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Jihad in the Quran

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Jihad (جِهاد) is one of the most important and fundamental concepts in the religion of Islam. Unfortunately, this sacred method of self-refinement has been misinterpreted to an extent that many associate it with violence and bloodshed. In this article, we will try to shed some light on the true meaning of jihad and what jihad in the Quran is, in order to come to a proper understanding of its concept and through that, reach a deeper comprehension of the essence of the teachings of Islam. This objective will be achieved through answering the following questions:

Definition of Jihad in the Quran

Jihad (جِهاد) is an Arabic word that comes from the root jahada (جَهَدَ) which means struggle 1 , strive 2 , exaggeration in a task 3 , achieving the ultimate  and ability 4 . Therefore, in a religious context, the meaning which is intended by the word jihad is to strive in the path of God through any means possible, be it a person’s sword, wealth or life. The objective of such a jihad is ultimately, gaining the satisfaction and proximity of God through a lofty task that results in self-betterment and growth.


Types of Jihad in the Quran

As stated in verses of the Holy Quran and narrations from Prophet Muhammad, jihad is not a concept limited to the battlefield.

وَجَاهِدُوا فِي اللَّـهِ حَقَّ جِهَادِهِ ۚ هُوَ اجْتَبَاكُمْ وَمَا جَعَلَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ مِنْ حَرَجٍ ۚ مِّلَّةَ أَبِيكُمْ إِبْرَاهِيمَ ۚ هُوَ سَمَّاكُمُ الْمُسْلِمِينَ مِن قَبْلُ وَفِي هَـٰذَا لِيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ شَهِيدًا عَلَيْكُمْ وَتَكُونُوا شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ ۚ فَأَقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتُوا الزَّكَاةَ وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِاللَّـهِ هُوَ مَوْلَاكُمْ فَنِعْمَ الْمَوْلَىٰ وَنِعْمَ النَّصِيرُ ۖ

And strive in the path of God a striving that is worthy of Him. He has chosen you and has not placed for you any obstacle in the religion, the faith of your father, Abraham. He named you ‘Muslims’ before, and in this, so that the Apostle may be a witness to you, and that you may be witnesses to mankind. So, maintain the prayer, give the zakat, and hold fast to Allah. He is your master—an excellent master and an excellent helper. 5

In other words, the lexical meaning of jihad and accordingly, its usage in scriptures indicate that there are different types of jihad that Muslims are obligated to observe, which in essence could be deeds that any human being with a proper moral compass would act upon due to the deeds’ ethical value. Some instances of such jihad have been mentioned in narrations due to the struggle one must go through in order to uphold them and also to give emphasis to their importance such as:

Enjoining the good and forbidding the bad

و َما أعمالُ البِرِّ كُلُّها وَ الجِهادُ فى سَبيلِ اللّه‏ عِندَ الامرِ بِالمَعرُوفِ و َالنَّهىِ عَنِ المُنكَرِ إِلاّ كَنَفثَةٍ فى بَحرٍ لُجِّىٍّ؛

All good deeds and striving in the path of God are but a droplet in an ocean compared to enjoining the good and forbidding the bad. 6

A man’s effort in earning lawful sustenance

طَلَبُ الحَلالِ جِهادٌ

Earning halal [sustenance] is a struggle [in the path of God]. 7

Speaking of justice against an oppressive tyrant

مِنْ أَفْضَلِ اَلْجِهَادِ كَلِمَةُ عَدْلٍ عِنْدَ سُلْطَانٍ جَائِرٍ

One of the best forms of jihad is speaking the words of justice against an oppressive ruler. 8

Duties specified to a woman in regard to her spouse

جِهَادُ الْمَرْأَةِ حُسْنُ التَّبَعُّل

The Jihad of a woman is in taking good care of her husband. 9

The Two Main Types of Jihad in the Quran and Islam

As the meaning of jihad entails, there is no doubt that defensive combat which God has permitted in His path, under strict rules and conditions, is one of the types of jihad in the Quran. Though it is not hard to accept sacrificing one’s life for the nearness of Allah as the most sacred type of struggling in the path of God, Islamic sources however, consider the mentioned as the easier of the two types of jihad. It has been narrated that Prophet Muhammad once greeted an army that had returned from battle by saying:

مَرْحَبا بقَومٍ قَضَوُا الجِهادَ الأصْغَرَ و بَقِيَ علَيهِمُ الجِهادُ الأكْبَرُ . قيلَ: يا رسولَ اللّه ِ ، و ما الجِهادُ الأكْبَرُ ؟ قالَ: جِهادُ النَّفْس . و قالَ عليه السلام : أفْضَلُ الجِهادِ مَن جَاهَدَ نَفْسَهُ الّتي بينَ جَنْبَيهِ .

Greetings to the people who have put the lesser jihad behind them and are left with the greater jihad. The Prophet was then asked: O Messenger of God, what is the greater jihad? He said: jihad against the lower self. He then proceeded: the best jihad is that of those who struggle and strive against the lower self within them. 10

Through this hadith, we can understand that not only is warfare jihad not the only type of jihad, but it is not even the most important in terms of the rank of struggle.

Jihad in the Quran

On the other hand, since the actual meaning of the term jihad is to strive or struggle, thus, the word jihad has been used in this meaning in numerous accounts in the Quran.

یَا أَیُّهَا الَّذِینَ آمَنُواْ اتَّقُواْ اللّهَ وَابْتَغُواْ إِلَیهِ الْوَسِیلَةَ وَجَاهِدُواْ فِی سَبِیلِهِ لَعَلَّکُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ

O you who have believed, be wary of Allah and seek the means [of nearness] to Him and strive in His cause that you may succeed. 11

This creates a broad outline for the term jihad which furthermore debunks its association with violence and warmongering.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا هَلْ أَدُلُّكُمْ عَلَىٰ تِجَارَةٍ تُنجِيكُم مِّنْ عَذَابٍ أَلِيمٍ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّـهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَتُجَاهِدُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ بِأَمْوَالِكُمْ وَأَنفُسِكُمْ ۚ ذَٰلِكُمْ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ

O you who have believed, shall I guide you to a transaction that will save you from a painful punishment? [It is that] you believe in Allah and His Messenger and strive in the cause of Allah with your wealth and your lives. That is best for you, if you should know. 12

Difference between Jihad in the Quran and Warfare

To better understand how jihad is not restricted to defensive combat and that contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with violence and carnage, we must understand the true conditions of warfare in Islam and how these conditions not only make defensive combat sacred but also extremely complicated. As the name indicates, combat in Islam is only permitted as a means of defense and Muslims are not allowed to initiate war.

مَن قَتَلَ نَفْسًا بِغَيْرِ نَفْسٍ أَوْ فَسَادٍ فِي الْأَرْضِ فَكَأَنَّمَا قَتَلَ النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا وَمَنْ أَحْيَاهَا فَكَأَنَّمَا أَحْيَا النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا ۚ وَلَقَدْ جَاءَتْهُمْ رُسُلُنَا بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ ثُمَّ إِنَّ كَثِيرًا مِّنْهُم بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ فِي الْأَرْضِ لَمُسْرِفُونَ

that whoever kills a soul, without [its being guilty of] manslaughter or corruption on the earth, is as though he had killed all mankind, and whoever saves a life is as though he had saved all mankind. Our apostles certainly brought them manifest signs, yet even after that, many of them commit excesses on the earth. 13

Therefore, with the given rule, Muslims are forbidden from engaging in any form or terrorism and persecution.

Limits of Combat in Islam

Furthermore, Muslims are not allowed to wage war on others for reasons such as personal spite, materialistic gains or even expanding Muslim borders. The purpose of combat must only be for the sake of God which has been defined as being confronted by opposing forces and defending the lives of Muslims who have been oppressed and expelled. Likewise, certain areas such as Masjidul-haram, the site of the Holy Kaaba, located in the city of Mecca and certain sacred months are off limits for any type of combat. Another crucial point one must bear in mind is that the context of the sword verses is exclusive to specific times and conditions and such verses are not to be generalized.

وَاقْتُلُوهُمْ حَيْثُ ثَقِفْتُمُوهُمْ وَأَخْرِجُوهُم مِّنْ حَيْثُ أَخْرَجُوكُمْ ۚ وَالْفِتْنَةُ أَشَدُّ مِنَ الْقَتْلِ ۚ وَلَا تُقَاتِلُوهُمْ عِندَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ حَتَّىٰ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِيهِ ۖ فَإِن قَاتَلُوكُمْ فَاقْتُلُوهُمْ ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ جَزَاءُ الْكَافِرِينَ

And kill them wherever you confront them [in war], and expel them from where they expelled you, for persecution is graver than killing. But do not fight them near the Holy Mosque unless they fight you therein; but if they fight you, kill them; such is the requital of the faithless. 14

Rules of Combat in Islam

Muslims are also obligated to observe strict boundaries in the course of a militant confrontation with disbelievers, which furthermore makes the act of ghital as one of the forms of jihad, a manifestation of God-wariness and human rights. Those conditions and boundaries are as follows:

  • Muslims in combat are to refrain from torturing their enemies, killing the elderly, children, worshipers and women, even those whom are present in battlefields.
  • Muslims are not allowed to kill their enemies in a humiliating and degrading manner.
  • Muslims are not permitted to kill civilians or those who have not directly or indirectly participated in war.
  • It is not permissible for Muslims to destroy buildings, farms, civilizations and cities.
  • It is not permitted in Islamic warfare to kill those who have fled or have become injured.
  • Islam does not allow the killing and destruction of orchards, plants and animals in the course of war.
  • According to Islam, it is unlawful to use chemical weapons in wars.
  • It is also unlawful to kill those who have surrendered or can be taken alive as captives.   

وَ لَقَدْ نَصَرَكُمُ اللّهُ بِبَدْر وَ أَنْتُمْ أَذِلَّةٌ فَاتَّقُوا اللّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ

Certainly, Allah helped you at Badr, when you were weak [in the enemy’s eyes]. So be wary of Allah so that you may give thanks. 15

What this verse reveals is that any form of aid received from Allah is contingent upon the Muslims’ absolute observation of piety and God-wariness and should they transgress, the result will end in their own defeat and downfall.

The Purpose of Jihad in the Quran

Once we have established the true meaning of jihad, it is easier to understand why such a concept exists in a religion that introduces its Messenger as “mercy upon the worlds” 16 . Unless we educate ourselves regarding other aspects of Islam and its commands, prosecuting a single law according to the revolting and malicious conducts of a group of people is far from justice and logic. Therefore, what we can take away from all that has been explained is that jihad, in its essence, is nothing but striving to grow and become closer to God. However, this strive and struggle may take different forms depending on the conditions and a mindful Muslim must know which to adopt. 

The Importance of Jihad in the Quran

Jihad, in its true meaning is parallel to belief in God and His Messenger and it is a natural mechanism that every living creature possesses for the purpose of survival and growth.

تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّـهِ وَرَسُولِهِ وَتُجَاهِدُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ بِأَمْوَالِكُمْ وَأَنفُسِكُمْ ذَٰلِكُمْ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ

Have faith in Allah and His Apostle, and wage jihad in the way of Allah with your persons and possessions. That is better for you, should you know. 17

 Even plants undergo a form of jihad and strive so they may grow, spread roots and bear fruits.  Therefore, a religion or a Muslim without jihad is a stagnant and idle one and a Muslim’s faith will do them no good if they do not have anything to call for it. For this reason, jihad in the Quran is discussed as anything that mirrors a person’s willingness and effort to make evident their faith in the One True God and to submit to His commands. Surely, such a Muslim would be revered by God not for their willingness to persecute others in the name of God, but for trying their best in everything that leads them towards their Creator.

لَّا يَسْتَوِي الْقَاعِدُونَ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ غَيْرُ أُولِي الضَّرَرِ وَالْمُجَاهِدُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ بِأَمْوَالِهِمْ وَأَنفُسِهِمْ ۚ فَضَّلَ اللَّـهُ الْمُجَاهِدِينَ بِأَمْوَالِهِمْ وَأَنفُسِهِمْ عَلَى الْقَاعِدِينَ دَرَجَةً ۚ وَكُلًّا وَعَدَ اللَّـهُ الْحُسْنَىٰ ۚ وَفَضَّلَ اللَّـهُ الْمُجَاهِدِينَ عَلَى الْقَاعِدِينَ أَجْرًا عَظِيمًا

Not equal are those of the faithful who sit back—excepting those who suffer from some disability—and those who wage jihad in the way of Allah with their possession and their persons. Allah has graced those who wage jihad with their possessions and their persons by a degree over those who sit back; yet to each Allah has promised the best reward, and Allah has graced those who wage jihad over those who sit back with a great reward 18

 Thus, all forms of jihad which have been previously mentioned and anything in addition to those are ways for a person to prove their faith in God and to strive to better themselves and the world they live in.


A mujahid (مجاهد) is one who performs jihad for the sake of God as mentioned in the above verse which can apply to anyone.

المجاهد من جاهد نفسه فی الله

A mujahid is the one who struggles [against] himself for the sake of God. 19

Subsequently, in a verse, the Quran counts those who are pardoned from:

لَّيْسَ عَلَى الضُّعَفَاءِ وَلَا عَلَى الْمَرْضَىٰ وَلَا عَلَى الَّذِينَ لَا يَجِدُونَ مَا يُنفِقُونَ حَرَجٌ إِذَا نَصَحُوا لِلَّـهِ وَرَسُولِهِ ۚ مَا عَلَى الْمُحْسِنِينَ مِن سَبِيلٍ ۚ وَاللَّـهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

There is no blame on the weak, nor on the sick, nor on those who do not find anything to spend, so long as they are sincere to Allah and His Apostle. There is no [cause for] blaming the virtuous, and Allah is all-forgiving, all-merciful. 20

Obligation of Jihad in the Quran

As we said earlier, not only is jihad in its general meaning, obligatory upon all human beings, but it is the natural state and innate quality of all living creates to struggle for growth. However, if we narrow jihad down to its multiple examples, not all of them can be applies to all the people and most of them have specific conditions that must be met in order for them to be actualized.  For instance, enjoining the good and forbidding the bad is one of the most sacred forms of jihad and an imperative law in Islam. Because of this reason, enjoining the good and forbidding the bad has countless regulations and conditions that makes it much more complicated than simply walking up to someone and telling them what they are doing is wrong. Same goes for other forms of jihad; Verses in the Quran mention migrating for the sake of Allah and giving away from one’s wealth as forms of jihad.

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَهَاجَرُوا وَجَاهَدُوا بِأَمْوَالِهِمْ وَأَنفُسِهِمْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ وَالَّذِينَ آوَوا وَّنَصَرُوا أُولَـٰئِكَ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلِيَاءُ بَعْضٍ ۚ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَلَمْ يُهَاجِرُوا مَا لَكُم مِّن وَلَايَتِهِم مِّن شَيْءٍ حَتَّىٰ يُهَاجِرُوا ۚ وَإِنِ اسْتَنصَرُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ فَعَلَيْكُمُ النَّصْرُ إِلَّا عَلَىٰ قَوْمٍ بَيْنَكُمْ وَبَيْنَهُم مِّيثَاقٌ ۗ وَاللَّـهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ

Indeed, those who have believed and migrated and waged jihad with their possessions and persons in the way of Allah, and those who gave [them] shelter and help—they are heirs of one another. As for those who have believed but did not migrate, you have no heirdom in relation to them whatsoever until they migrate. Yet if they ask your help for the sake of religion, it is incumbent on you to help them, excepting against a people with whom you have a treaty; and Allah watches what you do. 21

 However, if a person does not possess the necessary means and capability for any specific form of jihad then it naturally would no longer apply to them.

In conclusion, contrary to what has been depicted of it and the transgression of a number of ignorant imposters, jihad is more than what has been perceived by the general view. It is a holy struggle that every conscious and self-aware individual strives to uphold in order to obtain their ultimate objective and reach their full potential of “liqa’ullah”- meeting with Allah (swt).


  1. Kitabul ayn
  2. Tartibu Islahul Mantiq, ibni Sikkit Al-Ahwazi
  3. Inbi Athir
  4. As-Sah: Tajul lughah wa Sihahul Arabiyah
  5. Quran 22:78 Ali Quliqarai
  6. Nahjul balaghah, p. 542
  7. Mawa’idh adadiyyah, p. 3
  8. Irshadul ghuloob, vol. 1, p. 98
  9. Al-Kafi, vol. 5, p. 9
  10. Mishkatul anwar, vol 1, p. 245
  11. Quran 5:35 Ali Quliqarai
  12. Quran 61:10 Ali Quliqarai
  13. Quran 5:32 Ali Quliqarai
  14. Quran 2:191 Ali Quliqarai
  15. Quran 5:32 Ali Quliqarai
  16. Quran 21:107
  17. Quran 61:11 Ali Quliqarai
  18. Quran 4:95 Ali Quliqarai
  19. Kanzul ummal
  20. Quran 9:91 Ali Quliqarai
  21. Quran 8:72 Ali Quliqarai
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