The Arabic word jihad means to struggle or strive. In a religious context, this is applied in the everyday life of a Muslim – working hard to do something good, to better oneself, or resist a temptation, are all forms of jihad. In fact this is known as the greater jihad.
Jihad is also applied in the context of warfare, the lesser jihad, which is to be used as a last resort, in defence, to repel an attack, or to stand up for the rights of the oppressed: “Permission (to fight) is given to those against whom war is being wrongfully waged…” (Quran, 22:39).
The word jihad has negative connotations today as it has often been misused. Sentences from the Quran have been taken out of context to justify the violent actions of a small minority. The Quran states: “Whoever kills an innocent soul it is as if he killed the whole of Mankind. And whoever saves one; it is as if he saved the whole of Mankind” (5:32). Furthermore Islamic teachings clearly state that if warfare does become necessary, women, children, the elderly, worshippers and non-combatants should not be harmed; residential areas should not be attacked, even crops and trees should not be damaged.
Islam means ‘peace’ and aims for peace, which is the vision of normality – though as a last resort, and in exceptional circumstances, force may be used to defend oneself and others.