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The philosophy and true nature of jihad is a complex matter and a delicate issue, the lack of understanding of which has caused people of this age and the middle ages to fall into serious error. To our great shame, we have to admit that as a result of these dangerous errors, we have allowed opponents (of Islam) an opportunity to raise telling objections against a religion as pure and as holy as Islam which is a mirror of the laws near to nature and which discloses the greatness of the living God. One should be aware that the word jihad is derived from the word juhd — which means to strive and hence is used metaphorically for religious wars.
The Holy Quran, it should be remembered, is the only divine book which absolves all the prophets of the world, wherever and in whichever age they were born, of the crime of coercion in relation to the spread of their message. Hence it is inconceivable that the Quran should present its Holy Prophet (sa) as the harbinger of an era of bloodshed in the name of peace and hatred in the name of love of God.
According to the Quran, the Holy War, called Jihad, is in reality a holy campaign which uses the help of the Quran to bring about a spiritual revolution in the world.
و جاھدھم به جھادا کبیرا
These are the very words of the Quran which throw light on the nature of Jihad. It must be fought by means of the Quran and the Quranic message alone. Again, to tame one’s rebellious nature into complete submission to God is another form of Jihad which is in fact the greater Jihad, according to the Holy Prophet (sa) of Islam. On returning from a battle, he is reported to have said:
رجعنا من الجهاد الاصغر للجهاد الاكبر
Of course, defensive war is permitted only on the condition that the enemies initiate hostilities and raise sword against a weak, defenseless people for having committed the only crime of declaring that God is their Lord. All offensive wars according to Islam are unholy.
The concept of Jihad in Islam has been a subject of great controversy in recent years. The Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, clearly stated more than one hundred years ago that according to the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and the Holy Prophet Muhammad (May peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), use of force is totally forbidden in matters of faith.
The doctrine of Jihad as understood and propagated by the Muslim divines of this age who are called maulavis is utterly incorrect. It can lead to nothing except that by their forceful preaching they would convert common people into wild beasts and would deprive them of all the good qualities of human beings: and so it has happened. I know for certain that the burden of the sins of those people who commit murders through ignorance on account of such preaching, and who are unaware of the reason why Islam had to fight battles in its early stages, lies on the necks of these maulavis who go on propagating secretly these dangerous doctrines which result in such grievous loss of life… It is written that when the Promised Messiah appears Jihad by the sword and all fighting for religion will come to an end as he will not take up the sword or any other earthly weapon. His only instrument will be his supplications, and his only weapon will be his firm determination. He will lay the foundation of peace and will gather the goat and the lion together. His age will be the age of peace and kindliness and human sympathy. Why do these people not reflect upon the fact that thirteen hundred years ago the Holy Prophet (May peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) had said concerning the Promised Messiah: He will put an end to war. (Ruhani Khaza in. vol. 17 p. 7)