“Jihad," its meaning and can Muslims befriend non-Muslims?



The term jihad literally means 'to strive.' Jihad can be classified into two categories; the Greater Jihad and the Lesser Jihad. The Lesser Jihad refers to defending oneself in a physical capacity, one's family and community against oppression and tyranny, upon which there are strict regulations. The Greater Jihad refers to the struggle inside oneself to obey God and reject all sin; such as pride, lust, envy, and greed.



The Lesser Jihad explained


The Jihad that most people think of today is the Lesser Jihad. Simply put, in the case of the Lesser Jihad, Islam permits fighting in self-defense, in defense of religion, or on the part of those who have been expelled forcibly from their homes. This permission includes fighting for the protection of family, property, and all citizens under Muslim protection (including Non-Muslims).


It lays down strict rules of combat which include prohibitions against harming civilians and against destroying crops, trees and livestock. As Muslims see it, injustice would be triumphant in the world if good men were not prepared to risk their lives for a righteous cause. The Quran says:


Fight in the cause of God against those who fight you, but do not transgress limits. God does not love transgressors.” - Qur’an English Translation [2:190]


If they seek peace, then seek you peace. And trust in God for He is the One that heareth and knoweth all things.” - Qur’an English Translation [8:61]


“As for such [of the unbelievers] as do not fight against you on account of [your] faith, and neither drive you forth from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity: for, verily, God loves those who act equitably.”- Qur’an English Translation [60:8]


War, therefore, is the last resort, and is subject to the rigorous conditions laid down by the sacred law.


For example, when the pagans of the Meccan Quraysh Tribe broke their treaties of peace and brought armies against the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), the Muslims fought to defend their faith and community. When Mecca was taken, PEACEFULLY I might add, the Muslims forgave the pagans, and the pagans of Mecca converted to Islam voluntarily.


As soon as the rest of the pagan tribes in Arabia gained knowledge of this unusual display of mercy in war, they too were convinced that Muhammad (peace be upon him) was God’s Prophet. Soon, whole tribes were converting to Islam by the hundreds.


"Except those who believe, work righteousness, engage much in the remembrance of Allah, and defend themselves only after they are unjustly attacked. And soon will the unjust assailants know what vicissitudes their affairs will take!" - Qur’an English Translation [26:227]


"To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged;- and verily, Allah is most powerful for their aid;- (They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right,- (for no cause) except that they say, "our Lord is Allah.. Had not Allah checked one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. Allah will certainly aid those who aid his (cause);- for verily Allah is full of Strength, Exalted in Might, (able to enforce His Will)." - Qur’an English Translation [22:39-40]


From the previous verse we see God mention the necessity of good men willing to fight for justice. The Qur’an even mentions how God’s Divine System of check’s and balances has protected the “Houses of God” (monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques) throughout the land, all of which the name of God is commemorated.


This is Islam; a practical, tolerant, just, and merciful faith. How many other world religions call upon the preservation of other people’s places of worship explicitly in their holy books? Indeed, this is why today you will find the oldest Churches and Synagogues in the world still intact today in Muslim Lands.


The mission of the Prophet Muhammad was to free people from tyranny and exploitation by oppressive systems. Once free, individuals in the society were then free to chose Islam or not. Prophet Muhammad's successors continued in his footsteps and went to help oppressed people. For example, after the repeated call by the oppressed people of Spain to the Muslims for help, Spain was liberated by Muslim forces and the tyrant rulers removed.


"And why should you not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? - Men, women, and children, whose cry is: 'Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from You, one who will protect; and raise for us from You, one who will help.'" - Qur’an English Translation [4:75]



The Bible also speaks of justice and helping the oppressed


“learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless (orphans), plead the case of the widow.”  Old Testament (Tanakh) (Isaiah 1:17)


According to the Christian Bible, Jesus too understood the importance of justice and law.


"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. - New Testament (Matthew 23:23)


"Lo! those who believe, and those who emigrate (to escape the persecution) and strive in the way of Allah (God ), these have hope of Allah's mercy. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." - Qur’an English Translation [2:218]



America was founded by brave men who fought to be freed from tyranny and oppression


This noble idea of protecting the weak and ill-treated from oppression and tyranny has reverberated throughout time. In fact, the US Declaration of Independence (1776) sanctioned the Revolutionary War for what other reasons than to defeat the unlawful oppression and tyrannical rule of King George III? And obviously no man-made document can compare to the Word of God, however, it is interesting to see justice expressed in a similar tone.


To Read the Declaration of Independence:



Interestingly enough, The Declaration of Independence was written chiefly by Thomas Jefferson who just so happened to own a Qur'an for himself:

The first elected Muslim to Congress, Keith Ellison, actually took his oath of office in 2007 on the very same copy of the Qur'an once owned by Jefferson:



Yes, God is a fair and just God


So the answer is Yes, God does instruct his servants to fight, however, only when certain circumstances call for this option and all other peaceful options have been exhausted. Honestly, God is just and wouldn't want a person to endure oppression or unwarranted harassment.


Indeed God knows that human nature sometimes is reluctant to fight even though one intuitively knows when one should stand up and fight for what is right. For example, say you see a bully at school beating up some innocent kid, although our conscious may tell us the right thing to do is to help the kid often times we do nothing about it because of cowardice, laziness, or fear of not being accepted by a certain group.


"Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah (God) knoweth, and ye know not." - Qur’an English Translation [2:216]


Also interesting in this verse is how God mentions how we sometimes dislike things that are good for us while other times we enjoy things that are bad. Two quick examples that come to mind: Although we know junk food is bad for us we still enjoy eating it and although we know studying before a test is good for us often we dislike it. You see, God is All-Knowing!


Lastly we must remember that the message of the Qur’an was delivered over a span of 23 years and during the course of revelation God would address specific issues affecting the Early Muslims on how to conduct themselves.


Often in the case of outside aggression, say if their was a specific group of people whom may have been Pagan, Jewish, Christian, or whomever were committing unjust acts of hostility towards God’s followers of the message (the Muslims) than its only logical that God would reveal a message to the Muslims on how to defend and protect themselves.


If you’ve read any of the historical accounts of Early Islam you would have to know that there was much aggression and hostility towards the early Muslims and followers of the Prophet, especially coming from his own pagan tribe in Mecca, the Quryash. You see, some passages relate to specific events at specific times.


However, some Non Muslims make the mistake of quoting a verse out of context and then claiming that Islam is violent when in actuality the theme of the Qur’an is clearly the opposite, only certain times called for certain measures of defense.

"Say to the Unbelievers, if (now) they desist (from Unbelief), their past would be forgiven them; but if they persist, the punishment of those before them is already (a matter of warning for them). And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily Allah doth see all that they do."  - Qur’an English Translation [8:38-39]

This establishes that war is only permissible against those people who fight against you. To fight against those who do not fight against you is being aggressive, which God, Most High, strongly dislikes. Read the Qur'an in the light of this principle – you will find the matter clarified:

The idolaters of Arabia were implacable enemies of Islam and were bent upon extirpating the Muslims. Under pressure, they would sometimes agree to a peace treaty, but whenever an opportunity presented itself, they would ignore these treaties and attack the Muslims. The Qur'an has therefore described their behavior in the following words:

"They are those with whom thou didst make a covenant, but they break their covenant every time, and they have not the fear (of God)." - Qur’an English Translation [8:56]



God instructs man to be just & merciful even during war


God instructs the Early Muslims to only fight those Pagans whom have broken their treaties of peace. However, since God is All-Just, a clear exemption was made for those who did not break their agreements:

"(But the treaties are) not dissolved with those Pagans with whom ye have entered into alliance and who have not subsequently failed you in aught, nor aided any one against you. So fulfill your engagements with them to the end of their term: for Allah loveth the righteous. " - Qur’an English Translation [9:4]

When a war is begun, there remains no set theatre. Wherever a member of one side meets a member of the other party, battle is done. God instructs the Muslims to fight the Pagans whom broke their treaties, with specific conditions of restraint:

"But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful."- Qur’an English Translation [9:5]

Furthermore, God is so Merciful that He instructs the Muslims to be gentle in treatment towards a Pagan if he seeks asylum, so that he can hear the Word of God in a safe place away from the battlefield:

"If one amongst the Pagans ask thee for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of Allah. and then escort him to where he can be secure. That is because they are men without knowledge." - Qur’an English Translation [9:6]

So you see, Islam is realistic and practical, and of course God understands His own creation and understands that some men will go astray and become oppressors and tyrants. And in scenarios such as these, righteous men are given the permission to fight for the freedom of the weak and oppressed. The message of Islam is extremely peaceful, forgiving, and just.


"Those who avoid the greater crimes and shameful deeds, and, when they are angry even then forgive; Those who hearken to their Lord, and establish regular Prayer; who (conduct) their affairs by mutual Consultation; who spend out of what We bestow on them for Sustenance;


And those who, when an oppressive wrong is inflicted on them, (are not cowed but) help and defend themselves. The recompense for an injury is an injury equal thereto (in degree): but if a person forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from Allah. for (Allah) loveth not those who do wrong.


But indeed if any do help and defend themselves after a wrong (done) to them, against such there is no cause of blame. The blame is only against those who oppress men and wrong-doing and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice: for such there will be a penalty grievous. But indeed if any show patience and forgive, that would truly be an exercise of courageous will and resolution in the conduct of affairs."  - Qur’an English Translation [42:37-43]


Can Muslims befriend non-Muslims?

Let us look at some verses about this issue. The following two verses regulate relations with any people, regardless of faith:

“As for such [of the unbelievers] as do not fight against you on account of [your] faith, and neither drive you forth from your homelands, God does not forbid you to show them kindness and to behave towards them with full equity: for, verily, God loves those who act equitably.”- Qur’an English Translation [60:8]

“God only forbids you to turn in friendship towards such as fight against you because of [your] faith, and drive you forth from your homelands, or aid [others] in driving you forth: and as for those [from among you] who turn towards them in friendship; it is they, they who are truly wrongdoers!” - Qur’an English Translation [60:9]

From the above verses, we learn that Muslims are only discouraged from befriending those who fight Muslims because of their religion. God is just and doesn’t force people to accept living under oppression and tyranny.



The importance of ascertaining the truth for yourself


You see, when verses are put into their proper context, the logic is sound. Often Anti-Islamic Apologists will quote a verse out of context and apply it wrongly and unjustly (labeling them "verses of the sword"), however they are only doing an injustice to their own souls. This is where much confusion in the minds of non-Muslims begin, through the dishonest means of men with specific agendas.


Unfortunately, because there are many dishonest and misguided people in the world, God urges all people to examine an issue thoroughly before coming to a conclusion or forming a belief. God has given us the necessary faculties of intellect to discern truth from error.


Allah (God) says in the Holy Qur'an:

"O ye who believe! If a wicked person comes to you with any news, ascertain the truth, lest ye harm people unwittingly, and afterwards become full of repentance for what ye have done. " - Qur’an English Translation [49:6]


"Verily We created Man from a drop of mingled sperm, in order to try him: So We gave him (the gifts), of Hearing and Sight."  - Qur’an English Translation [76:2] 



*See section on "Common Islamic Misconceptions" for Quranic evidence condemning suicide bombings*


For more on the meaning and purpose of Jihad:



For more on the Issue: “Can Muslims be friends with Non-Muslim, Jews, and Christians?”


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