Now I know what jihad means

Avoiding worldly riches and resorting to easy exits is hardly jihad

Imran Jan May 30, 2024
The writer is a political analyst. Email: Twitter @Imran_Jan


Many of you perhaps already know the meaning and significance of it. I heard about it a lot too, more from the western writers than from the local Imam in Pakistani mosques. And I was also convinced that what I had read and heard people repeat what they had read and heard is what this word actually meant. But in a strange way, I found the meaning of this word in a book, which has absolutely nothing to do with jihad. The book is called Think And Grow Rich by Napolean Hill. It talks about the key to success and generating wealth. But it doesn’t point to that key or spell it out in the book. It rather compels the reader to arrive at that cognizance by reading and thinking.

The meaning of jihad is always spelt out for us. There are two extremes: one, that believes jihad is supposed to be violent against an enemy who attacks the Islamic faith and its followers; two, jihad is rather more about self-control and keeping our own nerves and urges under check. I am not here to argue in support of the first and against the second. I am rather attempting to point to a realisation I had.

Last week, I was driving around town in Houston, my home since 2010. There was immense traffic on the main freeway called Interstate 45, though locals call it 45. I was on the feeder, which is called a service road in Pakistan, and was trying to get on the freeway. The number of cars that were trying to get to the freeway from the same entrance from the feeder road was enormous. Houston is home to some of the worst traffic jams in the nation. We were all crawling slowly to get to the freeway. Some drivers decided to avoid it and moved their vehicles to another possible route to get to their destination. Those nearby streets were empty and looked tempting to enter in order to avoid the traffic and find another way. But everyone knew that those cars which left this battlefield here would end up reaching their destinations spending more time, more fuel, and covering much more distance. It was a lose-lose situation for them but it was a lot easier to quit the fight here and find easier looking alternatives.

And it was then that I understood it. I instantly remembered something I had read in the book The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright. The Arabs who had ended up in Afghanistan trying to fight the Soviet occupation there were not very appreciated by the local Afghans. The Afghans were trying to fight the enemy to force them to leave their land. That was jihad to them. The Arabs were doing everything they could to attract enemy fire so that they could die and embrace martyrdom. The Afghans complained about them because they were deliberately attracting enemy fire and in the process taking Afghan fighters with them too. The Arabs, in a nutshell, had come to Afghanistan not necessarily to win the war of Afghan independence but to die trying. That was the meaning of jihad to the Arabs. But the Afghans were right, because the Afghan DNA of staying alive to fight another day against the enemy was the true meaning of jihad not running away from the war by trying to die.

Avoiding worldly riches and resorting to easy exits is hardly jihad. Those are very easy tasks. Ambition is jihad, not giving up. Fighting the fight is jihad not accepting the defeat and labeling it in some nice manner. Fighting against your sexual urge, for example, can hardly be jihad. Finding a wife soon is. Somewhere, somehow, an easy way out has become the meaning of jihad. I am no expert of religious studies but I sure have two great abilities: to observe and to think.


Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2024.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.


Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ