I have read in Catholic apologetic books that jihad literally means self-defense instead of holy war that the pope coined at the time of the crusades, is this true?
The Crusades took place between 1095 AD and 1291 AD. The Qur’an, on the other hand, used the word ‘Jihad‘ in the early parts of the 7th century. It, therefore, seems quite difficult to agree with the stated opinion.
As far as the meaning of the term is concerned, one may, indeed, ascribe to the opinion that the Qur’an has used the word ‘Jihad‘ or its derivatives to imply ‘self-defense’. However, the Qur’an does not support this opinion.
The Qur’an has used the word ‘Jihad‘ to imply ‘striving hard’. The phrase ‘Jihad fi Sabeel Allah‘ thus means ‘striving hard in God’s cause’. One of the practical applications of such ‘Jihad fi Sabeel Allah‘, according to the Qur’an, is ‘Qitaal fi Sabeel Allah‘ (i.e. fighting for God’s cause).
Keeping the above explanation of the words ‘Jihad fi Sabeel Allah‘ and ‘Qitaal fi Sabeel Allah‘ in perspective, it should be clear that it is not the nature of fighting – i.e. whether the war is being fought for defense or for aggression – which, according to the usage of these words in the Qur’an, qualifies the action to be termed as such. On the contrary, a war – whether aggressive or defensive – when fought for the sole cause of the Almighty and according to the directives given by the Almighty, qualifies to be termed as ‘Jihad‘ or ‘Qitaal fi Sabeel Allah‘.
It might be interesting to note here that at most of the instances in which the Qur’an has prompted the Muslims to fight for God’s cause refer to aggressive rather than defensive war.
In view of the foregoing explanation, I do not consider the referred opinion to be accurate. It not only gives an incorrect implication of the word ‘Jihad‘, but even the literal meaning ascribed to the word ‘Jihad‘ (i.e. self-defense) is absolutely baseless and not supported by any authentic source of the Arabic language.
11th March 2000