The Islamic Law of Jihad 
Javed Ahmad Ghamidi


    Peace and freedom are two essential requirements of a society. Just as various penal measures help in protecting a society from the evils and excesses committed by an individual, resorting to armed offensives sometimes becomes essential to curb the evils perpetrated by countries and nations. As long as diplomatic relations and negotiations can be used to resolve matters, no one would endorse the use of force for settling affairs. However, if a nation threatens to disrupt the peace and freedom of the world and its arrogance and haughtiness exceed all bounds, a stage may come when the use of force and power may become essential to keep it in check. In such cases, it is the inalienable right of humankind to forcibly stop its subversive activities until peace and freedom of the world are restored. The Qur’an asserts that if the use of force would not have been allowed in such cases, the disruption and disorder caused by insurgent nations could have reached the extent that the places of worship – where the Almighty is kept in constant remembrance – would have become deserted and forsaken, not to mention the disruption of the society itself:

And had it not been that Allah checks one set of people with another, the monasteries and churches, the synagogues and the mosques, in which His praise is abundantly celebrated would have been utterly destroyed. (22:40)

    In religious parlance, this use of force is called Jihad1, and in the Qur’an it can be classified in two distinct categories:
    Firstly, against injustice and oppression.
    Secondly, against the rejecters of truth after it has become evident to them.
    The first type of Jihad is an eternal directive of the Shari‘ah. As stated, it is launched to curb oppression and injustice. The second type, however, is specific to people whom the Almighty selects for delivering the truth as an obligation. They are called witnesses to the truth; the implication being that they bear witness to the truth before other people in such a complete and ultimate manner that no one is left with an excuse to deny the truth. Bearing witness to the truth in such a manner is called  (shahadah). In the history of mankind, for the very last time this status was conferred on the Prophet Muhammad (sws) and his Companions (rta):

And similarly, O Companions of the Prophet! We have made you an intermediate group2 so that you be witnesses [to this religion] before the nations, and the Rasul be such a witness before you. (2:143)

    Once the process of  (shahadah) is complete, the truth is unveiled to a people in its ultimate form, and if they now deny it in spite of being convinced about it, they are punished in this very world. At times, this punishment is through earthquakes, cyclones and other calamities and disasters, while, at others, it emanates from the swords of the believers. As a result, those who have denied the truth are totally vanquished in their land and the truth reigns supreme in it. In the case of the Prophet Muhammad (sws) and his Companions (rta), the divine scourge took this very form. Consequently, just as they were asked to wage war against oppression and injustice, they were also asked to wage war to punish the rejecters of the truth once it had become totally manifest to them. This was actually a divine plan that was executed through human beings. They themselves were not authorized to even think of such an undertaking. It is to this very fact which the following words of the Qur’an allude:

Fight them and God will punish them with your hands. (9:14)

    In the following pages, this writer will attempt to explain the directives of the Shari‘ah regarding both these categories of Jihad.3

               I. The Permission for Jihad
               II. The Directive of Jihad
                        i. Nature of the Obligation 
                        ii. The Driving Force 
                        iii. Ethical Limits 
                        iv. The Ultimate Goal 
               III. Divine Help
               IV. Prisoners of War
               V. Spoils of War


1. The literal meaning of Jihad is to strive for a cause with full force. In the Qur’an, it is used in this general sense as well as to denote an armed offensive in the way of Allah. Here this second meaning is implied.
2. This means that the Companions (rta) stood between the Muhammad (sws) and the rest of the world of their times who were able to observe the whole process of shahadah.
3. The verses on which these directives are primarily based are stated in bold.