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In its broadest connotation in Islam, the term jihad is applied to any military or non-military effort to spread the message of Islam (Jurjani p. 36). In the Quran, at times, jihad is used as meaning any effort in the way of God (`Ankabut 29: 6, 69). However, in its narrowest connotation jihad is a war in the way of God against infidels and polytheists. The Quranic verses on jihad were revealed in accordance to the circumstances of the mission of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). During his time in Mecca there occurred no military confrontation between Muslims and their enemies. The Quranic verses of the period continued to exhort Muslims to patience in the face of prosecution. None the less, some Meccan verses laid the groundwork for the notion of jihad within the framework of an Islamic government (Furqan 25: 52; Shu`ara’ 26: 227; `Adiyat 100: 1 – 5). Muslims’ immigration to Medina resulted in the establishment of a new government headed by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Soon afterwards the first armed conflict between Muslims and infidels took place. Based on a well established account, the first Quranic verse granting permission for jihad was verse 39 of the Surah of Hajj (22). The ten years of the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) stay in Medina were spent in numerous military engagements and thus an important part of the prophetic sirah, i.e. a great deal of early Islamic history, is devoted to the maghazi (military campaigns). In its broadest outlines, jihad has never been viewed by Muslims as just any military campaign. Jihad is a war that is waged not to kill the opponents and conquer territory, but to defend monotheistic and human values and to lay the groundwork for their propagation. And that is why jihad has been considered as one of the greatest acts of worship and means of drawing nearer to God. It is for the same reason that in Islam the call to jihad has been accompanied by a number of moral guidelines. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was adamant about encouraging his military commanders to observe the divine commands and ethical rules and to avoid actions such as killing women and children and people of old age, or felling trees or slaughtering animals. According to the teachings of the Quran those who sincerely struggle in the path of Islam and for the sake of safeguarding the dignity of Muslims stand high in the eyes of their Lord and are to be blessed with great rewards (Nisa’ 4: 95), and should they meet with their death they will be provided with divine sustenance (Al-i `Imran). 

In the period following the death of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) the notion of jihad was intertwined with the political history of the Islamic caliphate and, except in certain cases, such as the Riddah wars, jihad was the most prominent aspect of the first few centuries of the Islamic conquests. During the same period, the division of the world into the Islamic, dar al-islam (the world of Islam), and the non-Islamic, dar al-harb (the world of war), is an indication of the central role played by the notion of jihad. The same idea gave rise to the earliest fiqhi works on jihad under the general title of al-sayr, such as Awza`i’s al-Sayr or Muhammad b. Hasan Shaybani’s al-Sayr al-kabir. 

The decline of the `Abbsid caliphate resulted in the rise of independent and semi-independent satets throughout the Islamic lands, which took on the responsibility of defending the borders of dar al-islam. At times, these governments tried their hands at expanding their domain by invading the territories of their non-Muslim neighbors. However, such local campaigns were rarely successful in arousing the sympathy of the indigenous Muslim communities. The two major exceptions in the history of Islamic jihad were the Crusades and the defensive struggle to save Andalusia from the invading Christian armies. 

From a fiqhi point of view, the rules pertaining to jihad are the same in the Imami Shi`ite as well as in Sunni schools. The only major difference is that in Imami fiqh initiatory jihad (jihad al-ibtida’i, i.e. offensive jihad) requires the permission of the infallible imam or his special emissary. It is a matter of consensus among all fiqhi schools in Islam that in cases where Muslims come under attack it is the religious duty of every capable Muslim to defend the Islamic territory.

* source: Gorji , Abolghasem "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 ,pp.413 - 414

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