What is jihad?

When I first learned about Islam, I was taught that “jihad” was the Islamic doctrine of holy war. Certainly this is Hamas’s view:

The Slogan of the Islamic Resistance Movement:

Allah is its target, the Prophet is its model, the Koran its constitution: Jihad is its path and death for the sake of Allah is the loftiest of its wishes.

Since 9/11, however, we’ve been told that jihad refers not to violence, but to a personal struggle for self-betterment. It’s even suggested that the violent interpretation of jihad is Western (!) in origin. So who’s right?

A Muslim group at USC has compiled a searchable database of the Koran and ahadith. (It’s a very impressive and professional effort, I must say.) So I searched it for “jihad”, and found some informative passages. Here are just a few:

Sahih Bukhari, book 52, number 42:

Allah’s Apostle said, “There is no Hijra (i.e. migration) (from Mecca to Medina) after the Conquest (of Mecca), but Jihad and good intention remain; and if you are called (by the Muslim ruler) for fighting, go forth immediately.

Sahih Bukhari, book 52, number 44:

A man came to Allah’s Apostle and said, “Instruct me as to such a deed as equals Jihad (in reward).” He replied, “I do not find such a deed.” Then he added, “Can you, while the Muslim fighter is in the battle-field, enter your mosque to perform prayers without cease and fast and never break your fast?” The man said, “But who can do that?” Abu- Huraira added, “The Mujahid (i.e. Muslim fighter) is rewarded even for the footsteps of his horse while it wanders bout (for grazing) tied in a long rope.”

Sahih Bukhari, book 24, number 547:

Allah’s Apostle (p.b.u.h) ordered (a person) to collect Zakat, and that person returned and told him that Ibn Jamil, Khalid bin Al-Walid, and Abbas bin ‘Abdul Muttalib had refused to give Zakat.” The Prophet said, “What made Ibn Jamll refuse to give Zakat though he was a poor man, and was made wealthy by Allah and His Apostle ? But you are unfair in asking Zakat from Khalid as he is keeping his armor for Allah’s Cause (for Jihad). As for Abbas bin ‘Abdul Muttalib, he is the uncle of Allah’s Apostle (p.b.u.h) and Zakat is compulsory on him and he should pay it double.”

Mohammed certainly seemed to see jihad as a military struggle, at least in many cases.

UPDATE (12/30): Updated link to the Hamas “covenant”.

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