The Higher Jihad

By Azhar Khan

The word “jihad” strikes a nerve among most Americans, Muslim or otherwise. For Westerners, jihad invokes images of an Islamic Red Dawn. For Muslims, it leaves many of us unsettled and often unable to answer questions about what jihad means exactly. We shuffle uncomfortably and stumble for an answer; we’re not entirely sure. We’ve seen the #MyJihad campaigns, but no one can deny there is another type of jihad that isn’t quite so marketable unless you’re on team Al-Qaeda or ISIS.

Somehow, despite duplicate interpretations of the word, jihad is far from a personal quest – to one a world seems to be struggling against.

Rather than rely on the brand of jihad defined by terrorists, let’s take a look at what Islam actually says about this.


To begin with, the idea of an ‘Islamist terrorist’ is an oxymoron and ‘Islamic Jihadist’ is a widely spread fallacy. Not only do we so gullibly accept these concepts, we sit back and watch our media advertise them to the naïve and vulnerable among the masses. We sit back and watch individuals – that butcher thousands of innocent people and terrorize billions around the world – get the dignified and glorified title of ‘peaceful strivers’.

Yes, ‘Islamic jihadists’ – ‘Muslim Mujahids’ – literally means ‘peaceful strivers’.  This doesn’t mean terrorists are peaceful strivers; it means that we’re using language inappropriately. It would be like someone in the Middle East misunderstanding the word ‘missionary’ and applying it toward blacks ops: missionary black ops. It just doesn’t make sense and it’s a complete confusion of language.  It’s academically incompetent and shameful of us to let blood thirsty terrorists be linked synonymously with peaceful perseverance.

Qudosi Chronicles founder and editor, Shireen Qudosi, argues that “The onus is on us as Muslims just as much as it is on the media. They’re misunderstanding the terms, sure, but too many of us are shying away from conversations that need to happen. Terrorists are well-armed and trained; we need to be armed with information and trained in community building so that we can have a battle of ideas to reclaim what it means to be a Muslim, to have a jihad. Right now, they’re dominating the conversation and we’re all losing.”


Jihad comes from the Arabic root word ‘jahada’, meaning ‘to strive’ or ‘to persevere’. There are two kinds of Jihad. The founder of Islam, Muhammad (pbuh), once said while returning from a war: we return from the Lower Jihad, towards the Greater Jihad.


The Lower Jihad enjoins the believers to physically fight their enemies. The prerequisite is a wager of war from an enemy. (1) Early Muslims were permitted to defend themselves by physically fighting back after they suffered continuous hostility for eleven years. They even migrated and left their homes to avoid conflict. The Lower Jihad became a necessity for survival when their enemies followed them into their new dwellings to kill them; this was the Battle of Badr, consisting of three hundred and nineteen physically ill equipped Muslim Mujahideen (Islamic Jihadists) against a trained army of one thousand soldiers. (2)

This permission of the Lower Jihad is not only to protect Islam and Muslims; it is a struggle to ensure the freedom of all religions. The Lower Jihad’s purpose is to protect all places of worship of God, such as cloisters, churches, synagogues, and mosques. (3) Lower Jihad becomes forbidden when there is no more persecution from an enemy; it is only allowed against those that persistently and aggressively plan to harm and to compel people against their own will in the matters of religion.(4)

During the true holy wars of Jihad, the founder of the religion of Islam and his successors forbade the killing of women, children, and weak/aged men. They strictly instructed their jihadis to not destroy inhabited places and livestock, except for food. They even prohibited the cutting down of trees and the burning of bee hives.(5) Mutilation was especially banned by this legacy. (6)

The fanatics we find in our midst today repeatedly violate and disobey the aforementioned code of conduct for a Lower Jihad in a holy war as commanded by Muhammad (pbuh). Yet such fanatics insist and we gullibly agree – due to incompetence in faith and intellect – that their actions are still somehow Islamic and that they are Islamic Jihadists.


The Greater Jihad connects to spirit and intellect of the individual and society, to pursue and maintain noble traits while combating corruption with investigation, admonishment, and patience.

This type of Jihad is to strive to adopt the way of life shown by God and the legacy left by Muhammad (pbuh). (7) For example, to strive against the corruption we find within ourselves (8); to seek knowledge (9); to be patient (10); to persevere for justice even if it be against one’s own interests or against those one loves (11); to investigate and to indiscriminately invoke peace on everyone (12); to admonish (13) without the incompetent aid of compulsion (14); to respect the will of women (15) and to appreciate them (16); to be fair with children (17); to advocate for the freedom of choice that God gave us all instead of enforcing His own will on our actions. (18)


Imagine the wonders humanity could accomplish if everyone begins striving to patiently, peacefully, and intelligently combat the abundance of corruption and injustice we have – both within us and around the world – with a commitment to establish at least the above mentioned qualities. To bring about these wonders is to bring about Jihad. The deplorable alternative is to lose this dynamic intellectual contribution to human development by remaining so ignorant of and overconfident about the goodness in this world, that we care not to diligently defend it.

1. “Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged — and Allah indeed has power to help them” – Holy Qur’an, 22:40

2. “… and they were one thousand while his own Companions were three hundred and nineteen.” – Second Successor, his legacy Umar Bin Al-Khattabra; Sahih Muslim, Book 19, number 4360

3. “And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated. And Allah will surely help one who helps Him. Allah is indeed Powerful, Mighty” – Holy Qur’an, 22:41

4. “And fight them until there is no persecution, and religion is freely professed for Allah. But if they desist, then remember that no hostility is allowed except against the aggressors.” – Holy Qur’an, 2:194

5. “I advise you ten things: Do not kill women or children or an aged, infirm person. Do not cut down fruit-bearing trees. Do not destroy an inhabited place. Do not slaughter sheep or camels except for food. Do not burn bees and do not scatter them. Do not steal from the booty, and do not be cowardly.” – First Successor, his legacy Abu Bakrra; Al-Muwatta, book 21, number 21.3.10

6. “Do not mutilate and do not kill children.” – his legacy Muhammadpbuh; Al-Muwatta, book 21, number 21.3.11

7. “… and strive in His way that you may prosper.” – Holy Qur’an, 5:36

8. “And remember the time when Moses said to his people: … and kill your evil desires; …” – Holy Qur’an, 2:55

9. “Seeking of knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim.” – his legacy Muhammadpbuh; Ibn Majah, Book of Sunnah, # 229

10. “And seek help with patience and Prayer; and this indeed is hard except for the humble in spirit” – Holy Qur’an, 2:46

11. “O ye who believe! Be strict in observing justice, and be witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or against parents and kindred.” – Holy Qur’an, 4:136

12. “O ye who believe! When you go forth in the cause of Allah, make proper investigation and say not to anyone who greets you with the greeting of peace, ‘Thou art not a believer.’” – Holy Qur’an, 4:95

13. “Admonish, therefore, for thou art but an admonisher; Thou hast no authority to compel them.” Holy Qur’an, 88:22, 23

14. “There should be no compulsion in religion.” Holy Qur’an, 2:257

15. “O ye who believe! it is not lawful for you to inherit women against their will; nor should you detain them wrongfully that you may take away part of that which you have given them, except that they be guilty of a flagrant evil; and consort with them in kindness; and if you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing wherein Allah has placed much good.” – Holy Qur’an, 4:20

16. “The best of you are those who are best to their womenfolk.” – his legacy Muhammadpbuh; Sunan Ibn Majah, Chapters on Marriage, #1978

17. “Treat your children fairly, treat your children fairly.” – his legacy Muhammadpbuh; Sunan an-Nasa’I, The book of Presents, #3687

18. “And if Allah had enforced His will, they would not have set up gods with Him. And We have not made thee a keeper over them nor art thou over them a guardian.” Holy Qur’an, 6:108


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