Sheikh talks jihad

Sheikh Yasir Qadhi defined jihad in an talk in Linsly-Chittenden Hall on Wednesday.
Sheikh Yasir Qadhi defined jihad in an talk in Linsly-Chittenden Hall on Wednesday. Photo by Jennifer Parker.

The concept of jihad is often misinterpreted, with both cable-news pundits and terrorists using it to further their political and spiritual goals, said Omer Bajwa, coordinator of Muslim life for the Chaplain’s Office, as he introduced Sheikh Yasir Qadhi’s lecture entitled “Jihad: Between Fact and Fiction” Wednesday.

During the talk, Qadhi, a Yale doctoral student and Muslim cleric, outlined several instances of jihad in the foundational Islamic texts such as the Qur’an and the Sunna, historical and classical uses of jihad, and modern interpretations. In contrast with mainstream perceptions of jihad as a foundation of terrorism, he said, the word “jihad” simply means physical and spiritual struggle.

“The more admirable struggle is a personal one, against your desires and temptations,” Qadhi said. “The lower struggle is the physical one.”

About 60 people attended the lecture, which was part of Islamic Awareness Month, a series of events sponsored by the Muslim Students Association.

In the modern world, especially after the attacks of Sept. 11, there are two schools of thought about jihad and terrorism, Qadhi said. One says that Islam is at the root of the world’s political problem and terrorists have a fringe interpretation of jihad, he explained. The other believes that terrorism is the result of political grievances stemming from Western foreign policies, which they perceive as supporting oppressive regimes.

This perception differs sharply from older ideas about jihad, Qadhi said, explaining that during the 1980s, when [Afghan] rebels were fighting the Soviets, jihad and mujahideen used to have positive connotations in the American media. But the term has now been co-opted, he said.

“We Muslims have a jihad against this militant jihad,” he said, “and non-Muslims also have a jihad of their own to educate themselves about Islam.”

Jihad did not begin to mean a physical struggle until the prophet Muhammad’s flight to Medina in the year 622, Qadhi said. Muhammad and the nascent community of Muslims faced heavy persecution in Mecca, where they sought to spread Islam, he said.

“Allah says ‘permission has been granted to you to fight because you have been wronged, expelled from your homes unjustly and denied the freedom to worship your god,’ ” Qadhi quoted.

Muslims in the Middle Ages also employed jihad to justify war against the Mongols and Crusaders. In the world today, no existing Muslim nation was established via jihad or capture, but rather by treaties and outside entities, he said.

MSA president Tariq Mahmoud ’11, who helped organize it, said the event was meant to address Western misconceptions about jihad.

“It has become a really hot-topic issue that we wanted to address,” Mahmoud said.

Rakibul Mazunder ’13 said he wishes more people understood Islam and what jihad means in the context of Islamic texts and doctrine.


  • Hereward

    It is time to stop explaining ‘misconceptions’ to the west and begin explaining ‘misconceptions’ to the large number of Muslim religious leaders and the enormous number of Muslims who consistently use jihad to justify and encourage terrorism and bigotry. Western misconceptions will greatly abate once the misconceptions amongst those actively practicing Islam are reduced.

  • FailBoat

    Sure, “struggle” is a part of Jihad. But what of Jihad bil Saif? Surely “Jihad by the Sword” means what it says.

  • JetsFan

    Was this a debate or a lecture ? I wonder if he would be willing to debate someone like me or Arthur Kemp about Islam and history one day in the future.

  • Onlooker

    “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” Orwell, 1984.

  • Tanner

    Did the speaker call for a Jihad against those who have turned Islam into a religion of terror? Does this make Yale feel better? Have the Scholars looked into alternate definitions of the word, Inquisition?

  • Ignatz

    I’m with FailBoat. Jihad by the sword has been part of Islam for over a thousand years. If you don’t think it’s part of Islam today, check out

  • @6

    It’s also part of Xtianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. Seriously, get.a.clue.

  • Ignatz

    I can’t claim to know about the Eastern religions, but neither Christian scriptures nor Jewish scriptures call for jihad. (If you think they do, then please point out the verse(s) at issue.) Islam is unique in that its holy books call for non-believers to be killed.

  • Hieronymus

    Just one of many many examples.

    Kill Followers of Other Religions.
    1) If your own full brother, or your son or daughter, or your beloved wife, or you intimate friend, entices you secretly to serve other gods, whom you and your fathers have not known, gods of any other nations, near at hand or far away, from one end of the earth to the other: do not yield to him or listen to him, nor look with pity upon him, to spare or shield him, but kill him. Your hand shall be the first raised to slay him; the rest of the people shall join in with you. You shall stone him to death, because he sought to lead you astray from the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. And all Israel, hearing of this, shall fear and never do such evil as this in your midst. (Deuteronomy 13:7-12 NAB)

  • Hieronymus

    Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. (Ephesians 6:5 NLT)

    Christians who are slaves should give their masters full respect so that the name of God and his teaching will not be shamed. If your master is a Christian, that is no excuse for being disrespectful. You should work all the harder because you are helping another believer by your efforts. Teach these truths, Timothy, and encourage everyone to obey them. (1 Timothy 6:1-2 NLT)

  • Hieronymus

    “Thou Shall Not Ignore the Old Testament!”

    New Testament Verses Which Demand Following the Old Testament and Law Contradictions:

    I hear so many Christians now a days claim that the Old Testament is defunct for Jesus was the “lamb” to clear away its rules and regulations. This is just another bull scapegoat that Christians use to ignore the atrocities and bizarre laws commanded by their god. Their preachers spoon feed them that the Old Testament is no longer binding so that they can excuse the majority of evil that the bible promotes. I am so tired of Christians manipulating the scriptures so that they can assign a kinder nature to their God, that I have assembled a BRIEF list of verses which clearly show that the Old Testament is not to be ignored. Its laws should indeed be adhered to, for the New Testament demands it! After this section I shall list where the Bible contradicts itself concerning other laws.

    1) “For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:18-19 RSV) Clearly the Old Testament is to be abided by until the end of human existence itself. None other then Jesus said so.

  • @8

    Top Ten Signs You’re a Fundamentalist Christian

    10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.

    9 – You feel insulted and “dehumanized” when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.

    8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.

    7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the “atrocities” attributed to Allah, but you don’t even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in “Exodus” and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in “Joshua” including women, children, and trees!

    6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.

    5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.

    4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs — though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most “tolerant” and “loving.”

    3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in “tongues” may be all the evidence you need to “prove” Christianity.

    2 – You define 0.01% as a “high success rate” when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.

    1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.

  • Yale ’08


    “the enormous number of Muslims who consistently use jihad to justify and encourage terrorism and bigotry.”

    Umm, the “ENORMOUS” number of Muslims? With over a billion practicing Muslims, I doubt that the numbers are enormous. More like a very, very, very tiny (and widely alienated) fraction who resort to ‘terrorism’ (itself a very ambiguous term).

  • Yale ’08


    “Western misconceptions will greatly abate once the misconceptions amongst those actively practicing Islam are reduced.”

    You have it completely backwards. Extremists Islam will be largely contained (though not completely) once the US and Israel face the fact that their foreign policy towards the ME is bigoted, violent, oppressive, and motivated largely by conquest. Without those concession, I’m afraid there will only be a surge in Islamic terrorism.

  • Yale ’08

    Ignatz and FailBoat,

    Seriously, that’s the website you come up with to justify your ridiculous Jihad by the sword argument? We are fast becoming a culture of morons when we run to low-grade propaganda websites for “facts” instead of doing our own research.

  • Addington

    A commitment in favor of toleration is not the same as a commitment against examination. We have been so paralyzed by the fear of being portrayed as an enemy of Islam — as an enemy of a creed practiced by perhaps a billion people worldwide — that we’ve lost our voice on a very salient question: What will be the Islam of the 21st century? Will it be the Islam of the militants, or the Islam of the moderates? That’s the reality we need to grapple with.

  • Ignatz

    Yes, Addington, you are correct. It would be ever so helpful if the West would open its eyes and recognize that Islamic law — not “extremist” Islam, mind you, but mainstream Islamic law — mandates death for non-believers who refuse to convert. Please don’t take my word for it — check out “Reliance of the Traveler,” an authoritative guide to Islamic law published by and for Muslims. Helpful hint: You won’t find the relevant entries by looking up “jihad” in the index. But you’ll find them quickly enough.

  • MQ

    The only Jihad is the inner one. Anyone who interprets Jihad to mean antagonism to others is ignorant, blind, lacking in understanding. Those who interpret Jihad ignorantly love to use Allah as a virtuous front to hide their corruption, their vice, their hatred, their ungodliness, their ego-centric motivation. Allah is compassion, love. Allah regards not one human being more important or less important than another. Muslims must look kindly on other faiths, and other faiths must look kindly on Muslims. Cease divisiveness in all forms, and let us all go the way of compassion and love, Allah’s way.