Question: My question relates to an opinion often expressed in various articles of your journal that jihād carried out by the Messengers of God was specific to them only. Please elaborate.
Answer: In this regard, the following points will perhaps serve as a clarification.
1. After the departure of Muhammad (sws) and his Companions, jihād can only be carried out to root out oppression and injustice. One form of this oppression is persecution. The Qur'ān says:
And what has come over you that you fight not in the cause of Allah, and for those weak, ill-treated and oppressed among men, women, and children whose cry is: "Our Lord! Rescue us from this town of oppressors, and raise for us from You one who will protect, and raise for us from You one who will help." [You should know that] those who believe fight in the cause of Allah, and those who disbelieve, fight in the cause of Satan. So fight against the friends of Satan. Ever feeble indeed is the plot of Satan. (4:75-6)
Also in this matter there is to be no distinction between a Muslim state or a non-Muslim state. It can be launched against either for the purpose of curbing oppression and injustice.
2. The jihād carried out by the Messengers of God had another dimension which was only specific to them and does not relate to us. It was governed by a divine law that relates to Messengers of God only. As per this law, once the truth is communicated to the addressees of a Messenger to the extent that none of them is left with an excuse to deny it and they still deliberately deny it, then they are punished in this very world by the Almighty in either of the following two ways:
i. through natural calamities like storms and earthquakes
ii. through the swords of the believers
Thus, for example, the people of Noah (sws), the 'Ād and the Thamūd were punished by the Almighty through natural calamities after they deliberately rejected the truth communicated to them by their respective Messengers. On the other hand, the people of Arabia in the times of Muhammad (sws) were punished through the swords of the believers.
In the first case, when punishment is meted out through natural disasters, we know from the Qur'ān that all the disbelievers are destroyed since they subscribe to polytheism.
In the second case, when punishment is meted out by the followers of the Messengers of God, the polytheists among the disbelievers are only given the option of accepting faith or facing death, while the monotheists among them are also given the option of living on their own faith provided they remain subservient to the Muslims. Those who profess faith and become the companions of the Messengers are granted success and dominance in this world and promised great reward in the Hereafter as well. For this very reason, in the jihād carried out by the Prophet Muhammad (sws) to punish the deliberate rejecters of the truth, while the Idolaters of Arabia were not given any option but to accept Islam if they wanted to live, the People of the Book were given the option of remaining on their faith if they accepted a life of subservience to the Muslims by paying the jizyah tax.
Moreover, it needs to be appreciated that the deliberate denial of the truth by a people can only be disclosed by God since it relates to a person's intentions. In the times of His Messengers, the Almighty communicated this deliberate denial to them through divine revelation. However, with the departure of the Messengers of God, we can no longer be informed of this deliberate denial because after them divine revelation has ceased. Therefore, today Muslims cannot wage jihād for the purpose of punishing disbelievers for denying the truth. Today the only basis for jihād is to root out oppression and injustice.
Since the Qur'ān contains many verses which deal with this dimension of the jihād of the Messengers of God, one must be careful in not extending their area of application beyond the foremost addressees of the Messengers. They do not relate to people after them.
3. A question here may arise that if this type of jihād does not relate to us, then why is it mentioned in the Qur'ān so much. The answer to this question is that this type of jihād actually substantiates the reward and punishment which is going to take place in the Hereafter. In the Hereafter too, people who deliberately deny the truth will be punished. People need to be reminded of this all important fact. So, by preserving in the Qur'ān, the details of this worldly judgement meted out to the addressees of a Messenger we are reminded to not forget the Day of Judgement; on this day, each and every person will have to face the consequences of his deeds the way the foremost addressees of the Messengers of God did in this world.