How Should We Understand Jihad?

In further contemplating last week’s post about being spiritually militant – of fighting evil in the spiritual realm – the word jihad comes to mind. Jihad, originating from Islam, has some specific meanings and one that is more general:

  • A Muslim holy war or spiritual struggle against infidels in defense of the Islamic faith.
  • In Islam, the personal struggle of the individual believer against evil and persecution.
  • In Islam, an individual’s striving for spiritual self-perfection.
  • A crusade in support of a cause; any vigorous, emotional crusade for an idea or principle.

In a literal sense, the idea of a holy war repels me. The various inquisitions and crusades, primarily during the Middle Ages, provide sufficient evidence to convince us that a physical battle to root out heresy or forcibly promote a certain religious perspective is never a good idea.

However, in a supernatural sense, a holy war should be pursued. As Paul says in the Bible, this isn’t a fight against people but “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” for which we need spiritual armor. From this stems my idea of being spiritually militant. This is one way to understand and embrace jihad in a broader sense.

Also intriguing is the third definition of “striving for spiritual self-perfection,” but we must proceed carefully. Though we should desire to more fully be like Jesus, we can’t achieve this on our own; we cannot earn our right standing with God through our own efforts. Instead, we work with him, through his Holy Spirit, to move towards what he would have us to become. This is also an understanding of jihad that I can embrace.

Because of the likelihood of being misunderstood, we must be careful in using the word jihad. However, these are two ways we can embrace jihad as a follower of Jesus.

What do you think? Please leave a comment!