Q. What is exactly Jihad in Islam?
A. The word Jihad is a noble term in Islam. It does not mean "Holy War". It means "struggle" or "striving".
The word for war in the Qur'an is "Harb" or "Qital". Jihad means serious and sincere struggle on the personal as well as on the social level. It is a struggle to do good and to remove injustice, oppression and evil from the society. This struggle should be spiritual as well as social, economic and political. Jihad is to work hard to do right things.
In the Qur'an this word is used in its different forms 33 times. It often comes with other Qur'anic concepts such as faith, repentance, righteous deeds and migration. Explaining Jihad in Islam, Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi well known Muslim scholar of America and former president of Islamic society of North America writes: "Jihad is to protect one's faith and one's human rights. Jihad is not a war always although it can take the form of war.
Islam is the religion of peace, but it does not mean that Islam accepts oppression. Islam teaches that one should do one's utmost to eliminate tension and conflict. Islam promotes non-violent means to bring change and reform. Actually, Islam urges that one should eliminate evil through peaceful means without the use of force as much as possible. In Islamic history from the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) until now, Muslims most of the time resisted oppression and struggled for liberation in non-violent and peaceful manners.
Islam teaches proper ethics in the situation of war also. The war is permissible in Islam, but only when other peaceful means such as dialogue, negotiations and treaties fail. It is a last resort and should be avoided as much as possible. Its purpose is not to convert people by force, or to colonize people or to acquire land or wealth or for self-glory. Its purpose is basically: defense of life, property, land, honor and freedom for oneself as well as defense of others from injustice and oppression.
Allah says very clearly: (Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not do aggression, for Allah loves not the aggressors.) (Al-Baqarah 2: 190) (The prohibited month, for the prohibited month, and so for all things prohibited, there is the law of equality. If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear Allah, and know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves.) (Al-Baqarah 2: 194) Jihad is not terrorism: It is to be emphasized that terrorism against the innocent civilians, whether through aggression or suicidal means, is under no circumstances permissible in Islam. Islam encourages the oppressed people to struggle for their liberation and it commands other Muslims to help those who are oppressed and suffering, but Islam does not allow, under any circumstance, terrorism against non-combatants and innocent people. Terrorism is not Jihad, it is Fasad (mischief). It is against the teachings of Islam. There are some people who use their twisted arguments to justify terrorism for their causes, but it has no justification: Allah says: (When it is said to them: 'Make not mischief on the earth,' they say: 'Why, we only want to correct things.' Indeed they are the mischief doers, but they realize (it) not.) (Al-Baqarah 2: 11-12) Islam wants to establish a world order where all human beings – Muslims and non-Muslims – can live with justice in peace, harmony and good will. It gives its followers full guidelines to find peace in their personal and social lives, but it also tells them how to extend the good will on the basis of human relations towards others.
Muslims worked under these principles for centuries. People of many faiths lived with them and among them. Islamic societies were known for their tolerance, generosity and humanity. In our modern society where we are living in a global village, where non-Muslims are living with Muslims in the Muslim countries and Muslims are living with non-Muslims in countries where non-Muslims constitute a majority, it is our duty to bring better understanding among ourselves, work for peace and justice for all people and cooperate with each other in matters of goodness and virtue in order to stop all terrorism, aggression and violence against the innocent people. "This is our Jihad today".
I hope this answers your question Allah alone knows best