The concept of the jihad is often misunderstood in the West, and the image of the holy war is probably the most common one held by the West with reference to Islam. The advent of Islamic fundamentalism and extremism against the West in recent years has only increased our tendency to identify Islam with the jihad or holy war. The concept of the jihad is actually more complex than this, though it has become a tool in international politics as well as a philosophical and religious concept.
The concept of jihad was first given by Muhammad, along with the other important concepts, or the pillars of Islam. In Islam, Muhammad stands as the example of perfection to which the faithful are to aspire. Those who achieve near perfection are highly revered as saints or holy men. The living holy men are accorded great respect:
Their blessing and touch has almost magical power. They are appealed to in time of war as arbitrators. They are akin to the members of religious orders which have convents here teaching is given and hospitality is available (Parrinder, 1957, 18-19).
The primary tenets of Islam are found in the pillars of faith, upheld by conforming to the laws of God as explained in the Quran. Prayer is an essential duty and has a specific method, time, and place. Almsgiving is a duty of all Muslims and is seen as a mark of piety. Fasting is enjoined as well at different times of the year. Pilgrimage to Mecca is a duty that must be carried out at least once in a lifetime. The fifth pillar of faith is the profession of faith in Allah and his Apostle, Muhammad (Parrinder, 15-16).
The Quran is the chief foundation of Islam and stands as the highest authority on doctrine, ethics, and customs. The Five Pillars of Faith constitute the practical duties of the Muslim, while a secondary division involves the doctrines to be believed, of which there are also five--that of God, that of the angels as servants of God, that of t...