Misunderstandings Regarding Jihad
Jihad is the most misunderstood doctrine of Islam. Not only have the non-Muslims a totally wrong conception of jihad, but even many a land-grabbing Muslim conqueror has interpreted or pretended to interpret the verses of the Quran and the traditions of the Holy Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in a way which is totally foreign to his real teachings. Therefore I will devote greater space to this topic.
Let me take the ambitious Muslim conquerors first. They wanted to win renown, power and wealth by conquering countries bordering on their own. No ruler can make any conquests unaided by his people. How could these rulers win their people to their cause? Even today when a government goes to war, it poisons the mind of the nation with false propaganda. The adversary is painted blacker than the Devil, and all means are used to assure the world in general, and the people in particular, that the enemy has left no alternative except that of taking up arms in “our own defense.” Sometimes appeal is made to the thirst of glory of a nation, sometimes it is led to believe that the cause is noble, for which, therefore, it should make any sacrifice.
Though I am aware of the fact that Muslim history is free, to a remarkable extent, from deeds of tyranny and persecution, yet it would be idle to pretend that all Muslim rulers were angels and saints and not ordinary politicians. There were all sorts of kings- good and bad, corrupt and virtuous, noble and selfish. Politics too often lead men to do ignoble deeds. Persons of the most unspotted character in private life have been seen to adopt unfair means to be successful in their schemes. And many Muslim rulers were no exceptions to this rule. They wanted to embark on a career of conquest and they tried to get the full cooperation of their people. The worldly minded and sycophant mullah was at hand to serve the tyrant. The real theologian of independent character was silenced by all sorts of means. There are cases on record when too honest ulema have been poisoned or otherwise removed from the scene. Little wonder, therefore, that the sacred name of jihad was very often prostituted for the sake of mere mundane, aggressive wars.
Of this wrong use of the word “jihad” one may quote innumerable instances. When Timur the Lame invaded India, he was making a war of aggression against a country governed by fellow Muslims; yet he contrived to get a fatwa to the effect that he was making a jihad in order to get supporters for the campaign. Nadir Shah as well pretended that he was invading India to preserve the Muslim power from tottering down to its fall. Ibni Saud’s followers fought against their fellow Muslims of Hedjaz, and called it a jihad. Indeed few Muslim rulers have fought without calling their wars jihad.
This continuous propaganda by the different rulers had a very unfortunate effect upon the mentality of the man in the street. Every war was called a jihad: therefore he began to associate the very idea of war with jihad. But the learned and the thoughtful never fell into this snare. The Quran has ever been preserved in its purity, and so have been all the important sayings of the Holy Prophet (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), hence the more independent ulema ever revolted against this tampering with the spirit and teachings of Islam.
There has been one good point in the history of Islam. People have misinterpreted the verses of the Quran, but they have never tried to make changes or interpolations in them. The result has been that every succeeding generation has been able to see the Truth as it was revealed to Muhammad (, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Today ninety-nine percent of educated Muslims understand the true significance of jihad, as did the early Muslims before the continued misinterpretation of the doctrine by selfish rulers and politicians.
Under the circumstances I have narrated, it would be unfair to throw stones at poor non-Muslims- very few of whom could have first hand information. They heard the Muslims calling every war a jihad, and they could not help thinking that every war- whether just or unjust- had religious sanction behind it.
But this was not the only cause. The word ‘Jihad’ comes from the word “Jahada” and therefore ‘Jihad’ in its literal sense is ‘to endeavour.’ The Quran uses the word in both its senses. At places this is obvious, and men like Sale and Rodwell have translated it as ‘strive’ or ‘endeavour.’ But at other places this is not so clear, therefore, there arises some ambiguity, though a little thought and reference to the context would leave no room for doubt. And the Western critic is very often so much obsessed with his notions of Islam teaching war and bloodshed that he very often jumps at the wrong conclusion. The word ‘qital’ is used in very few places; where it is used, there can be no room for doubt, because ‘qital’ is ‘killing.’ It will be shown in the following pages that wherever there is a clear order for fighting in the Quran, it is based on the soundest reasons.
Apart from the above, and a general prejudice against Muslims explained elsewhere, there is a more subtle reason for this misunderstanding. Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, and certain schools of Hinduism condemn all violence. To them the use of force in itself is a sin. When the followers of these religions saw a new faith allowing, nay, ordaining a moderate use of force, they thought that it ordained bloodshed and war. It was difficult for a man considering all kinds of violence sinful to conceive that there did exist some use for it in the universe which was not unholy and sacrilegious.
Add to these causes the propaganda carried on intensively in Europe and elsewhere against the Moor, the Turk, or the Moghal for political purposes, and it will not astonish any man that the doctrine of jihad is so sadly misunderstood!