The Islamic institution of Jihad is the least understood and the most talked about aspect of Islam in the world today. There is great misunderstanding among the non-Muslims that Islamic Jihad is a holy war directed towards the unbelievers for the sole purpose of converting them into Muslims. Nothing, in fact, could be farther from the truth.
Literally, the Arabic word Jihad means “utmost effort” or “striving”. The Muslims are commanded in the Holy Qur’an to strive in the way of God. This struggle could be in the form of propagation, promotion or defence of Islam and may or may not include armed conflict with the unbelievers. In Islamic terminology, the effort to preach Islam to non-Muslims and the struggle to overcome one’s evil inclinations and desires are all called Jihad. If the struggle does indeed take the form of an armed conflict, it must be in self defence and in accordance with all the rules and regulations laid down in the Holy Qur’an.
For a long time, the early Muslims suffered persecution and torture at the hands of the Quraish (a tribe that lived in Mecca). The Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and the Muslims never retaliated, simply because there were no commands from God to this effect. Finally, when persecution had reached its peak, permission to fight in self-defence was granted to the Muslims. However, the purpose of fighting was limited to establishing freedom of worship and removing oppression and iniquity. Muslims were strongly enjoined to spare the lives of women and children, to treat the prisoners of war with kindness, to restrain at all times from any excesses, and to restore peace as soon as possible. This is the true concept of Jihad in Islam.