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Victor M. Eskew
There are two polarized positions that are taken about jihad in the Muslim religion. When westerners hear the word “jihad,” they think of fanaticism and war, often against innocent individuals. In an article entitled: “The Truth about Jihad,” we read: “It (jihad) appears to be irrational and unstoppable save by any means but total military defeat” (www.bible.ca, “The Truth about Jihad”). Muslims, on the other hand, tell us that jihad is really the individual Muslim’s struggle to overcome those things in his life that Allah would have them eliminate from their lives. It is important for us to know the truth about the concept of jihad as taught by Islam. We will seek to properly define the word “jihad” in this article.
“Jihad” means “to strive” or “to exert to the utmost.” It signifies all forms of struggle, including armed struggle, aimed at making the words of Allah prevail in a person’s life. The word has four different applications. First, it can refer to one’s personal struggle as a Muslim. Here, it refers to that daily battle between self and Allah, between the flesh and spirit. It is similar to the battle that each Christian fights in their daily life. Paul wrote: “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (I Cor. 9:27).
Second, jihad can refer to an intellectual struggle. In Surah 25:52 in the Qur’an, we find this reading: “Therefore listen not to the Unbelievers, but strive (Jihad, NR) against them with the utmost strenuousness, with the (Qur’an). “ The text exhorts Muslims to use the Qur’an to fight against the unbelievers. Again, Christians have a similar mandate. We, too, are to confront the world with the Word of God. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (II Cor. 10:3-5). Paul’s words are intense. They, however, do not represent a physical confrontation, but an intellectual battle against the ungodly forces of the world.
Third, jihad as used by the Muslims can refer to a struggle in self-defense against the enemy. In the book, The Dark Side of Islam, Sproul and Saleeb note that this has been one of the meanings of the term. They write: “Some Muslims are fond of saying that the jihad, or holy war, in Islam is only a defensive action. Only in cases of self-defense are Muslims allowed to fight; Muslims are never allowed to initiate a war. Diana Eck recently wrote a book entitled A New Religious America, which is about the growth of religions in America. In the chapter of Islam, she quotes Jamal Badawi, a famous Muslim professor and apologist. He claims that from a Muslim perspective, actual armed jihad is permissible under two conditions alone: for self-defense, or for fighting against oppression. I agree” (p. 89-90).
This act of jihad seems reasonable enough. Self-defense does not instigate violence. It is only used because another has acted in an evil manner toward you. What we are not told, however, is that Muslims believe that any type of proclamation of the gospel to Muslims is an act of aggression. Sproul and Saleeb continue: “However, he fails to point out that for many Muslims, ‘self-defense’ and ‘fighting against oppression’ have much broader meanings than you or I would associate with those terms. Muslims today have said that America is attacking them by exporting its secular cultural values, by exporting Hollywood movies and destroying the cultural norms of their countries. Thus they claim to be engaged in self-defense when they attack America” (Ibid., p. 90). It precisely at this point that Islam and Christianity part ways. Christianity does not condone violence toward others. Jesus taught His disciples, saying: “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also…Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:39, 43-45).
Fourth, jihad also involves the struggle of offensive war. In Surah 2:216, Allah makes this statement: “Fighting is prescribed upon you, and you dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth and ye know not.”
Some individuals have been fooled by Muslims into thinking that jihad does not involve violence and bloodshed upon the enemies of Islam. In her book, Because They Hate, Brigitte Gabriel confronts this type of thinking. She writes: “People who tell you Islam is a religion of peace are only announcing their ignorance and lack of understanding of a poisonous formula that has been developed for mass use on the whole world. This ignorance endangers the lives of millions who live in the West and enjoy a Western lifestyle” (p. 149).