Has anyone altered the Quran – 3? Interpretation of what is Jihad

Friday Khutba by Dr Zahid Aziz, for Lahore Ahmadiyya UK, 3 February 2023

“And whoever strives hard, strives for himself. Surely Allah is above need of (His) creatures. And those who believe and do good, We shall certainly do away with their afflictions  and reward them for the best of what they did. And We have enjoined on man goodness to his parents. But if they strive to make you set up partners with Me, of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them. To Me is your return, so I will inform you of what you did.” — ch. 29: Al-‛Ankabūt, v. 6–8

وَ مَنۡ جَاہَدَ فَاِنَّمَا یُجَاہِدُ لِنَفۡسِہٖ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ لَغَنِیٌّ عَنِ الۡعٰلَمِیۡنَ ﴿۶  وَ الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا وَ عَمِلُوا الصّٰلِحٰتِ لَنُکَفِّرَنَّ عَنۡہُمۡ سَیِّاٰتِہِمۡ وَ لَنَجۡزِیَنَّہُمۡ اَحۡسَنَ الَّذِیۡ کَانُوۡا یَعۡمَلُوۡنَ ﴿۷  وَ وَصَّیۡنَا الۡاِنۡسَانَ بِوَالِدَیۡہِ حُسۡنًا ؕ وَ اِنۡ جَاہَدٰکَ لِتُشۡرِکَ بِیۡ مَا لَیۡسَ لَکَ بِہٖ عِلۡمٌ فَلَا تُطِعۡہُمَا ؕ اِلَیَّ مَرۡجِعُکُمۡ فَاُنَبِّئُکُمۡ بِمَا کُنۡتُمۡ تَعۡمَلُوۡنَ ﴿۸

“And those who strive hard for Us, We shall certainly guide them in Our ways. And Allah is surely with the doers of good.” — ch. 29: Al-‛Ankabūt, v. 69

وَ الَّذِیۡنَ جَاہَدُوۡا فِیۡنَا لَنَہۡدِیَنَّہُمۡ سُبُلَنَا ؕ وَ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ لَمَعَ الۡمُحۡسِنِیۡنَ ﴿٪۶۹

I am still continuing with the topic of the Khutbas of the last two Fridays. Last Friday I mentioned the English translation and commentary of the Quran entitled The Noble Quran by Dr Muhsin Khan and Dr Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali which was officially endorsed and published by the Saudi Arabia government authorities. I previously shown that according to their commentary Islam teaches its followers to undertake a constant war against non-Muslims. Whenever they see any verse in the Quran instruc­t­­ing Muslims to forgive their enemies, they hasten to declare such a verse as abrogated by a verse revealed later on about fighting. Today I will look at how the meaning of the term jihad has been misrep­re­sented in this translation and commentary.

The first verse I recited, verse 6 of chapter 29, “And whoever strives hard, strives for himself”, uses the word jihad twice, which we translate as striving. It clearly means striving for self-improvement. The word jihad here cannot possibly mean fighting any war because this chapter 29 was revealed to the Holy Prophet while he was still at Makkah. It was about six or seven years before he migrated to Madinah. No Muslim was at that time taking part in a jihad of fighting by weapons and arms. It obviously means striving for self-improvement. And as also indicated here, such a person will only be benefitting himself or herself by this striving. God, Who is telling them to strive, is Himself above having any need of any person’s striving. Then God promises in the next verse, verse 7, that those whose belief strengthens as a result of their striving, and whose good deeds increase, they will be relieved and lifted out of the persecution they face, i.e., the external evils, as well as the evils within them­selves. This is their reward. Then verse 8 again shows that the word jihad is just a word meaning striving, any kind of striving. It says that a person should do good to his parents, “but if they strive to make you set up partners with Me, of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them”. This was particularly a time when it was common that a person would accept Islam but his parents would remain as idol worshippers. The parents might well be unhappy with their son or daughter accepting Islam and may try hard to make them remain in their ancestral religion. The word used in this verse for the parents’ trying hard is from jihad — jāhada. You can translate these words as: “if they conduct a jihad against you”. This shows that the word jihad is so general that here the efforts of non-Muslims against Muslims are called jihad.

In the other verse which I recited, which is at the end of the same chapter 29, “And those who strive hard for Us, We shall certainly guide them in Our ways”, again the word for “strive hard” is from jihad. Here it is clearly stated that this jihad is for the purpose of attaining nearness to God, “for Us”. Whoever undertakes this jihad for God, God will guide him towards Himself. There is yet another verse revealed at Makkah which begins with the words: “And strive hard for Allah with due striving” (22:78). The word for “due striving” here is ḥaqqa jihād, meaning the real and true jihad, or the “due” jihad, the jihad as it ought to be done. This means that the jihad which is a duty upon Muslims is that of striving to attain nearness to God.

It was when Muslims had emigrated to Madinah and settled there as a community that their enemies from Makkah launched battles against them. The enemy was much more powerful and it looked as if the Muslims would be defeated and the religion of Islam would come to an end. So God then revealed His teaching in these words: “Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you but do not be aggressive. Surely Allah does not love the aggressors” (2:190). The condition about not being “aggressive” is not only our translation but several other translations by Muslims use the same word (Asad, Pickthall, T.B. Irving, among the older transla­tions, and Safi Kaskas, Talal Itani, Musharraf Hussain, among the modern translators).

In the translation by Dr Muhsin Khan and Dr Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali, The Noble Quran, that I have been mentioning, published officially in Saudi Arabia, it is added in brackets after this verse: “This Verse is the first one that was revealed in connection with Jihad”. But, as I showed just now, the Quran required Muslims to do jihad long before anyone knew that they would have to fight battles, and it told Muslims that that was the due jihad which they should be undertaking all the time. The reason why the writers of the commentary in The Noble Quran have declared this as the first verse revealed about jihad is that they consider jihad as being fighting against non-Muslims in battles. In their footnote under this verse they write as follows. I quote it exactly, including what they have inserted in brackets: “Al-Jihad (holy fighting) in Allah’s Cause (with full force of numbers and weaponry) is given the utmost importance in Islam and is one of its pillars (on which it stands). By Jihad Islam is established, Allah’s Word is made superior, (His Word being La ilaha illallah which means none has the right to be worshipped but Allah), and His Religion (Islam) is propagated. … Jihad is an obligatory duty in Islam on every Muslim”. Here they have defined jihad as “holy fighting”, and stated that Islam can only be established and propaga­ted by means of this fighting. This translation “holy fighting” reminded me of what Maulana Muhammad Ali has written in his famous book The Religion of Islam in the chapter on Jihad. He tells us there that the Western, non-Muslim, scholars and writers on Islam wrongly assume that jihad means war. He has quoted from the famous work Encyclopaedia of Islam, which was compiled largely by the Western, non-Muslim scholars of Islam, about what it says under the word Jihad. And what it says is this: “The spread of Islam by arms is a religious duty upon Muslims in general”.

He has also quoted another such writer, the Rev. F.A. Klein, who wrote a book, also called The Religion of Islam. This writer gave the following definition of Jihad: “The fighting against unbelievers with the object of either winning them over to Islam, or subduing and exterminating them in case they refuse to become Muslims, and the causing of Islam to spread and triumph over all religions is con­sidered a sacred duty of the Muslim nation.” This gross error, unfortunately, is supported by the commen­tary in The Noble Quran translation. Maulana Muhammad Ali writes as follows about these Western views on jihad:Jihad is far from being synonymous with war, while the meaning of ‘war undertaken for the propagation of Islam’, which is supposed by Western writers to be the significance of jihad, is unknown equally to the Arabic language and the teachings of the Quran.”

In The Noble Quran translation there is another verse translated as follows. I quote it exactly, word for word, including what they have added in brackets: “Jihad (holy fighting in Allah’s cause) is ordained for you (Muslims) though you dislike it, and it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you” (2:216). The first word of this verse in Arabic is not jihad. Not a single translator of the Quran into English, whether of earlier times or later times, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, has represented the first word of this verse as jihad. It is, in fact, the word qitāl, which means fighting. But readers of this translation will get the impression that the word in the Arabic text of the Quran must be jihad because jihad is an Arabic word that occurs in various places in the Quran. When you translate any book, let us say from Arabic to English as is the case here, and in your translation you use an Arabic word, people will naturally think that this is the word which occurs in that place in the Arabic text. For example, when in translations of the Quran we see the word “Islam”, as in “Surely the religion with Allah is Islam” (3:19) we know that it must be “Islam” in the Arabic text as well because it is an Arabic word that occurs in the Quran. So it is highly misleading that when the Quran uses the word qitāl, meaning fighting, it should be translated as jihad. The only reason they have for doing this is to support the wrong notion that jihad is equivalent to fighting and that the only way a Muslim can take part in jihad is by fighting in a battle.

What that verse says to Muslims is this: “Fighting is ordained for you (meaning, as a command), though it is disliked by you; and it may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you love a thing while it is harmful for you; and Allah knows while you do not know” (2:216). Muslims disliked to take up arms to fight because it looked certain that they would lose, but they are told here that it would prove to be good for them, and if they don’t fight it would be bad for them. If Muslims who joined the Holy Prophet Muhammad had been a violent, aggressive and war-like people, this verse would have said to them: Fighting is ordained for you because you are so eager to fight and you love doing it!

To conclude, we don’t accuse anyone of altering the text of the Quran. However, as you can see, some translators have inserted certain opinions into their translations which are not justified by the language of the Quran and then to support these opinions they have had to declare some verses of the Quran to be cancelled by others.