Probably the one Islamic term more Americans know than any other is jihad. However, what this word means and its implications for Islam are often misunderstood. To many Americans, it means “holy war,” and it is the motto of Islamic terrorism. In this post we I will examine what the Quran actually says about jihad, warfare, and terrorism.
The Meaning of Jihad
Jihad comes from the Arabic root jahada, “putting forth a great effort to achieve a goal.” Those who practice jihad are called mujahidin. The word jihad actually occurs only four times in the Quran (9:24; 22:77-78; 25:48-52; 60:1), and in none of these instances is it explicitly about violence. For most Muslims, jihad refers to the spiritual struggle to live according to the teachings of God.
Warfare in the Quran
There are many references to literal warfare and combat in the Quran, and in Islamic tradition. But is it true that terrorists like Usama bin Laden are simply obeying the Quran?
According to some critics, the answer is yes. “Islam does in fact have an essential and indispensable tenet of militaristic conquest. The terrorists were not some fringe group that changed the Qur'an to suit political ends. They understood the Qur'an quite well and followed the teachings of jihad to the letter." (Unveiling Islam, p. 184).
It is especially common to find websites which isolate verses in the Quran that talk about making war against unbelievers, sometimes called the “sword verses.” The most widely quoted is Surah 9:5:
5 When the [four] forbidden months are over, wherever you encounter the idolaters, kill them, seize them, besiege them, wait for them at every lookout post…
Curiously, many critics of Islam fail to quote Surah 9:5 in its entirety. Here is the rest of the verse, along with the following verse: