The biggest problem when we discuss the concept of jihaad is that, the barrier of vocabulary. In English, the common translation given to word jihaad is ‘Holy War’. To start with, nowhere in the entire Qur’an or in the sayings (hadith) of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing upon Him) is the equivalent of English term ‘Holy War’ found. This might sound rather subtle but it is true, because ‘Holy War’ in English, aside from the meaning that means fanaticism and forcing people into the faith, and even if you translate ‘Holy War’ into Arabic (har muqaddasah), that term never appeared anywhere in the Qur’an or in the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing upon Him).
The word jihaad in Arabic means exertion of effort or struggling. In that sense then, the true of the term jihaad as found in the Qur’an means simply to exert effort, to strive or struggle in the path of God and for His cause. It is erroneous when some people say that there used to be another pillar of Islam and that was jihaad. It is not the fifth or sixth pillar. Jihaad is pillar of Islam – it is essence of Islam.
We said Islam means submission to the will of God. How do you submit? You submit through jihaad. You submit by struggling and striving and exerting effort in order to please God and to follow His commands. The term jihaad is used in the Qur’an in reference to striving. In al-Qur’an, it says (meaning):
“And those who strive for Us – We will surely guide them to Our ways. And indeed, Allah is with the doers of good.” (Al-Quran, Surah Al-‘Ankabut : 69)
There are others citations, such as (meaning):
“O you who have believed, bow and prostrate and worship your Lord and do good – that you may succeed. And strive for Allah with the striving due to Him. He has chosen you and has not placed upon you in the religion any difficulty. [It is] the religion of your father, Abraham. Allah named you “Muslims” before [in former scriptures] and in this [revelation] that the Messenger may be a witness over you and you may be witnesses over the people. So establish prayer and give zakat and hold fast to Allah . He is your protector; and excellent is the protector, and excellent is the helper.” (Al-Quran, Surah Al-Haj : 77 – 78)
It is very obvious that jihaad is related and connected to worship and even prayers. This shows that any action the individual performs for the sake of God is actually within the confines of the definition. The fact that one aspect of that jihaad might take the form of military encounter for self defense or for fighting of the oppressors is not excluded. But it is wrong to say that jihaad means fighting. Legitimate fighting could be one aspect of jihaad but not the totality of jihaad.