Jihad” by Sir Thomas W. Arnold

In our present times, the term Jihad’ has gen­er­al­ly been used to imply killing the oppo­nent (non-Mus­lim) using any means, what­so­ev­er”. This impli­ca­tion of the term, if seen in the light of the Qur’an as well as the life of the Prophet(P) does not seem to be accurate.

In the fol­low­ing arti­cle, which actu­al­ly forms the Appen­dix ivof his book, The Preach­ing of Islam, Sir Thomas W. Arnold has defend­ed with extra­or­di­nary tal­ent the the­sis that the basic mean­ing of jihad”, is : the using or exert­ing one’s utmost pow­er, effort, endeav­or or abil­i­ty, in con­tend­ing with an object of dis­ap­pro­ba­tion”, and that pri­mar­i­ly the word bears no ref­er­ence to war or fight­ing, much less to fight­ing against unbe­liev­ers or forcible con­ver­sion of them, but derives its par­tic­u­lar appli­ca­tion from the con­text only. Sir Thomas Arnold accom­plish­es this by col­lect­ing and care­ful­ly exam­in­ing all those Qur’an­ic vers­es where the word jih?d or its oth­er forms have been used. He right­ly con­cludes that it is due to the lat­er Mus­lim legal­ists and com­men­ta­tors that jihad came to be inter­pret­ed as a reli­gious war waged against unbe­liev­ers, but such a doc­trine is whol­ly unau­tho­rized by the Qur’an.

Sir Thomas W. Arnold was one of the lead­ing ori­en­tal­ists of the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry who also taught phi­los­o­phy and Islam­ic stud­ies in the Indi­an sub-con­ti­nent. He was also the teacher of the famous poet-philoso­pher Muham­mad Iqbal. His oth­er books, besides the one men­tioned above, are : Paint­ing in Islam. A Study of the Place of Pic­to­r­i­al Art in Mus­lim Cul­ture, Oxford, 1928 ; and The Lega­cy of Islam (with Alfred Guil­laume), Oxford, 1931.

Jihad”, By Sir Thomas W. Arnold

Any account of Mus­lim mis­sion­ary activ­i­ty would be incom­plete with­out some men­tion of the Jihad, or reli­gious war, as the word is com­mon­ly trans­lat­ed, if only for the fact that the faith of Islam is com­mon­ly said to have been prop­a­gat­ed by the sword and the typ­i­cal Mus­lim mis­sion­ary is rep­re­sent­ed as a war­rior with a sword in one hand and the Qur’?n in the oth­er, offer­ing to the unbe­liev­ers the choice between the two.

How inad­e­quate is such an account of the spread of Islam may be judged from the pre­ced­ing pages[1]; it remains now to see whether the teach­ing of the Qur’?n autho­rizes forced con­ver­sion and exhorts the believ­er to an armed and mil­i­tant pro­pa­gan­da, in fact whether Islam has been mis­sion­ary despite itself. There are no pas­sages to be found in the Qur’?n that in any way enjoin forcible con­ver­sion, and many that on the con­trary lim­it pro­pa­gan­dist efforts to preach­ing and per­sua­sion. It has fur­ther been main­tained that no pas­sage in the Qur’?n autho­rizes unpro­voked attacks on unbelievers[2], and that, in accor­dance with such teach­ing ; all the wars of Muham­mad were defensive.

It is fur­ther main­tained that the com­mon, pop­u­lar mean­ing of war­fare against unbe­liev­ers’ attached to the word Jihad,

    [1] i.e., through­out the book. For instance p. 5, f.n. 1 :

    This mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Mus­lim wars of con­quest has arisen from the assump­tion that wars waged for the exten­sion of Mus­lim dom­i­na­tion over the lands of the unbe­liev­ers implied that the aim in view was their conversion.”

    [2] Maul­vi Cher­agh Ali, A Crit­i­cal Expo­si­tion of the Pop­u­lar Jihad (Cal­cut­ta, 1885) show­ing that all the wars of Muham­mad were defen­sive ; and that aggres­sive war, or com­pul­so­ry con­ver­sion, is not allowed in the Qur’an.

No pre­cept is to be found in the Kuran which, tak­en with the con­text, can jus­ti­fy unpro­voked war.” (E. W. Lane, The Man­ners and Cus­toms of the Mod­ern Egyp­tians, 5th Ed., Lon­don, 1860, p. 93).


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is post-Qur’an­ic, and that the pas­sages in which this word or any of the derivates from the same root occur, should be trans­lat­ed in accor­dance with the prim­i­tive meaning.

The mean­ing of the sim­ple verb jaha­da” is to strive, labor, toil ; to exert one­self ; to be dili­gent or stu­dious ; to take plans:” it is applied to exer­tion in any kind of affair, even the churn­ing of but­ter or the eat­ing of food, — in the IVth form ajha­da,” — also to swear­ing, and (in the case of things) to their becom­ing much and spread­ing ; the VII­Ith form, ijta­ha­da,” denotes to take pains to form a right judg­ment,” and the noun of action from the same form, — ijti­had” — a lawyer’s exert­ing the fac­ul­ties of the mind to the utmost for the pur­pose of form­ing an opin­ion in a case of law, respect­ing a doubt­ful and dif­fi­cult point.

The mean­ing of the noun of action, jihad,” is : the using or exert­ing one’s utmost pow­er, effort, endeav­or or abil­i­ty, in con­tend­ing with an object of dis­ap­pro­ba­tion”, and it is obvi­ous from the above account of the var­i­ous mean­ings of dif­fer­ent forms that the root assumes, that pri­mar­i­ly the word bears no ref­er­ence to war or fight­ing, much less to fight­ing against unbe­liev­ers or forcible con­ver­sion of them, but derives it par­tic­u­lar appli­ca­tion from the con­text only.

In the fol­low­ing pas­sages it is pro­posed to give all the pas­sages in which jihad or any oth­er deriv­a­tives from the same root occur, arrang­ing the pas­sages in chrono­log­i­cal order :

If We willed, We could raise up a warn­er in every vil­lage. So obey not the dis­be­liev­ers, but strive against them here­with with a great endeav­or [Jahid-hum biha Jihadan kabaran]” [25:51?52] (Pick­thal’s translation)

The ref­er­ence is here clear­ly to preach­ing, as these vers­es were revealed in Mec­ca, and to trans­late Jihadan’, war­fare” is as absurd as it is illegitimate.

Whoso after he hath believed in God deni­eth Him, if he were forced to it and it his heart remain stead­fast in the faith, (shall be guilt­less)…” [16:106]


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Then to those, who, after their tri­als, fled their coun­try and strove [jahadu] and endured with patience, ver­i­ly thy Lord will after­wards be for­giv­ing, gra­cious.” [16:110]

Verse 106 is said to refer to the tor­tures inflict­ed on some of the con­verts, and verse 110 to the flight into Abyssinia ; the jihad of these per­sons, there­fore, was the great exer­tions and toils they had to make through per­se­cu­tion and exile.

And whoso­ev­er striv­eth [jiha­da], striv­eth [yujahidu] only for him­self, for lo ! Allah is alto­geth­er Inde­pen­dent of (His) crea­tures.” [29:6] (Pick­thal’s translation)

More­over we have enjoined on man to show kind­ness to par­ents ; but if they strive [jaha­da] with thee in order that thou that with Me of which thou hast no knowl­edge, then obey them not.” [31:14?15]

And those who have striv­en [have exert­ed them­selves ; jahadu] for Us, in Our path will We sure­ly guide : for ver­i­ly God is with those who do right­eous deeds.” [29:69]

And they have sworn by God with their most stren­u­ous [jaha­da] oath” [6:109]

And they swore by Allah with the strongest [jiha­da] of their oaths” [35:42] (M. H. Shakir’s translation)

Lo ! those who believe, and those who emi­grate (to escape the per­se­cu­tion) and strive [exert them­selves, jahadu] in the way of Allah, these have hope of Allah’s mer­cy. Allah is For­giv­ing, Mer­ci­ful.” [2:218] (Pick­thal’s translation)

?Lo ! those who believed and left their homes and strove [jahadu] with their wealth and their lives for the cause of Allah, and those who took them in and helped them : these are pro­tect­ing friends one of anoth­er… Those who believed and left their homes and strove [jahadu] for the cause of Allah, and those who took them in and helped them — these are the believ­ers in truth. For them is par­don, and boun­ti­ful pro­vi­sion.? [8:72, 74] (Pick­thal’s translation)

And those who after­wards believed and left their homes and strove [exert­ed them­selves, jahadu] along with you, they are of you” [8:75] (Pick­thal’s translation)


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Lo ! those who turn back after the guid­ance hath been man­i­fest­ed unto them, Satan hath seduced them. Think these men of dis­eased hearts, that God will not bring oth­er their mal­ice to light ?

And We will sure­ly test you, until We know those who have striv­en (mujahidin) and those who have been patient among you ; and We will test the reports of you.

Ver­i­ly those who believe not, and turn oth­ers from the way of God, and sep­a­rate them­selves from the Apos­tle after that the guid­ance hath been clear­ly shown them, shall in no way injure God : but their works shall He bring to naught.” (47:25, 3132).

Do you think that ye could enter Par­adise with­out God’s tak­ing knowl­edge of those among you who have striv­en (exert­ed your­selves, jahadu) and have been patient?” (3:142).

Believe in God and His Apos­tle, and strive (exert your­selves, mujahid­i­na) in the way of God with your prop­er­ty and your per­sons.” (61:11).

Those believ­ers who sit at home free from trou­ble and those who strive (exert them­selves, mujahid­i­na) in the way of God with their prop­er­ty and their per­sons, are not equal. God has assigned to those who strive (exert them­selves, mujahid­i­na) with their prop­er­ty and their per­sons a rank above those who sit at homes. Good­ly promis­es hath God made to all : but God hath assigned to those who strive (exert them­selves, mujahid­i­na) a rich rec­om­pense above those who sit at home.” (4:95).

And they swore by God with their most stren­u­ous (jah­da) oath.” (24:53).

O you who believe ! bow down and pros­trate your­selves and serve your Lord, and do good that you may succeed.

And strive in the Lord (exert your­selves — jih­du in God), as it behoveth you to do for Him. He hath elect­ed you, and hath not laid on you any hard­ship in reli­gion, the faith of your father Abra­ham.” (22:77 – 78).


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O Prophet ! strive hard (jahi­di) against the unbe­liev­ers and the hyp­ocrites, and be strict towards them ; and their abode is hell ; and evil is the resort.” (66:9).

As Muham­mad nev­er fought with the munafiqun or hyp­ocrites, we can­not trans­late jihad as mak­ing war”: the feel­ing that guid­ed his con­duct towards them is rather indi­cat­ed in 33:48 ;

Obey not the infi­dels and hyp­ocrites and take no heed of their evil entreat­ing, and put thy trust in God, for God is a suf­fi­cient guardian.”

Accord­ing­ly the verse (66:9) is tak­en to mean :

Exert thy­self in preach­ing to, and remon­strat­ing with, the unbe­liev­ers, and hyp­ocrites, and be strict towards them, — i.e., be not smooth with them or be beguiled by them).”[1]

O you who believe ! do not take My ene­my and your ene­my for friends : would you offer them love while they deny what has come to you of the truth, dri­ving out the Mes­sen­ger and your­selves because you believe in God, your Lord ? If you go forth strug­gling hard in My path (jihadan) and seek­ing My plea­sure, would you man­i­fest love to them ? And I know what you con­ceal and what you man­i­fest ; and who­ev­er of you does this, he indeed has gone astray from the straight path.” (60:1).

The believ­ers are only those who believe in God and His Mes­sen­ger then they doubt not and strive (jahadu) with their prop­er­ty and their per­sons in the way of God ; they are the truth­ful ones.” (49:15).

Think ye that ye shall be for­sak­en, and that God doth not yet know those among you who strive (exert them­selves, jahadu) and take none for their inti­mate friends besides God and His Apos­tle and the faith­ful?’ (9:16).

Do ye make the giv­ing of drink to pil­grims, or the main­te­nance of the Sacred Mosque, equal to (the pious ser­vice of) those who believe in God and the Last Day, and striv­eth (jaha­da) in the path of God ? They are not equal before God : and God guideth not the unjust.

Those who believed and fled (their homes), and strove (jahadu) in God’s way with their prop­er­ty and their per­sons, are much high­er in rank with God ; and those are they who are the achiev­ers (of their objects).” (9:19?20).

    [1] Chi­ragh Ali, p. 186

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Say : If your fathers and your sons and your brethren and your mates and your kins­folk and prop­er­ty which you have acquired, and the slack­ness of trade which you fear and dwellings which you like, are dear­er to you than God and His Mes­sen­ger and striv­ing (jih?din) in His path, then wait till God brings about His com­mand : and God does not guide the trans­gress­ing peo­ple.” (9:24).

March ye forth, the light and heavy armed, and strive (jahadu) with your prop­er­ty and your per­sons on the path of God ? (9:41)

Those who believe in God and the Last Day will not ask leave of thee to be excused from striv­ing (yujahidu) with their prop­er­ty and their per­sons ? (9:44)

They who were left in their homes were delight­ed (to stay) behind God’s Apos­tle and were averse from striv­ing (yujahidu) with their prop­er­ty and their per­sons in the path of God and said, March not out in the heat.’ ” (9:81)

More­over when a Surah is sent down with Believe in God and strive (exert your­selves, jahidu’) in com­pa­ny with His Apos­tle,” those of them who are pos­sessed of rich­es demand­ed exemp­tion and said, Allow us to be with those who sit at home.”” (9:86)

But the Apos­tle, and those who believe with him, strove (exert­ed them­selves, jihadu’) with their prop­er­ty and per­sons : for them are (all) good things : and it is they who will pros­per.” (9:88)

The 9th Surah, from which the last nine vers­es have been quot­ed, was revealed at the end of the ninth year of the Hijrah when the Mec­ca­ns had vio­lat­ed the truce of Huday­biyah and attacked the Banu Khuza‘ah, who were in alliance with Muhammad :

Will ye not do bat­tle with a peo­ple who have bro­ken their covenant and aimed to expel your Apos­tle and attacked you first?” (9:13)

The time­ly sub­mis­sion of Mec­ca how­ev­er removed the neces­si­ty of this retal­i­a­tion, which was to have been made after the expi­ra­tion of the four sacred months (9:5).

In this case, fight­ing in defense of their aggriev­ed allies would nat­u­ral­ly be implied in jih?d, though form­ing no essen­tial part of its mean­ing ; and we can thus


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under­stand how jihad came in lat­er times to be inter­pret­ed as mean­ing : Fight­ing against unbelievers.’)

O ye who believe ! Fear God, desire union with Him, and strive (exert your­selves, jahidu) in His path, it may be that you will attain hap­pi­ness.” (5:35).

And the faith­ful will say, Are these they who swore by God their most stren­u­ous (jaha­da) oath, that they were sure­ly on your side?’ ” (5:53)

O ye who believe ! if any from among you turn back from his Faith, then God will pro­duce a peo­ple whom He will love as they will love Him, low­ly with the believ­ers, griev­ous to the rejecters, they will strive (exert them­selves, yujahiduna’) in the path of God, and will not fear the blame of the blamer.” (5:54)

It is due to the Muham­madan legal­ists and com­men­ta­tors that jihad came to be inter­pret­ed as a reli­gious war waged against unbe­liev­ers, who might be attacked even though they were not the aggres­sors ; but such a doc­trine is whol­ly unau­tho­rized by the Qur’an and can only be extract­ed there-from by quot­ing iso­lat­ed por­tions of dif­fer­ent vers­es, con­sid­ered apart from the con­text and the spe­cial cir­cum­stances under which they were deliv­ered and to which alone they were held to refer, being in no way intend­ed as pos­i­tive injunc­tions for future obser­vance or reli­gious pre­cepts for com­ing generations.

But though some Muham­madan legal­ists have main­tained the right­ful­ness of unpro­voked war against unbe­liev­ers, none (as far as I am aware) have ven­tured to jus­ti­fy com­pul­so­ry con­ver­sion but have always vin­di­cat­ed for the con­quered the right of retain­ing their own faith on pay­ment of jizyah.Endmark

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