Ammar Rana, Jihad: The Struggle in the Way of God

Ammar Rana Jihad: The Struggle in the Way of God

This essay was written by student Ammar Rana in response to an assignment that asked students to explain a concept of personal interest, “considering carefully what [readers] already know about it and how your essay might add to what they know.” In the essay, he explains the concept of jihad, one of the religious duties of Muslims, and also counters common western perceptions about the term.

As you read, notice how Rana, in his first paragraph, forecasts the two main types of jihad that he will discuss. Also, consider how he uses examples to illustrate these types.

1In Arabic, jihad literally means “struggle.” In Islamic terminology, it means struggling in the way of God. Jihad has long been misunderstood in the non-Muslim world; many people incorrectly assume it is comparable to the Christian idea of Holy War. To truly understand jihad, one must look at the different types of jihad, their conditions, and their significance in Muslim history.

2There are two main types of jihad. The first is jihad-an-nafs, which is jihad of the inner self. This is the never-ending struggle between the self and the Satan inside the self. It is the struggle of doing good while being tempted to do evil. This type of jihad is the greater jihad. Examples of this type of jihad are numerous; they include struggling to wake up for fajr (morning prayer) and struggling to tell the truth in the face of punishment. The second type of jihad is jihad-as-sayf, or jihad of the sword. This type of jihad is a call to war triggered by one of several clearly defined situations: when non-Muslims invade a Muslim land, when Muslims are expelled from their land, when there is a threat of war, or when there is injustice such as genocide, tyranny, or oppression in the land. Jihad-as-sayf is known as the lesser type of jihad. It should be made clear that jihad-as-sayf only calls for defensive war—never offensive war. In addition, both types of jihad have strict rules and guidelines that must be adhered to.

3Islam teaches us that the two most important things in life are intention and action. The intention of jihad must be to gain the pleasure of God. The action of jihad must also meet specific conditions set forth by Islamic rule. For example, Islam dictates that in jihad-as-sayf, one may not harm any civilians, women, children, elders, animals, or plant life. However, if the enemy uses plant life as a defense, the Muslim army is allowed to burn the plants. The Muslim army may not destroy homes, hospitals, schools, religious institutions, or anything else vital to society. If the army breaks any of these rules, it is held accountable by the khalifah (Muslim government).


4Jihad is a fundamental part of the Muslim ummah (nation), and it has been very important in Muslim history. The strict guidelines governing jihad have given Islam great fame as a just and noble religion. Throughout eras of intense barbarity, as other nations created bloody histories of oppression and genocide, the Muslim nation established a reputation as a model of morality. Jihad is a code, a set of rules for the two main struggles: the one with Satan in the inner self and the other with the armies of Satan on the battlefield. Jihad has been very important in developing an ethical Muslim society, one that condemns and outlaws anything that leads to sin and destruction.

5Jihad is a part of Muslims’ daily lives; it is a never-ending struggle that continues until death. Struggling in the path of God is the most important thing a Muslim can do. I believe that if everyone waged jihad against themselves, the world would be a much better place.