Jihad is an Arabic word which literally means striving or struggling, especially with a praiseworthy aim. It can have many shades of meaning in an Islamic context, such as struggle against one's evil inclinations, or efforts toward the moral betterment of society. In classical Islamic law, the term refers to armed struggle against unbelievers, while modernist Islamic scholars generally equate military jihad with defensive warfare. In Sufi and pious circles, spiritual and moral jihad has been traditionally emphasized under the name of greater jihad. The term has gained additional attention in recent decades through its use by terrorist groups.
The word jihad appears frequently in the Quran with and without military connotations, often in the idiomatic expression "striving in the path of God (al-jihad fi sabil Allah)". Islamic jurists and other ulema of the classical era understood the obligation of jihad predominantly in a military sense. They developed an elaborate set of rules pertaining to jihad, including prohibitions on harming those who are not engaged in combat. In the modern era, the notion of jihad has lost its jurisprudential relevance and instead gave rise to an ideological and political discourse. While modernist Islamic scholars have emphasized defensive and non-military aspects of jihad, some Islamists have advanced aggressive interpretations that go beyond the classical theory.
Jihad is classified into inner ("greater") jihad, which involves a struggle against one's own base impulses, and external ("lesser") jihad, which is further subdivided into jihad of the pen/tongue (debate or persuasion) and jihad of the sword. Most Western writers consider external jihad to have primacy over inner jihad in the Islamic tradition, while much of contemporary Muslim opinion favors the opposite view. Gallup analysis of a large survey reveals considerable nuance in the conceptions of jihad held by Muslims around the world.
Jihad is sometimes referred to as the sixth pillar of Islam, though this designation is not commonly recognized. In Twelver Shi'a Islam jihad is one of the ten Practices of the Religion. A person engaged in jihad is called a mujahid (plural mujahideen). The term jihad is often rendered in English as "Holy War",although this translation is controversial.