It’s very interesting, especially given the current situation that many aspersions have been cast on Islam and Muslims so much so that Islam has been condemned as a religion of terror, and the concept of Jihad, as you mentioned, has been totally linked with terrorism and aggression.
Thus, it’s duty of all Muslims to clarify this points to non-Muslims, to give them clear picture as to what is really meant by “Islam”, and the true concept of Jihad. That’s why we find it worthwhile to cite for you the following finest remarks made by Dr Hammudah `Abdul-`Aati, in his book Islam in Focus, with some modifications:
“So much has been said or written about the “ruthless” Muslims, who emerged from the burning and dry deserts of dark Arabia to conquer the Roman and Persian protectorates, and even to venture around the walls of Europe. Many have expressed the opinion that those Muslims were motivated by religious zeal to spread Islam by force as far as they could reach. Many others consider this opinion silly and naive, because Islam – by its nature – cannot be forced upon people; and even if it were supposedly forced on the conquered people, it could not have lasted there for long, and non-Muslims would have been liquidated from the conquered regions.
History bears witness to the fact that wherever Islam reached it survived, with the exception of Spain on account of certain reasons, and that wherever the Muslim warriors went, they lived side by side with non-Muslim natives. Moreover, they argue, one cannot force a religion like Islam on any one and find him so sincere and honest about his faith as were those Muslim converts of the new lands. It needs more than compulsion to develop such good Muslims out of a defeated people, and it requires much more than suppression to make them uphold and cherish the “forced” religion.
Another trend of thought is adopted by some who like to call themselves enlightened critics and authorities. They attribute the expansion of Islam to the aggressive wars wage by Muslims who suffocated in the heat and drought of Arabia, and were simply motivated by economic needs and circumstances. This may indicate that the Arabs had not arisen to such a high level of sacrifice and devotion, or that after the death of Muhammad his survivors and lost interest in religion altogether and took off to satisfy their immediate wants. It may also indicate that Islam itself is incapable of generating such fervor and zeal in those Muslim Arab warriors. The indication here is manifold, and the “intellectuals” of this opinion are uncertain as to which probability should have preference over others.
There is still one more trend adopted by some people who ascribe the Muslim wars to passionate lust for plunder and raiding. They cannot see any motive or appreciate any appeal in the Muslims except hunger for blood and desire for loot. They refuse to see any virtue in Islam and to associate the Muslims with any high motives.
The dispute between these various sections is quite serious and sometimes takes the shape of academic discussion. But be that as it may. The fact of the matter is that none of these critics has made any serious attempt to understand the whole question and present the truth in any honest manner. It will be impossible to present here the viewpoint of Islam in detail concerning each war or battle. However, there are certain main points which will, when mentioned, give a fair idea of the whole matter.
1- It should be remembered that Muhammad, who was commissioned by Allah as a mercy for all mankind, tried to approach the rulers of the neighboring territories, inviting them to embrace Islam and share in the mercy of Allah. It should also be remembered that they did not only reject his gracious invitation but also derided him and declared open wars against the Muslims. In his lifetime the Roman and Persian soldiers crossed the Muslim borders in various raids. So by the time of his death the Muslims were involuntarily at war with their neighbors.
That state of affairs continued, and whatever happened later in the following generations has to be seen in the context of those first incidents. This meant at the time that all Christendom, including Spain and France, was at war with the emerging world of Islam. The adventure of the Muslims in Europe has also to be seen in the light of these circumstances. The fact that all Christendom was operating as one power is proven by the unquestionable authority of the Roman papacy over Christians. It is also proven by the general mobilization of Christian powers against Islam during the Crusades of the Middle Ages and even of the first quarter of this twentieth century.
So, when Rome sanctioned war against Islam, the Muslims could not be denied the full right to fight back on any battleground, whether in Palestine or in the Fertile Crescent, Italy or Hungary. This is what took them to Spain and Southern France. They could not afford to be encircled from all around by the mighty power of Rome and Persia. Nor could they just wait to be wiped out from the face of the earth. Orders were issued from Rome to slay Muhammad and present the Royal Court with his cut head, something which the Romans had done to the early Christian pioneers.
However, it must be admitted that some wars of later centuries had no relation to Islam, although they were fought by Muslims. They were not for the spread of Islam. Rather, they were motivated by certain local and, perhaps, personal reasons. Aggression is aggression, whether it be from or against the Muslims, and the attitude of Islam toward aggression is known and unchangeable. So, if there was aggression in those later wars, it could not be justified by Islam or acceptable to Allah.
2- None of the said critics tries to understand the nature and circumstances of those early centuries. The media of mass communication did not exist. There was no press or radio or television or even regular mail service. There was no way of public information or preaching except by personal contacts. There was no respect for life or property or honor or treaties of the individuals and of the weak nations.
There was no security or freedom of expression. Whoever stood for a noble cause or came out with unpopular beliefs was menaced. Many emissaries commissioned to deliver special messages to rulers and governors never came back alive. They were cold-bloodedly murdered or captured by their very hosts. With all these hardships the Muslims of Arabia had to cope, and under all these circumstances they had to work. They had a message to deliver to mankind, a contribution to make to humanity, and a formula of salvation to offer.
The Qur’an commands inviting people to the Way of Allah by wisdom and beautiful preaching. It is a fact that many disbelievers used to avoid hearing the Prophet lest they might be affected by his peaceful preaching. They even resisted by force the peaceful Call of Islam. The early experience of Arabia taught the Muslims that it is more effective to be peaceful and at the same time stand on guard; that you can move in peace only when you are strong enough to guard your peace; that your voice of peace would echo better when you are able to resist pressure and eliminate oppression.
Now they had, by the order of Allah, to make Islam known to the outside world, but there was no telecommunication system or press or any other mass medium of communication. There was only one course to take, namely, personal and direct contacts, which meant that they had to cross the borders. But they could not do that in small or unarmed groups. So they had to move in large protected groups which must have appeared like an army, but was not an army in the real sense. In some areas they were warmly welcomed by the natives, who had long been oppressed and subjugated by the foreign powers of Rome and Persia. In some other areas they were first to offer Islam to those who were prepared to accept it, and there were many. Those who did not embrace Islam were asked to pay tributes equivalent to the Islamic tax (Zakah). The reasons for demanding this kind of tax were:
(i) that they wanted to be sure this taxpayer knew what he was doing, and that Islam was presented to him but he rejected it with his own free will and choice;
(ii) that they undertook to protect the taxpayer and guarantee his security and freedom in a way equal to that of the Muslim himself, because any danger to him was a danger to his Muslim compatriot, and, to defend the Muslim, they had to defend the non-Muslim and insure his security;
(iii) that the new state of affairs demanded the support and cooperation of all sectors, Muslims and non-Muslims alike: the former by Zakah, the latter by tributes, which were all spent in the public interest; and
(iv) that they wanted to be certain he was not hostile to them and their new brethren, or inclined to make troubles for his Muslim compatriots.
Those who rejected Islam and refused to pay tributes in collaboration with other sectors to support their state made it hard for themselves. They resorted to a hostile course from the beginning, and meant to create trouble, not so much for the new Muslim comers as for the new Muslim converts and their compatriots, the tribute-payers. In a national sense, that attitude was treacherous; in a human sense, mean; in a social sense, careless; and in a military sense, provocative. But in a practical sense it needed suppression, not so much for the comfort of the newcomers as for the sake of the state in which these very traitors were living.
This is the only time force was applied to bring such people to their senses and make them realize their responsibilities: either as Muslims by accepting Islam freely, or as loyal citizens by being tribute-payers, capable of living with their Muslim compatriots and sharing with them equal rights and duties.”
So, in the light of the above-mentioned facts, it’s clear that the concept of Jihad is never a form of aggression, and it can never be linked with terrorism or violence. People who raise such slogans need to study Islam carefully and review the book of history to know how the Muslim pioneers, in calling people to Allah, applied noble principles of justice, tolerance, humanity and peace.