The Arabic word jihad means to strive. Jihad is generally divided into two forms: the greater jihad and the lesser jihad.
The greater jihad is an internal struggle to be pious and good. The Prophet (sawa) is reported to have said: “The greatest jihad is the jihad against your own evil desires.” It is incumbent upon us to strive in the cause of Allah to better our surroundings and ourselves.
The lesser jihad is an external struggle, or defense, in protection of Islam and Muslims. It is obligatory for us to defend our religion when it is in danger, but we should never be the aggressors.
Let us take a look at what the Quran says about the severity of killing a person unjustly.
“Whosoever kills a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind.”
Let us also look at this hadith related by Imam al-Sadiq (as) about the rules and precautions of war
“The Messenger of Allah (sawa), when he wanted to send out troops, called them and bid them to sit before him. He then said to them: Go out in the name of Allah and by Allah and in the way of Allah and according to the religion of the Messenger of Allah. Do not handcuff or tie up (the prisoners of war), do not mutilate (even the dead), and do not betray people. Do not kill the old man, the child or the woman, and do not cut down a single tree except when you are forced to do so. And if any Muslim be he lofty or lowly gives a man of the Polytheists sanctuary, then his safety must be secured so that he hears the word of Allah. If he follows you then he is your brother in religion. If he refuses then give him his sanctuary and seek the help of Allah regarding him.”
Allah says in the Noble Quran “And if any one of the polytheists seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the words of Allah. Then deliver him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know.”
War, Peace and Non-Violence author, Ayatollah Sayed Muhammad Shirazi, writes of the Prophet’s peaceful methods:
The Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (sawa), progressed, as we have said, through peace that he adopted as his formula. One example of this is Mecca, the capital of unbelief and idolatry and the capital of waging war against the Messenger of Allah (sawa). The people of Mecca confronted the Messenger of Allah by every possible means. They banished him, killed his (foster) daughter Zaynab, confiscated his wealth and killed many of his followers. Finally they tried to assassinate him so he fled secretly to Madina but they continued their plots against his holy mission. Despite this, after more than twenty years, when the Messenger (sawa) wanted to conquer Mecca, he made preparations then proceeded to conquer that city peacefully without one drop of blood being spilt. Among the preparations he made were when he took possession of Khaibar, he took as spoils a large hoard of golden vessels as many as twenty thousand in number and of differing sizes. The Messenger (sawa) sent a number of these vessels to be shared out amongst the poor of Mecca even though they were unbelievers, polytheists, and warring against the Messenger of Allah (sawa). When these golden vessels arrived for the people of Mecca, they were confused and amazed. They said: ‘We fight this man, we confiscate his property, we kill his followers and his relatives and he deals with us in such a kind manner.’
This was an overture from the Messenger of Allah (sawa) to bring Islam to Mecca and to destroy the idols and to establish peace between the people. When the Messenger of Allah (sawa) conquered Mecca, Abu Sufyan, his archenemy came and the Messenger of Allah (sawa) pardoned him. Not only this but he made his house a sanctuary saying: ‘Whoever enters the house of Abu Sufyan is safe.’ Then he turned to, the wife of Abu Sufyan, Hind the woman famous for her immoral acts and attacks on the Messenger of Allah (sawa). She who had torn open the abdomen of Master of the Martyrs Hamza, and amputated his ears and his nose and mutilated him in the vilest manner, taking out his liver and chewing it in her mouth. This woman, this ‘war criminal’ was sent by the Messenger of Allah a document of pardon. By this, the Messenger of Allah (sawa) recorded the most magnificent example in the history of creation of forgiveness even of his most ardent enemies.
The chroniclers report that Mecca at this time was the capital of unbelief and Polytheism, hypocrisy, selfishness and pride. When it surrendered to the Messenger of Allah (sawa), most of the people did not announce their entry into Islam but rather remained on the way of Polytheism. The Messenger of Allah (sawa) did not coerce them to accept Islam ever but instead left them to themselves so that they would live by themselves under the rule of Islam to enter Islam in the future.
As the Quran states “There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion.”
So as we can see, our Holy Prophet (sawa) and his family were never the aggressors. They defended their religion by performing Jihad when they were attacked, but they would always strive to resolve matters peacefully. When forced to perform Jihad there were very strict rules and regulations to insure that the Muslims did not over step the boundaries.
Excerpt from Mystery of the Shia by Mateen J. Charbonneau Available at: