In a previous article I described the various types of jihad and demonstrated that Jihad encompasses warfare/fighting and terror and indeed this forms the vast majority of “jihadi activity”.

Some Muslim writers and commentators have made the argument that the “real jihad” is all about “battling one's inner demons” as it were and that “real jihad” has little to do with fighting anybody and that when jihad does involve fighting it is only in defence{1} of Muslims and/or Islamic lands.

In this article I intend to extend and amplify the arguments presented in the previous article to show that not only does jihad include fighting, it is sword-jihad that is the primary meaning of jihad and that far from being defensive, it is offensive in nature.

To do that I will use the primary sources of Islam: the Koran, Hadith (in particular the Sahih Hadith of Bukhari and Muslim) and Sharia Law.

The apologetic argument

It has been said that the opinion of many Muslims regarding Jihad is that it is of two sorts, namely “Jihad Akbar” (greater Jihad) and “Jihad Asghar” (lesser jihad).

Apologists state that Jihad Akbar means “Jihad against the desires and Satan (Shaitan)” (jihad bil nafs/qalb or “jihad of the soul/heart”) whilst Jihad Asghar is violent jihad against non-Muslims (jihad bis saif - “sword jihad”, or the combination of hand and sword jihad).

The reasons given for the above, in regards to Jihad against the desires and Satan as being Jihad Akbar, are as follows:

  • Its field of struggle is unlimited;
  • It is timeless and boundless;
  • This struggle is hard because its essence is man against himself;
  • The enemy is unseen and cannot be detected by the five senses.

This is contrasted to sword-jihad where:

  • jihad against the non-Muslims is not as long,
  • not as extensive,
  • not as difficult as struggling against the desires.

As a result of that, Jihad against the non-Muslims is regarded as Jihad Asghar (the smaller or lesser Jihad).

The classification of Jihad as given above is based upon a Hadith which states that on an occasion when Mohammed returned home from the field of warfare he said: “We have all returned from Jihad Asghar to Jihad Akbar.” Some companions asked: “What is Jihad Akbar Rasulullaah?” He replied: “Jihad against the desires.”

A second argument is based on the Sahih hadith collected in Bukhari (Vol.2 bk.26 No.595): Narrated `Aisha: 'I said, "O Allah's Apostle! We consider Jihad as the best deed." The Prophet said, "The best Jihad is Hajj Mabrur."'



1. The apologists' ahadith

Al ‘Iraqy in Takhriju AHadithil Ihya’ states: “The [unattributed] Hadith (above) is related by Imam Baihaqi with a da’if Sanad [weak chain of narrators] from Jabir” [Risalah Jihad, Hasan al-Banna].

Apart from the Hadith related by Imam Baihaqi there is also a Hadith related by Al-Khatib Al-Baghadadi from Jabir, which states: “the Prophet, at the time he returned from a battle said: ‘We have all just returned to the best of places, and you have returned from Jihad Asghar (the lesser Jihad) to strive in Jihad Akbar (the greater Jihad)’. The companions asked: ‘What is Jihad Akbar Rasulullaah?’ He answered: ‘The Jihad of someone against his desires’.” [Tarikh al Baghdadi 13/493]

This Hadith is also weak because within its Sanad there is a narrator by the name of Khalaf bin Muhammad bin Ismail al Khiyam who according to Al-Hakim: “His Hadiths are unreliable.” And Abu Ya’la al Khalili says: “He often adulterates, is very weak and narrates unknown Hadith.” [Mashariul ‘Ashwaq ila Masuril ‘Ushshaq 1/31]

Al-Hakim and Ibnu Abi Zur’ah state: “We often write statements from Khalaf bin Muhammad bin Ismail only as an example, and we remove ourselves of responsibility from him.” [Mizanul I’tidal 1/662] – in other words what he says is unreliable or false.

Furthermore, within the Sanad of this Hadith a narrator by the name of Yahya bin Al Ula Al Bajili who according to Imam Ahmad is a known “Kadhdhaab (liar and forger of Hadith). Also, Amru bin Ali, An Nasai and Daruqutni state: “His Hadith are renounced.” Ibnu Adi states: “His Hadith are false.” [Refer: Tahdhibut Tahdhib 11/261-262]

Ibn Taimiyyah states: “There is a Hadith related by a group of people which states that the Prophet (s.a.w) said after the battle of Tabuk: ‘We have returned from Jihad Asghar to Jihad Akbar’. This hadith has no source, nobody whomsoever in the field of Islamic Knowledge has narrated it. Jihad against the disbelievers is the most noble of actions, and moreover it is the most important action for the sake of mankind.” [Al Furqan baina Auliyair Rahman wa Auliyaisy Shaitaan, matter 44-45]. Note that Taimiyyah is saying that sword-jihad against non-Muslims is the most important and “noblest” thing a Mussalman can do and that he states that “nobody knowledgeable narrated it”.

Furthermore, besides the two weak Hadith given above, there is the statement of a Tabi’i (second generation Muslim) by the name of Ibrahim bin Abi Ablah to people who had returned from battle, which states: “You have returned from Jihad Asghar so is the Jihad Akbar you intend to do Jihad ul qalbi (Jihad of the heart)?” [Siyaru A’laamin Nubala 6/325]

Daruqutni states “Ibrahim bin Abi Ablah himself is believable but the chain of transmission is broken.” [Siyaru A’laamin Nubala6/324]. Consequently the hadith cannot be attributed to Ibrahim bin Abi Ablah because there isn't a complete chain of narration to him. Axiomatically, then, this makes this hadith suspect, despite its otherwise early provenance.

The Sahih hadith of Bukhari quoted above (Vol.2 bk.26 No.595) states that “the best Jihad is Hajj Mabrur”. Were this all it said, it would support the apologists' case. However, when the whole context of the hadith is understood, it is clear the Mohammed is referring solely to women in this hadith – indeed many interpreters interpolate “for women” into the text to clarify this point.

Whilst it is true that women went along with the Muslims to battles, they did not fight as is evidenced from the fact that they were not allocated a share of the spoils. Their roles were limited to tending the wounded, water carrying and other such support roles. Since, therefore, women were unable to garner the rewards of participating in sword-jihad either in this life or the next, Mohammed gives them “hajj-Mabrur” in its stead. Sadly for women, no “Hajji” can be certain in this life that they have accomplished such a hajj since it is a Hajj conducted perfectly and solely for Allah (could you be certain that, over a 5-6 day period your concentration wavered not for an instant?).


2. What is the Highest Level of Jihad according to the Hadith?

On the basis of the above we can say that the evidence used for establishing that Jihad against disbelievers on the battlefield is Jihad Asghar and Jihad against the desires and Satan is Jihad Akbar, is based on weak if not false ahadith. Furthermore these ahadith are in opposition to Sahih ahadith, such as the ones below:

Muslim [No. 4636] from Abu Hurairah who said: The Prophet (s.a.w) was asked: “O Rasulullaah! What deed could be an equivalent of Jihad Fi Sabilillaah [“jihad in the way of Allah”]?” He answered: “You do not have the strength to do that deed.” The narrator said: They repeated the question twice or thrice. Every time he answered: “You do not have the strength to do it.” When the question was asked for the third time, he said: “One who goes out for Jihad is like a person who keeps fasts, stands in prayer (constantly), (obeying) Allah’s (behests contained in) the Aayah (of the Qur’an), and does not exhibit any lassitude in fasting and praying until the Mujahid returns from Jihad Fi Sabilillaah.” Some apologists would say that “jihad fee Sabiliallahi” is not the same as “jihad bis Saif”. Whilst this is true in that jihad encompasses more than sword-jihad, the context of  this hadith shows that the jihad referred to is indeed sword-jihad – one does not need to “go out” for  Jihad bil qalb!

Bukhari [Vol.4 Bk.52 No.44] from Abu hurairah who said: A man came to Allah’s Messenger (s.a.w) and said, “Guide me to such a deed as equals Jihad (in reward).” He replied, “I do not find such a deed.” Then he added, “Can you, while the Mujahid [Muslim warrior] has gone for Jihad, enter your mosque to perform Salat without cease and observe Saum [fasting] without breaking it?” The man said, “But who can do that?”. See also ibid 3.46.694

Ibid 1.2.25: Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle was asked, "What is the best deed?" He replied, "To believe in Allah and His Apostle (Muhammad). The questioner then asked, "What is the next (in goodness)? He replied, "To participate in Jihad (holy war) in Allah's Cause." The questioner again asked, "What is the next (in goodness)?" He replied, "To perform Hajj (Pilgrim age to Mecca) Mabrur" (i.e. accepted by Allah, performed with the intention of seeking Allah's pleasure only and not to show off, without committing a sin and in accordance with the traditions of the Prophet).” Here jihad is “second best” to Islamic faith, but this is no contradiction since without this faith all deeds are unacceptable to Allah in Islamic Theology. See also ibid 2.26.594.

Hadith narrated by Al-Hakim in “Al Mustadrak” 2/73. Sahih Sanad agreed upon by Az Zahabi. Narrated from Muaz bin Anas who said: A woman once came to the Prophet (s.a.w) and asked: “O Rasulullaah! My husband has departed for war and usually if he prays I follow him in his Salat and I follow him in all his acts of worship. Because of that inform me of an act which can equal his until he returns.” He (s.a.w.) said to her: “Are you able to stand without sitting, perform fasting without breaking it and read the Quran until your husband returns?” She replied: “I am not strong enough, O Rasulullaah.” So he [Mohammed] said to her: “By Allah in whose hand I am, even if you were strong enough it would surely not attain one tenth of your husbands deeds.” Here we see that no amount of prayer, fasting and Quran recitation by a woman is worth even one tenth of the 'Allah's brownie points' scored by a Mussalman who goes out and kills non-Muslims. (Remember that all Mohammed's wars/battles/raids were against various non-Muslims.)

Bukhari [Vol.4 Bk.52 No.45]: Narrated Abu Sa`id Al−Khudri: Somebody asked, "O Allah's Apostle! Who is the best among the people?" Allah's Apostle replied "A believer who strives his utmost in Allah's Cause with his life and property." They asked, "Who is next?" He replied, "A believer who stays in one of the mountain paths worshipping Allah and leaving the people secure from his mischief." (I can't help but feel that Mohammed's reply to the second question was the result of irritation with the questioner whom he wished would go away and stop bothering him!)

ibid 4.52.46: Narrated Abu Huraira: I heard Allah's Apostle saying, "The example of a Mujahid in Allah's Cause (and Allah knows better who really strives in His Cause) is like a person who fasts and prays continuously. Allah guarantees that He will admit the Mujahid in His Cause into Paradise if he is killed, otherwise He will return him to his home safely with rewards and war booty.” This hadith says quite clearly that the Muslim soldier (Mujahid) will go to paradise if killed. Soldiers are killed in battles fighting the enemy. Therefore the “jihad” in this hadith is clearly sword-jihad.

Musnad Ahmed 4:114: 'A man asked Rasulullaah (s.a.w): “...and what is Jihad?” He (s.a.w) replied: “You fight against the disbelievers when you meet them.” He asked again: “What kind of Jihad is the highest?” He (Mohammed) replied: “The person who is killed whilst spilling the last of his blood.” [Hadith Sahih. Al Haithami states: “Narrators upheld it.” Majmauz Zawaid 1/59]. This hadith echoes the meaning of the previous one and states that sword-jihad is the “highest” (i.e. most pious) act that a Mussalman can undertake.

From the ahadith above we can clearly state that Jihad Fee Sabilillaah, which is effectively synonymous with “fighting in the way of Allah” (“qital fee sabillillaah”) or “sword-jihad”, is the highest (or most pious) act, and there is no other act to equal it. Thus to characterise an act described as the highest act possible for a Muslim man as “Jihad Asghar” – i.e. the small Jihad or the lesser Jihad – would be irrational in the extreme.

I could continue to quote Bukhari hadith at length since some 98% of his hadith relating to jihad refer to sword jihad{2}, but these will suffice to make the point.

Further, we must also consider how the doctrine of abrogation is applied to ahadith. In summary we can say: “the stronger abrogates the weaker”.

In this case since it is Sahih ahadith (the strongest classification) that state that sword-jihad is the greatest Jihad a Muslim can do and the ahadith that support the notion that “jihad bil qalb” is the greater Jihad are either “da'eef” (weak) or “Murdhu” (fabricated), then again according to the rules of hadith, these ahadith are to be discounted since they contradict more authoritative ahadith.

Therefore we may safely and surely conclude that Jihad Fi Sabilillaah (Islamic “holy war”) is in fact the “greater jihad” or “jihad Akbar”.

There are  one or two  exceptions:

  • For women there is a (repeated) Shahih hadith that states that for them the “highest” jihad is a perfectly done Hajj. Thus fighting is the “greater jihad” for Mussalmen only and Muslim women are not to engage in combat (though history shows that they acted as water carriers and tended the wounded etc. in battles).
  • In the case of a man who's parents are in a position to and do refuse him permission, his jihad is to serve them, provided that the call to jihad is a community not an individual obligation{3}.

However, these exceptions are precisely that: exceptions. So perhaps it would be more accurate to state that with some exceptions for social reasons “fighting in the way of Allah” is the greatest Jihad a Mussalman can do.


3. What is “Jihad Fi Sabilillaah” in the hadith?

As proof that the word Jihad in the above mentioned Hadith cannot mean anything else except war or fighting, there is the Hadith narrated by Al-Hakim (above). Within that Hadith are the words: “My husband has departed for war…” It is impossible for the word Ghaaziyan in the above Hadith to mean anything except war or raiding, no matter in what way it is analysed.

The Hadiths of Muslim and Bukhari say: “equals jihadMuslim fighter is on the battlefield or has gone for jihad”. In these Hadith Mohammed is clearly equating Jihad with fighting in raids or wars.

If that is not clear enough then: 'A man asked Rasulullaah (s.a.w): “...and what is Jihad?” He replied: “You fight against the disbelievers when you meet them...” He asked again: “What kind of Jihad is the highest?” He (s.a.w) replied: “The person who is killed whilst spilling the last of his blood.” [Narrated by Ahmad in his Musnad 4/114 - Hadith Sahih. Al Haithami states: “Narrators upheld it.” Majmauz Zawaid 1/59].

Here Mohammed states quite clearly that Jihad is fighting non-Muslims and that the highest form of said jihad is becoming a “Shaheed” (or “martyr” in Islam-speak{4}) by being killed whilst killing non-Muslims.

From the Hadith of Bukhari and Muslim earlier we can see that the one who is called Mujahid Fi Sabilillaah (“Allah's warrior”) can only be matched by that person who maintains continuous prayers, fasting and Koran recitation without a break for all the time that the “fighting Mujahideen” are on sword-Jihad.

Let me digress a little with a hypothetical case: suppose there was a person who is capable of maintaining “soul-jihad” (‘Mujahadatun Nafsi') or, more loosely, “Jihad against the desires” in this way. We'll call him a “couch-jihadist” since all he has to do is lie back and battle Satan and his own evil desires.

The actions of the body during prayer and the reading of the Quran are external acts, not acts of the heart, not intrinsic acts, thus of themselves the body's movements are of little value. Then what if, at the time of these external acts, the mind isn’t focused? Suppose our couch jihadi's mind wanders at some point... or he loses concentration in his prayers … or misses a word or a phrase in his recitation. Perhaps (after a few hours or days) he falls asleep through exhaustion, or collapses from thirst or hunger. Any of the above would cause him to fail in his 'jihad' and thus fall short of the 'Allah's brownie points' collection of the Mujahid on sword-jihad out whacking non-Muslims.

In Imam Nawawi’s Book of Jihad, there are Hadith concerning external as well as internal acts of Sunnah such as prayer at night which embraces brushing off laziness, standing, bowing and prostrating for a long time; and other acts including fighting until wounded and dying as a martyr. [Riyadh us Salihiin, Book of Jihad].

So if perhaps there is a person capable of performing “Mujahadatun Nafsi” and that at the highest level – prayer, continuous fasting and reading the Quran non-stop for as long as some other person goes to war and until he returns - then and only then is he equal to the “fighting Mujahid”.

In the earlier days of Islam and still today there are those who are away from home for months and years engaged in “jihad” - although we might call it terrorism or insurgency.

Could any “couch-jihadi” maintain continuous Mujahadatun Nafsi' for months or years?

How then is it possible to maintain that “Mujahadatun Nafsi” away from the battlefield is ‘Al Jihadul Akbar’ greater jihad, whilst Jihad against the disbelievers is called ‘Al Jihadul Asghar’, lesser jihad?


I have shown that the ahadith applicable to Mussalmen used by those who claim that sword-jihad is the “lesser jihad” are either weak or fabricated.

I have shown that the “highest quality” ahadith (Sahih ahadith) contradict those weak/false hadith and that “jihad in the way of Allah” is the greatest form of jihad for Mussalmen.

And I have shown that the hadith tell us that “jihad in the way of Allah” means fighting against non-Muslims.

Thus the apologists’ claims have been refuted by using their own 'weapons' (the ahadith).

However, there are those Muslims who will insist that the ahadith are unreliable. So let me turn to Islam's unimpeachable source:

4. Sword-jihad in the Koran.

The Quran contains many verses on fighting (“qital” in Arabic), war (“harb” in Arabic) and jihad. What is important here are those verses that show the primacy and supremacy of sword-jihad.

4:95: Not equal are those of the faithful who sit back and those who wage jihad in the way of Allah with their possession and their persons. Allah has graced those who wage jihad with their possessions and their persons by a degree over those who sit back; yet to each Allah has promised the best reward, and Allah has graced those who wage jihad over those who sit back with a great reward. Many translators translate “those who wage jihad” (Ar. “al mujahideena”) as “those who strive hard” or similar. However, the Arabic (mujahideen) means in everyday language “Muslim soldiers”. Thus this verse says that unless you are disabled you are not the equal of a “Muslim soldier”. Since a disabled person can clearly “struggle” against his/her own human failings etc. as well as an able-bodied person, this verse can only apply to Jihad/struggling/etc. in the sense of waging war/terror (sword-jihad) against a foe, in which the Mujahid (warrior) fights and risks his person (life). On this verse Tafseer ibn Abbas states: “Allah then explained the reward of those who fight in the way of Allah,”. At-Tirmidhi recorded that this verse refers to the battle of Badr and ibn Kathir writes: “but Allah has preferred those who strive hard and fight, above those who sit (at home), by a huge reward.” Maududi, Qutb and Shafi echo this sentiment. The entire tenor of Qutb's and Shafi's commentary revolves around understanding this verse in terms of sword-jihad. Thus not only the sense of the verse itself but authoritative commentators equate jihad “striving” to fighting for Allah. Thus these commentators equate jihad to fighting (non-Muslims), i.e. sword-jihad. See also K.48:17 where the blind, lame and sick are exempted from “jihad”. This would be unnecessary if “jihad” only meant “jihad bil qalb/nafs”.

9:19: Do you pretend that he who gives a drink to the pilgrims and pays a visit to the Sacred Mosque is as worthy as the man who believes in God and the Last Day, and wages jihad for Allah's cause? These are not held equal by God. God does not guide the wrongdoers.

This verse gives a complete refutation of the apologists’ idea that performing Hajj is the equal of sword-jihad for a Mussalman. Al-Wahidi relates this to a dispute between three men, the one who trumped the others was a sword-jihadi. Tafseer ibn Abbas notes that those who “wage jihad” were those who participated in the battle of Badr. Ibn Kathir writes: “Allah declared that faith and Jihad with the Prophet are better than the idolators' maintaining Al-Masjid Al-Haram and providing water for pilgrims” and clarifies that  they are not “equal to the worth of those who believe in Allah and the Last Day and strive hard and fight in the cause of Allah!Shafi echoes this. Again the Tafseers equate jihad to “fighting in Allah's cause” (qital fi sabillillaah), sword-jihad.

9:39,41: “If you do not march (to war), He will punish you sternly, and will replace you by other men. You will in no way harm Him: for God has power over all things...(41) Whether lightly armed or well-equipped, march on and wage jihad for the cause of God, with your wealth and with your persons. This will be best for you, if you but knew it.” Firstly Allah commands the Muslims to go to war, on pain of his Divine Punishment (hell-fire), whether lightly armed (Ar. “light”) or well equipped (Ar. “heavy”) and He then assures the Muslims that going to war is the best for them. Ibn Kathir writes of v.41 “Allah commanded mass mobilisation together with the Messenger of Allah ... to fight the disbelieving, [the] People of the Book, the Romans, Allah's enemies. Allah ordained that the believers all march forth with the Messenger regardless whether they felt active, lazy, at ease or had difficult circumstances” thus showing that the jihad spoken of in the verse is sword-jihad. This verse is clarified by Q.9:91, which exempts those who are ill and infirm from sword-jihad, thus showing that the correct interpretation of “light” and “heavy” is not whether they are “well” or “ill/disabled” as some interpret. Further note that in ibn Kathir's view all non-Muslims are “Allah's enemies”. Ibn Kathir also gives an alternative interpretation of “light” and “heavy” - essentially meaning light or heavy hearted for whatever reason. On this Maududi writes: “The words ".... whether you are light or heavy ..." have a very comprehensive meaning: "When it is enjoined to march forth for Jihad, you must go forth anyhow, whether you like it or not: whether you are in a state of prosperity or indigence: whether you are well-equipped or ill-equipped: whether the circumstances are favourable or adverse: whether you are young and healthy or old and weak." All the commentaries link this “march[ing] forth” to jihad. i.e. they interpret fighting as jihad.

9:73: “O Prophet! Make Jihad against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be unyielding against them. Hell shall be their home; and it is the worst of all homes.” Tafseer al-Jalalayn, ibn Abbas, ibn Kathir and Shafi all make it clear that the jihad against the unbelievers is sword-jihad whereas that against (Muslim) hypocrites is “with words and definitive arguments, and be harsh with them, through rebuke and aversion” towards them. Ibn Abbas states that harshness should be applied to the non-Muslims also (here the word rendered “harsh” might be better understood as “relentless” or “remorseless”).

9:81:Those who stayed away (from the Tabuk expedition) rejoiced in their staying behind the Messenger of Allah; they hated to strive with their properties and their lives in the Cause of Allah, and they said: "March not forth in the heat." Say: "The Fire of Hell is more intense in heat", if only they could understand!” Tafseer al-Jalalayn, ibn Abbas, ibn Kathir, Maududi and Qutb make it clear that the jihad in this verse means sword-jihad at Tabuk.

49:15 “Only those are the believers who have believed in Allah and His Messenger, and afterwards doubt not but strive with their wealth and their lives for the Cause of Allah. Those! They are the truthful.” Again jihad means risking your life, i.e. jihad in this verse means sword-jihad.


These verses above show quite clearly that jihad or “striving” as it is often translated in the Koran generally means sword-jihad against non-Muslims. This is not to say that sword-jihad is the only jihad, it is not. But these verses refute the utterly fanciful notion of some apologists that jihad does not include sword-jihad.

8:67: “It is not for any prophet to have captives until he has made great slaughter in the land.” What applies to Mohammed applies to his followers (unless specifically excepted). So the Muslim army is required to slaughter its enemies until organised resistance ceases (al-Jalalayn, ibn Kathir, Maududi, Qutb and Shafi). Muslims will often make much of the fact that they are not to kill women and children, but since the Islamic army makes sex-slaves of captured women and enslaves captured children, this is not particularly compassionate, since any such killing merely reduces the value of the “ghamina” (war-booty) that they collect.

47:4:So when you meet in battle those who disbelieve, then smite the necks [kill] until when you have overcome them, then make (them) prisoners, and afterwards either set them free as a favour or let them ransom (themselves) until the war terminates. If Allah had pleased He would certainly have exacted what is due from them, but that He may try some of you by means of others; and (as for) those who are slain in the way of Allah, He will by no means allow their deeds to perish.” This verse is “of a piece” with the last: Muslims must kill their opponents until they are overcome (i.e. organised resistance ceases), only then can they enslave the rest. Also in this we see a reference to the “war covenant” between the Muslims and Allah that is also referred to in the verses below.


In these verses we see that the Islamic army is to wage a war of annihilation against it's foes until such time as organised resistance ceases. Then, and only then, is it “business as usual” with the enslaving of prisoners of war, gathering of booty including sex-slaves, etc.

9.111: “Allah has bought from the believers their selves and their possessions against the gift of Paradise; they fight in the way of Allah; they kill, and are killed. It is a promise binding on Him in the Torah, the Injil and the Quran and who is truer to his contract than Allah? Rejoice then in the bargain you have made. That is the great victory.This verse is significant in two ways: it shows clearly that to “fight in the way of Allah” means to kill non-Muslims in sword-jihad. Secondly, it sets up the “war covenant” between Muslims and Allah: Allah has bought them to fight non-Muslims and (as we shall see) fighting grants them paradise. (This is supported by al-Jalalayn, al-Wahidi, ibn Abbas, ibn Kathir, Maududi,Qutb) After a calumny against the Bible, Muslims are told to rejoice in the bargain (killing non-Muslims = paradise) that they have made.

33:23:Among the believers are men who were true to their covenant with Allah; some of them have fulfilled their vow by death [in battle], and some are still awaiting [to die in battle], and they have not changed in the, al-Wahidi, ibn Abbas, ibn Kathir, Qutb and Shafi all relate this verse to Muslims who have died in battle and others who are still waiting so to do. The importance here is that this “covenant” is the “war covenant” mentioned in 9:111.

47:35: “So be not weak and ask not for peace (from the enemies of Islam), you will have the upper hand. Allah is with you, and will never decrease the reward of your good deeds.” This verse tells us two things: that Muslims should not sue for peace when fighting non-Muslims when the Muslims are winning (al-Jalalayn, Qutb) or because they will win eventually (ibn Abbas, Maududi). Ibn Kathir adds that if the Muslims are clearly 'out-gunned' they may ask for a “Hudna” (cease-fire) in order to better prepare themselves and ensure that the Muslim army will win when they do resume the war. Note also that there is a reference to the “war covenant” in this verse and that the killing of non-Muslims equates to “good deeds” for Muslims. The reward referred to is two-fold, that of paradise and that of spoils.

48:20-21. “Allah has promised you many spoils which you shall acquire, and has given you these (spoils of Khayber [goods, chattels, women and children]) with all promptness. He has restrained the hands of enemies from you, so that it may serve as a sign to the believers and that He may guide you to the Right Way. (Besides, He promises you) other spoils as well, which are not yet within your reach but Allah has surely encompassed them. Allah has power over everything.” Here is another element of the “war covenant”: booty/spoils (“ghanima” in Arabic). When the Muslims have finished killing all the men-folk, their land and property (which to the Muslims includes the non-Muslims' wives and children) become booty which is shared out amongst the Muslims. This booty can be sold to re-finance Jihad and the women provide a ready supply of sex-slaves. Furthermore, the phrase “other spoils ...not yet within your reach” is understood by Ibn Abbas to be those of “the PersiansAl-Jalalayn adds “the Romans” - since the West (which was “Roman” at that time) is still largely free of Islamic domination this latter has yet to be accomplished. Ultimately this is a promise of “all the spoils in the world” i.e. it is a promise that Muslims will eventually gain the whole world as their spoils (ibn Kathir, Shafi).

61:4: “Indeed Allah loves those who fight in His way in battle array as if they were a solid wall.” This clearly indicates the mujahideen drawn up on the battlefield in ranks like a solid wall. It also tells Muslims that Allah loves those Muslims who wage war and thus honour their “war covenant”.

61:10-12: “O believers! Should I tell you of a bargain that will save you from a painful punishment? It is to believe in Allah and His Messenger and wage jihad to your utmost in the cause of Allah with your wealth and your persons. That is best for you, if you but knew it. He will forgive you your sins and admit you to gardens beneath which rivers flow, and will lodge you in beautiful mansions in the gardens of Eden, which will be a supreme achievement.” This verse adds another element to the “war covenant”: Muslims who wage sword-jihad will have all their sins forgiven. Thus, presumably, if a Mussalman commits un-Islamic “war crimes” he need not worry – Allah has forgiven him already, or if not, just do more “Kaffir whacking” and bingo! – sins forgiven. Furthermore since sword-jihad is the “best” thing to do for Allah, sword-jihad must be the “holiest” occupation for a Mussalman. (composited from all the Tafseers.)


These verses set up and refer to the “war covenant” between Allah and the Muslims. This covenant is that, having sold themselves to Allah, the Muslims will relentlessly fight against non-Muslims and in return Allah will grant them absolution from sins, paradise in the life to come and “spoils” or war-booty including sex-slaves in this life. Allah also assures them that they will win in sword-jihad in the end and, ultimately, come to rule the world. Sword-jihad is also the “best” thing a Mussalman can do for Allah and his “holiest” occupation.

9:123: “O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him).” In other words “show no mercy”, (harsh = merciless/ unforgiving/ relentless/ implacable) to non-Muslims and start by fighting those nearest to you. Al-Jalalayn and ibn Juzayy put it like this: “the nearest, followed by the next nearest of them”. Thus in this verse Muslims are told not only to show no mercy (echoing the words of K.8:67) but also to attack the nearest non-Muslims, defeat them and move onto the next nearest. This is an offensive sword-jihad.

21:43-44: “Or have they [non-Muslims] gods that can guard them from Us? They have no power to aid themselves, nor can they be defended from Us. Nay, We gave the good things of this life to these men and their fathers until the period [life] grew long for them; See they not that We gradually reduce the land (in their control) from its outlying borders? Is it then they who will win?” This verse states that non-Muslims cannot “be defended from Us”. Since Allah is a simple Unity, this “Us” must refer to “Allah and the Muslims”, against whom non-Muslims cannot (or will not) defend themselves, whilst the Muslims are supposed to “reduce the land” controlled by non-Muslims by capturing border areas, as al-Jalalayn, ibn Abbas and ibn Kathir all agree{5,6}. Again, since it is the non-Muslims who are on the defensive, the Muslims are on the offensive. Again sword-jihad is offensive in nature.

33:26-27: “Allah brought them down from their forts and cast terror into their hearts, (so that) a group (of them) you killed, and a group (of them) you made captives. And He caused you to inherit their lands, and their houses, and their riches, and a land which you had not trodden (before). And Allah is Able to do all things.” These verses refer to the massacre of the Bani Qurayza in which all the men were killed and all their property (goods, chattels, women and children, lands etc.) were taken as war-booty. Again this is an offensive sword-jihad that captured lands for Islam. In fact, in history this has been the primary purpose of sword-jihad – the capture of territory and lands for Islam.


These verses (and 48:20-21) are a call for Islamic world domination through sword-jihad. Such a jihad has to be relentlessly offensive in nature.


Summary on Koran verses

In the Koran we find:

  • Verses that indisputably prove that jihad encompasses sword-jihad.
  • Verses that tell us that the Muslim army on sword-jihad is to slaughter its opponents until organised resistance ceases, only then should it take prisoners.
  • Verses that describe the “war covenant” between Allah and the Muslims: Muslim sell themselves to Allah for the purpose of (sword) jihad and in return Allah gives them absolution from all their sins, war booty (land, possessions and slaves – including sex-slaves) and paradise in the life to come. He also assures Muslims that they will be victorious in sword-jihad in the end.
  • Verses that prove that sword-jihad is relentlessly offensive in nature, that Muslims should attack the non-Muslims nearest to them first, defeat them, more onto the next and so on.
  • Verses that such sword-jihad must continue until such time as the whole world is under Islamic rule or judgement day arrives.
  • And a verse that states that sword-jihad is the best thing a Mussalman can do and thus the killing of non-Muslims is a Mussalman's “supreme achievement”, will be counted amongst his “good deeds” and is thus the 'holiest' thing he can do.

Since the Koran which is purportedly the literal word of Allah states that waging sword-jihad is the “best for you” and the only certain means to guarantee paradise for a Mussalman then sword-jihad cannot be the “lesser jihad”. To suggest so is, in fact, to make Allah a liar – which is blasphemy in Islam.

5. Sharia Law and sword-jihad

Shariah law is the Muslim “handbook”. It defines what is right and wrong (Halal and haram) within Islam. In many ways Shariah law is the evolution of the commands in the Koran and the statements of Mohammed (the Hadith) into a codified form.

As such it should, perhaps, have (almost) the last word on this subject.

Allah has ordained jihad (fighting in the cause of Allah) in order to render His word the Highest, His religion the victorious, His enemies the defeated... In Islam jihad enjoys a a great importance, as it is the highest level in religion and one of the best acts of worship, to the extent that some scholars consider Jihad the sixth pillar of Islam.” So writes Dr. Salih al-Fawzan of Saudi Arabia in his Jihad chapter introduction, thus stating that in Islam killing non-Muslims is a holy “act of worship” for Allah. He goes on to say amongst the “noble purposes” of jihad are getting rid of all things worshipped other than Allah and to “humiliate the disbelievers, take revenge on them and weaken their power” - i.e. to wage an offensive sword-jihad.

In the “Muqhtasar al-Quduri.” jihad is classed amongst the “Acts of Worship” but, curiously, this chapter isn't translated.

In “The distinguished jurist's primer, Vol.1” by Ibn Rushd there is a lengthy chapter on Jihad. The salient points are: that all non-Muslims are to be fought; that before declaring war they must hear the invitation to Islam on which they can avoid war by conversion, complete acceptance of Islamic law (it's hard to see how, ultimately, they could retain their own faith under this stricture) or payment of Jizya. Otherwise the Muslims will attack i.e. this sword-jihad is offensive in nature. The purpose of Jihad is threefold: to gain converts, lands and wealth (jizya and Kharaj – this latter is a “rent” on land still worked by non-Muslims. Let me add that they also have to pay “ushr” - a 10% tax - on the land's produce). It is worth noting that ibn Rushd says of the Jizya “it is a substitute for slaughter and slaying” at the hands of the Muslims. Thus we truly see from what Dhimmis are “protected”.

“The Reliance of the Traveller” in section o9.8 states that: “The caliph makes war upon Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians (provided he has first invited them to enter Islam in faith and practice, and if they will not, then invited them to enter the social order of Islam by paying the non-Muslim head tax jizya) ...and the war continues until they become Muslim or else pay the non-Muslim poll tax … o9.9 The caliph fights all other peoples until they become Muslim”. Again we see that this is offensive sword-jihad against all non-Muslims.


According to the Authors of various Shariah law books offensive sword-jihad is to be waged against all non-Muslims until they become Muslim or become dead. Sword-jihad is the highest level in religion and one of the 'best' acts of worship.

Implicit is that slaughtering non-Muslims is a “holy” act for Muslims.

Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians{7} have a third option: they can become Dhimmis (or “protected persons” as Muslims like to call them) on payment of the Jizya (head tax) which is a substitute for them being killed{8} (thus we see what Dhimmis are truly protected from). The purpose of Jihad is threefold: to gain lands, wealth and (over time) converts.


6. Concerning Inner and Outer Enemies.

In waging “Mujahadatun Nafsi” (jihad of the soul) away from the battlefield the couch jihadi is only faced with one or at most two enemies, namely (1) evil (i.e. un-Islamic) desires which are promoted by (2) “Shaitaan”, i.e. Satan/Devil(s). Whereas in Jihad Fi Sabilillaah, the Mujahid is not only waging sword-Jihad against open enemies (non-Muslims) on the battlefield, he has also to be alert to the risks from “the Munafiquun” (i.e. Muslim hypocrites) as well as “the desires and the devils”. Thus the Mujahideen face not just the two enemies of our “couch jihadi” engaged in “Mujahadatun Nafsi” but four enemies.

Whilst on campaign the mujahid can expect to face hardship; whilst on the battlefield despite Allah's gift of “sakinah” (a special form of peace that descends on Muslims whilst they are engaged in killing non-Muslims) he may find himself assailed by fear and doubt.

Furthermore for the Mujahid some of his desires are quite natural and, of themselves, far from evil: he would prefer to be at home with his wives and children, to take his turn with each wife and sleep in his beds, perhaps something as simple as a home-cooked meal.

All of these desires, even the most natural, must be combated if the sword-jihadist is to unreservedly risk his life in Allah's cause.

The Quran says (K.2:216): “Jihad is ordained for you though you dislike it, and it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know.

Then there is the question of Satan, who always fights against those who fight in Jihad. The Quran says (K.4:76) “Those who believe, fight in the Cause of Allah, and those who disbelieve, fight in the cause of Evil. So fight you against the allies of Satan; ever feeble indeed is the plot of Satan.

Setting aside the fact that this verse declares that non-Muslims are the “allies of Satan” and thus, implicitly, evil themselves, this verse also states that Satan fights against the Mujahid by  inflaming the passions of the non-Muslims “the allies of Satan” to fight against the Muslims.

K.8:48: “And (remember) when Satan made their (evil) deeds seem fair to them and said, 'No one of mankind can overcome you [pagans] this Day and verily, I am your neighbour'…”, and by plotting (K.4:76) to weaken the resolve of the Mujahid so that they feel reluctant or scared to fight against the disbelievers. Thus we could argue that Satan works even harder against the Mujahid than the “couch jihadi” to lure him from Islam.

Ibn Abbas stated: “In the battle of Badr, Iblis came and carried their banner together with the army and group of Shaitaan. He came in the form of a man from the Bani Mudlaj by the name of Suraqah bin Malik bin Ju’shum, and said to the Mushrikuun: “None of mankind is able to defeat you this day, and I am your protector.”

Ibn Jarir at Tabari recounts: “So at the time those men assembled, Mohammed gathered a handful of dust and threw it into the faces of the pagans which forced them to retreat. When Jibra’il came, Iblis saw him and released his grip on the pagans and ran away together with his followers. Those who had been in his grip called out: “O Suraqah! You agreed to protect us.” Iblis answered: “Indeed I see what you do not see and I am scared of Allah, and Allah is hard in His punishment.” [Hadith mauqaf].

In a Hadith narrated by Imam Ahmad: Sabrah bin Al Faqih states: 'I heard [Mohammed] say: “Indeed Satan waits to deter mankind… Satan waits in the way of Jihad. He says to the person who intends Jihad: “Do you want to perform Jihad, when Jihad destroys the soul and finishes off your wealth? Do you want to fight, when you can be killed, your wife can remarry and your wealth divided?”'… [Musnad Ahmad 3/483. Isnad hasan]. This hadith gives some of the ways in which “Satan” might deter the Mujahid from fighting and again reinforces the theme that jihad is primarily sword-jihad.

What the above truly establishes is that Mohammed acknowledged some of the pressures that would be felt by Mussalmen engaged in sword-jihad. But we can also deduce from this that Mohammed saw that there would be greater pressures on the faith of Mujahids than on couch-jihadists.

Thus the Mujahid is not only engaged in “sword jihad”, but there are extra pressures operative on his “jihad bil qalb” (jihad of the heart) aka “jihad bil nafs” (jihad of the soul).

In other words: Mujahadatun Nafsi whilst away from home for war or raiding is much harder than Mujahadatun Nafsi in a place of peace, since the active Mujahid has to “fight” at least as hard against his internal enemies as the couch jihadist whilst simultaneously undertaking the rigours of war against his external enemies.

Tirmidhi hadith: Abu Hurairah narrated: “A companion passed by a valley wherein was a well with refreshing water which surprised him. After he said: ‘Supposing I removed myself from the company of people and I lived in this place (for the purpose of ‘ibaadah) but I couldn't do that until I received permission from Rasulullaah (s.a.w). Would that be the most eminent thing to do towards Rasulullaah (s.a.w)?’ The Prophet (s.a.w) said: ‘Don't do that, because the existence of one from amongst you Fi Sabilillaah is more eminent than Salat made at home for 70 years. Don’t you want to receive forgiveness from Allah and for Him to allow you into Jannah? Ughzuu Fii Sabiilillaah (wage war in the way of Allah), whoever fights in the way of Allah for as long as it takes a camel to recover from one milking to the next, surely Jannah [paradise] is obligatory for him.” [Hadith hasan, Baihaqi and Al-Hakim said: “Sahih according to Muslim’s methods”]. In this Hadith there is a very clear authoritative quotation which repudiates the apologists' supposition concerning Jihad Akbar. The Sahabah who related this Hadith asked permission from Mohammed in order to perform “Jihad against the desires” by distancing himself from other people but Mohammed refused and moreover forbade him and pointed out to him something far more eminent than that – warfare, raiding and killing non-Muslims.

In that Hadith there also exists the important point that the Muslim engaged in sword-jihad is granted paradise whether they are killed or not: “Whoever fights Fi Sabilillaah even for a brief time (the time between the two milkings of a camel) Jannah is assured for them.”


From the viewpoint of Islam a 'logical' consideration of the problems faced by the Mujahid fighting in the cause of Allah and the couch-jihadist show that the the Mujahid not only faces precisely the same enemies, he also faces two other enemies (non-Muslims and Muslim hypocrites) that the couch-jihadist avoids  having to contend with.

Thus 'logic' alone shows that in a quite literal sense being a “Mujahid Fi Sabilillaah” is a greater jihad than any faced by a couch-jihadist solely waging “jihad bil qalb/nafs”.



All of these points prove that to interpret Jihad Akbar as being the Jihad against desire and Satan, whilst Jihad Asghar is the Jihad against the disbelievers is irrational.

Those hadith that support this position are weak (“da'if”) or fabricated (“murdhu”) in their Isnad (aka Sanad or “chain of narration”), whereas those that refute this position are all Sahih or Hasan – that is they are stronger (more reliable and authoritative) ahadith and a rule of Hadith interpretation is that the stronger abrogates the weaker{9}.

Not only that, the Koran states definitively that sword-jihad is the best thing for Mussalmen and their supreme achievement for the many rewards that accrue to the Mussalman for killing non-Muslims which is a form of “good deeds”; namely: forgiveness of sins, war-booty and entry into paradise at a high status. No other deed guarantees these rewards. Nothing else that a Muslim can do ensures their entry to paradise.

Furthermore, this same evidence also shows that jihad means primarily “jihad bis Saif” or sword-jihad. (almost all the references in the Bukhari Hadith – 98%,  not merely those quoted here, demonstrate this fact) and the evidence is that this sword-jihad is offensive in nature, since its main aims  are threefold, to gain: lands,  wealth and converts{9} for Islam.

Thus we may definitively say that “Jihad Fi Sabilillaah” - jihad in the way of Allah – means primarily “jihad bis saif” - sword jihad, that this is the “jihad Akhbar” and that it primarily entails offensive wars against non-Muslims.

Of course, I could have “misinterpreted” all of this information and “misunderstood” the 'true message' of all the sources I've quoted, so I'll give the last words to two Imams:

Hassan al-Banna the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood (an orthodox global Islamic organisation) who wrote in a pamphlet titled “Jihad” that “Many Muslims today mistakenly believe that fighting the enemy is jihad asghar (a lesser jihad) and that fighting one’s ego is jihad akbar (a greater jihad).”

Australian Imam Musa Cerantonio: "What is more superior: Jihad on the battlefield or Jihad of the soul? You can’t compare the two. Everyone makes Jihad of the soul. Everyone goes through this. This is something for every Muslim, but not every Muslim is honored to be a mujahid for the sake of Allah". (Mar.2013)


  • I should add that what at least some of these writers see as “defence” would be termed “aggressive offence” by others.
  • See “Statistical Islam” or here. (I have a full pdf of this which no longer appears to be available.)
  • In Islam “religious obligations” (things you 'must' do) fall into several classes. Sword-jihad falls into the class of “community obligations”. This means that whilst sword-jihad is obligatory on the community it is not obligatory on all eligible members (male, able bodied) with the proviso that the requirements of sword-jihad can be met without a full mobilisation. This is the case for offensive sword-jihad or raiding. In the case of a defensive sword-jihad (repelling an enemy who has invaded), the sword-jihad is a personal obligation with the sole proviso that the Jihadi must have the equipment to fight effectively.
  • “Shaheed” literally means “witness”. Thus the Muslim soldier who kills non-Muslims and dies in the doing is “witnessing” to Islam by doing so. More generally a “Shaheed” is considered a “martyr” in Islam. This means that Islamic martyrs are those that die whilst in the process of killing for their religion. In other faiths martyrs are those that die for their religion whilst in the process kill none.
  • Maududi writes on this verse: "Do they not see that an All-Powerful Being is showing His Signs every now and then everywhere on the earth in the form of famines, epidemics, floods, earthquakes and other calamities; millions of people are killed, habitations and harvests are destroyed and other damages are caused, which frustrate all human designs?" This is an almost perverse interpretation since “natural disasters” strike Muslim lands as frequently as non-Muslim ones. Neither do such events (except in a minor way)  “reduce the land  from its outlying borders”.
  • Qutb is equally odd, though he dips into (meta)physics: The Quran “directs them to reflect on God’s might as He folds the earth underneath triumphant armies. Thus the earth shrinks so that they are confined to a limited space, after they have wielded much power and authority.” Thus Qutb implies that with every battle the size of the Earth shrinks which makes a curious counter-point to the (risible) “expanding earth” theory advocated by Muslim Apologists trying to explain how Allah “spreads out the earth” like a carpet/blanket etc.
  • In practice this “franchise” was extended to groups beyond those listed for entirely pragmatic reasons. For instance the Hindu and Buddhist populations of ancient India were simply too vast to permit their annihilation.
  • Muslims often call the the Jizya a “poll tax” which implies an enfranchisement that it does not grant. It is more accurate to refer to the Jizya as a “head tax” since it is payable per head of liable population and, being a trifle cynical, payment of the Jizya permits the Dhimmi to keep his head on his shoulders.
  • In fact hadith that, according to the rules of classification, were classed weak or fabricated in the “classical period” (c. 800-1800 A.D.) are never used to set Islamic doctrine or dogma.
  • The gaining of converts was as often due to the pressures of the dhimmitude system as it was to any direct pressure to convert.


Main Bibliography.

  • “Tafsir al-Jalalayn.” Jalal al-Din al-Mahalli & Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (Trans. Feras Hamza), 2007 Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, Amman, Jordan.
  • “Asbab al-Nuzul.” Ali ibn Ahmad al-Wahidi (Trans. Mokrane Guezzou), 2008 Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, Amman, Jordan.
  • “Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn 'Abbas”, attributed to: Abdullah Ibn 'Abbas or Muhammad al-Firuzabadi. (Trans. Mokrane Guezzou), 2007. Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, Amman, Jordan
  • Tafsir ibn Kathir”, Alama Imad ud Din Ibn Kathir (concise version).
  • “Tafhim al-QurHYPERLINK ""'HYPERLINK ""an.” Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi.
  • “Maariful Quran.” Maulana Mufti Mohammed Shafi. (Revised and also attributed to: Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani), 1995-2004. Darul Uloom Karachi, Pakistan.
  • “A Summary of Islamic Jurisprudence”, Dr. Salih al-Fawzan, Al-Maiman Publishing House, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 2005.
  • “Muqhtasar al-Quduri.” pdf version.
  • “The distinguished jurist's primer, Vol.1”. Ibn Rushd. Garnet Publishing.
  • “The reliance of the Traveller”. pdf version.
  • “Interpretation of the meanings of The Noble Quran”, Dr. M.T. Hilali & Dr. M. Khan. English language pdf and hardback versions.

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