The emergence and evolution of the jihad offers answers to the emergence of radical Islamism – Part II

The emergence and evolution of the jihad offers answers to the emergence of radical Islamism – Part II

01-koran-e1283880566719During his lifetime, the Prophet Muhammad left a number of basic ideas regarding the concept of “jihad”, although he never quite detailed the subject as much as some Muslim scholars and jurists have done after his death. Thus, in the terms of the Prophet Muhammad there were only two types of jihad:


  1. The Major Jihad – carried out in a peaceful manner with the purpose of “winning the souls of men” both at an individual level, as well as a community one;
  2. The Minor Jihad – carried out by the sword.

The sequence of the two was very clear: the Major Jihad was the most important and preferable to the Minor Jihad, which was given a back-up role, just in case the Major Jihad failed. As it was mentioned in the first part, the Prophet Muhammad was primarily a political and military leader. So he had every interest in promoting the success of the Major Jihad (which translated into the peaceful acceptance of his authority) due to decreases costs as compared to military campaigns.


The first stage of evolution of the concept of “jihad”

Less than 100 years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, the concept of “jihad” was already widely understood and used among Muslims, but in quite different ways from one social category to another:

  • the first category was that of the ordinary people, among whom the notion of “jihad” referred to all conflicts, even those which had nothing to do with Islam, or even with religion itself. A concrete example of this is the internal armed conflicts in China and India, which were perceived by the common Muslims as a number of jihads;
  • the second category consisted of lawyers and Muslim scholars who tried to introduce the concept of “jihad” in the Islamic law in an organized way in order to avoid further confusions. They also did it out of political and military interests.
The Islamic expansion
The Islamic expansion

I will focus only on the second source because it’s the most documented and because that was the one that had an impact on the long-run. However, in both cases we speak of a process of gradual deformation of the original meaning of “jihad”.

Thus, in the first breakdown of the notion of “jihad” by the scholars and jurists, four types of jihads were identified:

  1. The Jihad with one’s own person – the process by which a person adopts the Islamic religions and subsequently evolves morally;
  2. The Jihad against the Devil – which basically referred to the rejection of the worldly “corruption” (eg. decadence, debauchery, depravity, etc);
  3. The Jihad against the unbelievers – it was waged against those who were not of Islamic religion;
  4. The Jihad against sinners – against those who committed sins and it was waged both within the Muslim community and outside it.

They also established the four ways of carrying out the jihad:

  • With the heart – it was considered the noblest form of jihad and involved “self-conquest” by rejecting temptations and excesses. In other words, it sought the moral development of the individual. It was recommended to those who led the first type of Jihad – the Jihad with one’s own person –;
  • With the word – it was more or less a sort of “religious propaganda” and involved sharing the Islamic ideas with the purpose of conversion. This method was also considered to be a noble way of waging the jihad. Some scholars regarded it as the noblest of all and they also considered it the only truly effective instrument of spreading Islam;
  • With the hands – basically it concerned the day-to-day activity of the Muslim peasants and craftsmen. It was believed that through their work they contributed directly to the strengthening of the Muslim community, which subsequently allowed waging the jihad in other ways. The beating for disciplinary purposes was also considered “jihad with the hands”;
  • With the sword – it was considered the least noble form of jihad and its use was required only if the other three did not have the desired results.

At the end of each of the four a place in Paradise was promised.

A first conclusion that can be drawn is that the first three forms of Jihad are interdependent. The forth is not interdependent, but solely dependent on the first three. For example, a Muslim can wage the “Jihad with the hands” only if previously his moral values improved through the “Jihad with the heart”. It should also be noted that some of the ideas through which the Muslims scholars and lawyers chose to explain the concept of “jihad” are similar to certain concepts promoted by medieval Christianity.

Of note should also be that, although the armed jihad was categorized as the least noble form of Jihad, in the centuries after the death of the Prophet Muhammad it became the dominant utilized form.


The second stage of evolution of the concept of “jihad”

The expansion of the Ottoman Empire
The expansion of the Ottoman Empire

The second stage was initiated by the Ottoman Turks, who took over all the meanings developed in the previous centuries. And like those before them, the concept of “jihad” for the Ottoman Turks played an important role politically and militarily.

Initially, to the Ottoman Turks the notion of “jihad”, as was already defined, was sufficient. That was because it allowed them to expand territorially very quickly – often peacefully –. Later on, however, once the Ottoman Empire entered into decline, a new connotation was given, that of “defensive jihad”. The period following the siege of Vienna (1680) marked the first historic moment of this enrichment.

Thus, under the Ottomans there were:

  • The offensive jihad – used to justify territorial expansion and waged in the manner already explained above;
  • The defensive jihad – used to justify territorial losses and unfavorable peace treaties.

This semantic nuance persisted until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

The Ottoman period also produced a long series of changes that will eventually alter almost completely the original meaning of the concept of jihad. First, the armed jihad acquired a predominant role compared with the previous historical periods; situation partially understandable given the rate of expansion of the Ottoman Empire and the geographical and geopolitical directions of that process, which inevitably put it in contact with a long string of opponents. Due to the growing need of soldiers, the Ottoman Turks positioned the armed jihad on top of the list.

Moreover, the Ottomans even included among the rewards the notion of “spoils of war”, which in itself was not new, and was a means of payment for the participants in a military conflict. The inclusion among the jihad’s rewards was, however, something new because until then the idea of spiritual rewards was predominant. The problem was that this type of rewards was not sufficiently motivating for people to participate at armed jihads. Furthermore, the Ottomans created a system for sharing the spoils of war (the Sultan’s share and the soldiers’ share).

Around this time the legitimization of the inter-Islamic wars was also attempted.


The Three Houses

Subsequently to the death of the Prophet Muhammad a territorial division also appeared, operated on religious principles. Thus:

  1. The House of Islam (Dar al-Islam) – which included all Muslim territories and the territories placed under Islamic suzerainty, even if in those territories not a single Muslim lived;
  2. The House of War (Dar al-harb) – which included all territories that were not under Islamic domination;
  3. The House of Holy War (Dar al-jihad) – which included disputed territories in which fighting between Muslims and non-Muslims was frequent (e.g. as Serbia and Wallachia were at one point).

Thus we see how over time, the concept of “jihad”, which at first was explained quite simply, came to have many meanings and was always subject to interpretation. This was mainly due to the growing political and military needs of the different Islamic dynasties.


Additional reading:

The emergence and evolution of the jihad offers answers to the emergence of radical Islamism – Part I

The emergence and evolution of the jihad offers answers to the emergence of radical Islamism – Part III

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