The Promised Messiahas wrote over 80 books in Arabic, Urdu, and Persian. Excerpts of his collected works have been translated into English and organised by topic. The Review of Religions is pleased to present these excerpts as part of a monthly feature. This month’s topic, on the much misunderstood Jihad, examines the origins of Jihad in Islam and what its true purpose is.
The philosophy of Jihad and its true significance is so recondite and profound a matter that the people of this age and those of the middle ages have committed grave mistakes on account of their failure to understand it, which has rendered the teachings of Islam open to the criticism of its opponents, whereas Islam is a holy religion which is a mirror of the law of nature and manifests the glory of God. The root of the Arabic word Jihad means striving and has been metaphorically applied to fighting in the cause of religion….
Why did Islam have to resort to fighting and what is the purpose of Jihad? With the very birth of Islam it was confronted with great difficulties and all peoples conceived enmity against it. It has always been the case that on the advent of a Prophet or a Messenger his opponents, perceiving that his followers are a company of earnest, righteous and courageous people who are likely to march forward quickly, begin to entertain rancour and jealousy against them. More particularly is that the case with the divines and leaders of every religion…. They begin to devise projects to harm the new faith. Very often they feel in their hearts that by persecuting a righteous one of God they have become subject to God’s wrath and their wrongful conduct also betrays that their hearts feel guilty, yet the fierce fire of jealousy drives them into the pits of enmity. These were the causes which not only prevented the leaders of the polytheists and the Jews and the Christians from accepting the truth, but also incited them to bitter enmity and they began to consider means of wiping out Islam from the face of the earth.
As in the beginning the number of Muslims was small, their opponents, out of the natural arrogance which inspires the minds of people who consider themselves superior to the followers of the new faith in respect of wealth, numbers, esteem and rank, treated the Muslims with bitter hostility as they did not desire that Islam, the heavenly plant, should take root upon the earth. They put forth their utmost effort to destroy the righteous and left out no means of causing them hurt. They were afraid lest the new religion should become firmly established and its progress might ruin their own religion and culture. Out of this fear, which terrified their hearts, they had recourse to every type of coercion and cruelty in the attempt to destroy Islam. They killed Muslims savagely and during a long period which extended over thirteen years, they persisted in this form of persecution. The swords of these wild beasts cut to pieces most cruelly the faithful servants of God who were the pride of mankind; and orphan children and weak and humble women were slaughtered in the streets of Makkah.
Throughout this period it was the Divine command that evil should not be opposed and the righteous ones carried out the command in every case. The streets became red with their blood but they raised no cry. They were slaughtered like sacrificial lambs but they breathed no sigh. The Holy Messenger of God, upon whom be the endless peace of heaven and earth, was repeatedly made the target of stones that drew his blood; yet that mountain of truth and steadfastness bore all these torments with a cheerful and loving heart. This attitude of humility and steadfastness encouraged their enemies to intensify their persecution and they made this holy community their quarry. Then God who does not permit that cruelty and mercilessness should exceed all bounds turned with compassion towards His persecuted servants and His wrath was kindled against the wicked, and He informed His servants through the Holy Qur’an that He was a witness to everything that had been inflicted upon them and that He now gave them permission to oppose their opponents and that He was Mighty and would not leave the wrongdoers unpunished. This was the commandment which was designated Jihad. The original text of this commandment is there in the Holy Qur’an, which is as follows:
اُذِنَ لِلَّذِیۡنَ یُقٰتَلُوۡنَ بِاَنَّہُمْ ظُلِمُوۡا ؕ وَ اِنَّ اللہَ عَلٰی نَصْرِہِمْ لَقَدِیۡرُۨ الَّذِیۡنَ اُخْرِجُوۡا مِنۡ دِیَارِہِمْ بِغَیۡرِ حَقٍّ
Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged — and Allah indeed has power to help them; Those who have been driven out from their homes unjustly [Sura Al-Hajj: 40-41]
[Government Angrezi Aur Jihad, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 17, pp. 3-6]
If the Christian missionaries would listen to me I would counsel them to refrain from raising objections which can be directed against their own scriptures also. For instance, one of their principal criticisms of the Holy Prophetsa is directed against the battles that he had to wage under Divine command against those disbelievers who persecuted him and his companions for thirteen years at Makkah and inflicted every kind of torment upon them, and then devised a project of killing the Holy Prophetsa himself, so that he and his companions were compelled to leave Makkah. But his persecutors did not desist even then. They pursued him and treated him with every type of impertinence and continued to proclaim him false. They subjected the weak ones from among the Muslims who had been left in Makkah to extreme torment. Thus in the estimation of God Almighty, on account of their tyrannical behaviour, they became deserving of chastisement according to the eternal law of God. This chastisement was earned also by those who had helped the Makkahns in their misconduct and by those who had on their own carried the torment of the Muslims and the ridicule of their faith to the extreme and used all their power to block the propagation of Islam. Thus those who drew their swords against Islam were destroyed by the sword on account of their wickedness. Then is it fair to object to this kind of fighting, forgetting the battles of Moses and other Prophets of Israel in which thousands upon thousands of suckling babies were slaughtered? Such objections result from a spirit of mischief and deceit and disorderliness.
The Christians sometimes make the response that the battles fought by the Holy Prophetsa were characterised by too much tenderness towards the enemy in that those of them who accepted Islam escaped all punishment, suckling babies, women, old people, monks and travellers were all spared, nor were churches and synagogues demolished; while the Israeli prophets held all such practices lawful, so much so that more than 300,000 babies were slaughtered at one time. It is a strange conception that the battles fought by Islam should be open to criticism because of the clemency extended to the enemy and because they fell short of the severity that characterised the battles of Moses and other Israeli Prophets. Had the battles fought by Islam imposed the same degree of severity upon the enemy as was done in the battles mentioned in the Bible, apparently the Christian missionaries would have accepted these battles also as having been carried out under the command of God Almighty. Now every sensible person can decide whether this attitude is an honest one. On the one hand the Christians proclaim that God is mercy, and even His punishment has an aspect of mercy. Then if the battles of Moses despite their severity are believed to have been directed by God Almighty, how is it that the battles that possessed the fragrance of Divine mercy are not accepted as having been imposed by God Almighty? Why should those who deem the slaughter of suckling babies before the very eyes of their mothers and the merciless slaughter of the mothers within sight of their children as having been carried out under Divine command, not accept as falling in the same category battles which a persecuted people were permitted to fight in order to repel the aggression of their persecutors?
[Arya Dharam, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 10, pp. 81-83, footnote]
If chastisement by the sword is in conflict with Divine attributes then this objection would apply primarily and very strongly to Moses who slaughtered whole peoples and caused rivers of blood to flow and left no room for anyone’s repentance. The battles undertaken according to the teachings of the Holy Qur’an kept the door of repentance open which is in accord with the law of nature and with Divine mercy. We observe that when God Almighty sends His punishment upon the world in the shape of plague or cholera, He, at the same time, bestows upon the physicians knowledge of such herbs and remedies as prove effective in putting out the fire of such epidemics. Therefore, it is the method of warfare adopted by Moses which is open to the objection that it did not permit a way of escape for the enemy according to the law of nature. Even when such a way was permitted, it was partial and not complete. It is clear that it has been the Divine way from the beginning that the wrongdoing enemies of the Prophets have been destroyed by the sword. Then why is a similar commandment in the Holy Qur’an considered as open to objection? Was the God of the time of Moses different from the God of the time of Islam? Or is it that in the time of Moses God loved battle, but now He considers it an evil?
Taking Up Arms Against a Just Non-Muslim Government is not Permitted
It should also be remembered that Islam permits the taking up of the sword only in opposition to people who themselves take it up first, and it permits the slaughter only of those who embark upon slaughter first. It does not lay down that the Muslims while they are the subjects of a non-Muslim sovereign who deals with them with justice and equity should take up arms against him as rebels. According to the Holy Qur’an this is the way of the wicked and not of the righteous. But the Torah has not made this distinction clear at any place. This shows that the Holy Qur’an in all its commandments, whether of majesty or of beauty, adheres to the straight line of equity, justice, mercy and beneficence and is unique in this respect also among all the scriptures.
[Anjam-e-Atham, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 11, p. 37]
It is a great error on the part of our opponents that they imagine that revealed guidance must under no circumstances inculcate resistance to the enemy and should demonstrate its love and mercy only by way of meekness and gentleness. Such people imagine that they display great reverence for God, the Lord of Honour and Glory, by attributing to Him only the qualities of gentleness and tenderness. But those who are given to reflection and pondering can easily perceive that such people are involved in gross and obvious error. A contemplation of the Divine law of nature clearly shows that it certainly is pure mercy. But that mercy does not manifest itself by way of gentleness and tenderness in all circumstances. Like an expert physician, it sometimes administers a sweet draught to us and at other times it prescribes a bitter medicine for us.
[Islami Usul ki Philosophy, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 10, p.451]
Prohibition of the Use of Force
No true Muslim has ever believed that Islam should be spread by the sword. Islam has always been propagated through its inherent qualities. Those who, calling themselves Muslims, seek to spread Islam by means of the sword are not aware of its inherent qualities and their conduct resembles the conduct of wild beasts.
[Tiryaq-ul-Qulub, Ruhani Khaza’in , vol. 15, pp. 167]
The Holy Qur’an clearly forbids the use of force for the spread of the faith and directs its propagation through its inherent qualities and the good example of the Muslims. Do not be misled by the notion that in the beginning the Muslims were commanded to take up the sword. That sword was not taken up for the spread of the faith, but in self-defence against the enemies of Islam and for the purpose of establishing peace and security. It was no part of the purpose of taking it up to have recourse to coercion in the matter of faith.
[Sitarah Qaisariyyah, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 15, pp. 120-121]
I do not know from where our opponents have gathered that Islam was spread by the sword. God has set forth clearly in the Holy Qur’an:
لَاۤ اِكْرَاہَ فِی الدِّیۡن
That is: “There is no compulsion in the religion of Islam.” [Surah Al-Baqarah: 257]
Then who has prescribed the use of force for the spread of the faith, and what force was available for the purpose? Do those people who are converted by force set such an example of sincerity and faith that without any kind of wages or compensation two or three hundred of them issue forth to oppose a force of thousands; or when their number reaches a thousand they vanquish hundreds of thousands?
Is it the characteristic of the forcibly converted ones that in the defence of the faith they should offer themselves to be slaughtered like sheep and should testify to the truth of Islam with the seal of their blood? Is it expected of them that they should be such lovers of Divine Unity that they should endure every hardship in their travels in the African desert and spread the message of Islam in those regions; or that they should similarly arrive in China, not as warriors but as dervishes and should so convey the message of Islam that millions of people of that country should become Muslims; or that they should arrive in India clad in the roughest stuff and should win a great part of Aryavart to the allegiance of Islam; or should carry the credo:
لَا اِلٰہَ اِلَّا اللہُ
“There is none worthy of worship except Allah”
to the confines of Europe? Now say honestly whether these can be the achievements of those who are converted forcibly to Islam, so that they disbelieved in their hearts and professed Islam only by their tongues? Indeed not. These are the achievements of those whose hearts are filled with the light of faith wherein God alone dwells.
[Paigham-e-Sulh, Ruhani Khaza’in, vol. 23, pp. 468-469]