is used for expending ability and power in fighting in the path of God by means of life, property, tongue and other than these.”[1]

Islam does not allow aggressive wars to establish empires, to promote imperialistic designs or to achieve economic and commercial interests at the expense of others, or to subjugate other people just to satisfy the ambitions of egotistic rulers and generals. It permits war as a last resort, when there is no other peaceful way left, for the defence of Islamic faith and Islamic state. War can be waged by the Muslims simply for the cause of Allah so that the Kingdom of God on earth is established and the word of God alone prevails. The slightest desire for worldly gains mars the noble cause of Jihad and deprives the Muslim soldier of the reward of Paradise. Thus it will be seen that Jihad does not mean killing and plundering others but offering one’s ownself to be killed. It is a supreme sacrifice required of an idealist, sacrifice both of property and life, for the sole purpose of obeying the command of one’s Creator and Master, God Almighty.2

Jihad is of various types. With reference to means through which it can be waged, Jihad is of following types:

1) Jihad with physical force i.e. through hand and sword; 2) Jihad with use of tongue i.e. with speeches, with propaganda, electronic media, etc; 3) Jihad through pen i.e. by books, pamphlets, articles, press media. Number 2 and 3 can be collectively called intellectual Jihad; 4) Jihad by use of wealth like donations to war fund, contribution to organisations engaged in Jihad, financial assistance to families of Mujahideen, weapons, food, and clothes for Mujahideen, etc.

With reference to enemy against whom Jihad is waged, it is of following types:

1) Jihad against one’s ownself or evil soul; 2) Jihad against foreign enemy; 3) Jihad against rebels and terrorists; 4) Jihad against social evils; 5) Jihad to help the oppressed Muslims in non-Muslim lands; 6) Jihad against despotic rulers and tyrants; 7) Jihad against natural calamities like floods, earth quake, cyclone, epidemics by helping their victims; and 8) Constructive Jihad like nation-building activities.

The Holy Qur’an motivates the followers of Islam to wage Jihad in many of its verses, some of whom are:

  • Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors. And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And flight not with them at the Inviolable Place of worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.  (2:190-191)

  • Warfare is ordained for you, though it is hateful unto you; but it may happen that ye hate a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that ye love a thing which is bad for you. Allah knoweth, ye know not.  (2:216)

  • Relent not in pursuit of the enemy. If ye are suffering, lo! they suffer even as ye suffer and ye hope from Allah that for which they cannot hope. Allah is ever Knower, Wise.  (4:104)

  • O ye who believe! When ye meet those who disbelieve in battle, turn not your backs to them. (8:15)

  • O Prophet! Exhort the believers to fight. If there be of you twenty steadfast they shall overcome two hundred, and if there be of you a hundred steadfast they shall overcome a thousand of those who disbelieve, because they (the disbelievers) are a folk without intelligence. Now hath Allah lightened your burden, for He knoweth that there is weakness in you. So if there be of you a steadfast hundred they shall overcome two hundred, and if there be of you a thousand (steadfast) they shall overcome two thousand by permission of Allah. Allah is with the steadfast.  (8:65-66)

  • The (true) believers are those only who believe in Allah and His messenger and afterward doubt not, but strive with their wealth and their lives for the cause of Allah. Such are the sincere.  (49:15)

  • O ye who believe! Shall I show you a commerce that will save you from a painful doom? Ye should believe in Allah and His messenger, and should strive for the cause of Allah with your wealth and your lives. That is better for you, if ye did but know.  (61: 10-11)

Following traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) bring in focus Jihad, its types and its merits:

  • Anas reported from the Holy Prophet who said: Fight against the polytheists with your properties, your lives and your tongue.    (Abu Daud, Nisai, Darimi)

  • Abdullah-b-Amr reported that the Holy Prophet said: Fighting in the way of Allah atones for every thing except debt.    (Muslim)

  • Abdullah-b-Hubshi reported that the Prophet was asked: Which of the action is best? He said: prolonged standing (in prayer). He was questioned: Which charity is best? He said; Strivings of a man of small means. He was questioned: Which migration is best? He said: He who flees away from what Allah has prohibited him. He was questioned: Which Jihad is best? He said: He who fights with the polytheists with his property and his life.    (Abu Daud)

  • Abu Musa reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Verily the doors of Paradise are under the shades of swords.    (Mishkat)

  • Sahl-b-Sa’ad reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Guarding for a day in the way of Allah is better than the world and what is therein.  (Bukhari, Muslim)

  • Ali, Abu Dard’a, Abu Hurairah, Abu Omamah, Abdullah-b-Umar, Jaber-b-Abdullah, Imran-b-Hussain (Allah be pleased with them all ) reported from the Messenger of Allah that he said: Whoso sends contribution in the way of Allah and stays at his house, he will get 700 dirhams for every dirham, and whoso fights with his ownself in the way of Allah and spends for that cause, he will get 70,000 dirhams for every dirham. Afterwards he recited the verse: And Allah multiplies for whom he pleases.    (Ibn Majah)

  • Zaid-b-Khalid repoted that the Messenger of Allah said: Whose supplies a warrior with arms in the way of Allah fights indeed a holy fight; and whoso keeps behind a warrior in charge of his family fights indeed in a holy fight.    (Bukhari, Ahmad)

  • Jaber-b-Samorah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: This religion will never cease to exist. A party of the Muslims shall always fight for it till the Hour comes to pass.    (Muslim)

  • Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: Whoso dies without fighting (holy war) and without consulting himself about it dies on a branch of hypocrisy.    (Muslim)

  • Abu Musa reported that a man came to Messenger of Allah and enquired: A man fights for booty, a man fights for fame, and a man fights that his position may be known ─ who then (fights) in the way of Allah? He said: Whoso fights to raise highest thereby the word of Allah, is in the way of Allah.    (Bukhari, Muslim)

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Why is Jihad waged? Its justification

     Why Jihad after all? Why does Islam permit Jihad? Why do the Muslims wage Jihad? These and alike are some of the questions which are generally raised by non-Muslim critics against Islamic doctrine of Jihad. It is perhaps due to misunderstanding of the concept of Jihad that Muslims are being labelled, in the world of today, as terrorists, extremists, fundamentalists, militants and harbingers of doom; while Islam is being perceived as threat to international peace and security, because in the view of the critics it preaches war and violence.

All the propaganda against Islam and Jihad is, however false if impartially examined in the light of justice and fairness. Islam literally means ‘peace’ and submission to the will of Allah, Who is Creator, the Sustainer and Sovereign of the universe. It is the final religion and its message is perfect and complete. Islam came to give peace and security to mankind and as a universal religion for humanity it teaches its followers to live in peace and follow the path of complete submission and obedience to the commands of God.

Thus peace is fundamental to Islam and Islam attaches great sanctity to human life. Of all the things of the world, human life is no doubt the most valuable one. The life in fact is a trust of Allah and it is the foremost duty of the followers of Islam to preserve and protect it under all circumstances. Al-Qur’an, the revealed book of Islam, highlights the importance of human life when it condemns the first human murder, by a son of Adam who killed his brother, in the following words which have achieved fame of a proverb on the sanctity of human life….. “Whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the land, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind………” (5:32)

Despite glorifying sanctity of human life and holding life as a sacred trust, Islam permits war in which very many human lives are lost. Why? This is because Islam is a religion of peace and security and it is also a religion of nature and humanity. None understands human nature better than God Who has created the mankind. Human society is not composed of Angels who cannot do any wrong. Evil and good are ingrained in the instinct of man. There are certain individuals and groups of people who are evil minded and who do not let others live in peace. They transgress all bounds of morality and laws of society and violate the rights of others. They attack other individuals and nations and deprive them of their homes, property and lives. They subjugate other people, occupy their lands and impose their own laws and values on the conquered people. Thus they create mischief in the earth (fesad fil arz) and persecute the oppressed nations and, therefore, disturb the peace and security of the world. Such mischief mongers and corrupt have to be kept under restraint. This is how the question of war against such anti-human elements comes in. That is why Islam allows retaliation in the case of murder because in the words of the Qur’an: “And there is life for you in retaliation, O men of understanding! That ye may ward off (evil)” (2:179). And that is why Islam permits war for repelling aggression. “Sanction is given unto those who fight because they have been wronged; and Allah is indeed Able to give them victory:” thus says the Qur’an (22:39). The philosophy and rationale behind this permission has been explained by the revealed book of Islam thus: “……And if Allah had not repelled some men by others, the earth would have been corrupted. But Allah is a Lord of Kindness to (His) creatures: (2:251). At another place, the same underlying wisdom has been elaborated further: “For had it not been for Allah’s repelling some men by means of others, cloisters and churches and oratories and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft mentioned, would assuredly have been pulled down” (22:40)

Islam does not allow war for aggressive designs or with the motives of killing or conquering other human beings. War has been permitted in defence only. The Muslims are permitted to fight against those who have invaded them or who have invaded their faith or their country. In other words the Muslims are allowed to wage war in defence against the aggressors but they are not permitted to initiate aggression or hostilities against others. Al-Qur’an, the revealed book of Islam, says: “Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors.” (2:190).

Besides war in defence and against aggression, Islam also allows war against persecution i.e. against those who oppress and torture the Muslims and do not give them freedom of religion and worship (Al-Qur’an 8:39). Jihad is also allowed in favour of the oppressed Muslim minorities living in the non-Muslim lands provided such Muslim minorities ask for help (Al-Qur’an 4:75). But help cannot be given in violation of treaties, internationals obligations and conventions governing relations between the Islamic state and non-Muslim country against whom help is sought (Al-Qur’an 8:72). Jihad is allowed against internal enemies, rebels, disruptionists of peace, terrorists, robbers. It is also permitted against those who break treaties and indulge in hostile activities against Muslims.

Thus Islam sanctions war only in exceptional circumstances and that too in defence of Islamic faith, Islamic state, oppressed Muslims and for any other just cause against aggressors, persecutors, oppressors, terrorists and disturbers of peace and security. No wars with material designs to establish empires, to subjugate other notions, to occupy other countries, to expand Islamic state, to promote trade or commercial interests are allowed by Islam. Nor the use of sword or military power is permitted to forcibly convert the non-Muslims to Islam. There is no compulsion in religion, as stressed by the Holy Qur’an (2:256), and so no Jihad can be undertaken by the Muslims to bring others into the fold of Islam. In fact, Jihad is waged with very noble objectives, the first and foremost of which is pleasing God and earning His goodwill.

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Laws and rules of Jihad

Islam as religion of humanity, and of peace and security does not lose its cool even in war. Its law of war is very humane, chivalrous, generous, kind and tolerant. In the light of the Qur’an and the Sunnah and in view of the conventions set by the Prophet and his successors, the jurists of Islam have formulated a long list of the rules of warfare in Islam with comprehensive details regarding acts allowed in war and acts forbidden in war. For knowing these details one may refer to books of Fiqh and Jihad. Briefly the acts which have been forbidden by the humanistic Islamic law of war are:

  1. Killing of non-combatants such as women, minors, sick, servants and slaves, monks, hermits, insane, very old persons, etc is forbidden.

  2. The prisoners of war cannot be put to death except in very exceptional circumstances.

  3. The cruel and torturous ways of killing are not allowed even if some enemy has to be killed.

  4. Mutilation of men and animals is strictly disallowed.

  5. Destruction of crops, cutting of trees unnecessarily, slaughtering of animals more than what is necessary for food and burning of houses is prohibited.

  6. Killing of enemy hostages is disallowed even in retaliation.

  7. Severing the head of some fallen enemy and presenting it to higher authority is highly disliked.

  8. General massacre is prohibited when the enemy is vanquished and his land is occupied.

  9. Killing peasants, traders, merchants, artisans, contractors is disallowed when they do not take part in actual fighting.

  10. Burning a captured man or animal to death is strictly forbidden.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) gave following instructions to Abdul Rahman-bin-Awf at one occasion when he was deputed to lead an expedition: “O son of ‘Awf! take it. Fight ye all in the path of God and combat those who do not believe in God. Yet never commit breach of trust, nor treachery, nor mutilate anybody nor kill any minor or woman. This is the pact of God and the conduct of His Messenger for your guidance”.

Abu Bakr, the first caliph of Islam and successor of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as head of Islamic state, gave following instructions to Osama when the latter was nominated as commander of Jihad against Syrians: “I enjoin upon you the fear of God. Do not disobey, do not cheat, do not show cowardice, do not destroy churches, do not inundate palm-trees, do not burn cultivation, do not bleed animals, do not cutdown fruit-trees, do not kill old men or boys or children or women……”

Whenever Umar, the second caliph of Islam, dispatched armies, he used to give following instructions to the commanders: “Do not show cowardice in an encounter. Do not mutilate when you have power to do so. Do not commit excess when you triumph. Do not kill an old man or a woman or a minor, but try to avoid them at the time of the encounter of the two armies, and at the time of the heat of victory, and at the time of expected attacks. Do not cheat over booty. Purify jihad from worldly gain. Rejoice in the bargain of the contract that ye have made (with God), and that is the great success”.

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Status of a warrior (Mujahid) 

The word ‘Jihad’ as we have already explained means struggle or exertion undertaken for a noble cause. In Islam, Jihad stands for a struggle or war undertaken by the Muslims in the path of God for a just cause and for the defence of Islam. A Muslim who participates in such struggle and wages jihad for the cause of Allah is called ‘Mujahid’. A Mujahid fights in the way of Allah for the defence of Islam or Islamic state. The sole objective of all of his efforts is to ensure that the word of God shall alone prevail. A Mujahid expends all of his abilities and powers in fighting in the path of Allah by means of life, property, tongue, pen and other than these. The slightest desire for worldly gains pollutes the purity and mars the nobleness of the cause of Jihad and thus deprives the Mujahid of reward of Paradise.

In brief, Mujahid is one who spends all his efforts and resources for Islam and fights against all those forces who try to harm the cause of his faith, so much so that he does not hesitate to put even his very life in danger.

The Mujahid who survives in a battle field is called ‘Ghazi’. But if he falls or dies is called ‘Shaheed’.

The following verses of the Qur’an and traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) highlight status of a Mujahid (warrior) and a Shaheed (martyr) and the rewards due to them:

  1. And call not those who are slain in the way of Allah “dead.” Nay, they are living, only ye perceive not.  (Al-Baqarah 2:154)

  2. Think not of those who are slain in the way of Allah, as dead. Nay, they are living. With their Lord they have provision: Jubilant (are they) because of that which Allah hath bestowed upon them of His bounty, rejoicing for the sake of those who have not joined them but are left behind: that there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve. They rejoice because of favour from Allah and kindness, and that Allah wasteth not the wage of the believers.  (Al-Imran3:169-171)

  3. Let those fight in the way of Allah who sell the life of this world for the other. Whoso fighteth in the way of Allah, be he slain or be he victorious, on him We shall bestow a vast reward.  (An-Nisa 4:74)

  4. Lo! Allah loveth those who battle for His cause in ranks, as if they were a solid structure.  (As-Saff 61:4)

  5. Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: The likeness of a fighter in the way of Allah is like the likeness of one who fasts, stands up (in prayer) and obeys the verses of Allah without any break of fast and prayer till the fighter returns to the way of Allah.

  6. Abu Hurairah reported that one of the companions of the Holy Prophet passed through the valley of a hill wherein there was a fountain of sweet water. It pleased him most and he said: Would that I should have retired from men and settled in the cave of the hill. It was mentioned to the Prophet. He said: Do (it) not, because the rank of one of you in the way of Allah is better than his prayer for 70 years in his house. Don’t you like that Allah should forgive you and admit you in heaven? Fight in the way of Allah. Whoso fights in the way of Allah even for an interval between two milking of a she-camel, Paradise is sure for him.  (Tirmizi)

  7. Abu Hurairah reported that the Holy prophet said: …. By Him in Whose Hand is my life, how much do I Like that I should be martyred in the way of Allah and then be brought back to life, and then be martyred and then be brought back to life, and then be martyred and then be brought to life, and then be martyred.   (Bukhari, Muslim)

  8. Anas reported that the Messenger of Allah said: There will be none entering Paradise who will like to come back to this world and to have that is in the earth except a martyr. He will wish to return to the world and then be martyred ten times on account of the honour he sees.  (Bukhari, Muslim)

  9. Fuzalah-b-Obaid reported from the Messenger of Allah who said: A seal is put over the actions of every dead man except one who dies guarding in the way of Allah, and verily his actions will increase for him up to the Resurrection Day, and he is safe from the punishment of the grave.  (Tirmizi, Abu Daud)

  10. Hasna’a-Ibn-Muawayiah reported: My uncle informed me. He said: I asked the Prophet: Who is in Paradise? He replied: The Prophet is in Paradise, the martyr is in Paradise, the new born babe is in Paradise, and the one buried alive is in Paradise.  (Abu Daud)

  11. Abu Hruairah reported that the Messenger of Allah said: The first three persons entering Paradise were presented to me: A martyr, and a self-denying man abstaining from begging, and a slave who does good divine service and wishes the welfare of his master.  (Tirmizi)

  12. Maqdam-b-Ma’ad-i-Kareb reported the messenger of Allah said: There are six virtues of a martyr near Allah. At the first instance he is forgiven, he is shown his place in Paradise, he is protected from punishment of the grave, he is kept safe from the great catastrophe, a crown of glory is put upon his head, one jewel of which is better than the world and what is therein, he will be married to seventy two wives of black eyed virgins, and he will be given permission to make intercession for seventy of his relations. (Tirmizi, Ibn Majah)

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Spoils of War

“To the victor belongs the spoils” was a popular slogan not only among the heathen Arabs of the pre-Islamic period but also among many other nations of the world. So the common practice before the advent of Islam was that the entire booty obtained in a war was either divided by the victorious army or was usurped by the tribal chief or the king for his own benefit. Islam brought about a great change in this outlook. It restricted the claim of the conquering soldiers to four-fifth of the booty while one-fifth of it was reserved for the Islamic state to be used for the common benefit of the nation. During the reign of Caliph Umar this division of the spoils between the Islamic state and the conquering army was further restricted to chattels and movable assets. It was decided by consensus that the lands conquered from the enemy should be kept in the ownership of the state for the common benefit of the existing and future generations instead of dividing the same among the soldiers who took part in the fight.

Islam divides spoils or booty into two categories, namely: ‘Ghanimah’ and ‘Fai’. If the spoils are obtained by actual fighting, the same are called Ghanimah. But if they are obtained without fighting i.e. the enemy surrenders or flees away, then they are called Fai. In the case of Ghanimah, share of Islamic state is one-fifth which is deducted first and the remaining four-fifth is divided among the soldiers. In the case of Fai, the whole booty goes to the Islamic state.

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Prisoners of war  

Treatment given to the prisoners of war by Islam is unparalleled in kindness, nobility and magnanimity in the history of mankind. The Holy Book of Islam has laid down that the prisoners should be taken in the actual battlefield after completely crushing the fighting power of the enemy but before the war terminates. Once an enemy solider surrenders and is taken as prisoner of war he should not be put to sword save for exceptional reasons. The prisoners should be accorded kind and human treatment. They should be properly fed. The Qur’an considers it an act of great virtue and goodness to feed prisoners for love of Allah without wishing any reward or thanks. Regarding release of the prisoners of war, the Qur’an prescribes two options, namely: they should be set free either as a favour and grace, or they should be released for a ransom. Release of prisoners for ransom includes: that they should be set free after accepting ransom money; that they should be set free after taking some service from them or that they can be exchanged for the Muslim prisoners of war who are in the possession of the enemy.

The precedent set by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) about the treatment of prisoners of war is very inspiring:

  1. Seventy prisoners fell into the hands of the Muslims in the battle of Badar. The question arose how to treat these prisoners. The Prophet consulted his companions on this vital issue. The opinion of Abu Bakr was that the prisoners should be released on ransom while Umar suggested that the prisoners should be put to sword. The prophet (PBUH) agreed with the views of Abu Bakr and decided to release the prisoners on receipt of ransom. Those prisoners who were poor were required to teach ten Muslim children each and thus get their liberty. The rich among the prisoners were obliged to pay ransom (generally four thousand Dirhams per head) for securing their freedom. The Prophet’s uncle Abbas and son-in-law Abu’al A’s had to pay ransom for their release. Those prisoners who were poor and also illiterate being unable to pay ransom or teach children were set free without ransom. Out of seventy prisoners only two were put to death but not for their participation in the war but for their past crimes against Islam and the Muslims.

  2. During their detention, the prisoners of Badr were distributed among the companions by the Prophet (PBUH) as there were no state prisons in Madinah in those days. Each companion got one or two prisoners with the condition that they should be treated kindly and food, clothing and lodging should be provided to them according to means. The companions of the Prophet treated the prisoners so kindly that one of the prisoners is reported to have remarked: “Blessings be to the people of Madinah! They made us ride while they themselves walked, they gave us bread to eat when there was little of it contenting themselves with dates”. Suhail-b-Amr, a prisoner of war, was a good orator who used to deliver speeches against Islam. Umar suggested that two of his teeth should be broken, but the suggestion was turned down by the Prophet who said: “I have not been sent to mutilate men”.

[1],2: Dr. Hameedullah: The Conduct of Muslim State

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