One of the most misunderstood terms in Islam is “Jihad”. Unfortunately, the word “Jihad” has been misused, and as a result many people associate it with war and terrorism.
Linguistically, Jihad means striving for good or against evil. Jihad is expressed in many ways, but generally it means resisting and opposing the self from base desires. It can also mean resisting oppression, persecution or standing up to a tyrant.
The Prophet Mohamed said: “The person who performs jihad is the one who opposes his own self for the sake of Allah, the Exalted (by obeying Him).” (Ibn Habaan)
The following are a few ways, that jihad may be expressed:
Informing non-Muslims of the content of Islam. Making it clear to them by citing evidences from the Holy Qur'an or supporting explanations along with proofs while reasoning when necessary and listening with patience to their criticisms or accusations.
So do not obey the disbelievers, and strive against them with the Qur’an a great striving. (25:52)
Commanding the good and forbidding the evil are the traditions of the prophets and their followers. The Prophet said:
“There was no Prophet whom Allah has sent before me except that he had disciples and friends from among his nation who would follow his ways and obey his commands. Then, new generations came who said that which they would not do, and practiced that which they were not commanded to do. He who strove against them with his hand was a believer. He who strove against them with his tongue was a believer. And he who strove against them with his heart was a believer, yet beyond that there is no faith even to the extent of a mustard seed.” (Muslim)
Speaking out against an unjust ruler. The Prophet Muhammad said: “The best jihad is speaking truthfully to an unjust ruler.” (Abu Dawud)
Treating parents respectfully.
A man came to the Prophet seeking permission to join one of the battles. The Prophet asked the man, “Are your parents alive?” The man replied, “Yes.” The Prophet then said, “Make your jihad by taking care of them.” (Bukhari)
The Prophet Muhammad said: '“Whoever comes to this mosque of mine, and only comes for a good purpose, such as to learn or to teach, his status is like that of one who makes Jihad in the cause of Allah. Whoever comes for any other purpose, his status is that of a man who is keeping an eye on other people’s property (meaning he is not earning any good).” (Ibn Majaa)
Traveling for the purpose of gaining knowledge is a form of Jihad.
The Prophet Muhammad said: “He who goes forth in search of knowledge is considered as struggling in the cause of Allah until he returns.” (Tirmidhi)
Performing acts of worship.
The was asked, “O Messenger of Allah, is Jihad obligatory for women?” He said, “Yes. Upon them is a Jihad in which there is no fighting; the Hajj (voluntary pilgrimage) or the lesser pilgrimage ('umrah).” (Ibn Majaa)
He also said: “Shall I show you what acts lead to the forgiveness of sins and an increase in good deeds? Making ablution in difficult circumstances (like cold weather), taking many steps while walking to the mosque and waiting in the mosque from prayer to prayer. Indeed, such acts are the equivalent of guarding the frontiers from the enemy.” (Muslim)
Muslims who favor moral uprightness and performing community service in their society are also considered to be performing jihad.
The Prophet said, “The one who looks after a widow or a poor person is like one who wages jihad for Allah’s Cause, or like him who performs prayers all the night and fasts all the day.” (Bukhari)
Jihad can also denote military effort. This is seen as a last attempt to end the violation of rights of others or any act of aggression. Sometimes the sword of justice is necessary to prevent the sword of tyranny as is the case with the police. Yet even during times of war, Muslims are commanded to uphold morality. Acts of torture are strictly forbidden, as is harming civilians, women, children or the elderly during times of war. Furthermore, only a governmental authority can declare a legitimate jihad, not individuals or groups.
The Messenger of God said: “Fight in the name of God, and for the cause of God… do not break treaties, do not mutilate, and do not kill young children.” (Muslim).
Islam also prohibits the destroying or desecrating of places of worship, killing or hurting of animals and destroying trees.
At the time of fighting between Muslims and non-Muslims, Abu Bakr, the first Caliph after the Prophet ,would advise his commanders saying: “I command you ten things. Learn them by heart: Don’t betray, defraud (by stealing the spoils of war), or break treaties. Don’t mutilate or kill women, young children, or the elderly. Do not uproot or burn palm trees. Do not cut down fruitful trees, slaughter sheep, cows or camels except for eating. You will also come across people secluded in monasteries, so leave them and their devotions.” (Tabari, Vol.3)
... And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden [to be killed] except by [legal] right. This has He instructed you that you may use reason. (6:151)