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I am a mental health clinician and work in the Lancaster area. I currently live in Millersville and completed my master's degree in psychology from Millersville University.

I am originally from India and have been here for 5 1/2 years. Besides my professional interest in mental health, I engage in Islamic activities and connect with the population to talk about Islam and clear misconceptions about it.

One such subject is the use of the word Jihad, which we often hear and read in the media - yet not everyone is clear on the meaning of the term and its cultural and religious context.

‘Jihad’ is an Arabic term translated as ‘strive’.  It can be used generally to refer to any kind of struggle. Islamically, it means to establish Islam, spread justice and morality.

This Jihad is first an internal struggle to better one’s character better by fighting internal evil impulses and nurturing good qualities. ‘Establishing’ Islam does not involve force or rudeness, but it is to take efforts to share the faith with others peacefully.

Jihad also means to fight for the rights of the underprivileged, to have laws that hold criminals accountable, to bring economic balance and a fair, free political system. The Quran states in 4:75, “And what is wrong with you that you fight not in Allah’s Cause, and for those weak, ill-treated and oppressed among men, women, and children, whose cry is: "Our Lord! Rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from You one who will protect, and raise for us from You one who will help."

In short, all aspects of life can be encompassed under Islam. If the intention is dedicated to God, the striving becomes a Jihad. One should also use means permitted within Islam and not take away others’ rights. Most importantly, much of this work has no need for an armed struggle.

Can war be a form of Jihad? Yes. If all options to establish justice have failed, a physical fight may be called for. War can only be started by a nation and all other options for peace should be explored first. Muslims may not kill those not participating in war, children, the physically challenged, the sick, the priests in monasteries. Muslims may not attack animals or plant life or destroy property.

Captives of war cannot be tortured, humiliated or starved, nor can they be forced to convert to Islam. The need for war is not much different from today’s process. If a country attacks another or commits heinous crimes, then other nations may use force as an ultimate measure. During such a time, if one fights justly and for God, then even that can be a form of Jihad. Also a physical fighting is looked upon as the highest form of Jihad, but not the most necessary one.

Are there rewards for participating in war and dying? Yes. If the person has fought with pure intentions and the war and its means were justified, then both killing and dying are glorifiable.

This is not any different to the glory that we attach to our own veterans. But we know that considering the grand scheme of things, soldiers form a vital, yet small percentage of our population and the use of force is a minuscule part of our experience.

Since Muslims believe in an afterlife, there is much promised for the Muslim who sacrifices his life. The Quran states in 3:169&171, “Think not of those who are killed in the Way of Allah as dead. Nay, they are alive, with their Lord, and they have provision… They rejoice in a Grace and Bounty from Allah, and Allah will not waste the reward of the believers”.

The Islamic statements indicate that martyrs will be in the highest levels of paradise, have companions and will enter paradise hassle-free. This is the manifestation of the Islamic philosophy of justice – that fulfilling rewards are only given in the afterlife.

If a person wants to sacrifice his life, while his fighting is one of injustice, then hellfire will be his abode. If one takes to terrorism or oppression and claims to do righteousness, he has committed multiple mistakes – unjustified murder, suicide, misrepresenting Islam, and creating discord between communities.

Are there ideological differences between Muslims on this subject? Almost none.

Islamic scholars of any background will give similar opinions on the rationale of war and are united in their condemnation of terrorism. If one were to enter the Muslim community, s/he may note that extremists are indeed alienated which further leads them to aggress against moderate Muslims.

That is why the largest numbers of victims of terrorism perpetrated by Muslims are other Muslims. The solution to such problems starts with a correct understanding of Islam and to work for justice and peace.

— Yasir Ahmed is a mental health clinician working in the Lancaster area. He lives in Millersville and earned a master’s degree from Millersville University. He can be reached at yasirahmed13@yahoo.com.

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