"And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds."(The Holy Qur’an, Chapter al-Anbiya, verse 107)
Jihad includes struggle of the soul, which is described as the Greatest Jihad. Warfare is the most minor form of jihad and is legitimate only when absolutely necessary in self-defense.
1. Jihad as a Comprehensive Concept
Jihad in the way of God has never been exclusively synonymous with warfare or the use of force, as some claim, who restrict it only to this and distort its full and true meaning, which was set out in the noble verses of the Qur’an and in sayings of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Jihad includes jihad an-nafs (struggle of the soul), described as the Greatest Jihad, which includes the act of speaking out against those who inflict injustice on others. It also includes jihad al-da'wah (calling others to Islam), jihad birr al-walidayn (being good to one’s parents), jihad al-kaddor and jihad at-tanmiyya (working hard to earn a livelihood for one’s children or achieve development). The Qur'an describes the understanding and dissemination of the meanings of the Qur’an as a great jihad, as the Almighty says, "And strive (through jihad) against them [by preaching] with the utmost endeavour, with it (Chapter al Furqan, verse 52).
The use of force is the smallest form of jihad and is legitimate only when absolutely necessary to ward off aggression. It is known that self-defense and defense of one’s homeland is a universal value recognized by international conventions, which is also recognized by Islam.
A number of Muslims have misunderstood jihad, committing many crimes in its name. This has spread chaos and terror, distorting the image of Islam in the world and associating it with violence and terrorism while it is the religion that is most in harmony with human nature, universal values, moderation and mercy.
2. Basis of Jihad
The basic precept in Islam is that it is a religion of mercy. Allah states in the Qur’an, " And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds" (Chapter al-Anbiya, verse 107). It is a religion of justice, freedom and peace, which are natural and universal values shared by all peoples around the world. Islam is a religion of guidance, which calls people to worship God through wisdom, advice, persuasion and rational argumentation, not through violence or force. Allah says in the Qur’an, "Invite [all] to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious" (Chapter al-Nahl, verse 125).
Islam treats every human being on the basis that he or she is a responsible and rational person endowed with free will, which is one of the rights granted to us by God. The Qur'an establishes the fundamental premise in several clear and unconditional verses, "There is no compulsion in religion" (Chapter al-Baqarah, verse 256). This is an absolute and irrefutable rule that cannot be overridden, and it cannot be erased through violence and terror.
Islam does not prescribe any earthly sanction or punishment for those who reject the call to worship God. Such judgment is left to God alone and no human being has the right to punish another for not believing. Even the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself did not have that right, let alone others, as stated in the Qur’an, “But if they turn away - then We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], over them as a guardian. Your duty is but to convey [the Message]”(Chapter al-Shura, verse 48).
3. A Sound Understanding of Religious Texts
The lack of understanding of religious texts related to jihad is due to several reasons, including taking Qur'anic and prophetic texts out of their contexts and understanding them literally without any regard for their context or purpose.
The misinterpretation of religious texts on jihad is also due to partial interpretations that do not take into account a holistic understanding. Thus, they disregard all the factors that must be taken into consideration because they are the basis for a holistic understanding of Islamic texts.
4. Rules for Understanding Religious Texts
It is essential to take into account the established principles and general rules that enable a proper understanding of texts on jihad, while avoiding distortion and partial interpretations.
Below are some of these rules:
• The relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims is one based on peace, not war. Indeed, Islam loves those who are just and who show goodness to non-Muslims who do not fight them and do not occupy their land. Allah says, "Allah 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, Allah loves those who act justly.” (Chapter al-Mumtahana, verse 8).
• War and peace are very serious matters, and are considered part of the supreme and sovereign prerogatives of the state. Therefore, scholars have stressed that declaring war is one of the main prerogatives of the ruler or the head of state. The state is exclusively responsible for foreign policy, the army, conclusion of treaties and declarations of war or peace. Therefore, these matters cannot be left to the initiative of individuals, groups or parties.
• Armed jihad is a means and not an end. It should be understood as a flexible tool that is used according to the circumstances and in the way that the state sees, not a matter left to the hands of individuals or sub-state groups. The Prophet (peace be upon him) did not establish his authority in Medina by using force but called people to Islam. They believed and were convinced, and they freely swore two oaths of allegiance to him in Aqaba. The first was when they expressed their allegiance to the Prophet as a prophet and ruler, so the Prophet immigrated to their city and became ruler, freely chosen by the people. The second oath was made when Medina was threatened by enemies and the Prophet was forced to wage a defensive war in order to preserve the city.
Therefore, the only legitimate form of armed jihad is defensive jihad, which is not a means of spreading Islam or coercing people to embrace Islam. Most Arabs embraced Islam when invited to do so in a peaceful environment characterized by intellectual and ideological freedom, which was established after the Treaty of Hudaybiyah with Quraysh.