One of the ironies of this era is that although the means of communication have greatly advanced, people still have difficulty in a meaningful communication and dialogue with other cultures and religions. There is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding of the Islamic faith.
Many individuals, laymen as well as experts, have tried to link 9/11 to the concept of jihad in Islam. In one of the famous radio talk shows of Toronto, soon after 9-11, I heard one caller saying that what happened on that day was 10% terrorism and 90% Islam. A fundamentalist Christian leader in the US said on his TV show that “Probably Muhammad was a terrorist.” So it is important to talk about jihad in Islam.
Islam is primarily a religion of peace. Its name “Islam” comes from “silm” which means two things: one is “submitting to God” and the second is “peace”. Both meanings are inter-twinned.
Whenever Muslims meet one another, they use the greeting of peace: “as-salamu ‘alaykum - peace be upon you”, and the other person responds by saying “‘alaykumus salam - upon you be peace.”
The daily prayers begin with praising God as “Mercy and Beneficent” and ends with the greeting of peace for all.
The concept of “jihad” needs to be understood clearly. Many people in the media take Qur’anic text out of context. And so let us see: what is the meaning of jihad?
The word “jihad” does not mean “holy war”. This is a Western rending of a broader concept in Islamic teaching. Ask any expert of Arabic language and he will tell you that “jihad” does not mean “holy war”. The term “holy war” has come from the Christian concept of “just war,” and has been used loosely as an Islamic term since the days of the Crusades.
In Arabic language, the word jihad literally means striving and working hard for something. In Islamic terminology, it retains the literal meaning in two different dimensions, which are expressed by “major jihad” and “minor jihad”.
The major jihad is known as the spiritual struggle, a struggle between two powers within ourselves: the soul and the body. The conscience is in conflict with the bodily desires. This spiritual conflict is an ongoing jihad within each one of us. Islam expects its followers to give preference to the soul and the conscience over the body and its desires.
The fasting in the month of Ramadhan is an example of the annual training for this major jihad.
The minor jihad is the armed struggle. However, that does not automatically mean unjustified use of violence. The minor jihad may be divided into two: aggression and defense. Aggression against any people is not permitted in Islam; however, defense is an absolute right of every individual and nation.
Islam has allowed the minor jihad only to defend the Muslim people and their land, and to maintain peace in Muslim societies.