Defensive nature of armed jihad in Islam

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

Jihad is a comprehensive term in Islam that refers to any effort given toward a good cause, whether it is an act of worship or charity or service. However, warfare in defense of Islam and the oppressed is called jihad because it takes a great deal of effort and sacrifice.

Allah has legislated warfare as a reaction towards those who initiate aggression against the Muslim community, but He has forbidden transgression, terrorism, and conversion to Islam by force.

Allah said:

وَقَاتِلُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ وَلَا تَعْتَدُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدِينَ

Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Verily, Allah does not love transgressors.

Surat Al-Baqarah 2:190

Ibn Abbas, the foremost interpreter of the Quran among the Prophet’s companions, defined transgression as attacking non-combatants or whoever desires peace with Muslims.

Ibn Abbas said:

لَا تَقْتُلُوا النِّسَاءَ وَلَا الصِّبْيَانَ وَلَا الشَّيْخَ الْكَبِيرَ وَلَا مَنْ أَلْقَى إِلَيْكُمُ السَّلَمَ وَكَفَ يَدَهُ فَإِنْ فَعَلْتُمْ هَذَا فَقَدَ اعْتَدَيْتُمْ

Do not kill women, or children, or old men, or whoever comes to you with peace and he restrains his hand from fighting, for if you did that you would certainly have transgressed.

Source: Tafseer At-Tabari 2:190

Likewise, Al-Baydawi defined transgression as initiating hostilities, attacking peaceful people, or otherwise committing atrocities we would call war crimes.

Al-Baydawi said:

وَلاَ تَعْتَدُواْ بابتداء القتال أو بقتال المعاهد أو المفاجأة به من غير دعوة أو المثلة أو قتل من نهيتم عن قتله

Do not transgress (2:190) means by initiating the fighting, or by fighting those protected by a peace treaty, or by fighting those who never received the call to Islam, or to commit mutilation, or to kill whomever it has been forbidden to kill.

Source: Tafseer Al-Baydawi 2:190

Therefore, it is forbidden in Islam to attack people on the basis of their religion. Anti-Muslim and Muslim extremists both argue that Islam permits aggression against people only because they follow another religion, but this is one of the worst slanders against Islam by which they support their unjust campaigns of violence. Rather, Islam is the religion of peace that seeks peace with all of humanity.

Allah said:

وَإِن جَنَحُوا لِلسَّلْمِ فَاجْنَحْ لَهَا وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ

If the enemy inclines to peace, then incline to it also and rely upon Allah. Verily, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing.

Surat Al-Anfal 8:61

Ali ibn Abu Talib reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

إِنَّهُ سَيَكُونُ بَعْدِي اخْتِلَافٌ أَوْ أَمْرٌ فَإِنْ اسْتَطَعْتَ أَنْ تَكُونَ السِّلْمَ فَافْعَل

Verily, after me there will be conflicts or affairs, so if you are able to end them in peace then do so.

Source: Musnad Ahmad 697, Grade: Sahih

Abu Shuraih reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

إِنَّ مِنْ أَعْتَى النَّاسِ عَلَى اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ مَنْ قَتَلَ غَيْرَ قَاتِلِهِ

Verily, the most tyrannical of people to Allah the Exalted is he who kills those who did not fight him.

Source: Musnad Aḥmad 15943, Grade: Sahih

The Prophet described the leader of the Muslim army as a shield, not a sword, behind which the Muslims are defended from the aggression of others.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

إِنَّمَا الْإِمَامُ جُنَّةٌ يُقَاتَلُ مِنْ وَرَائِهِ وَيُتَّقَى بِهِ

Verily, the leader is only a shield behind whom they fight and he protects them.

Source: Sahih Muslim 1841, Grade: Sahih

When people looked at the face of the Prophet, they saw the light of guidance and kindness shining from his face as bright as the moon. They did not describe his face as cold and stern like a sword.

Abu Ishaq reported: A man asked Al-Bara, “Was the face of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, like a sword?” Al-Bara said:

لَا مِثْلَ الْقَمَرِ

No, it was like the moon.

Source: Sunan At-Tirmidhi 3636, Grade: Sahih

Furthermore, the Prophet liked people to have names that glorify Allah, His Messengers, and His Mercy. He disliked for people to have names that glorify war and aggression.

Abu Wahb Al-Jushami reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

تَسَمَّوْا بِأَسْمَاءِ الْأَنْبِيَاءِ وَأَحَبُّ الْأَسْمَاءِ إِلَى اللَّهِ عَبْدُ اللَّهِ وَعَبْدُ الرَّحْمَنِ وَأَصْدَقُهَا حَارِثٌ وَهَمَّامٌ وَأَقْبَحُهَا حَرْبٌ وَمُرَّةُ

Name yourselves with the names of the prophets. The most beloved names to Allah are Abdullah, the servant of Allah, and Abdur Rahman, the servant of the Merciful. The ugliest names are the names of war and bitterness.

Source: Sunan Abu Dawud 4950, Grade: Sahih

In fact, it is prohibited for a Muslim not only to commit aggression but even to desire hostilities in his heart. In other words, the prohibition of aggression exists not only with an outward legal component but also with an inward spiritual component.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

‏لاَ تَمَنَّوْا لِقَاءَ الْعَدُوِّ فَإِذَا لَقِيتُمُوهُمْ فَاصْبِرُوا

Do not wish to meet the enemy, but if you meet them then be steadfast.

Source: Sahih Bukhari 2863, Grade: Sahih

Allah describes the companions as being filled with tranquility when they met their aggressors on the battlefield. In contrast, the idolaters were filled with rage, anger, and zeal for their tribes and their idols.

Allah said:

إِذْ جَعَلَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا فِي قُلُوبِهِمُ الْحَمِيَّةَ حَمِيَّةَ الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ فَأَنزَلَ اللَّهُ سَكِينَتَهُ عَلَىٰ رَسُولِهِ وَعَلَى الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَأَلْزَمَهُمْ كَلِمَةَ التَّقْوَىٰ وَكَانُوا أَحَقَّ بِهَا وَأَهْلَهَا

When those who disbelieved had put into their hearts zealotry, the zealotry of the time of ignorance, but Allah sent down His tranquility upon His Messenger and upon the believers and imposed upon them the word of righteousness, for they were more deserving and worthy of it.

Surat Al-Fath 48:26

Thus, it is not in the character of a Muslim to fight for the sake of anger, hatred, or zeal. The Prophet only fought to defend the community. He never attacked peaceful people and he never forced anyone to enter Islam.

Ibn Taymiyyah writes:

الكفار إنما يقاتلون بشرط الحراب كما ذهب اليه جمهور العلماء وكما دل عليه الكتاب والسنة

The unbelievers are only fought on the condition that they declare war according to the majority of scholars, as is evident in the book and prophetic tradition.

Source: al-Nubūwāt 1/140

And his student, Ibn Al-Qayyim, writes:

وَلَمْ يُكْرِهْ أَحَدًا قَطُّ عَلَى الدِّينِ وَإِنَّمَا كَانَ يُقَاتِلُ مَنْ يُحَارِبُهُ وَيُقَاتِلُهُ وَأَمَّا مَنْ سَالَمَهُ وَهَادَنَهُ فَلَمْ يُقَاتِلْهُ وَلَمْ يُكْرِهْهُ عَلَى الدُّخُولِ فِي دِينِهِ

The Prophet never forced the religion upon anyone, but rather he only fought those who waged war against him and fought him first. As for those who made peace with him or conducted a truce, then he never fought them and he never compelled them to enter his religion.

Source: Hidayat Al-Hayara 237

Indeed, it is only permissible to fight as a means of defense against aggression and to protect the rights of the weak and the oppressed.

Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.