Whilst Jihad refers to both a spiritual and a physical struggle, it is an undeniable fact that Jihad in Islamic Jurisprudential terms refers to the physical struggle against an opponent within the context of the traditions of the Prophet and his family. However, this physical struggle only pertains to acts of defence against an attacker/aggressor and hence Jihad is restricted solely to the remit of defensive purposes. The image depicts men on horses preparing to defend themselves from an enemy army.
In simple terms, Jihad is a conflict for the sake of God.
As a religious duty, the Prophet commanded the Muslims to defend Islam and fight for the cause of God. He informed the people that anyone killed while performing Jihad was counted amongst the martyrs and is rewarded in paradise. This is initially why Jihad was made an obligation and the Qur’an appeals to Muslims not to become cowardly or shy away from the difficult job of putting one’s own life at risk for the greater good.
As a command, only the Prophet and the Imams can sanction Jihad to fight against those who threaten the peace and livelihood of the Muslims.
In their absence, it is not allowed for any individual person to undertake Jihad offensively.
Jihad therefore is for defending Islam and the Muslims and cannot be waged against an individual. Jihad is a religious obligation and does not excuse or allow violence in the name of Islam by individuals or groups who act on their own without any religious sanctioning.
The Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) also mentioned to Muslims that the greater Jihad was that of the nafs (fighting the soul’s desires).