What exactly is jihad and where does it fit into Muslim theology?
The root of "jihad" is judh, Arabic for striving. Jihad in Muslim theology is striving to defend or advance Islam or increase one's faithfulness to Islam. Jihad is not peripheral to Islam. It stands at its very center. Jihad is central to Muslim soteriology, its theology of salvation. Jihad is theologically joined at the hip to sharia, Islamic law, for it is sharia that both commands jihad and justifies jihad.
Muslim scholars and jurists distinguish between "greater jihad" and "lesser jihad," a distinction going back to Muhammad himself. Jihad, says al-Islam.org, has been conceptually corrupted in modern years both by Western usage to mean only holy war and by numerous Islamic groups, contending for power and influence, who have also overemphasized its military component.
According to Farida Khanam, the Arabic word jihad, by itself,
... does not connote the sense of reward or worship in the religious sense of the word. But when the word jihad became a part of Islamic terminology, the sense of reward or worship came to be associated with it, that is to say, if struggle is struggle in the simple sense of word, jihad means a struggle which is an act of worship, the engagement of which earns reward to the person concerned. As the Quran says: "Strive for the cause of God as you ought to strive" (22:78).Jihad certainly can mean warfare waged to defend or advance Islam. But not just any war Muslims wage is jihad. Unless a war has been declared jihad by recognized clerical authority, it's just warfare, not jihad.
However, in historic Muslim theology, jihad more generally means striving toward equilibrium of Islamic character both within individuals and among the Muslim umma (the people of a Muslim society). Says al-Islam,
Muslims as both individuals and members of Islamic society must carry out jihad, that is they must exert themselves at all moments of life to fight a battle both inward and outward against those forces that if not combatted will destroy that equilibrium which is the necessary condition for the spiritual life of the person and the functioning of human society. This fact is especially true if society is seen as a collectivity which bears the imprint of the Divine Norm rather than an antheap of contending and opposing units and forces.So how did jihad come to be associated with Islamic warfare?
[F]or Muslims to wield weapons in a war in which Islam itself is defended - as the [Saudi 1979] anti-Soviet fatwa declared - is literally an act of worship. The Muslim jihadi has the right to expect reward proportionate to his sacrificial worship. In military jihad, the ultimate sacrifice is to die, which deserves the ultimate reward, immediate entry by the slain jihadi's soul into Paradise. This doctrine springs from the words of Mohammed himself, who during the battle of Badr told his soldiers, "I swear by the One in whose hand Mohammad's soul is, any man who fights them today and is killed while he is patient in the ordeal and seeks the pleasure of Allah, going forward and not backing off, Allah will enter him into Paradise." (The Battle of Badr," by Tajuddin B. Shu`aib, http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/fundamentals/pillars/fasting/tajuddin/fast_75.htmlJihad, then is actual worship in Islam. As we shall see below, it is not simply part of worship. Jihad forms the very core of Muslim worship. But military jihad is traditionally called "lesser jihad" in distinction to nonviolent "greater jihad." Why this distinction? Al-Islam.org explains,
In its most outward sense jihad came to mean the defence of dar al-islam, that is, the Islamic world, from invasion and intrusion by non-Islamic forces. The earliest wars of Islamic history which threatened the very existence of the young community came to be known as jihad par excellence in this outward sense of 'holy war'. But it was upon returning from one of these early wars, which was of paramount importance in the survival of the newly established religious community and therefore of cosmic significance, that the Prophet nevertheless said to his companions that they had returned from the lesser holy war to the greater holy war, the greater jihad being the inner battle against all the forces which would prevent man from living according to the theomorphic norm which is his primordial and God given nature.Greater jihad is explained by the Quran along this line of thought:
[H]umans have been created with a sound nature and provided by God with a true religion that enables them to have fullness of life through close communion with God in this world and the next. Each human is a religiously grounded person, created and endowed with a fitra, a ‘sound constitution’ that acts as a kind of internal guidance system and way to God.But this "close communion with God" can take place only within the Muslim community, the umma. From inception, Islam's commandments have been held to be so difficult that "loners" can't keep them. Islam is "not a personal faith," according to Muslim jurist Sam Solomon. It is a communal faith only. Muslims require the support and encouragement of a broader Islamic community living together just to be Muslim at all. That is exactly the basis on which my Muslim friend at Fort Sill, Okla., Egyptian Lt. Col. Solomon, justified his nightclubbing, drinking and womanizing. "This is not a Muslim country," he told me, and only later I learned his was a serious answer, not a dodge.
What is it that orders the life of the umma? It is sharia, Islamic law dictated by Allah. The keeping of Islam's commandments and preservation of the social order concretized in the Quran and the Hadith (traditions about Muhammad) are made official, legal and coercive by Islamic law.
Sharia is not just religious law, not just social law (what we would call domestic law) and not just political law. It is all of the above and more. Islam formally declares that no aspect of human affairs is excluded from Allah's concern and commandments. So there is not, and never has been, "separation of mosque and state" in Islam (though over the centuries, rulers exercising offices more political than religious have often shed their religious yokes to some degree).
The reason is,
Islam is a din-religion. Din means a complete system of life consisting of beliefs and laws. To know the Islamic attitude of the Muslims towards the laws of the shari'ah, we have to study the Qur'an and hadith. In the Qur'an and hadith we find two different attitudes towards two different aspects of din. These two aspects of din are: a) the fundamental beliefs known as usu-lu'd-din - the roots of religion; b) the laws of the shari'ah known in general as furu'd-din - the branches of religion. ...Sharia is therefore inarguable, not subject to intellectual reflection by the ordinary Muslim. Prof. Mark Gould explains,
In Islamic beliefs, a Muslim is expected to believe only after reflection; and in Islamic laws, he is expected to follow them without any reservations [italics added].
Certain customs in ritual and law were established as sacred; derivative from the Koran and from the Sunna, they constitute the shari’ah that regulates virtually all aspects of a Muslim’s life. In the words of Islamist Sayyid Qutb, “The basis of the Islamic message is that one should accept the shari’ah without any question and reject all other laws, whatever their shape or form. This is Islam. There is no other meaning of Islam.”This is an absolutely key point for those seeking to understand the Muslim push against the institutions and democracies of the West: Greater jihad cannot be accomplished in the slightest apart from the dictates of sharia. It is only through the structure of sharia that "close communion" with Allah can be achieved. Absent sharia, striving within oneself to overcome sin and to keep Islam's commandments is not possible.
This point of view is also articulated by the moderate, Khaled Abou El Fadl: “I must confess that I adopt the intellectual presumption that Islamic jurisprudence (Shariah) is core to the Islamic experience throughout all ages and places. To me, Shariah and Islam are inseparable, and one cannot be without the other. I also confess that my primary loyalty, after God, is to the Shariah, and not to any particular organization.”
Only through jihad can a Muslim work his or her way to salvation because it is only through jihad that unnatural tendencies to sin can be suppressed and the natural-born (but sinfully corrupted) innate Islamic character of the human being flower. And jihad can be done only under the rule of sharia. Whether this jihad is greater jihad (non-warring) or lesser jihad (violence against Islam's enemies) is irrelevant to the salvation of Muslim believers; either one will suffice. But salvation through jihad is the basic soteriology of Islam and sharia is its means.
Unlike Christianity, Islam has no concept of original sin - a stain of sin innate to human beings, present in each person even at birth. That means that salvation can be attained only by the believer's deeds in submission to Allah through Islam and Islamic law. If a Muslim believer carries out Islam's commandments, then judgment day will be lightly born. If not, disaster.
A Muslim professor of Islamic studies at The George Washington University explained it to me this way 17 years ago. On the day of judgment, each person will have to cross a bridge from earth to paradise. The bridge spans a chasm so deep its bottom cannot be seen. To fall into the chasm is to fall into Hell forever. If one has faithfully kept Islam's commandments and done well, then one's individual bridge will be so wide it will stretch from horizon to horizon. But if one has stayed in sin, the bridge will be only as wide as a human hair.
While millions of Muslims in the world are mostly secular in outlook, those who take Islam's teaching seriously know that their eternal destiny is always in doubt at every moment. This may seem quaint to North Americans, who are so confidently (and unjustifiably) self-assured of their salvation (if they even believe it conceptually at all) that we hardly ever think about it. But for devout Muslims, earning salvation and avoiding Hell's very real torments is the actual purpose of living this life. It is what gives life focus and meaning.
However, one's eternal destiny is always in doubt. Even considering the bridge to heaven as an allegory, a Muslim can never know how wide his bridge is on any given day. But he does know that waging jihad is the most meritorious act a Muslim can do, and if one's greater jihad expands or further establishes Islam in the world then all the better.
All of this is why Muslims who immigrate to Western countries either self-segregate into Muslim neighborhoods (in old Europe, we would call them Muslim ghettos; modern France has many) or attempt to expand the reach of sharia law into society at large. Salvation is not possible without being surrounded by the umma, living together under the governance and guidance of sharia. More than that, sharia simply is Allah's inarguable command for the ordering of human society. A Muslim, truly to be Muslim, has no choice but to submit to its dictates. After all, "submission" is what "Islam" actually means. To activist jihadis, it matters not whether one has uttered the shahada and become Muslim or has remained infidel. One must either submit to Allah within Islam or submit to Islam itself if a non-Muslim.
And that is why Western Muslims are so intent on making sharia law normative in the West.
Muslim cleric Anjem Choudary is the spokesman for the British group Islam4UK. He told ABC’s “This Week” host Christiane Amanpour on Oct. 3 that it is certain that one day the flag of Islam will fly over the White House and that sharia law will be the law of the land.
Choudary's goal is the same as millions of "moderate" Muslims in the West, whom we term moderate for apparently no reason except they don't set off truck bombs or fly planes into buildings. But this is not a moderate position. It is imperialistic and triumphalist. And it is in fact mainstream among Western Muslims.
As the old liberal bumper sticker used to say, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."