The idea of ‘holy war’ is neither new nor confined to the Islamic tradition. Different cultures, including Islamic and Western ones, have historically experienced similar and, at the same time, different discourses towards war. In addition to its literal and early ‘Islamic’ meanings, this entry gives an account of the continuity and changes in the meaning of Islamic jihad in the last 1,500 years, with special reference to the impact of modernity. Indeed, the meanings attributed to jihad vary by historical context.

Jihad is an Arabic term, the origin of which is unclear: it may derive from ‘johd’, meaning ‘capability, fitness, or scope’, or ‘jahd’, meaning ‘hardship or adversity’. Whichever it is, however, neither seems to be entirely irrelevant. Jihad, therefore, may mean ‘striving’ or making ...

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