When Does Jihad Become Personally Obligatory?

Shafi'i Fiqh

Answered by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick


When Does Jihad Become Personally Obligatory?


In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate. May Allah alleviate our difficulties and guide us to what pleases Him. Amin.

Jihad has a plethora of meanings and applications. Understanding the nuances of these meanings is essential in addressing this question. Some kinds of jihad are personally obligatory upon everyone, some are communally obligatory, and some are recommended.

Meanings of Jihad

Jihad (lit., to endeavour, struggle, or strive) conveys a sense of striving for a just cause against an enemy for the sake of Allah (Most High) and is governed by strict Sacred Law rulings. Jihad as a concept in Islam is much broader than physical warfare, and there are many other non-physical forms of jihad. [Buti, al-Jihad fi al-Islam]

Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) reports that the companions were sitting with the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) when a young man approached them. They said, “If only this young man had given his youth and effort and strength in the path of Allah!” The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) heard their conversation, and he said:

Is there nothing in the path of Allah but killing? Whoever strives for his parents is in the path of Allah. Whoever strives for his family is in the path of Allah. Whoever strives for himself to be independent is in the path of Allah. Whoever strives to gain many possessions for himself is in the path of Satan. [Bayhaqi, Sunan al-Kubra]

Jihad includes the spiritual struggle against one’s lower animalistic self (nafs), against Shaytan, hypocrisy, enemy armies, and tyrannical and oppressive rulers. [Ibn Al-Qayyim, Zad al-Ma‘ad]

Spiritual Struggle

The spiritual struggle against one’s lower animalistic self and Shaytan are personally obligatory upon everyone. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “The one who strives in jihad is he who strives against his lower self.” [Tirmidhi – Authenticated by Imam Tirmidhi]

Ibn al-Qayyim writes: “Jihad against the lower self precedes jihad against external enemies and is the basis for it. Indeed, if one does not strive against himself first to do what he has been commanded, avoid what he has been forbidden, and wage war against it for the sake of Allah, one cannot possibly strive against external enemies.

How can one strive against his enemies and be just if his enemy within has overpowered him, dominated him, and he did not strive or wage war against it for the sake of Allah? Instead, he cannot go out against his enemies unless he gives precedence to striving against himself.” [Zad al-Ma‘ad]

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) once said to his companions, “Shall I not tell you of the best of your deeds, which is the purest to your King, which raises you among your ranks, which is better for you than spending gold and money in charity, and which is better for you than meeting your enemy and striking the necks of each other?” They said, “Of course!” The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “It is the remembrance of Allah Almighty.” [Tirmidhi]

Physical Struggle

Physical struggle is a nuanced issue that requires scrutiny by legitimate traditional scholars and leaders. In a world where media propaganda still triumphs, such scrutiny is challenging. Fighting the narrative of oppression is often best achieved by speaking truth to power.

The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) taught, “Behold, the best form of Jihad is a word of truth against a tyrannical ruler”. [Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Ibn Maja – Authentic]

When there is a legitimate need for a physical struggle, such as when a Muslim country, nation, or group is being invaded, attacked, or oppressed, then physical armed struggle becomes personally obligatory upon all the able-bodied inhabitants of that country [that region], who must repel the aggressors as best as possible. [Misri, ‘Umdat al-Salik]

Interestingly, modern international humanitarian law strongly resembles this kind of physical struggle. “Under international humanitarian law, wars of national liberation have been expressly embraced, through the adoption of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, as a protected and essential right of occupied people everywhere.” [Al-Jazeera, 20 Jul 2017]

The Obligation of Physical Struggle

Jihad is personally obligatory upon all those present and able-bodied in the battle lines unless one has a valid excuse. Jihad is also personally obligatory for everyone able to perform it, male or female, old or young, when the enemy has surrounded the Muslims on every side, having entered our territory, even if the land consists of ruins, wilderness, or mountains, for enemy forces entering Muslim lands is a weighty matter that cannot be ignored, but must be met with effort and struggle to repel them by every possible means. [Misri, ‘Umdat al-Salik]

Strict Regulations of Physical Struggle

In the Shafi’i School, as in other Islamic jurisprudential traditions, targeting non-combatant civilians, such as children, women, and even animals, is generally prohibited. Unless they are actively fighting. [Nawawi, Minhaj al-Talibin]

Ultimately, Islam seeks to establish truth, peace, and justice for all. Any legitimate physical struggle must have this objective, or it cannot be considered legitimate, and Allah knows best.

I pray this is of benefit and that Allah guides us all.

[Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar, Shaykh Taha Karaan.

Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.

He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.

Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and pursuing his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.