Islamic Jihad, In A Pie Chart


Click here for the original article

There is no way to write this post without sounding apologetic, when in fact, I have quite the opposite intention. I don’t want to talk about how jihad is a beautiful concept, which it is, and how it has been hijacked and demonized by non-Muslims–which maybe it hasn’t. If jihad is misunderstood by the rest of the world, is it because we ourselves have robbed it of its full meaning?

I grew up at a time where jihad was summed up in the idea of “fighting for a cause”, fighting in the literal sense of war. It was romanticized. It was the dream of giving the Palestinians back their peace, their freedom, their right to live. Of ending the gulf war. Of finally uniting the Arab world.

Then 9/11 happened, and slowly the public opinion followed the global trend of condemning jihad. I think this divide still stands today in our society: between the rather liberal sort who chose to distance themselves from jihad, who bought into the idea that jihad is for “radical ‘Islamists’ who take their religion too seriously” (more about the word Islamist in a later post), and the conservatives who remained by their idealized version of holy war, of freedom fighting for the rights of the oppressed.

In any case, the real jihad is lost. Perhaps everybody knows what it actually means, but we are not taught it in school, it is not emphasized at home, it is simply not practiced in our society anymore. Jihad is more than “a beautiful idea”. It is a necessary one. I can hardly imagine any reasonable lifestyle that does not contain jihad in one way or the other.

jihad, n. struggle; effort. The concept of jihad in a nutshell: to be a good person, one has to struggle with their own self, with temptation. Every Muslim teaching requires a certain degree of jihad to achieve. For you to get up and go to work instead of doing what you actually want to do (stay in and binge-watch your favorite show?), you have to struggle with laziness. To put others before yourself, you have to struggle with selfishness. To become kinder, you have to strive for patience. To give, you have to overcome greed. To be truly humble, to completely believe that God has made you all that you are, you have to overcome your ego. Muslims know this as the “greater jihad”. And so, jihad applies everywhere in life.

Ironically, jihad is just that which enables human beings to live together in peace.


O you who have believed, fear Allah and seek the means [of nearness] to Him and strive in His cause that you may succeed. (Qur’an, 5:35)
And whoever strives only strives for [the benefit of] himself. Indeed, Allah is free from need of the worlds. (Qur’an, 29:6)
And those who strive for Us – We will surely guide them to Our ways. And indeed, Allah is with the doers of good. (Qur’an, 29:69)

And many more. God tells us not to follow the non-believers, and to use the Qur’an to refute their arguments (jihad) (Qur’an, 25:52). He commends those who sacrifice their material wealth for the cause of God (Qur’an, 9:88).

Jihad also applies in the physical sense. Anyone who dies defending his faith, life, family or possessions is considered a martyr, and has performed jihad, simply by overcoming fear to protect something worthy of protection in the eyes of God. War is only one example, but even being mugged, or persecuted on account of race or faith: all this implies jihad.

Concerning war, jihad applies in that you accept risking your own life in order to fight for the greater good. This is not about “fighting for the sake of God”. It is about “fighting for the cause of God.” It is about fighting for a good cause, whatever it may be. In this sense, jihad is the same spirit any army tries to cultivate in its soldiers.

36 out of 6236 verses in the Qur’an mention jihad or any of its derivatives. That’s just about half a percent. As a little exercise, I decided to classify these verses by context.

The Qur’an is a wonderful thing: you can learn from its narrative, but its structure also tells you things. We all strive to be better people, but why do we not teach and learn this as jihad? After all, it seems to be the part that takes the cake!


As for the prophetic tradition, there are surprisingly few hadiths that talk about jihad. Most of these hadiths are within the implied context of war, but the most vocal ones do not. The prophet tells us the best type of jihad is standing up to an unjust king/ruler. In another incident, he says the best type of jihad is pilgrimage to Mecca. He talks about “struggle (jihad) of the heart”, and “struggle of the tongue”. He denotes looking after the widow and the poor as jihad. When a young man accepted Islam and expressed to the prophet his wish to practice jihad, the prophet told him his jihad was to take care of his parents.

Coming up, war and peace in pie charts!

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Noran Azmy’s story.