Politicians and anti-Muslim activists frequently take to audiences and websites to criticize the term “jihad” as a form of Islamic supremacism, oppression, and violence. Muslim extremists, on the other hand, argue that “jihad” refers to a “holy war” against non-Muslims. Viewing the term “jihad” though these frameworks alone, however, would be playing into the hands of extremists who forego the other elements encompassed by the term “jihad.”
In Islam, “jihad” has several different components, which include personal struggles, such as the struggle against an addiction; social struggles, such as the struggle to become tolerant of others; and occasionally a military struggle, if and when necessary in self-defense. When asked, “What is the major jihad?” Muhammad replied: “The jihad of the self (struggle against the personal self).” Contrary to the rhetoric and misinformation about “jihad” in anti-Islam networks, Muhammad did not say that the violent struggle was the most important form of “jihad.”
The hype in America and abroad over “jihad” has brought me to consider the term through a Christian perspective. In this piece I seek to do two things — explore how forms of “jihad” are present in Christianity and pinpoint different ways of looking at “jihad” in Christian and Islamic texts. Doing so can help find common characteristics of “jihad” so that Christians and Muslims can build bridges of mutual understanding and tolerance.