If you look up “What is the true meaning of jihad?” on Google, you’ll have to do a lot of scrolling before you reach any source that offers a generally non-peaceful interpretation of this word. Did Google manipulate the results? You be the judge.
Typical is the interpretation of The Islamic Supreme Council of America:
WHAT JIHAD IS
- The Arabic word “jihad” is often translated as “holy war,” but in a purely linguistic sense, the word ” jihad” means struggling or striving.
- The arabic word for war is: “al-harb”.
- In a religious sense, as described by the Quran and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (s), “jihad” has many meanings. It can refer to internal as well as external efforts to be a good Muslims or believer, as well as working to inform people about the faith of Islam.
- If military jihad is required to protect the faith against others, it can be performed using anything from legal, diplomatic and economic to political means. If there is no peaceful alternative, Islam also allows the use of force, but there are strict rules of engagement. Innocents – such as women, children, or invalids – must never be harmed, and any peaceful overtures from the enemy must be accepted.
- Military action is therefore only one means of jihad, and is very rare. To highlight this point, the Prophet Mohammed told his followers returning from a military campaign: “This day we have returned from the minor jihad to the major jihad,” which he said meant returning from armed battle to the peaceful battle for self-control and betterment…
I’m not an expert, but the second bullet point seems problematic to me; Arabic is full of synonyms and near- synonyms. To imply that jihad cannot mean “war” because “al-harb” means war is ridiculous. As for the other bullet points, I’ll let an ex-Muslim explain the problem:
A word can mean many things to different people, depending on the context, but I’d like to add a different angle to this, one that most people are probably not aware of.
If I’m not mistaken, Hebrew has an equivalent to the word “jihad.” It can be found in the Bible (Genesis 49:19). When Jacob blesses his son Gad, he says:
גָּ֖ד גְּד֣וּד יְגוּדֶ֑נּוּ וְה֖וּא יָגֻ֥ד עָקֵֽב׃
Transliterated: Gad gedud yegudennu, wehu yagud ‘aqeb
“Gad will be attacked by a band of raiders, but he will attack them at their heels.”
Typically, when Arabic and Hebrew share a word, Arabic has the more archaic form. The root for “jihad” is “jahd.” It’s easy to see how the “h” could have fallen away over time, leaving the two-letter root “gud.” Modern Arabic “j” is the same as the Hebrew (and older Arabic) hard “g.”* Like the Qur’an, the Torah is a violent book; few would interpret the word “attack,” in this verse, figuratively (except, perhaps, the Kabbalists, but that’s a different matter).
* Many Yemenite Jews pronounce the Hebrew “g” as “j” and many modern Arabs (such as the Egyptians) pronounce the Arabic “j” as a hard “g” to this day.