Between Jihad and terrorism

So what are the differences between Jihad and terrorism?

First, terrorists are not committed to the ethics of military Jihad, such as “Do not fight those who did not fight you”; and “Fulfill your treaties.” Most terrorists break oaths, commit treachery and do not distinguish between civilians and soldiers, between armed and unarmed people, between the field of peace and the field of war, between non-Muslims who fight Muslims because of their religious belief and the non-Muslims who do not do so, or between combatants and children, women or the elderly. In addition, they mix up Islam within themselves, and consider all their opponents (even Muslims) to be enemies of Islam.

Second, military Jihad is a war that is declared and conducted by a government, while terrorism is conducted by individuals and groups. Of course, terrorists do not declare their acts until after they have committed them because they depend on treachery. Most these terrorist groups have two problems. The first problem is that they don’t have any specified or clear strategy. This is because of their conflicting motivations between religious motivations (the Hereafter) and worldly motivations (politics). The second problem is that they could not predict the reactions of others. Why?  Because they are not aware of the balance of power in international relations. These two problems have made it is easy for world intelligence agencies to hold the remote control to these Islamist groups and thus to use them for their partisan purposes. Just as the CIA (American Intelligence) used Al-Qaeda to fight the Soviet Union, Mossad (Israeli Intelligence) uses Hamas to justify attacking the Gaza strip, Egypt uses the Muslim Brotherhood to justify the military dictatorship, Pakistan uses the Taliban to extort America financially, and Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey use some of these groups to gain powerful influence in other countries, such as Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. The first State to use these Islamist groups was Britain — for splitting up their colonies, as what happened in India.

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Third, terrorists are NOT committed to the true justification of the military Jihad, which is self-defense. God legislated Jihad for Muslims to defend themselves, not to defend Him or to defend Islam and its symbols. However, terrorists declare apostasy against fellow Muslims and kill them. On the other hand, they take revenge for the Islamic symbols. For example, such terrorists killed the journalists of the French magazine “Charlie Hebdo” in Paris in 2015 because they had cursed the prophet—whereas the Quran teaches us simply to stop sitting with people when they insult Islamic symbols until they turn to a different theme. The correct response is simply to get up and go away from them; that is not the same as killing them !

When you hear the verses of God [recited], they are denied [by them] and ridiculed; so do not sit with them until they enter into another conversation. [Surah Al-Nisâ’, 4:140]

This type of terrorist actions is revenge, not defense, and Muslims’ enemies use it to justify every attack and repression against Muslims in the whole world.

Fourth, terrorists limit and restrict their Jihad to one type of Islamic Jihad, which is the military type; they omit the spiritual and verbal Jihad. From my experiences working with terrorists and reading their stories, I have found that most of them were sinners and did not live for a cause, so they hated their lives, and decided to die for a cause, but they mis-choose their option. They could not forgive themselves because they do not trust God’s mercy. Instead of living a spiritual journey, they choose to have one big spiritual step that they believe can jump them to the Paradise. They fight their imaginary enemy without fighting themselves. They just have despaired of the worldly life so much that they want to skip it and move on to the Hereafter.They do not care about representing God, good deeds, helping others or improving life and making it easier. It is suicide they choose, not Jihad, so their choice is a sin, not a good deed.

And do not kill yourselves [or one another]. Indeed, God is to you ever Merciful.

And whoever does that in aggression and injustice – then We will drive him into a Fire. And that, for God, is [always] easy. [Surah Al-Nisâ’, 4:29-30]

Intentions makes a difference here. In true military Jihad, Muslims are not scared to die for a cause, but terrorists have decided to intentionally kill themselves in performing their terrorist act.

And spend in the way of God and do not throw [yourselves] by your [own] hands into destruction. And do good; indeed, God loves the doers of good. [Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:195]

You did not bring yourself to life, and you do not have the right to bring yourself intentionally to death.

Narrated Jundub:

God’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “Amongst the nations before you there was a man who got a wound, and growing impatient (with its pain), he took a knife and cut his hand with it and the blood did not stop till he died. God said, ‘My Slave hurried to bring death upon himself so I have forbidden him [to enter] Paradise.’ “(Sahih Al-Bukhari 3463)

It is a sin when you hurry to bring death upon yourself, even though it were to be in Jihad.

It is reported on the authority of Sahl b. Sa’d Al-Sa’idi that there was an encounter between the Messenger of God (ﷺ) and the polytheists, and they fought (against one another). At the conclusion of the battle the Messenger of God (ﷺ) bent his steps towards his army and they [the enemies] bent their steps towards their army. And there was a person [—his name was Quzman and he was one of the hypocrites—] among the Companions of the Messenger of God (ﷺ) who did not spare the life of a separated [fighter of the enemy] but pursued and killed him with the sword. They [the Companions of the Holy Prophet] said:

None served us better today than this man. Upon this the Messenger of God (ﷺ) remarked: Verily he is one of the denizens of Fire. One of the people [Muslims] said: I will constantly shadow him. Then this man went out along with him. He halted whenever he halted, and ran along with him whenever he ran. He [the narrator] said: The man was seriously injured. He [could not stand the pain] and hastened his own death. He placed the blade of the sword on the ground with the tip into his chest and then pressed himself against the sword and killed himself. Then the man [following him] went to the Messenger of God (ﷺ) and said: I bear testimony that verily thou art the Messenger of God, He [the Holy Prophet] said: What is the matter? He replied: The person about whom you just mentioned that he was one among the denizens of Fire and the people were surprised [at this] and I said to them that I would bring [the news about him]… and consequently I went out in search of him till I [found him] to be very seriously injured. He hastened his death. He placed the blade of the sword upon the ground and its tip into his chest and then pressed himself against that and killed himself. Thereupon the Messenger of God (ﷺ) remarked: A person may perform deeds which to the people appear to be the deeds befitting the dweller of Paradise, but he is in fact one of the denizens of Hell. And verily a person may do an act which in the eyes of public is one which is done by the denizens of Hell, but the person is one among the dwellers of Paradise. (Sahih Muslim 112)

However, why do some people do terrorist acts in the name of a religion by which they do not live, or for the race that they do not represent its values? Social psychology showed us that every society has standards and criteria with which it evaluates its members and gives them opportunities for advancement and other rewards. On the other hand, a society isolates those who fail to live up to these standards and criteria, instead of being involved in their communities and being encouraged to play roles in their societies. For example, a Muslim society would call its members “sinners” when they fail to live their religion and a white community would call its individuals “White trash” when they fail to be independent, materially well off and physically comfortable in a competitive life style. These people suffer emotional neglect and seek their community approval. They are motivated by love or defense of their communities to do terrorist acts against those who are perceived as infringing on their community’s sovereignty. Of course, those who seek power take advantage of these people.

Fifth, Jihad is the Islamic society’s way to fix a worldly problem, of religious persecution, if all other ways have failed, whereas terrorism creates many problems and causes “Fitnah,” which is disorder resulting from affliction, social unrest, sedition, civil strife, heretical uprising, temptation by misguidance, or trial by confusing truth with falsehood.

Narrated Nafi`:

During the affliction of Ibn Al-Zubair, two men came to Ibn `Umar and said, “The people are lost, and you are the son of `Umar, and the companion of the Prophet, so what forbids you from coming out?” He said, “What forbids me is that God has prohibited the shedding of my brother’s blood.” They both said, “Didn’t God say, ‘And fight then until there is no more affliction?” He said “We fought until there was no more affliction and the worship is for God [alone] whereas you want to fight until there is affliction and until the worship become for other than God.”

Narrated Nafi` (through another group of sub-narrators):

A man came to Ibn `Umar and said, “O Abu `Abdur Rahman! What made you perform Hajj in one year and Umra in another year and leave the Jihad for Allah’s Cause though you know how much God recommends it?” Ibn `Umar replied, “O son of my brother! Islam is founded on five principles, i.e. believe in God and His Apostle, the five compulsory prayers, the fasting of the month of Ramadan, the payment of Zakat, and the Hajj to the House (of God ).” The man said, “O Abu `Abdur Rahman! Won’t you listen to why God has mentioned in His Book: ‘If two groups of believers fight each other, then make peace between them, but if one of then transgresses beyond bounds against the other, then you all fight against the one that transgresses. [49.9] And:–“And fight them till there is no more affliction.” Ibn `Umar said, “We did this, during the lifetime of God’s Messenger (ﷺ) when Islam had only a few followers. A man would be put to trial because of his religion; he would either be killed or tortured. But when the Muslims increased, there was no more afflictions or oppressions.” The man said, “What is your opinion about `Uthman and `Ali?” Ibn `Umar said, “As for `Uthman, it seems that God has forgiven him, but you people dislike that he should be forgiven. And as for `Ali, he is the cousin of God’s Messenger (ﷺ) and his son-in-law.” Then he pointed with his hand and said, “That is his house which you see.”   (Sahih al-Bukhari Book 65, 4513)

Prophet Muhammad advised us to avoid public interactions in the time of commotion (fitnah).

Narrated Abdullah ibn Amr ibn Al-‘As:

When we were around the Messenger of God (ﷺ), he mentioned the period of commotion saying: When you see the people that their covenants have been impaired, (the fulfilling of) the guarantees becomes rare, and they become thus [interwining his fingers]. I then got up and said: What should I do at that time, may Allah make me a ransom for you? He replied: Keep to your house, control your tongue, accept what you approve, abandon what you disapprove, attend to your own affairs, and leave alone the affairs of the generalsociety. (Sunan Abi Dawud 4343)

Terrorists do not represent God’s qualities as His agent.

“Indeed, I will make upon the earth a vicegerent (successive authority, representative, emissary or agent).”  [Al-Baqarah, 2:30]

Instead, they take it upon themselves to carry out what they guess is God’s will, presuming to be His  soldiers or police officers. They have forgotten that God is not unable to carry His own will.

Indeed, God will accomplish His purpose. [Surah Al-Ṭalâq,  65:3]

God is patient and forbearing even with the sinners and those who disbelieve in Him, until their worldly test is over.

Abdullah b. Qais reported from God’s Messenger (ﷺ):

“None is more patient than God against the harmful and annoying words He hears (from the people). Even though they associate others with him, ascribe children to Him, He still bestows upon them health, sustenance, safety and provision.”  (Sahih Muslim 2804 c)

God extends the time and enjoyment of the disbelievers, and He postpones their punishment that they may increase in sin, so they will deserve no share in the Hereafter except a severe punishment.

And do not be grieved, [O Muhammad], by those who hasten into disbelief. Indeed, they will never harm God at all. God intends that He should give them no share in the Hereafter, and for them is a great punishment.

And let not those who disbelieve ever think that [because] We extend their time [of enjoyment] it is better for them. We only extend it for them so that they may increase in sin, and for them is a humiliating punishment. [Surah Âl ‘Imrân, 3:176-178]

Did not God tell his Prophet (ﷺ) that he could not control people?

You are not over them a controller. [Surah Al-Ghâshîyah, 88:22]

If God is the best judge and his Messenger (ﷺ) could not control people or judge them, then who do terrorists think they are to judge or control people’s lives!

Is not God the most just of judges? [Surah Al-Tîn, 95:7-8]

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Ayman Refaat

Ayman Refaat hails from Alexandria, Egypt and now resides in the United States of America, where he teaches as Adjunct Instructor of Arabic Language at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He also serves as Islamic Spiritual Guide at the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth. Mr. Refaat holds several university degrees: Bachelors (1994) in Arabic Language and Literature, as well as in Oriental Language and Literature, from the University of Alexandria; Masters (2015) in Curriculum and Instruction, from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Among his publications in Arabic are several articles regarding Arabic and Hebrew Literature; also two books on Arabic grammar and rhetoric. English language publications include a set of three primary level books for learning Arabic starting with the alphabet. Forthcoming works: Liberate Islam: A Modern Rational View of Islam in its Original Sources; The Bell Curve of Civilizations - with focus on Islamic Civilization; The Purpose of Life in Islamic Spirituality. Also, he has given presentations on the theme of his book, The Bell Curve of Civilizations, at several churches in his area. Mr. Refaat is available for small group talks on Islamic subjects and may be contacted at

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