Jihad in Islamic Law

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Jihad جهاد in Arabic literally means "struggle" coming from the Arabic verb جاهد jaahada meaning to "strive." Jihad fi sabil Allah جهاد في سبيل الله is thus literally "struggle/striving on the path of god." Historically, the use of the word jihad has been very wide semantically, with applications from war to spiritual discipline to reform and many, many things in between. Despite these wide and varied applications, though, the main meaning of jihad in Islamic law from the origins of the religion to the classic period to the present day continues to be armed struggle, either to expand the realm of Islamic political dominance or to defend Islamic lands from infidels, with the expansion of Islamic political dominance being part-and-parcel to a social and political system which advances the interest of the Muslim religion and induces the peoples conquered in this warfare to convert to Islam. This socio-political system, that of the dhimma, is intimately connected to the institution of "jihad at-talab" جهاد الطلب the "jihad of request" involving the three-option offer that an Islamic force must make before commencing hostilities against an infidel enemy: 1. Conversion to Islam. 2. Payment of the jizyah and subjection to Islamic political dominion and the strictures of the dhimma. 3. Fighting until death.

Jews and Christians were required to pay the jizyah while pagans were required to either accept Islam or die.[1] Upon payment of the tax (jizya), the dhimmi would receive a receipt of payment, either in the form of a piece of paper or parchment or as a seal humiliatingly placed upon their neck, and was thereafter compelled to carry this receipt wherever he went within the realms of Islam - failure to produce an up-to-date jizya receipt on the request of a Muslim could result in death or forced conversion to Islam of the dhimmi in question[2].

Jihad in the Qur'an and Sunnah

Jihad in the Qur'an

The words "jihad" and "fighting" (قتال--Qitaal) appear frequently in the Qur'an. According to the traditional exegeses of the Qur'an in Sunni Islam, the first verse "revealed" to Muhammad about fighting is in surat-al-hajj (surah 22) verse 39:

أُذِنَ لِلَّذِينَ يُقَٰتَلُونَ بِأَنَّهُمْ ظُلِمُوا۟ ۚ وَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلَىٰ نَصْرِهِمْ لَقَدِيرٌ

Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, Allah is competent to give them victory.

A number of other prominent verses in the Qur'an deal with jihad and fighting the unbelievers. Amongst the most prominent of these verses is the "verse of the sword" from surat-at-taubah (surah 9), verse 5:

فَإِذَا ٱنسَلَخَ ٱلْأَشْهُرُ ٱلْحُرُمُ فَٱقْتُلُوا۟ ٱلْمُشْرِكِينَ حَيْثُ وَجَدتُّمُوهُمْ وَخُذُوهُمْ وَٱحْصُرُوهُمْ وَٱقْعُدُوا۟ لَهُمْ كُلَّ مَرْصَدٍ ۚ فَإِن تَابُوا۟ وَأَقَامُوا۟ ٱلصَّلَوٰةَ وَءَاتَوُا۟ ٱلزَّكَوٰةَ فَخَلُّوا۟ سَبِيلَهُمْ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.

This verse has been interpreted by numerous mufassiruun as the Qur'an and the prophet Muhammad's final revelation on the subject of jihad. In the words of the preeminent mufassir ibn Kathir:

وَهَذِهِ الْآيَةُ الْكَرِيمَةُ هِيَ آيَةُ السَّيْفِ الَّتِي قَالَ فِيهَا الضَّحَّاكُ بْنُ مُزَاحِمٍ: إِنَّهَا نَسَخَتْ كُلَّ عَهْدٍ بَيْنَ النَّبِيِّ(٩) ﷺ وَبَيْنَ أَحَدٍ مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ، وَكُلَّ عَهْدٍ، وَكُلَّ مُدَّةٍ.

This holy verse is the verse of the sword, which Dahaak bin Muzaahim said of it "Verily it has withdrawn ever covenant/treaty between the prophet, Allah's prayer and peace be upon him, and between any mushrik (polytheist/non-muslim), every covenant and every bond of aide."
Tafsir ibn Kathir on surah 9:5

Al-Qurtabi has this to say

...فَاقْتُلُوا الْمُشْرِكِينَ﴾ عَامٌّ فِي كُلِّ مُشْرِكٍ، لَكِنَّ السُّنَّةَ خَصَّتْ مِنْهُ مَا تَقَدَّمَ بَيَانُهُ فِي سُورَةِ "الْبَقَرَةِ"(٣) مِنَ امْرَأَةٍ وَرَاهِبٍ وَصَبِيٍّ وَغَيْرِهِمْ﴿ حَيْثُ وَجَدْتُمُوهُمْ﴾ عَامٌّ فِي كُلِّ مَوْضِعٍ﴿...

"Fight the unbelievers" meaning: a general decree concerning every mushrik (polytheist/unbeliever). But the Sunnah has narrowed its application in the declaration of surat-al-baqarah (surah 2) verse 3, excluding women, monks, children and other (non-combatants)......"Wherever you find them" meaning: a general decree for all places
Tafsir of Al-Qurtabi on surah 9:5

Classical Islamic theology thus sees the sword verse as a general injunction for never-ending holy war against all unbelievers until the day of judgement. The Muslim state, the ummah, is to pursue this holy war against all oppenents until the religion, all of it, is to Allah (Quran 8:39). Those who shirk their duty to pursue jihad will face a terrible punishment in the hereafter (Quran 9:81) (Quran 48:16). For those who do go on jihad and die in Allah's cause, a great reward awaits them (Quran 3:157). Those who are left alive after the mujaahideen die in combat with the unbelievers should not mourn them, for they are yet alive with Allah in paradise enjoying pleasures beyond human comprehension (Quran 3:169). The Qur'an also has practical advice for the believers on war with the infidels. There are verses dealing with the exemptions of various types of people to jihad (Quran 9:91) (Quran 48:17), fighting during the holy months (Quran 2:217), fighting in the territory of Mecca (Quran 2:191), prisoners of war (Quran 47:4), safe conduct (Quran 9:6), and truces with the enemy (Quran 8:61).

In addition to the sword verse, another very important verse in the theology and jurisprudence of jihad is the verse of Jizya, surat-at-taubah (surah 9) verse 29:

قَٰتِلُوا۟ ٱلَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِٱللَّهِ وَلَا بِٱلْيَوْمِ ٱلْءَاخِرِ وَلَا يُحَرِّمُونَ مَا حَرَّمَ ٱللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُۥ وَلَا يَدِينُونَ دِينَ ٱلْحَقِّ مِنَ ٱلَّذِينَ أُوتُوا۟ ٱلْكِتَٰبَ حَتَّىٰ يُعْطُوا۟ ٱلْجِزْيَةَ عَن يَدٍ وَهُمْ صَٰغِرُونَ

Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold forbidden that which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.

Along with the sword verse cited above, Muslim scholars and jurists have considered these verses as commands to never-ending offensive jihad against all the infidels of the world forever until the day of judgement. The above jizya verse is also the basis of the Dhimma and the tax of the Jizyah, the systems of financial and social apartheid to be instituted against Jews and Christians (and also Zoroastrians) in order to secure the supremacy of Islam in the Dar al-Harb

Jihad in the Hadith

Jihad in Early Islam

Jihad in Classic Islamic Law

Offensive Jihad

According to Muslim scholar Dr. Hawarey, 80% of the battles Muhammad participated in were offensive.[3]

Defensive Jihad

Jihad in Later Islamic Sources

Jihad in Modern Islam

In classical Islamic law (sharia), the term refers to armed struggle against any Kafir (Infidel),[4][5] while modernist Islamic scholars generally equate military jihad with defensive warfare.[6][7] In Sufi and pious circles, spiritual and moral jihad has been traditionally emphasized under the name of greater jihad.[8][9][5] The term has gained additional attention in recent decades through its use by various insurgent Islamic extremist, militant Islamist, and terrorist individuals and organizations whose ideology is based on the Islamic notion of jihad.[8][10][11][12]


  1. "Islam", Encyclopedia Britannica, New York, 17 August 2021, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Islam. 
  2. Yeʼor, B. The decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam. Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. p. 79, 2011. 
  3. Military Operations in the Era of Prophet Mohammed (SAW) - military.hawarey.org
  4. Peters, Rudolph; Cook, David, "Jihād", Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780199739356, 2014, http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t349/e0057. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Bosworth, C. E.; van Donzel, E. J.; Heinrichs, W. P. et al., eds, (1965), "D̲j̲ihād", Leiden: Brill Publishers, ISBN 978-90-04-16121-4, 1965. 
  6. Wael B. Hallaq. Sharī'a: Theory, Practice, Transformations. Cambridge University Press (Kindle edition). pp. 334–38, 2009. 
  7. Peters, Rudolph. Islam and Colonialism: The Doctrine of Jihad in Modern History. De Gruyter Mouton. p. 124. ISBN 9783110824858, 2015. https://www.degruyter.com/view/product/6260. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Jihad", Oxford: Oxford University Press, 22 February 2018 [10 May 2017], http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195390155/obo-9780195390155-0045.xml. 
  9. Rudolph Peters, "Jihad", In Lindsay Jones, MacMillan Reference, p. 4917, 2005. 
  10. "Modern Extremist Groups and the Division of the World: A Critique from an Islamic Perspective" (November 2017). Arab Law Quarterly 31 (4): 305–335. Leiden: Brill Publishers. doi:10.1163/15730255-12314024. ISSN 1573-0255. 
  11. Cook, David. "Radical Islam and Contemporary Jihad Theory". Understanding Jihad (2nd ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 93–127. ISBN 9780520287327. JSTOR 10.1525/j.ctv1xxt55.10. LCCN 2015010201, 2015 [2005]. https://books.google.com/books?id=SqE2DwAAQBAJ&pg=PA93. 
  12. Jalal, Ayesha. "Islam Subverted? Jihad as Terrorism". Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. pp. 239–240. ISBN 9780674039070, 2009.