Home > Free Essays > Religion > World Religions > Jihad and War Justification

Jihad and War Justification Essay

Exclusively available on IvyPanda Available only on IvyPanda
Updated: May 30th, 2020

Meanings of the “Greater Jihad” and the “Lesser Jihad” as Summarized by Kelsey

According to Kelsey (1993), the “greater jihad” means personal struggle with the heart to do God’s will while the “lesser jihad” means waging war for religious purposes. The “lesser jihad” fights enemies of Islam and God, while “greater jihad” fights for an individual’s ego through prayers and reading the Quran to know God. Thus, “lesser jihad” is allowable when staged for self-defense and aims at fighting against injustice and evil.1 Another name for “greater jihad” is a struggle with the tongue and “lesser jihad” is a struggle with the sword (Kelsey, 1993).

These definitions originated from interpretations of Prophet Muhammad. After Muhammad and his followers arrived from combat, he told them that they went through with the lesser jihad, but they still had to handle the greater jihad. Jihad may thus also represent efforts by Muslims to form a fair structure of political administration.2

Initially, Muslims considered acknowledging the oneness of God, judgment and the need to live according to God’s rules as favorable ways to expand Islamic territories (Kelsey, 1993). At that time, Muslims considered forcing people into religion as unethical and sought to spread Islamic values without the sword. However, Sunni theorists eventually realized that force was an excellent way of extending Islamic territories. Since then, jihad took the violent form of the sword, and not the nonviolent form of the tongue.

Jihad was a communal obligation of every Muslim. The greater task that the Muslims were to engage in may have started separately, although, it was clear that personal morality had a great impact on communal association as well. The middle age Muslims, who studied the works by Aristotle in an effort to separate between Greek and Islamic thoughts, realized a close association between political society and personal ethics. Thus, this relationship might have contributed to a call for the greater jihad.

Four Criteria for the Lesser Jihad

Sunni theorists discovered that Islamic territories could expand using force. They considered using force, in this perspective, as a vital tool in a quest for peace. Although they did not suggest that violence could be the first resort, they gave several conditions under which it was justifiable.

First, a just cause, which could not only be justified by the need to expand the boundaries of the Islamic territories, had to exist. Such a cause could be due to the refusal of the involved territory to comply with Islamic politics and acknowledge the supremacy of Islam through paying tribute.

Second, an invitation or proclamation of the intentions of Muslims had to occur. The leader of Muslims had to communicate with opposing rulers in a bid to make them accept Islamic practices. The message was to ask these rulers to either pay tribute, or to convert to Islam. Muslim leaders also had to inform the opposing rulers that if they fail to comply, the Muslims would stage a war against them.

Third, the message of war declaration had to go through the right authority. In the event that rulers failed to comply with Islamic requirements, 3the right authority was the head of Islamic state. This leader had to assess the abilities of his military and chances for success, as well as make sure that all necessary procedures had been observed.

Fourth, Islamic values had to be the leading ideology of the war. The aim of the war needed to appear just and performed in the path of God. They had to use least force and promote peaceful values. They had to differentiate between the guilty and innocent and not fight for personal glory.

Understanding of Jihad to Formulate a Credible Justification for their Position on the War in their Country

Saddam Hussein was the Iraq President between 1979 and 2003. He started to declare open power over the regime in 1979 and emerged the president following Bakr’s resignation. Saddam also was the head of the Revolutionary Command Council. During his reign, he killed and tortured many residents. He developed a widespread personality cult among the Iraqi nationals and used police force to repress any interior resistance to his government. His ambition as the head of state was to get dominion over the Persian Gulf and succeed Egypt as head of the Arab countries.

In 1982, some militants in Dawa shot Saddam’s convoy during his visit to Dujail town. The whole town was punished in retaliation for that assassination effort. Over 140 adults and youths became detained before getting killed. Children and about 1, 500 women went through torture and others were imprisoned. In 1983, many prisoners were exiled. Dawa town was also destructed, and all houses were demolished.

From 1987 to 1989, Saddam conducted the Anfal crusades in opposition to Kurdish inhabitants at the north of Iraq. The goal of the movement was apparently to get power in the region. Nevertheless, the authentic aim was to eradicate the Kurdish population permanently. The crusade comprised of eight phases of attack, where over 200,000 Iraqi soldiers assaulted the region, captured residents and burnt communities. Many men lost lives while women and children found themselves in replacement camps that had awful conditions. In some regions, particularly in regions that created any form of opposition, everybody was killed. Many Kurds left the region. However, records show that almost 200, 000 Kurds lost lives during the Anfal movement. According to many people, the Anfal campaign was an attempt of genocide.

Saddam’s cousin called Ali led the chemical attacks in opposition to the Kurds, in 1987. He used chemical arms to annihilate Kurds from their communities in northern Iraq in the course of the Anfal crusades. Chemical arms became used on about 40 communities in northern Iraq, and the largest attacks against the Kurds took place in March 1988. In those attacks, people from Iraq attacked the town of Halabja using bombs filled with mustard gas. As a result, many people from Kurdish origin experienced immediate effects of vomiting, blindness, seizures and wounds. Estimations show that over 5,000 people lost lives after few days of the attack. Some long-term impacts caused by the attacks were cancer, birth anomalies and permanent blindness. Besides, about 10,000 people who survived the attack experienced regular body sickness.

In 1990, soldiers from Iraqi attacked Kuwait. The cause of the attack was oil and a massive debt by Iraq to Kuwait. In 1991, the war on Persian Gulf drew Iraqi soldiers from Kuwait. While the Iraqi soldiers were leaving, they were commanded to burn all oil wells. They lit about 800 oil wells, and this led to burning of many oil barrels. Besides, this act led to emission of harmful pollutants to the air.

Towards the end of the war in Persian Gulf, the Kurds and Shiites revolted against the rule of Saddam. In retribution, Iraq depressed the rebellion leading to deaths of many Shiites. Besides, Hussein’s regime ordered the killing of the Marsh Arabs as punishment for backing the Shiite uprising in 1991. He also demolished their communities and destroyed their lifestyle. The Marsh Arabs had inhabited swamps of Southern Iraq for a long time, until Iraq constructed a system of dykes, waterways, and dams to redirect water from the swamps. This group had to leave the region, and their way of life suffered great changes. In already 2002, only 7 percent of the marshlands existed and environmentalists blamed Saddam for making this environmental calamity.

Justification of Saddam’s Position on the War in Saudi Arabia

The war in Iraq during the reign of Saddam Hussein was just. 4Saddam staged wars for self-defense, which was allowable according to criteria of the lesser jihad. For instance, Saddam announced a jihad after American and European troops invaded Saudi Arabia (Kelsey, 1993). These troops, in his argument, were out to destroy the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Thus, Saddam’s call for a jihad in the country was in defense of the Islamic faith and territory.

Besides, in 1982, Saddam punished the entire town of Dawa after a failed assassination by some militants. At this time, Saddam was visiting this town when his convoy got attacked. In retaliation, he staged a war that led to deaths of over 140 adults and youths, as well as imprisonment of about 1, 500 women and children. Saddam also ordered his men to demolish the entire town. Despite the losses, Saddam was justifiable according to the law of jihad as he was acting in self-defense. Besides, Saddam’s actions could be justified as he was fighting against the evil act of assassination.

Also, Saddam’s act of staging a war against the Kurds and Shiites towards the end of the war in Persian Gulf was justifiable. The two groups revolted against the rule of Saddam, and in defense, he depressed the rebellion cruelly leading to deaths of many Shiites. He also ordered the killing of the Marsh Arabs as punishment for backing the Shiite uprising in 1991 and demolished their communities. Similar to the first situation, Saddam acted suitably as he was acting both in self-defense as well as fighting the evil act of rebellion towards his government.

Finally, Saddam’s involvement in the attack of Kuwait was justifiable as he was trying to expand the Islamic territory to Kuwait. Jihad allows actions that led to expansion of Islamic territories. 5 It claims that Islamic territories are usually territories of justice as Islam offers the greatest serenity presented to humankind (Kelsey, 1993). Thus, humankind cannot secure full peace unless they are under Islamic empires. This justifies why Muslims are always struggling to expand their boundaries to other nations.

In the Same Place as Saddam Hussein

If I found myself in the place of Saddam Hussein, I would act both similarly and differently from him in some areas. First, I would stage wars for self-defense, just like he did. Jihad allows acts of self-defense and thus, I would not hesitate to stage a war against any group that seems to attack me. For instance, I would start a war against the people of Dawa if they attempted to assassinate me or my people. Similarly, I would stage a war against the Kurds and Shiites if they attempted to rebel against my rule.

On the other hand, I would not stage a war against the Kurds like Saddam did between 1987 and 1989 as this act did not correspond to the criteria of jihad. Saddam conducted the Anfal crusades in opposition to the Kurdish inhabitants at the north of Iraq with the aim of eliminating them utterly and occupying their land. However, he did not follow the right criteria. If I were him and wanted to rationalize my actions, I would have sent a message to the rulers of Kurds asking them to either accept Islamic practices, or pay tribute to Islamic religion. Although, most Kurds are Muslims, I would address the letter to the few non-Muslims and make them aware of any possible attack if they failed to comply.


Kelsey, J. (1993). Islam and war: A study in comparative ethics. Louisville, Ky: Westminster/John Knox Press.


  1. Muslims seek to command good acts and fight evil to create social order in the world.
  2. Jihad traditions and just war relate to the political order.
  3. The right to authority was implicit.
  4. Just war involves maintenance of peace, order and justice in the world.
  5. Saddam argued that he sought to struggle for Arab-Islamic rights to territory.
This essay on Jihad and War Justification was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.
Removal Request
If you are the copyright owner of this paper and no longer wish to have your work published on IvyPanda.
Request the removal

Need a custom Essay sample written from scratch by
professional specifically for you?

Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar
Writer online avatar

certified writers online

Cite This paper
Select a referencing style:


IvyPanda. (2020, May 30). Jihad and War Justification. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/religious-studies-jihad-and-war-justification/

Work Cited

"Jihad and War Justification." IvyPanda, 30 May 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/religious-studies-jihad-and-war-justification/.

1. IvyPanda. "Jihad and War Justification." May 30, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/religious-studies-jihad-and-war-justification/.


IvyPanda. "Jihad and War Justification." May 30, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/religious-studies-jihad-and-war-justification/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Jihad and War Justification." May 30, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/religious-studies-jihad-and-war-justification/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Jihad and War Justification'. 30 May.

More related papers