Jihad: Holy war or internal struggle against evil?
By ROB PHILLIPS
Published September 4, 2003
RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–When radical Islamists brought
unprecedented terror to the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, they
also escalated a debate that’s been raging for centuries: Is
Jihad a personal, internal struggle against evil inclinations, or
holy war against non-Muslim infidels?
The issue is a lightning rod for controversy, and as
Christians seek to understand Islam and reach out to its 1.2
billion faithful with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s
important that they take a closer look at this Islamic ideology.
So said N.S.R.K. Ravi of the North American Mission Board’s
interfaith witness team who spoke Aug. 15-17 at the National
Conference on Islam at LifeWay’s Ridgecrest Conference
Center in North Carolina.
IMB photo by Matt Jones
Egypt — Traditional Bedouin women usually must stay hidden away in their homes. They seldom have a chance to attend school beyond elementary level. This woman is next to her tented home in the Sinai Peninsula.
"Throughout history, Islamic and non-Islamic scholars
have debated the concept of Jihad," said Ravi, who was
raised as a Hindu in an Islamic region of India. "Even among
Islamic scholars there are various interpretations of this
principle. Some Islamic scholars consider Jihad the sixth pillar
of Islam, superior even to the obligatory acts of prayer,
fasting, almsgiving and pilgrimage. One thing is clear: According
to Islamic teachings, Jihad is fard (an obligation) for every
The term Jihad is derived from the Arabic term "Jahada,"
which means to endeavor, strive or struggle. It is sometimes
translated "holy war." In religious contexts, Jihad
means to struggle against one’s evil inclinations, but in
many circles the word is understood in a military sense rather
than its universal meaning in the Koran (Islam’s holy book)
and the Hadith (the words and deeds of Islam’s founder
Muslims contend that the main purpose of Jihad is to protect
and preserve the haqq (truth), Ravi said. Some believe the way to
deal with those who pose obstacles to the spread of Islam is to
declare Jihad against them. This can take on peaceful forms:
Jihad with the tongue (speaking the truth), Jihad with the heart
(feelings and intentions) and Jihad with the hand (good works).
IMB photo by Roy M. Burroughs
North Africa — Portrait of Muslim boys in a school at the Mosque of the Zawiya Congregation in North Africa.
However, the Koran also encourages Jihad with the sword –
to defend Islam from attack, or to forcefully establish Islam in
foreign lands if Islam is not granted free expression there. In
this sense, Jihad may be waged against oppressors, disbelievers,
idolaters and even Christians and Jews.
"Those who participate in Jihad are told they will
receive rewards from Allah, ranging from the spoils of war if
they survive, to entrance into paradise if they’re killed in
battle, according to the Hadith," Ravi said. "No wonder
some extremist Muslims are willing to die in the name of Jihad."
So, what of Osama bin Laden’s call for Jihad against
America and the West? What of the Jihad that kept Iran and Iraq
gripped in a bloody eight-year standoff? What of the teenage
Palestinian homicide bombers who, in the name of Jihad, readily
blow themselves up in crowded Israeli streets? What of Muhammad
Atta and the other Sept. 11 hijackers?
Muslims around the world will disagree as to whether these
acts of Jihad were faithful to Islamic teaching or horrible
abuses, but to Ravi that misses the point. "Isn’t it
sad," he said, "that Islam, which offers no assurance
of salvation, holds out the possibility of heaven only to those
who sacrifice their lives for Allah. Christianity is just the
opposite. Our God sacrificed His life for us at Calvary so we
might live with Him in heaven."