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What is Jihad?

reprinted from beliefnet.com, or religioustolerance.org:

" Al-Hajj Talib 'Abdur-Rashid, imam of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem, says the word jihad has its origin in the verb jahada which means to struggle, to fight. The word has a few different connotations, since struggle can occur on several levels.

'Muslims understand these levels based not only on the words of Allah in the Qur'an, but also on the authentic statements of the Prophet Muhammad as recorded in our oral traditions, preserved as hadith,' he says. According to 'Abdur-Rashid, there are three levels of jihad:

Personal Jihad: The most excellent jihad is that of the soul. This jihad, called the Jihadun-Nafs, is the intimate struggle to purify the soul of satanic influence--both subtle and overt. It is the struggle to cleanse one's spirit of sin. This is the most important level of jihad.

Verbal Jihad: On another occasion, the Prophet said, 'The most excellent jihad is the speaking of truth in the face of a tyrant.' He encouraged raising one's voice in the name of Allah on behalf of justice.

Physical Jihad: This is combat waged in defense of Muslims against oppression and transgression by the enemies of Allah, Islam and Muslims. We are commanded by Allah to lead peaceful lives and not transgress against anyone, but also to defend ourselves against oppression by 'fighting against those who fight against us'. This 'jihad with the hand' is the aspect of jihad that has been so profoundly misunderstood in today's world. "