Definition of jihad

Jihad is often translated as "holy war", but that narrow definition is disputed, by many muslims who employ a wider definition.

Most muslims use it in its original linguistic context and translate it as "struggle". For these muslims Islam is essentially a religion of peace. They emphasise the passages in the Koran that deal with a person's inner struggle (internal or greater jihad) to dedicate him or herself to Allah. They also refer to passages that state that while it is permitted to enter into a struggle, holy war, or jihad with an aggressor, should that aggressor try to make peace then war is forbidden. These peacable muslims say that Islamist terrorists have misunderstood the broad message of the Koran when they carry out attacks on people who they deem to be "non-believers".

However, in general parlance the term jihad is often used exclusively – particularly outside Islam – to mean holy war, or the concept of violent struggle against oppressive non-believers. This particular "struggle" is what appears to motivate radical muslims. Critics of Islam state there are dozens of verses in the Koran which call on the faithful to take up arms against non-believers.

The Islamic Supreme Council a non-profit, non-governmental religious organisation dedicated to educating both muslims and non-muslims, stresses that jihad is not a violent concept in itself. Where a holy war is called for, it says there are strict rules that ought to be applied, such as the prohibition of harm to women, children or invalids.

Someone who engages in jihad is known as a jihadi.


Jihad in the news

In March 2014 an FT writer looked at the increasing influence of social media in persuading young British muslims to go abroad to fight as jihadis in countries such as Syria.

In May 2014 in the wake of its kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls, the UN Security Council blacklisted Boko Haram, a Nigerian group which refers to itself as Group of the Sunni People for the Calling and Jihad and whose name translates as "Western education is forbidden". Boko Haram is an offshoot of Al Qaeda the terrorist organisation behind the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

In June 2014 concerns were growing about another Jihadist organisation - ISIS, which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant which was making huge territorial gains in Iraq and was also gaining support and territory in Syria.