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In our modern times, the term ‘jihad’ has come to imply violence, holy wars, and terrorism, particularly in the western world. However, its original, intended meaning – and usage to a great extent in the Muslim world – continues to hark to a larger, more encompassing root word ‘j-h-d’ which means ‘to strive.’
In fact, a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, differentiates between the ‘greater jihad’ and the ‘lesser jihad.’ Contrary to popular understanding, the greater jihad in Islam is the inner struggle, both spiritual and mundane, Muslims engage in daily in order to lead a righteous life, one which does not only include being mindful of one’s prayers, fasts, and charity, but also kind and just behavior with others, fulfilling duties towards kith, kin, and neighbors, and earning and eating of lawful means, among many other elements.
The lesser jihad, on the other hand, refers to armed struggle to protect the faith, its adherents, and its land/property. During the lifetime of the Prophet, peace be upon him, many such wars were fought, and the righteous caliphs and others continued this tradition. However, these wars were fought defensively, not aggressively. In addition, the rules of engagement strictly lay down certain restrictions, binding the Muslims foremost to negotiate peace, reducing fighting as the last resort.
In this section, we will explore the varied implications of the term ‘jihad’ as well as discuss the destructive forces of terrorism which are spreading throughout our world.