We ended Part 1 with the following Table:

Table 2. Three Gradual Stages of Jihad

We now turn to the third stage of Jihad: Physical [military] Jihad.

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Correcting the Understanding of Non-Muslims

One of the biggest western stereotypes about the concept of Jihad in Islam is that Jihad is equivalent to the concept of Holy War held by the Church in the days of the Crusades.  Jihad is not a permission for Muslims to kill non-Muslims, or to terrify them to convert them to Islam.

Actually, unbelief is one of the greatest sins in Islam, but that is between the individual and his God. Furthermore, in Islamic belief its punishment is postponed to the Hereafter. Therefore, unbelief in itself is not the justification for war. The Quran states the concept of freedom of religion very clearly, so Muslims cannot wage war for propagation or implementation of Islam.

There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong.  [Sûrah Al-Baqarah, 2:256]

Moreover, the Quran distinguished between non-Muslims who fights Muslims because of their religious belief and the non-Muslims who do not fight Muslims. Muslims have to fight back against the first category to defend themselves. On the other hand, nothing forbade Muslims to have good relationships with, be righteous and acting justly toward non-Muslims who do not fight Muslims.

 “Perhaps God will put, between you and those to whom you have been enemies among them, affection. And God is competent, and Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. God does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes – from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, God loves those who act justly. God forbids you only from those who fight you because of religion and expel you from your homes and aid in your expulsion – [He forbids] that you make allies of them. And whoever makes allies of them, then it is those who are the wrongdoers.”   [Sûrah Al-Mumtaḥinah, 60:7-9]

Accordingly, the Muslim should be a good neighbor to non-Muslims, since they do not fight him because his religion, expel him from his home, or aid in his expulsion. Also, the Quran commands Muslims to maintain theie family relations, uphold the ties of kinship and keep up the bonds of womb connections and kin relationships, not just for non-Muslim relatives, but even if they strive to make you worship other than God.

But if they endeavor to make you associate with Me that of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them but accompany them in [this] world with appropriate kindness.  [Sûrah Al-Luqmân, 31:15]

In addition, the Quran warns Muslims not to insult the disbelievers’ gods and idols.

And do not insult those they invoke other than God, lest they insult God in enmity without knowledge. Thus We have made pleasing to every community their deeds. Then to their Lord is their return, and He will inform them about what they used to do.  [Sûrah Al-AnCâm, 6:108]

The Quran gave Jews and Christians a special position among non-Muslims; because they worship the same God Muslims worship. Quran called them “People of the book” because they received the heavenly revealed scriptures before the Quran: the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospel. Therefore, Quran asked Muslims to treat them well and not to argue with them except in the best way.

And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them, and say, “We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him.”  [Sûrah Al-Ankabût, 29:46]

In addition, Prophet Muhammad warned Muslims not to hurt non-Muslim living under Muslim rule.

Narrated `Abdullah bin `Amr:

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Whoever killed a mu’ahid [a person who is granted the pledge of protection by the Muslims] shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise though its fragrance can be smelt at a distance of forty years (of traveling).”  (Saî Al-Bukhârî 6914)

By Islamic law (ShariCah), the state is obligated to protect the non-Muslim living under Muslim rule… to protect his individual life, property, and freedom of religion. In other words, he is equal with Muslims under the laws of property, contract, and obligation. In addition, non-Muslim communities were usually governed by their own law instead of the law applicable to the Muslim community. For example, the Jewish community in Medina was allowed to have their own Jewish law (Halakha) courts.

After the Mongols had occupied Damascus in 1303, the Muslim scholar (Ibn Taymiyyah) negotiated with the Mongol authorities to release the Syrian war prisoners. When they tried to release the Muslims only, he insisted to release the non-Muslims before the Muslims.

The Legitimacy of War

We explained before that we have free will because we have been given the faculty of reason —without the ability to reason we cannot have free will. God legislated for us the possibility of military Jihad to protect this freedom to think and reason. Military Jihad protects Muslims’ freedom of religion, while Islamic law (ShariCah) protects non-Muslims’ freedom of religion within the Islamic states.

The Qur’an stipulates one condition for this military type of Jihad. It is to defend yourself, not to attack or assault anyone.

Fight in the way of God those who fight you but do not assault. Indeed. God does not like the transgressors. [Sûrah Al-Baqarah, 2:190]

Thus, the Islamic casus belli is restricted to self-defense to fight back against those who break their pledges, to end oppression, aggression and the persecution of Muslims because of their religious belief —when all other measures have failed.

Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought in that they have been wronged. And indeed, God is competent to give them victory. [They are] those who have been evicted from their homes without right – only because they say, “Our Lord is God.” [Sûrah Al-Ḥajj, 22:39-40]

This military Jihad is defensive war, so if the enemy ceases his hostile behavior, the legitimate cause for the war lapses. At that point we cannot call this war Jihad, because it is not justified.

But if they cease, then there is to be no aggression except against the oppressors. [Sûrah Al-Baqarah, 2:190-193]

Yes, there were some offensive wars —not defensive— in Islamic history. However, Muslims’ history is one source of Islam. The Quran and the prophet’s traditions are the main sources of Islam. These types of offensive wars were political conflict, not religious. At that time, the early Islamic state had become an empire. In fact, history shows us that the world has handled more than one empire in each era, and these empires often fight against each other for political dominance.

Preparing for Jihad

Why did God not at first allow Muslims to even defend themselves in Mecca or fight the disbelievers who persecuted them for their religion, but then later He allowed them to do so when they were in Medina? It was because they were too weak in Mecca to defend themselves, but once they had gained more power in Medina, they could successfully defend themselves. That is why some scholars argue that war may be legitimate only if Muslims have at least half the power of the enemy and thus are capable of winning it.

Accordingly, Muslims need to prepare themselves before their leaders call for jihad. Without this preparation, they just commit suicide.

And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and of steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of God and your enemy and others besides them whom you do not know [but] whom Allah knows. And whatever you spend in the cause of God will be fully repaid to you, and you will not be wronged. [Sûrah Al-Anfâl, 8:60]

As you read the above verse, you notice that the goal of this preparation is not to attack or even fight. It is to deter the enemy of attacking us. By preparation it is hoped to avoid war.

The Ethics of War

However, even when it comes to war, Muslims have to be committed to Islamic moral rules, beginning with the rule: “Do not fight those who do not fight against you.” This situation is included in the statement of the Qur’an which said,

“No bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another.” [Sûrah Al-Fâṭir, 35:18]

It is not correct —as some [terrorists] believe— to justify bombing Paris and London in retaliation for the French and British history of colonialism which disrupted Islamic countries in the last century, or, to justify 9/11 due to American support to Israel.  Only those who commit evil deeds are responsible for them. A son does not bear the weight of his father’s wrongdoing, nor is the father to be implicated for the sins of his son or his son”s evading of duty.

The Quran advises Muslims to complete the requirements of their treaties,

[In regard to] those with whom you made a treaty among the polytheists and then they have not been deficient toward you in anything or supported anyone against you, then complete for them [the requirements of] their treaty until their term [has ended]. Indeed, God loves the righteous [who fear Him]. [Sûrah Al-Tawbah, 9:4]

In addition, it warns Muslims against breaking oaths or committing treachery.

And fulfill the covenant of God when you have taken it, [O believers], and do not break oaths after their confirmation while you have made God, over you, a witness. Indeed, God knows what you do. [Sûrah Al-Naḥl, 16:91]

The Quran considers it is one of the great qualities of the believers to treat prisoners of warwell and feed them adequately.

And they give food in spite of love for it to the needy, the orphan, and the captive… [Sûrah Al-Insân, 76:8]

The Quran does not permit Muslims to reject peace and continue bloodshed.

And if they incline to peace, then incline to it [also] and rely upon God. Indeed, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing. [Sûrah Al-Anfâl, 8:61)

Also, Prophet Muhammad gave various injunctions to his forces and adopted practices toward the conduct of war, such as this injunction:

Sulaiman bin Buraidah reported on his father’s authority that the Prophet (ﷺ) said,

“…fight and do not be treacherous and do not be dishonest about booty and do not deface (in killing) and do not kill a child…” (Sunan Abi Dâwûd 2613 – graded Saî [Al-Albani])

In the above injunction, the Prophet considered treachery, mutilation of dead bodies, and killing children as forbidden in the conduct of war. In the following injunction he forbade the killing of any civilian who does fight, such as women and laborers.

It was narrated that Hanzalah Al-Katib said:

“We went out to fight alongside the Messenger of God (ﷺ), and we passed by a slain woman whom the people had gathered around. They parted [to let the Prophet (ﷺ) through] and he said: ‘This [woman] was not one of those who were fighting.’ Then he said to a man: ‘Go to Khalid bin Walid and tell him that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) commands you: “Do not kill any women or any (farm) laborer.’” (Sunan Ibn Majah 2842 – graded Saî [Darussalam])

The Prophet did not forbid only the killing of civilians, but also of unarmed solders.

It has been narrated on the authority of Abdullah b. Rabah who said:

The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: …[he] who lays down arms will be safe, who locks his door will be safe…  (Saî Muslim 1780 c)

In addition, he advised us to release the prisoners of war [when conflict is ended].

Narrated Abu Musa:

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Free the captives, feed the hungry and pay a visit to the sick.” ` (Saî Al-Bukhari 3046)

The first Caliph, Abu Bakr, had summarized these injunctions in his advice to his warriors before departing the Arabian Peninsula on a military expedition.

  • Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path.
  • You must not mutilate dead bodies.
  • Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man.
  • Neither cut down to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are
  • Slay not any of the enemy’s flock, except for your food.
  • You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.

To summarize military Jihad in a single chart:

Figure 3. Military Jihad

Keeping Distinct the Types of Jihad

Each type of jihad has its own specific purpose and characteristics, as well as its rightful time and place.  The three types are not to be confused with one another.

A ‘lesser’ [military] jihad is not to be undertaken when Muslims have not undergone the ‘greater’ jihad of [individual] spiritual struggle and the other non-violent [interpersonal] verbal attempt at correction of their oppresive living conditions.  The military jihad applies only when all else fails; it has strict rules of engagement and conduct.  No one is to be wronged.


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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 ayman_refaat72@hotmail.com

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