Jihãd in the Hadis

Before I discuss the contents of the Hadis literature, in so far as those pertain to jihãd, I must tell the reader that only Sunni works of Hadis have been published in translation and even those translations are partial. The Koran is canonical scripture par excellence, and is common to all sections of Muslims. But the Hadis of the Sunnis is not the same as the Hadis of the Shias. Western scholars have studied most of the religions of the world, but even they have not cared to render the Hadis literature in English. The translations I have met are mostly due to the ulema of Pakistan and Bangladesh. It seems there is hesitancy even amongst the ulema in making the Hadis literature easily available to infidels. At any rate, their enthusiasm for making the Koran accessible to one and all is not matched by a similar effort towards popularising the Hadis literature. This is perfectly understandable if we consider the fact that the language used in the Hadis literature at times borders on extreme coarseness and obscenity. It stands to reason that the ulema would not want to display this portion of their religious merchandise before the eyes of unsympathetic infidels.1 But this very fact has rendered the work of scholarship difficult. One has to be not only a competent Arabist but has also to run the gauntlet of ulemaic apposition to secure authentic works of Hadis. The scholarly searcher has to beware of the bowdlerised and severely edited works of Hadis which would meet him at every step in his research. With this warning, I would lead the reader to a brief discussion of the Hadis literature of the Sunnis.

The ahãdîs accepted by the Sunnis as canonical have been collected in as many as six works. These in Arabic are called Sihah Sittah which in plain English means the ‘six authentics’. All these are considered canonical, but the collections by (1) Imam Bukhãrî and (2) Imam Muslim are supposed to be the most authentic of all. Those by (3) Tirmizî, (4) Abu Dãu’d, (5) Abu Nasã’î and (6) Ibn Mãjah are the other four to make up the six. Another popular collection is Mishkãt-ul-Masabîh (=niche of lamp), which, besides containing ahãdîs from the authentic collections, contains a few more which are held in high esteem among Muslims without actually counting as canonical. Each of these collections has a separate section devoted to the subject of jihãd. It would require the labour of a German scholar to analyse all these collections critically. Not for the present writer such Herculean labour; the reader of this chapter must be content with citations from Imam Muslim and Mishkãt alone.2

For a full understanding of a hadîs, it is important to have some knowledge of its narrator. The Hadis of course records the Prophet’s sayings and doings, but it does so through his Companions who, in Arabic, are designated as Sahãbah. The Hadis in fact is a collection of first-hand reports - those proceeding from certain Companions regarding what they heard from the Prophet’s own lips or what they found the Prophet doing at a certain juncture. Among these Companions, the most famous was Ayesha, the Prophet’s child-wife and his favourite. The other narrators include such names as Abu Hurairah, Jabir, Anas bin Malik, Abu Sayeed, Abu Musa, the second Caliph Umar and a host of others.

What does the Hadis say on the subject of jihad? The most important piece of information it contains is that the Prophet, in course of his ten years’ stay at Medina till his death, had engaged in as many as 82 jihãds of which 26 he commanded in person.3 These 26 jihãds are called ghazwahs indicating that he became a ghãzî by slaying kafirs and coming out victorious. The Hadis also tells us that most of these ghazwahs were in the nature of raids or swooping down upon the enemy without previous notice. The Hadis also gives details regarding the vast wealth and the great number of men, women and children he captured in these ghazwahs. Before we give some idea of this ghanîmah (plunder), it is important to learn how the Koranic Revelations regarding jihãd are confirmed by the Hadis.

(1) That jihãd is the greatest duty of a Muslim is described in the Hadis without any scope for doubt or ambiguity. According to Imam Muslim, “It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Hurairah that the Messenger of Allah said: One who died but did not fight in the way of Allah nor did express any desire (or determination) for Jihãd died the death of a hypocrite” (Sahih Muslim, No. 4696).

To get a clear understanding of this hadîs it is necessary, first of all, to understand the meaning of the term ‘hypocrite’. The Arabic munãfiq which is usually used for this term has a very specialised meaning in the Koran. It refers to those people of Medina who, having given shelter to the Prophet and his followers, had gradually grown disenchanted with them because of their violence and the ruffianly character, but did not dare rise in open rebellion against them. The leader of this disaffected Medinese faction was Abdullah bin Ubayy, a name cursed and reprobated in Islam for all time to come. The Koran itself has cursed these so-called hypocrites with words of the harshest denunciation and scorn. The Hadis has announced that their reward is the lowest layer of hell - a whole layer below the one allotted to idolaters.

With this background it is clear that the foregoing hadîs pronounces the waging of jihãd as a Mussalman’s supreme duty, failing which he is asked to cherish a fervent desire for it so that the terrible fate of a munãfiq does not overtake him in the hereafter. In a word, the Hadis declares even more uncompromisingly than the Koran itself that a pacifist Mussalman is not a Mussalman at all.

(2) It is clear then that the mujãhid’s reward in the hereafter should be superior to that of a non-combatant Muslim.  We have seen that the Koran pronounces as much when it allots for a mujãhid a ‘greater reward’ than that for a peace-loving believer. The extent of its greatness is described in a hadîs as follows:

“It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Said Khudri that the Messenger of Allah said to him (Abu Said): Whoever cheerfully accepts Allah as his Lord, Islam as his religion and Muhammad as his Apostle, is necessarily entitled to enter Paradise… (But) there is another act which elevates the position of a man in Paradise to a grade one hundred (higher), and the elevation between one grade and the other is equal to the height of the heaven from the earth. Abu Said said: What is that act? He replied: Jihãd in the way of Allah! Jihãd in the way of Allah” (Sahih Muslim, No. 4645).

This hadîs clearly indicates that the difference between a pacifist Mussalman and a mujãhid Mussalman is as great as the difference between heave and earth - the pacifist’s reward rising to no higher than earthly eminences.

(3) Ahãdîs that refer to the blood-soaked nature of jihãd are not rare. No. 4549 of Mishkãt has the following:

“According to the venerable Abu Musa, Allah’s Messenger has said: The portals of heaven lie under the shadow of the sword. On hearing this a lean and emaciated man stood up and said: O Abu Musa, did you hear this hadîs with your own ears? ‘Yes’, said Abu Musa, and then and there the man went up to his companions and said: I bid you salaam. So saying he broke the sheath of his sword and proceeded towards the enemies. He
killed many with that sword and ultimately attained martyrdom himself.”4

Clearly the sword is the Mussalman’s best passport to heaven. The Prophet’s own conviction comes out with singular intensity in the following hadîs. For those who want to set up Islam and its Prophet as devoted to the cause of peace this hadîs bears reading and re-reading:

“It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Hurairah who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah say: I would not stay behind (when) an expedition (for Jihãd was being mobilised) if it were (not) going to be too hard upon the believers… By the Being in whose Hand is my life, I love that I should be killed in the way of Allah; then I should be brought back to life and be killed again in His way” (Sahih Muslim, No. 4631).

(4) Peace and Islam are in fact wholly at variance. The Prophet’s withering contempt for religions of peace comes out in the following hadîs with breath-taking intensity:

“Said the Venerable Abu Umama: On a certain occasion we went out with the Prophet on a campaign.  One man among us was passing by a well standing by the side of a field studded with green vegetation. The spot roused in his mind a strange longing (for a life of seclusion, and he thought): How glorious would it be if I could renounce the vanities of the world and reside in this spot (for the rest of my days). He sought the permission of Allah’s Messenger. Said His Highness: (Listen to me, O man of little understanding): I was not sent down (by Allah) to preach the religion of Jews and Christians. To keep oneself busy in the way of Allah for a single morning or afternoon is better than the whole earth and whatever (wealth) it possesses. And to get imprisoned in the field of battle is better than being engaged in surplus prayers for as many as 60 whole years” (Mishkãt, No. 4489).5

This hadîs indicates that even the partial pacifism of Judaism and Christianity was not acceptable to the Prophet of Islam. In an epoch when the Christians propagated their religion with the sword, the Prophet was not agreeable to even their theoretical pacifism.

(5) Quite a few ahãdîs bring out the fact that the pre-eminent aim of jihãd is the expansion of Islam by war. We have already seen that this is preached in the Koran itself. The following hadîs not only reiterates the aim but also explains the sequence of objectives which a mujãhid is supposed to strive for:

“Fight in the name of Allah and the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah… When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action… Invite them to (accept) Islam… If they refuse to accept Islam, accept from them the jizya. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them” (Sahih Muslim, No. 4294).

It is only necessary to add that, in this hadîs at least, the sequence does not seem to include ghanîmah (plunder). The triad of aims discussed here seems to exclude plunder of infidel property and enslavement of infidel population as aims of independent importance. This gap, however, is adequately filled in other ahãdîs which will be discussed in subsequent chapters.

(6) At this point it is important to understand the meaning of two technical expressions related to jihãd. The expression ghãzî I have already explained as standing for a victorious ‘slayer of infidels’. But there is another expression, shahîd (witness), which means ‘the person who attains martyrdom by offering evidence (shahãdah) to the truth of Islam by fighting infidels’.

There are ahãdîs describing the best manner of shahãdah (evidence) offered by a mujãhid who has become a martyr.

(A question arose as to) “what kind of martyrdom in jihãd is the best. Said Allah’s Messenger: When a martyr sends (an infidel’s) blood streaming, he should (before falling dead) cut off the feet of the horse carrying (the said infidel)” (Mishkãt, No. 4530).6

This hadîs brings out the blood-lust of the mujãhid with perfect candour. The translator commenting on this hadîs says: “‘Sending an infidel’s blood streaming and wounding his mount’ - these two items indicate the martyr’s seeking of death after delivering the finishing stroke to his enemy. The emphasis here is on the mujãhid’s realisation of his full remuneration in jihãd in life and property.” This analysis needs no further comment.

The Hadis literature has many other things to say on jihãd. Summing up the ones I have mentioned, one can say that it retains all the injunctions of the Koran and in fact adds quite a few things more. (1) That jihãd is the supreme duty of a Muslim is preached with greater intensity in the Hadis in the light of the Prophet’s impassioned utterances regarding what may be called his ‘aim of life’. (2) The objectives of Islamic expansion, jizyah and infidel-slaughter are enumerated in the Hadis seriatim, - the Koran does not mention such sequence. (3) ‘The full realisation of a martyr’s remuneration in life and property’ is explained in the Hadis with supreme emphasis - the Koran lacks such candour, although the admonition for killing the infidel and destroying him to the uttermost limit are implicit, and sometimes explicit, in the Koran. (4) The relative pacifism of the Jews and the Christians is emphatically rejected in the Hadis - the Koran is silent on the subject.


1 Cf Muir, “As to the Hadith, I altogether fail to understand how any translator can justify himself in rendering into English much that is contained in the sections on marriage, purification. divorce, and female slavery” (The Life of Mahomet, p. 334).

2 The material of the Hadis literature is almost identical whatever the collection. So the reader will not miss much by my failing from German thoroughness.

3 The number varies from narrator to narrator.

4 Translated from a Bengali version of Mishkãt.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid., Mishkãt has quoted this hadîs from the Sahih Dãu’d.

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