war in the cause of god
jihad, or war for the sake of god, is clearly defined in the verses which we have mentioned and which were revealed in connection with the expedition of `abdullah ibn jahsh. its definite meaning is to fight those who sway the muslim away from his religion and prevent him from walking in the path of god. this fight is waged solely for the freedom to call men unto god and unto his religion. to use a modern expression consonant with the usage of the present age, we may say that war in islam is permitted-nay, it is rather a duty-when undertaken in defense of freedom of thought and opinion. all weapons used by the aggressors may be used against them. if somebody seeks to sway a man from conviction or opinion, and he effectively uses propaganda and logic without physical coercion, persecution, discrimination, or use of illicit means such as bribery, no man may stop him except by answering his argument and analyzing and exposing his logic. however, if he resorts to armed force to prevent a man from holding a certain opinion, then it becomes necessary to answer his armed power with equal armed power wherever practical. man has no dignity if his convictions have none. convictions are far more precious than wealth, position, power or life itself. to those who appreciate the meaning of humanity, convictions are far more precious than the material life which man shares with the animals. if man's humanity consists of no more than eating and drinking, growing and struggling for survival, he is one with the animals. man's spiritual and moral convictions constitute the moral bond which unites him to his fellowmen, the spiritual link between him and god. the life of conviction is man's great distinction from the animal kingdom. by it, man wills for his brother that which he wills for himself; by it, he inclines to share his wealth with the poor, the destitute, and the miserable, though such sharing may imply some deprivation to his near relatives; by it, man enters into communion with the universe to perform that which enables the universe to realize the perfection which god has prescribed and established for it.
should conviction take possession of a man and should another man attempt to make him renounce it under conditions in which self-protection or defense are impossible, such a man would do what the muslims did before their emigration from madinah, namely, to bear patiently all injury, persecution, and injustice. neither hunger nor deprivation of any kind would cause him to succumb to ignoble desires; patient forbearance was precisely what the muslims practiced in makkah as well as what the early christians had practiced. but those who suffer in patience for the sake of their convictions are not the majority of mankind nor the plebians among them. they are, however, the select and chosen few whom god has endowed with such moral strength that they are capable of standing up against any injury or injustice, however great. it was precisely this kind of conviction which the new testament has associated with the judgment that whoever is endowed therewith "shall say unto this mountain, remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove."[matthew, 17:20]. but if it is possible for man to defend himself against aggression with the same arms as the aggressor, to fight the man who blocks the path of god by use of his own means, then it is his duty to do so. otherwise, one would be weak of faith and doubtful in conviction. that is what muhammad and his companions did after they had achieved a measure of security for themselves in madinah. that is equally what the christians did after they had achieved power in rome and byzantium, after the conversion of the roman emperors.