Anyone who makes the claim that he wants to serve the Deen yet is not thinking about jihad in the way of Allah, either has no understanding (of jihad) or he is not a truthful and sincere person. However, concerning the issue of jihad, people have gone to two extremes, both of which are mistaken. One group understood from the concept of jihad that it is necessary to view all the kuffar as those whom we must raise the sword or rifle to kill. The other group understands from the concept of jihad that we must be gentle, affectionate, and love all of them, and by doing such we would be “struggling” (i.e. making “jihad”) with them to bring them back to Allah and His Deen. Obviously, both groups have fallen into error. In reality, we are not a people whose mission is to kill the kuffar, nor are we a people who love the kuffar unrestrictedly. When it is time for fighting, we do not fight except those who, by doing so, we would be serving Allah alone (not our passions or personal agendas).
Sayyidina Ali (may Allah honor his face) was fighting a kafir in one of the battles. During the battle Sayyidna Ali knocked him down and raised his sword to kill him. As soon as the kafir knew that he was going to be killed he spat in Sayyidna Ali’s face, so immediately Sayyidna Ali left him and went on his way. He was later asked, “Why did you leave him when Allah clearly gave you power over him?!”& Sayyidna Ali replied, “I was fighting him for the sake of Allah, and when he spat in my face I feared that if I killed him it would have been out of personal revenge and spite.”
From this we understand that it is obligatory that we differentiate between fighting people who are our own personal enemies and others whom we fight because they are the enemies of Allah. If a believer is forced to fight a kafir, he fights him not because the kafir hates him, because the kafir is conspiring against him, because the kafir wants to overcome him, rather, he fights him only because he is an enemy to Allah, the time to fight has come, and the command from Allah has been given.
On the other hand, we have those who say, “We must love the kuffar, be kind with them, and esteem them. They are nice people and they have a lot of good in them.” People who say this have mixed truth with falsehood, just as those who say they want to kill all the kuffar, without understanding or differentiation, have also mixed truth with falsehood.
It is impossible for a true believer to love a kafir: “You will not find people who believe in Allah and the Last Day having love for anyone who opposes Allah and His Messenger” (Qur’an 58-21).& With this said, we do love goodness for them. There is a clear difference between loving them and loving goodness for them. If you say you love them then you are claiming that you love their essence (thaat) that you interact with in front of you, yet the believer doesn’t love any essence except the essence of Allah (Thaatul-llah), the Mighty and Majestic. If you love the good qualities in them while desiring that the possessor of these qualities is saved from the fire, and uses them in the service of Allah, while looking at them with the eye of mercy and the eye of desiring salvation for them, because you know that this pleases Allah, then in this case you have understood how to interact with them.
So we view all the kuffar as being, firstly, the creation of Allah. And as Muslims, we love Allah’s creation. Therefore, we do not love the kafir, rather, we love Allah’s creation (suna’ Allah). We view them as being a means for our spiritual transaction with Allah; a means for our drawing nearer to Allah. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “For Allah to guide one person (to Islam) through you is greater than the whole world and all that is in it.”
Hence, through this balance do we interact with them upon the foundation of having mercy for them, compassion for them, and a desire to try to save them from the fire. This is the only way we should view our interaction with them. We do not esteem the influential one amongst them because he can benefit us in our da’wah (as a kafir), nor are we generous with the needy amongst them because we love them in themselves, rather, we deal with the influential, the poor, the sick, and the young amongst them with mercy, and through mercy, because this is the way that Allah loves.
The way we enter discourse with them should be in ways that their intellects can understand, using means that they like and are familiar with, as long as it is not prohibited in the Sacred Law. This is not because those means are the only means, but rather, because they are means that Allah loves. So if the time comes that it is more pleasing to Allah that we use another type of means, with some of them, then we do not hesitate for even one second to abandon the old method and to use the new method. The principle is that we are expansive and inclusive of everyone, merciful with everyone, loving and wanting goodness for everyone, from societies to leaders, from Muslims to kafirs. Then if a situation arose that calls us to deal with sternness, even if it reached the level of fighting, then we do not allow our previous ways of mercy and gentleness to delay that which Allah has commanded.
One of the sons of Abu Bakr As-Siddiq, may Allah be pleased with him, did not become a Muslim while they were in Mecca, and as you know, the affection of a father to his son is much greater then the affection of a son to his father. In Mecca, Sayyidina Abu Bakr tried with love and gentleness to convince his son as to the veracity of Islam. He used the best and loftiest means to try to bring him over to Islam, yet Allah had not decreed for him to become a Muslim just yet. Sayyidina Abu Bakr made Hijrah and later went to fight in the battle of Badr. This son of his also went out on the day of Badr, yet he was with the kuffar. The son was trying his best to avoid his father so they would not have to fight each other. Later, when his son accepted Islam, he said to his father, “Oh my father, on the day of Badr (when I was a kafir) I was avoiding you so we wouldn’t have to fight.” Sayyidina Abu Bakr replied to him, “As for me, if I met you on that day I would have killed you.”
What is the reason behind this? This intricate point is necessary for us to understand. When the action of the son wasn’t based on servitude to Allah, but rather, was based on compassion (for his father), and his going out to battle was only for glory, honor, and nationalistic goals, this was how he acted. His actions were a slave to his emotions. On the other hand, the actions of Sayyidina Abu Bakr (in Mecca) and his love and compassion were not for himself, but for the sake of his Lord. So when the time came that he had to serve Allah by fighting against his son, he didn’t waiver, even if it meant his own son’s death. We are in need of this criterion in establishing the correct concept of jihad with the kuffar.
Therefore, the understanding of jihad is to establish the means for the guidance and salvation of the kuffar, not merely to just fight them. Fighting them happens in a few cases, and the goal behind it is to save others from the oppression of the ones who are preventing the guidance from spreading. We do not fight out of revenge and spite. The Muslim doesn’t fight because the kafir is my (personal) enemy, because the kafir is conspiring against me, because the kafir has killed and slaughtered other Muslims. The Muslim fights the kafir because he has prevented and has become a barrier for the guidance to reach others. Again, the Muslim doesn’t fight out of revenge and only because the enemy has killed other Muslims. Think about what is being said deeply!(Sayyid Al-Habib‘Ali Al-Jifry)