In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Jihad

  • Introduction
  • Inner, or Greater, Jihad
  • Outer, or Lesser, Jihad
  • Bibliographies
  • Textbooks
  • Films
  • Jihad in History
  • Salafi-Jihadism

Islamic Studies Jihad
Natana DeLong-Bas
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0045


The Arabic term jihad is properly defined as “struggle” or “striving” and is generally described as taking place at two levels: the inner (or greater) and the outer (or lesser). According to the hadith (records of the sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad), inner jihad is the struggle within oneself to avoid sinful behavior and live according to the principles of the Qurʾan, Sunna (example of the Prophet Muhammad), and Sharia (values or principles elaborated into Islamic law). Outer jihad, on the other hand, refers to the defense of the Muslim community under attack. This can be a “soft defense,” such as through verbal or written debate or persuasion (jihad of the tongue, or jihad of the pen), or “hard defense” (also known as “jihad of the sword”), such as through physical or military defense of a community. In the early 21st century, some Muslims engage the terminology of “civilian jihad” for nonviolent political action and civic engagement.

Inner, or Greater, Jihad

Discussions of inner jihad tend to focus either on personal piety and righteous living or on community service, such as in Ghandour 2002. The idea is that an inward focus on personal adherence to Islam’s teachings is played out in the public sphere through the application of an individual’s ethics and standards, as expressed in interactions with the family, community, and nation. Sunni perspectives on this aspect are presented in Esack 1997 and Ramadan 2007. Shiʿi interpretations, such as Shah-Kazemi 2006, also focus on jihad as an internal struggle for knowledge and betterment of the soul. In many cases, both for Sunnis and Shiʿis, such inner jihad is presented as being at odds with the often-militant approach to outer jihad, or it may incorporate the concept of physical struggle with overcoming injustice, although not necessarily according to violent means, such as by engaging in civil disobedience, as discussed in Easwaran 1999, Stephan 2010, and Chenoweth and Stephan 2011. Geoffroy 2003 and Babou 2007 offer Sufi perspectives on nonviolent religious efforts. Lakhani 2006 presents a Shiʿi discussion of the struggle between spiritual and military expressions of jihad. Inner jihad can also be a means of struggling against gender apartheid, as discussed in Wadud 2006, of struggling to claim identity, as portrayed in Moaveni 2005, or of struggling for political and social justice, as discussed in Ramadan 2017.

  • Babou, Cheikh Anta. Fighting the Greater Jihad: Amadu Bamba and the Founding of the Muridiyya of Senegal, 1853–1913. New African Histories. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1353/book.7000

    A history of the Muridiyya order’s rise to prominence on the basis of its emphasis on nonviolent religious efforts.

  • Chenoweth, Erica, and Maria J. Stephan. Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. Columbia Studies in Terrorism and Irregular Warfare. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.

    Analysis of successful methodologies of nonviolent resistance in Iran, Palestine, the Philippines, and Burma.

  • Easwaran, Eknath. Nonviolent Soldier of Islam: Badshah Khan, a Man to Match His Mountains. 2d ed. Tomales, CA: Nilgiri, 1999.

    The biography of a Pathan Muslim ally to Mahatma Gandhi, this book provides an alternative to the Taliban by focusing on an interpretation of the Islamic tradition native to Pakistan that emphasizes nonviolence.

  • Esack, Farid. Qurʾān, Liberation and Pluralism: An Islamic Perspective of Interreligious Solidarity against Oppression. Oxford: Oneworld, 1997.

    Written by a South African anti-apartheid Muslim activist, this work focuses on jihad as a call to social activism for social and gender justice and religious pluralism.

  • Geoffroy, Éric. Jihad et contemplation: Vie et enseignement d’un soufi au temps des croisades. Paris: Editions Albouraq, 2003.

    A presentation of the life and teachings of Sheikh Arslan, the 12th-century patron saint of Damascus, with a particular focus on his treatise on the meaning of tawhid as the greater jihad of holy struggle leading to personal sanctity. Written during the time of the Crusades, his call for inner struggle, rather than outer warfare, is particularly important in considering the potential for jihad to bring an end to violence.

  • Ghandour, Abdel-Rahman. Jihad humanitaire: Enquete sur les ONG islamiques. Paris: Flammarion, 2002.

    Written by a member of Doctors without Borders (Médecins sans Frontières), this work analyzes the work of Islamic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in places where states have failed to engage in humanitarian jihad. Ghandour identifies the common denominators of these NGOs as exclusive reference to Islam, powerful social legitimacy, at times ambiguous ties to radical jihadist organizations, and competition or conflict with Western NGOs in carrying out humanitarian work.

  • Lakhani, M. Ali, ed. The Sacred Foundations of Justice in Islam: The Teachings of ʿAli ibn Abi Talib. Perennial Philosophy. Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2006.

    Presents Ali’s personal conflict between spiritual struggle and military warfare, both of which are encompassed within the concept of jihad.

  • Moaveni, Azadeh. Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran. Cambridge, MA: PublicAffairs, 2005.

    A personal memoir that describes the author’s struggle to claim her own identity while observing the struggles of everyday Iranian youth.

  • Ramadan, Tariq. In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    Written by one of the most influential European Muslims, this work reexamines the life of the Prophet Muhammad in a quest for lessons for early-21st-century Muslims, tying jihad to the search for peace and personal transformation.

  • Ramadan, Tariq. Jihad, Violence, War and Peace in Islam. Translated by Myriam François. Swansea, UK: Awakening Publications, 2017.

    Written by one of Europe’s most prominent Muslim voices, this work focuses on the spiritual and dynamic meaning of jihad, rather than militancy, and calls for jihad as a mobilization for social and political justice.

  • Shah-Kazemi, Reza. Justice and Remembrance: Introducing the Spirituality of Imam ʿAli. London: I. B. Tauris, 2006.

    Presents a Shiʿi interpretation of jihad focusing on justice and the struggle for knowledge and the betterment of the soul.

  • Stephan, Maria J., ed. Civilian Jihad: Nonviolent Struggle, Democratization, and Governance in the Middle East. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

    Compilation of case studies of nonviolent movements for change preceding the Arab Spring.

  • Wadud, Amina. Inside the Gender Jihad: Women’s Reform in Islam. Oxford: Oneworld, 2006.

    Written by a prominent female African American activist and convert to Islam, this book examines the story of the struggle for gender justice within Islam.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.