At the Counter-Terrorism Conference of the East-West Institute in Brussels (19-21 February, 2008), reports Reuters, the debate repeatedly turned to arguments over whether the term "Jihad" and "Jihadists" should be applied to activities and members of al-Qaeda and like-minded terrorist organizations.
Although the two terms have become synonymous with "holy wars" and "holy warriors" against the West, and al-Qaeda has used it in the same sense, for most Muslims "it originally means a spiritual struggle and they don't want it hijacked anymore."
Sheikh Mohammed Mohammed Ali, an Iraqi scholar, told the conference that "Jihad is the struggle against all evil things in your soul… There is no Jihadi terrorism in Islam."
Emphasizing that Jihad can be a struggle "for elimination of poverty," "for education" or "for something very, very positive in life," the former chairman of Pakistan's joint chiefs of staff General Ehsan Ul Haq asserted that calling the terrorists Jihadists is either reflective of a "lack of understanding of Islam" or unfortunately "an intended misuse." He added: "It might have been somewhat excusable in the trauma post-9/11 but I don't think it is any more."
The foundations of Islam are the Quran, the words of Allah, and the Sunnah, the actions and deeds of the Prophet. Historically, Jihad, which stands for '"fighting in the cause of Allah", first entered into the Islamic doctrine after Prophet Muhammad emigrated to Medina in June 622 CE, following his largely failed 13-year-long mission to propagate Islam among the people of his home town of Mecca.
It should be noted that although there was strong opposition to Prophet Muhammad's new religion in Mecca, which sought to eradicate the existing idolatrous religion and culture, there is no record of violence, at least of serious nature, against him or those free citizens, who freely converted to his creed.
But soon after relocating to Medina, the first verses of Jihad were revealed, in which the Islamic God demanded that the Muslims fight against the idolaters (of Mecca) in His cause to drive the Meccans out from where Muslims were (allegedly) driven out [Quran 2:190-1]. Allah demanded that Muslims must fight and slay the idolaters and kick them out until "until there is no more Tumult or oppression" and the "religion should be only for Allah" [Quran 192-4]. "Tumults or oppression" referred to idolatrous or polytheistic beliefs, which Allah dislikes and disapproves.
The Islamic deity also later revealed verses of Jihad regarding the Jews and Christians, in which he demanded that Muslims must unconditionally fight them until they were defeated and humiliated (to dhimmi status), and willingly paid Jiziyah taxes [Quran 9:29].
With these commands of God, Prophet Muhammad embarked on a ceaseless armed violence against the idolaters, Jews and Christians of Arabia. The first successful Jihad expedition of Islam under the Prophet's command was the attack on a Meccan trade caravan at Nakhla in December 623 CE, in which one of the attendants of the caravan was killed, one made captive, and another was able to escape, while the caravan was plundered as sacred booty.
Within seven months of his relocation to Medina, according to the records of the Prophet's original biographers, his mission became a monotonous tale of uninstigated armed expeditions against the infidels of Arabia, whereby he exterminated idolatry completely, the rich and influential community of Jews of Medina expelled or slaughtered en masse and other non-Muslims were either converted to Islam or subjugated to dhimmitude. The Prophet had ordered about 100 armed Jihad expeditions, with himself commanding some 27 of them. According to Prophet's biographers Ibn Ishaq and al-Tabari, expelling the remnant Jews and Christians from Arabia were among his last death bed wishes. This command was put to action by his immediate successors.
Taking Jihad forward from the examples of Prophet's life, the history of Islam has been a monotonous tale of ceaseless wars against the infidels, the idolaters, Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims of the Middle East, Africa, India and Europe – which the medieval Islamic historians have proudly and gleefully called Jihad against the infidels. The last declaration of Jihad by a Muslim state was that of the reigning Ottoman Sultan against the Armenians in the 1910s, which led to the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians.
Although historically, from the days of Prophet Muhammad, Jihad has been applied to armed campaigns for extending the territories or domination of Islam, there has been an increasingly intensified effort since 9/11 to term Jihad as an "inner spiritual struggle" against vice and worldly desires. Others have called it a struggle for establishing human rights and women rights, fighting poverty, and anything that is considered good and noble in modern civilized thought.
One is, however, left to wonder what was the "inner spiritual struggle" of Prophet Muhammad, who was the only ideal Muslim and perfect human being. During the last 10 years of his life in Medina, he spent more time away from home, with his armed followers, scouring the lands of Arabian Peninsula, raiding and attacking infidel caravans, communities, and territories, in which he plundered booty, enslaved the men, women, and children, and expelled or slaughtered them en masse. Of the enslaved, he ransomed the adult men, sometimes sold the women and children captives, and the rest, he kept as slaves. The prettier of the young women were kept as sex slaves.
What was his "inner spiritual struggle" of his soul against worldly vice when his harem was full of women (wives) and sex slaves?
How could the Prophet promote human and women's rights, when he attacked infidels, slaughtered them, expelled them en masse from their homes and properties, and enslave the women and children?
Does his plundering the innocent infidels of their caravans, livestock, and properties, and distributing the captured booty among his plundering disciples lead to poverty eradication?
Where were the schools, universities, and research centres, which he established to promote education?
Raphael Perl, head of the Action against Terrorism Unit at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, emphasizing urgency on devising the correct terminology for violent Islamist groups and their activities, told Reuters that "use of the wrong terms (such as Jihad) can be a major factor contributing to the radicalisation process."
Indeed, this urgency of dissociating Jihad from violent activities of Muslims has already been put into practice by the U.K. government, when it recently stopped using terms like Jihad, Islamic terrorism, Islamic extremism or Islamic violence. Instead, it utmost ridiculously decided to call the violent activities of pious Muslim extremists as "anti-Islamic activities."
There is nothing wrong in correcting a misconceived, misused or misunderstood terminology. However, while ascertaining the true meaning of Jihad, the concerned authority must thoroughly investigate the genesis, theology, and history of Islam.
Being a Muslim turned atheist, I do not believe there is anything holy. Yet, in popular belief, the term 'holy' applies to something 'noble'. The term 'holy war' can be conceived of, for example, as fighting on behalf of the weak and the oppressed.
In light of the theological doctrines and history of Islam, Jihad definitely does not stand for such a 'noble' struggle or mission. Yes, there is a definite need for changing the meaning of 'Jihad' from 'holy war' to its appropriate meaning. Let the pundits decide what the most accurate meaning of Jihad should be.
Imam al-Ghazzali (d. 1111), the greatest Sufi master, Islamic intellectual, and revivalist of Islam, who is considered the second-greatest Muslim after Prophet Muhammad, wrote of Jihad:
One must go on Jihad at least once a year… One may use a catapult against them when they are in a fortress, even if among them are women and children. One may set fire on them and/or drown them… One may cut down their trees… One must destroy their useful book [Bible, Torah etc.]. Jihadists may take as booty whatever they decide…
Prophet Muhammad directed or personally commanded some 100 Jihad expeditions in the last nine years of his life — that is, one Jihad expedition a month. Al-Ghazzali reduced it to one a year.
The government and security officials in Europe, desperately seeking to dissociate Jihad from the violent activities of Muslim fanatics, have started calling them "violent extremism" or "international terrorism." One is left to wonder whether the true meaning of Jihad comes close to these terms.