The Arabic term jihad literally means striving or exertion of effort and encompasses both the internal struggle against harmful impulses and desires and the external struggle against injustice and oppression. Thus, the word can refer to military action against an aggressor, but this is by no means the only meaning of the term. Traditionally, Muslim sources distinguish between the “greater” and the “lesser” jihad. The “greater jihad” is described by Muslim scholars as an internal struggle to avoid negative actions and cultivate good character. The “lesser jihad” is the external striving for justice, in self-defense or against oppression. One can do this in one’s heart, with one’s tongue or pen, and, if these are ineffective, by forcibly trying to change an oppressive situation, similarly, for example, to the Allies in World War II who went to war against the aggression of Hitler. It should be noted, however, that violent revolution was often seen by classical scholars as the absolute last resort. The social chaos and mayhem that often ensue from overthrowing an oppressive leader were commonly viewed as much worse than the reign of an oppressor.
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