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Islam / Theology /
Arabic: jihād

Islamic term, Arabic for 'battle; struggle; holy war for the religion'. The word is used in two ways, a spriritual struggle, and as holy war. It is mentioned in the Koran as a verb:

Koran sura 9: Repentance
41 March ye then, light and heavy, and fight [jāhidū] strenuously with your wealth and persons in Godís way; that is better for you if ye did but know!

It is not clear whether the aya above describes both spiritual battle, or war, or both combined. A combination is found with the Islamist political party of Palestine, Hamas, in their Charter, Article 30
"Jihad is not confined to the carrying of arms and the confrontation of the enemy. The effective word, the good article, the useful book, support and solidarity - together with the presence of sincere purpose for the hoisting of Allah's banner higher and higher - all these are elements of the Jihad for Allah's sake."

Spiritual struggle
Spritual struggle is often called the greater jihad. It denotes the spiritual struggle of each man, against vice, passion and ignorance. This understanding of jihad has been presented by Western apologetics of modern times, but until rencent times, it has rarely been used by Muslims themselves.
Today, many Muslims make a claim that this is the only meaning of jihad, but that is a falsification promoted by Islamists, ignoring easily avalable historical facts.

Holy war
The lesser jihad is simplified to cover holy war against infidels and infidel countries, aiming at spreading Islam.
Muslim theology makes clear distinctions of the world, between the Dar al-Islam, the abode of Islam, and Dar al-Harb, the abode of war. Battling against the abode of war was a duty for a Muslim since the earliest times, since the mere existence of a world not ruled by Muslims was a constant threat to peace. By imposing Islam, an Islamic peace would replace the warlike conditions of the infidel society. In this respect, jihad could be defence, as well as unprovoked attack.
The enemies of Islam are divided into two groups, the Peoples of the book, Ahl al-Kitab and the pagans, the kafirun. The first group, defined as Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, and Mandeans need only to submit to an Islamic ruler, and live in peace with other Muslims to end the situation where jihad is imperative.
For the pagans there is a principle fairly similar, but they get less rights under the Muslim ruler than the Peoples of the book. While this group generally can live safely inside a Muslim society, some Muslims have propagated that these should either convert to Islam or face death penalty. In situations where the Muslim rulers mean that war has to be waged against the infidels, they should be allowed sufficient of time to convert before the Muslim army attacks.
Jihad is a duty for every Muslim community, but not necessarily for every individual: it's sufficient that a certain number of the able men perform jihad. The one who dies in the battle against the infidels, becomes a martyr, a shahid, and is guaranteed a place in Paradise as well as certain privileges there.
While offensive jihad, i.e. attacking, is fully permissible in Sunni Islam, it is prohibited for some of the larger groups of Shi'i Islam, which consider only the Imam, now in occultation, as carrying the right to decide to go to war.
The Kharijis regarded jihad as the sixth pillar of Islam, a position that other groups of Islam have adhered to earlier.

By Tore Kjeilen