The word ‘jihad’ tends to stir negative emotions among non-Muslims as it is often associated with terrorism.
A lot of people assume that the meaning of the word jihad involves war and Muslims attacking people, and this assumption is often cultivated by most mainstream media and some religious extremists (who really if compared to the more than 1 billion muslims in the world, make up less than 1 percent of the whole Muslim population).
That’s not what jihad means. Jihad does not involve terrorism, military acts, or violence.
The word ‘jihad’ is the Arabic word for ‘struggle’, and in an Islamic context, it is defined as the struggle as a Muslim.
In Islam, there are two forms of jihad, a ‘lesser Jihad’ and a ‘greater Jihad’.
‘Lesser Jihad’ involves the external struggle of holding onto your faith as a Muslim when you’re facing oppression or injustice; especially if said oppression or injustice happens simply because you’re a Muslim.
For example, when I was 18, I applied for a job at a few retail stores in Malaysia and ended up being told that if I wanted the job, I had to compromise with my religious beliefs and take off my headscarf. The fact that I didn’t choose to compromise and still held on to what I believed in is a form of jihad.
‘Greater Jihad’ involves the internal struggle within oneself, in particular the spiritual struggle one has with oneself when it comes to being a good Muslim. Where ‘lesser jihad’ involves you holding onto your faith when facing others, ‘greater jihad’ involves holding onto your faith when facing yourself.
Any form of struggle that you have especially the ones that involve you struggling against your inner demons and flaws is a form of ‘greater jihad’.
A man who is an alcoholic who wants to stop drinking and does whatever he can to stop even though it’s a huge struggle; that’s ‘jihad’.
Someone who chooses to start praying consistently even though waking up for morning prayers is such a difficult task for them; that’s ‘jihad’.
My mother choosing to cover herself and wear a scarf around her head even though it led to her being disconnected from some of the people in her life; that’s ‘jihad’.
A person with depression or anxiety or any form of illness that involves battling their inner demons even though it’s not an easy thing to do; that’s ‘jihad’.
Pride and arrogance is frowned upon in Islam. We are always encouraged to be humble for it is with humility that we will be able to accept our flaws and work towards improving them.
It is so so easy to point out the wrongdoings of others, but it’s not as easy to point out our own. Too often do we let our pride get in the way of seeing our own flaws and mistakes (because let’s face it, no one likes to admit, let alone think that they did something wrong).
But if we want to improve as a person and make things right, we must first acknowledge what is wrong with ourselves in the first place. And of course finding out and acknowledging what is wrong with ourselves is easier said than done which is why even the simple act of attempting to recognise and improve our own weaknesses is a form of jihad.