During the period of Qur'anic revelation, while Muhammad was in Mecca (610-622), Jihad meant essentially a nonviolent struggle to spread Islam. Following his move from Mecca to Medina in 622, and the establishment of an Islamic state, fighting in self-defense was sanctioned by the Qur'an. This book began referring increasingly to qital as a form of Jihad which supports the idea of either conquest or conversion war against all unbelievers.
Nowadays, three broad approaches to the Jihad reinterpretation may be discerned:
First. In the late nineteenth century --as a response to Western criticism that Jihad meant 'holy war' and that Islam was spread through force-- Muslim apologists argued that Prophetic traditions allow war only for self-defense against persecution and aggression.
Second. The modernists dismiss the medieval theory as a distortion of Qur'anic ethics, emphasizing, for instance, that the division of the world into Islamic world and unbeliever world is found nowhere in the Qur'an. A war is Jihad, therefore, only if it is undertaken in defense of Muslim lives, property, and honor.
Such an interpretation is motivated less by Western criticisms than by the wish to evolve this concept in a way compatible with international norms.
This view of Jihad is the Islamic equivalent of the Western idea of just war, a war fought to repel aggression with limited goals and by restricted means.
Third. The revivalist arm argues that Jihad goal is clearly to propagate the Islamic order worldwide. The tactics to achieve this resolution must not to be to coerce people to accept Islam, because the Qur'an clearly encourages freedom of worship. Rather, it ought to be to overthrow un-Islamic regimes that corrupt their societies and divert people from service to God.
Un-Islamic regimes include those ruling in most Muslim countries, in which hypocritical leaders should be replaced with true Muslims.
Only when this internal debate has succeeded in restoring a sincere Islamic base, the external Jihad can resume. Thus, Jihad is today largely synonymous with Islamic revolution in the works of most Muslim activists.
1. Johnson, James Turner, and John Kelsay, eds. Cross, Crescent, and Sword: The Justification and Limitation of War in Western and Islamic Tradition. New York. Greenwood Press, 1990.
2. Khadduri, Majid. War and Peace in the Law of Islam. Baltimore. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1955.
3. Morabia, Alfred. Le Gihad dans l'Islam medieval: Le 'Combat sacré' des origines au XIIme siécle. Paris. Albin Michel (ed.), 1993.