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The narrations claiming that Imam Hasan (AS) or Imam Husain (AS) fought in wars under the leadership of others are not authentic at all. We don't have any narrations in our books in this regards. Some Sunni authors like Ibn Khaldoon claimed that but with out any authentic evidence or reliable source. Ibn Khuldoon himself lived in the eighth Hijra century and never witnessed nor heard from any authentic narrators.

All the life of Ahlul Bayt (AS) was great Jihad to protect Islam and Islam remained intact just because of the Jihad of Ahlul Bayt (AS).

Wassalam.

Some people say it is because Allah had created the jinn first, and the angels had seen the jinn fighting so knew that a new species with free will would also fight.

Some say that there were other humanoids (nasnas), and they had fought, and so they deduced from this that a new species with free will would also fight.

These two views are reinforced by a narration from Imam al-Sadiq (A) in which he says that the angels could not have known that humans would cause bloodshed if they hadn't seen the precedent of earlier creatures on earth.

Some simply say that they understood this from looking at human nature, or by looking at the nature of life on earth and the challenges of living as an earth-based being (for instance, competition for food, water, reproduction, and land).

Since the earth (dunya) is considered the basest or lowest level of creation, vis-a-vis the heavenly realms, perhaps it also didn't make sense to instill Allah's vicegerency in an earthling. 

Maybe there are other reasons too which relate to the nature of the angels and their existence outside of the earthly realm which would give them access to knowledge or a perspective that human beings generally lack. 

Many the battles that were fought during the expansion of the Arab-Muslim empires after the time of the Prophet (S) were the same sort of battles that any other empire or state engages in to look after its political, financial or economic interests, although it is true that, as a side effect, it contributed to the spread of Islam by establishing a ruling class who was Muslim. So, from that angle, there is nothing special about them to make them jihad fi sabil Allah.

However, if someone was fighting in defence or for other selfless reasons, this could be considered jihad, just as it would be considered jihad fi sabil Allah today if I risked my life to defend someone who is under attack. 

Perhaps for that reason, there is a dua in al-Sahifah al-Sajjadiyah where Imam Zayn al-Abidin (A) prays for the soldiers on the frontier who are defending the Muslim state against enemies. 

Also, even in times of jihad with the Prophet (S), whether or not fighting was counted as jihad was according to intention. For instance, some people might have gone to war for glory or financial gain, and so this is not the same thing as risking their lives or enduring battle solely for the sake of Allah. 

Imam Ali (AS) never took part in any matter of the governments of Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman. He did not attend any Juma or Jama'ah with them (Al-Thahabi in Siyar A'laam al- Nubalaa' 9/284.

Valid Jihad must be led or permitted by the Prophet (SAWA) or his real successors.

Wassalam.