Jihad: misunderstood faith

Last week marked the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, where Muslims fast from dawn to dusk every day.

One could see devout Muslims on St. John’s campus engaged in jihad during the holy month. No, nothing was blown up at Montgoris, no one was attacked in Marillac.

Devout Muslims on campus strove to become spiritually pure through meditative contemplation. Jihad is a special times for Muslims to read the Qur’an, avoiding vain talks, purge their hearts of selfish desires and their minds of bad thoughts, all in the name of God.

Unfortunately, jihad has come to mean only one thing in the Western world. It has been labeled as a “holy war” and associated solely with violence. This view has gone hand in hand with the belief of Islam being a religion that was “spread by the sword.” It is easy to believe this with all the unjust acts that are taking place in the name of Islam: beheadings, suicide bombings, and the killing of innocent people. Too often, Muslims have found jihad to be the most misunderstood aspect of their faith. They go through exhausting lengths to clear it from any misunderstandings that are associated with it.

Al-Jihad means “effort, struggle, or strive.” This struggle is to make oneself closer to God. It can be divided into two aspect: one internal, the other external.

According to Islamic dogma, jihad is both internal and external because in order for one to come close to God, it is necessary to establish harmony within the individual and also within society. To have a good relationship vertically (from Earth to Heaven) is to have a good relationship horizontally (between each other on Earth).

Since jihad is a continuous effort to please God, it is eternal in the sense that it is a life long struggle to choose right over wrong, avoid error and embrace truth, and soften the heart by dissolving the barriers that prevent it from loving. This is the greater jihad, the personal jihad, for overcoming the ego of oneself is indeed the hardest battle to ever win. In Islamic belief, vehicles to achieve this desired goal, in order to elevate to the highest degree of piety, include participating in prayer and fasting.

The external jihad, or lesser jihad, is the one that is based on protecting the faith, lives, honor, harmony, integrity, and unity of the Muslim community from forces that are bent on eliminating them. This is done by combating injustice and oppression.

There are three ways to carry out jihad: through the heart, hand, and tongue. In this category of jihad, the Prophet Muhammad said the “preferred jihad is a truth spoken in the presence of a tyrant.” Lesser jihad can be achieved both by means that are peaceful and violent.

Critics of jihad and Islam point to the fact that there are violent passages in the Qur’an. Yes, the Qur’an does call out for the believers to fight but only if it is against oppression and injustice. There is a verse in the Qur’an that points this out: “Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah loveth not transgressors” (2:190). Few verses later, another Verse of the Qur’an reads: “And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression” (2:193).

Understanding jihad and its spiritual greatness is significant in understanding Islam. The only way to shift towards understanding and away from the dark path of ignorance is through open communication of the true teachings of Islam.