Jihad and ijtihad

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Only through ijtehad-based reasoning can Muslims find solutions to deal with the prevailing predicament. Those who are insisting that jihad should be waged in held Kashmir or Pakistani troops should be sent there or arms should be taken in hands are in fact enemies of Pakistan and Kashmiris.” Former prime minister Imran Khan’s warning of waging jihad for the liberation of Kashmir and his assertion that the “Indian government is looking for excuses to unleash military power on the Kashmiri people and holding Pakistan responsible for unrest in held Kashmir” is nothing new.
However, according to the Oxford Islamic Studies Online, jihad is derived from an Arabic word which means “to strive”, “to exert” and “to fight”. The meaning thus becomes subjective, depending on the context it is placed in. The concept of jihad can thus entail the idea of struggling against one’s evil intentions, using intellectual means to convert unbelievers or work toward the moral development of the Islamic community. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines jihad as “a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty and also a personal struggle in devotion to Islam especially involving spiritual discipline; a crusade for a principle or belief.” Dictionary.com defines ijtehad “(in Islamic law) [as] the use of reason to arrive at a knowledge of truth in religious matters”. The Oxford Islamic Studies Online defines ijtehad as an “Islamic legal term meaning independent reasoning”. Ijtihad, meaning “independent reasoning,” has a rich historical significance in Islam. It refers to the process of deriving legal and ethical guidance from the Quran and Hadees through individual reasoning and intellectual effort. The Quran encourages ijtihad in various verses, such as:
– “And whatsoever you are differing about, its judgment is with Allah” (42:10), emphasizing the need to seek guidance from Allah’s revelation. In addition to – “And those who strive in Our cause, We will surely guide them to Our ways” (29:69), highlighting the importance of intellectual striving. The Prophet Muhammad (SAAW) also encouraged ijtihad, saying, “An hour of reflection is better than a year of worship” (Tirmizi). Throughout Islamic history, scholars and jurists have employed ijtihad to address emerging issues and adapt Islamic law to changing contexts. This tradition of ijtihad has played a vital role in the development of Islamic thought and continues to inspire intellectual inquiry and critical thinking in the Muslim community.
Both jihad and ijtehad need to be clearly understood with precision because the misuse of the two terms tends to bring a bad name to the Muslims and their struggle for justice and peace. From Morocco to Indonesia, confusions persist about how and why jihad and ijtehad need to be waged, which till the 10th century AD was a useful and powerful approach among Muslims to find reasons for the various religious and political issues that had been diminished – leading to stagnation and decline of Muslims, the surge of western imperialism and colonisation in the post-medieval era.
One can understand the importance of jihad and ijtehad in the context of Kashmir and Palestine from three major angles. First, in both cases, neither jihad nor ijtehad were followed as a motivating force to peacefully gain emancipation from the Israeli and the Indian occupation. Jihad for the two freedom movements required consistency, zeal, courage, motivation and devotion to seek emancipation from oppression in a planned, prudent and peaceful manner. Reasoning and rationality, which form the core of ijtehad, failed to materialise in Palestinian and Kashmir because emotional and sentimental rhetoric has engulfed the two Muslim territories.
The leadership of the two movements failed to follow the path of wisdom and prudence in order to prevent Israel and India from bolstering their occupation and depriving the local population of fundamental human rights. Emotional and sentimental behavior in the two occupied territories made it possible for Israel and India to consolidate their occupation and reduce the local population as disempowered subjects. Jihad was only interpreted as a weapon to use force and violence which seriously impacted the credibility of resistance movements in Kashmir and Palestine, equating it with terrorism.
Secondly, jihad requires unity to attain freedom from occupation. But in the case of Palestine, the split in Palestinian struggle in the form of Hamas, which pursues a hardline approach, and the PLO, which is moderate in its drive for an independent Palestinian state, only benefited Israel. Henceforth, the Jewish state got an opportunity to use unabated force against Palestinian resistance movements particularly in Gaza under the pretext of a violent jihad propagated by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Jihad, or striving, is the struggle to live a righteous life and defend one’s faith, while ijtihad is the effort to understand and interpret Islamic teachings through independent reasoning. Together, they foster a dynamic and responsive approach to Islamic practice, enabling Muslims to navigate changing circumstances while remaining true to their core beliefs. By embracing jihad and ijtihad, Muslims can cultivate a deeper understanding of their faith and contribute to the ongoing development of Islamic thought and culture.