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What is Islamic Jihad? - Some thirty times in the Qur'an, the faithful are exhorted to "strive in the way of Allah." The Arabic word translated "strive" here is also called Jihad or "Holy War". The basic meaning is "to exert oneself" or "to fight". But what does it mean to "strive in the way of Allah"? And how does it relate to the terrorism that the Muslim World is increasingly exporting to the West?

Ideas about Jihad differ considerably, depending on who is speaking. For some Westerners the term conjures up visions of fierce Muslim warriors forcing hapless souls at swordpoint to become Muslim or die. On the other hand, some Muslim apologists go to the other extreme, arguing that Muslims have only gone on Jihad in self-defense. Then there are those who reduce Jihad to an inner striving for self-improvement and the fulfilment of one's obligations.

One well-known Muslim writer is probably close to the basic idea when he defines Jihad as: "to surrender 'your properties and yourselves in the path of Allah'; the purpose of which in turn is to 'establish prayer, give zakat [alms], command good and forbid evil'--i.e. to establish the Islamic socio-moral order." According to him, it is historically "unacceptable" to explain Jihad "in purely defensive terms."

Jihad includes three ideas: the individual Muslim's inner striving to live up to the Law, social action in view of fulfilling Islamic ideals, and military action to protect and extend the Islamic community. Islam has not generally been "propagated by the sword", in the sense of forcing people to convert to Islam, except in the Arabian peninsula. In places where Muslim political control was effected militarily, the inhabitants were generally given a choice and adopted Islam only gradually (non-Muslims do not however have equality with Muslims in Islamic law). In any case, most schools view Jihad in the sense of military action to be a communal and not an individual obligation. As for the recent outbreaks of terrorism, it would be a mistake to simply equate these with Jihad. No doubt certain struggles are viewed as Holy War; the Palestinians in defense of their homeland is a good example. But even there, much more is involved--including a strong Marxist revolutionary element. Above all, these outbreaks express a tremendous frustration with the West. We have consistently supported Israel (viewed as the "bully"), and ignored the cry of the oppressed (the Palestinians) for justice. They are an attempt to get us to listen. Instead of blindly supporting one side or the other, should we not be exercising our God-given ministry of peace-making and reconcili
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