Jihad is not terrorism. Terrorism is not Jihad.

A rally in Lahore, Pakistan, to condemn the Dec. 16 attack.
A rally in Lahore, Pakistan, to condemn the Dec. 16 attack.
Image: Reuters/Mohsin Raza
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On the evening of Dec. 16, as the entire civilized world mourned the killing of 148 people, including 140 innocent children, in an army school in Peshawar, I got a call from my elderly mother. She lives in a small village in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, has poor eyesight, and gets her news of the outside world from a tiny radio set. She often doesn’t understand what she’s hearing.

She was upset by the horrible incident and asked about the killers, expecting the answer to be a gang of goons or criminals, the type that terrorize towns for mercenary gains or over historical rivalries. I did not have a proper answer. I expressed my grief and told her that the killers were not just goons, but claimed to be Muslims and Mujahids—Tehrik-i-Taliban, who were founded in 2007 to “wage Jihad” against the Pakistan Army.

“What…A Muslim…? A faithful Muslim will kill innocent people…?….innocent children? How is it possible?,” she said.

For many Muslims, like my mother, it is hard to believe that a practicing Muslim person can kill children, or that the barbaric act in Peshawar was carried out in the name of religion or Islam. This is why a large number of Muslims embrace conspiracy theories claiming that Al Qaeda, the Taliban, the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and now Peshawar, are actually the product of anti-Islamic forces.

I can’t judge what is the truth or whether any of these conspiracy theories are right or wrong, but I know that whoever is committing such crimes in the name of Islam or religion is wrong. It is time to face the monster and send out a clear message about this crooked, infamous version of Jihad.

In the polarized world that we currently live in, where sensational information travels faster than a tsunami, what “Jihad” really is has become lost in the storm since the Sept. 11 attacks. Every time a group like Tehrik-i-Taliban commits a heinous act of terror, it is often classified as “Jihad” by the group itself, and by non-Muslims as well, who repeat what the group says.

But these acts are not Jihad.

The term Jihad is often defined as a “fight,” or a “holy war,” but it actually means a struggle, not just against others but against desire, ambition and human aspirations to follow what is preached by Islam. The Quran mentions “Jihad Fi Sabilillah,” or the “struggle towards the path of Allah.”

As Abul Ala Maududi, the political philosopher and scholar, explains the term in his book Jihad in Islam, which was first published in Urdu in the 1960s, “Jihad should be under guidance of the Quran and Prophet’s Hadith, otherwise it is not Jihad but violence.” [The Hadith, for those who don’t know, is a written record of the Prophet’s teachings].

Maududi explains: “Jihad in Islam is not merely a ‘struggle’. It is instead a ‘struggle’ for the ‘Cause of Allah’. The ‘Cause of Allah’ is essential for the term of ‘Jihad’ in Islam.

In the post 9/11 era, the term Jihad has been twisted by the gangs that commit acts of terror in the name of Islam.

They claim to “struggle” in order to promote Islam. They claim to be the torchbearers of the “struggle” to set up an “Islamic” world where all are equal and are judged by the laws set up by the Almighty through His revelations upholding justice for everyone.

But, this is where the irony lies. How can a just society be set up when its roots themselves are grown on injustice? How can these people who claim to be Muslims justify killing of the innocents as part of their Jihad? After all, the Holy Quran clearly says about Cain’s killing of Abel:

For that cause we decreed for the Children of Israel that whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. Our messengers came unto them of old with clear proofs (of Allah’s Sovereignty), but afterwards lo! many of them became prodigals in the earth. (5:32).

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), the last prophet according to Islamic belief, also said “A believer continues to guard his Faith (and thus hopes for Allah’s Mercy) so long as he does not shed blood unjustly.” (Source: Bukhari/ Riyad-us-Saliheen)

Terrorism, in fact, is completely the opposite of Jihad. Any act of violence that instills fear in the minds of innocent people is an act of terror, particularly because this fear is not a fear against anything wrong, like corruption or theft. Instead, it is a fear of the powerful who wish to become more so.

Those who terrorize people claiming that they are the followers of Islam have forgotten that “Islam” means “peace,” and that the Holy Quran teaches tolerance towards other faiths and guides:

“There is no compulsion in religion. The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejecteth false deities and believeth in Allah hath grasped a firm handhold which will never break. Allah is Hearer, Knower.” (2:256)

Yes, Islam does provide guidelines for war. But in those guidelines, the killing of women, children, the old and the weak is expressly forbidden. Even destruction of a standing crop or a tree is not allowed, as Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, the first Caliph, told Islamic armies:

“I instruct you in ten matters: Do not kill women, children, the old, or the infirm; do not cut down fruit-bearing trees; do not destroy any town . . . ” (Source: Imam Malik’s compilation of the Hadith “Kitab al-Jihad.”)

The Prophet also said that no non-combatant can be killed by a Muslim army in any circumstances. “Do not kill any old person, any child or any woman” (Source: The collections of Abu Dawood, prominent Islamic scholar, and Maulana Wahiduzzaman, translated by the author).

Using the religion to justify mass murders like the one in Peshawar is even more cruel and heinous than the act itself. That’s because two sins are committed—the murders themselves, and then defamation of Islam by using the religion to justify them.