Jihad: A word more than war
The word ‘jihad’ is more commonly used as a simile to the terrorist actions of Islamists, however, to simply leave it at that would not only be factually incorrect but is also one of the reasons why the Islam is widely misconceived as a violent culture.
Hardly any religion makes it their goal to promote death and war, however, violent acts against other believes seem to fuel many religious wars, Christians included.
The term „jihad“, whether in comedy, fiction or even the news, has taken on the rather one-sided if not false meaning of „holy war“ but there is more to it than „Achmed the dead Terrorist“.
Jihad: The struggle for faith
It seems peculiar, though, because in translation, „jihad“ means „struggle“ and therefore reflects a much more complex concept within the Qur’an. One of the reasons for wrongful application might be the fact that the „Dictionary of Islam“ defines Jihad in fact as a „religious war with those who are unbelievers“. Many scholars would deny this definition, though and would rather define it as an internal and external struggle to live and practice the Muslim faith according to the Qur’an.
Greater and Lesser jihad: Internal and External struggles
Although different Islamic cultures define these struggles differently, fact remains that it’s not just about a „holy war“ or rather, that this holy war could also be held with oneself and with one’s believes.
It is, so to say, the constant and daily struggle to commit to one’s faith and live by the Qur’an. It also is the protection of this belief against internal doubts and external oppression. Given the history of many Islamic cultures, it is clear that the external struggle against opponents has taken on so much force that the inner struggle could get lost on the way.
However, many Islamic believes divide between the Greater and the Lesser jihad whereas most believe that the Greater jihad is, in fact, the internal struggle with oneself.
Faith from within
If one wants to understand jihad, it is important to know that it is not just the literal „holy war“ and that even the external struggle is not just explained as a battle with physical weapons but also a battle with „tongue“ and „heart“ and therefore includes the intellectual approach as well. In certain Islamic believes (e.g. Ahmadiyya) the pacifist approach is even the more desirable, whereas violence should only be used for protection.
There are scholarly voices that claim that the pacifist approach has been heavily manipulated by Western influences but given that most religions actually focus their belief systems on the self and that only a faithful self is able to practice the religion to the fullest, we might assume that the struggle without sword and hands is indeed the Greater jihad.