Through the actions of some elements, the western world visualizes a wrong concept of Jihad (Holy War). The word Jihad conjures up the vision of a marching band of religious fanatics with savage beards and fiery eyes, brandishing swords and attacking the infidels.
Jihad in Islamic terminology means to make an effort, to endeavour and to strive in a noble way. Over the centuries this meaning of Jihad has been obliterated or at least diluted. The critical juncture in the Islamic world requires reviving and recapturing the true and pristine meaning of Jihad.
Jihad can be divided into two broad categories. First is Jihad-e-akbar. This is Jihad against one's own person to curb sinful inclinations, i.e., purification of self. This is the most difficult Jihad and hence in terms of rewards and blessings is the highest category of Jihad.
The second is Jihad-e-asghar. This is Jihad of the sword. This is communal Jihad and presupposes certain specific conditions. The Quran speaks of fighting only against those who first attack Muslims and this is the very condition laid down in other verses of the Holy Quran as well. The so-called verse of the sword in the Islamic scripture is often taken out of context as if it inculcates an indiscriminate massacre of all unbelievers. The Quranic words such as kill whatever you find them apply only in cases where the enemy has first attacked Muslims and apply to those unbelievers and enemies who break their oaths and firm agreements. They do not apply to unprovoked wars and battles. To interpret these verses in any other manner would be a travesty of the lofty ideals of Islam. There is not a single instance in the life of the Holy Prophet where he offered the alternative of the sword or Islam to anyone.
The Western media and even some scholars sometimes ignore the distinction between these two aspects of Jihad. It must be remembered that the Holy Quran does not make Jihad, the holy war, in context of an article of faith. The sayings and traditions of the Holy Prophet render it into a formula for active struggle that invariably and incorrectly tended towards a militant expression. Modern day terrorism is contrary to the purview of the real spirit of the Islamic Jihad.
The presentation of Islam as a crude and barbaric religion which gives itself the right to cause unwarranted human and material suffering and destruction under the guise of Divine authority, is not the kind of Islam we find in the Holy Quran and in the precepts of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him!)