The literal meaning of Jihad is struggle or effort, and it means much more than holy war.
Muslims use the word Jihad to describe three different kinds of struggle:
- A believer's internal struggle to live out the Muslim faith as well as possible
- The struggle to build a good Muslim society
- Holy war: the struggle to defend Islam, with force if necessary
Many modern writers claim that the main meaning of Jihad is the internal spiritual struggle, and this is accepted by many Muslims.
However there are so many references to Jihad as a military struggle in Islamic writings that it is incorrect to claim that the interpretation of Jihad as holy war is wrong.
Jihad and the Prophet
The internal Jihad is the one that Prophet Muhammad is said to have called the greater Jihad.
But the quotation in which the Prophet says this is regarded as coming from an unreliable source by some scholars. They regard the use of Jihad to mean holy war as the more important.
The internal Jihad
The phrase internal Jihad or greater Jihad refers to the efforts of a believer to live their Muslim faith as well as possible.
All religious people want to live their lives in the way that will please their God.
So Muslims make a great effort to live as Allah has instructed them; following the rules of the faith, being devoted to Allah, doing everything they can to help other people.
For most people, living God's way is quite a struggle. God sets high standards, and believers have to fight with their own selfish desires to live up to them, no matter how much they love God.
The five Pillars of Islam as Jihad
The five Pillars of Islam form an exercise of Jihad in this sense, since a Muslim gets closer to Allah by performing them.
Other ways in which a Muslim engages in the 'greater Jihad' could include:
- Learning the Qur'an by heart, or engage in other religious study.
- Overcoming things such as anger, greed, hatred, pride, or malice.
- Giving up smoking.
- Cleaning the floor of the mosque.
- Taking part in Muslim community activities.
- Working for social justice.
- Forgiving someone who has hurt them.