Section Three: Jihad in Popular Islam
There are three distinct trends with regard to jihad as perceived by the average Muslim: that among Shiites, that among Sufis, and that among Sunnis.
Shiites believe in jihad as warfare like all other Muslims. One difference is that among quietist Shiites, jihad may legitimately only be fought under the command of the Imam. If an Imam does not order or command a jihad or the Imam is in hiding, then there can be no legitimate jihad by force.
As such, there is another way to engage in jihad: spiritual jihad. That is, rather than falling upon the infidels with the sword, the believer can exert oneself in prayer, make many supplications, and go on pilgrimages. These spiritual exercises will make Allah turn his ear to the pleas of the faithful, especially through the intercession of the Imam (and one crucial spiritual exercise is beseeching the Imam accordingly), in order to usher in the end of days, when the Hidden Imam will reappear, take command of the Shiite armies, destroy all evil forces (including the Sunnis), and establish a true, righteous, legitimate Islamic state. And so while the Shiites may not wage war with swords or guns, they may do so through prayer and pilgrimages. (These pilgrimages include not only those to Mecca and Medinah but also to the shrines of the Imams and those close to them. This pilgrimage-making is known as “ziyarat” among Shiites.)
A note is perhaps pertinent with regard to “activist” Shiites. These Shiites believe that the presence of the Imam himself is not necessary: the presence of an agent appointed or delegated by the Imam is sufficient to permit the faithful to wage jihad by force, as war, on others. Hence “Imam” Khomeini’s ability to wage jihad against Saddam Hussein. Khomeini was called “Imam” because he acted in place of the Imam, having been appointed by the Imam to do so.
Sufis, like all other Muslims, also believe in jihad by force. However, Sufis believe that all beliefs and acts of Islam have an external or obvious or apparent meaning (“exoteric”), and that they all also have an inner, secret, spiritual meaning (“esoteric”). As such, the exoteric meaning of jihad is, obviously, jihad by force, but the esoteric meaning deals with making war on the self, conquering the self for and in the name of Allah. These two are not exclusive, meaning that the Sufi must do one or the other (indeed, at one time in Islam’s history, the Sufis believed that jihad by force helps one to conduct spiritual jihad, and so they set out to conquer lands in the name of Islam so as to derive this double simultaneous benefit), and so one should not believe that Sufis are pacifist. It just means that they have various ways to engage in jihad.
Among Sunnis, however (those, that is, that are not Sufi), jihad has mainly one meaning: jihad by force. And this type of jihad is held to be very admirable, is held in high regard, and is spoken of in glowing terms.
Now, various factions among the Sunnis dispute the specific rules governing jihad by force, especially those dictating when jihad by force is mandatory and against whom it must then be waged. Some disputes, for example, involve whether Muslim governments siding with Western powers may be legitimate targets of jihad. Another dispute involves when the communal requirement of jihad (farz al-kifayah: a technical term of shari’ah (Islamic law) meaning that the act is mandatory on the community as a whole, and is fulfilled for the whole community when a certain number of people of that community engage in the act) becomes an individual requirement (farz al-‘ayn: a counterpart to the above term, this one meaning that the act is mandatory on each and every person, and so each and every person must perform or be engaged in the act).
The usual arguments of fighting in self defence also apply, but the greater purpose of jihad is supposed to bring more and more of the world under the laws of Allah.
This can be seen by how the world is divided by Muslims. There are three areas or regions: “Dar al-Islam” (“the Realm of Islam”), which refers to those areas where Islam has been established and where it reigns; “Dar al-Harb” (“the Realm of War”), which refers to those areas in conflict with Islam or that need to be conquered for Islam; and “Dar as-Sulh” (“the Realm of Treaty”), which refers to those areas with which Muslims have an amicable agreement, neither one threatening the other, which will remain until the Muslims are ready and prepared to conquer that area, whereupon the “treaty” or “truce” will be nullified and the areas incorporated into “Dar al-Harb” until they are conquered and become a part of “Dar al-Islam”. The idea behind this division is that eventually the Muslims will have to bring the entire world into “Dar al-Islam” by whatever means necessary. If the areas will not submit peacefully, they will be conquered by force. And any cessation of hostilities is only temporary. Jihad by force plays a large rôle in how this will work out.
There are some Muslims, notably the Ahmadi sect of Hanafi Sunni Islam, who have determined that jihad by force is no longer permitted and no longer needed. The conquest of the world will or ought to occur by peaceful means. Such Muslims are often declared to be infidels by other Muslims and even by Muslim authorities. As such, it is safe to say that the general Muslim world strongly opposes any attempt to do away with jihad by force, believing jihad by force to be an important tenet of Islam.