Jihad, coming from the Arabic root ja-ha-da (to exert utmost effort, to strive, struggle), connotes a wide range of meanings:
- an inward act to strengthen one’s own self and correct one’s own mistakes as well as an outward one to defend Islam
- the exertion of the self in all directions - in every effort and act, personal and collective, internal and external - is the essence of jihad in the Islamic sense. This rule illustrates that jihad does not necessarily involve waging a war
- personal individual striving, effort, struggle; striving spiritually or physically against evil. It can also be collective defense of the Muslim community. When it refers to the individual effort to conquer himself or passions, it is called “Greater Jihad.” When it refers to the communal effort at a defensive war against the enemies of Islam, then it is called “Lesser Jihad.”
Thus, the essential meaning of jihad is the spiritual, psychological and physical effort exerted by Muslims to be closer to God and thus achieve a just and harmonious society. A person who engages in any form of jihad is called a "mujahid", meaning "striver" or "struggler".
In much of the English speaking world, jihad is associated with the phrase "holy war"; however, the concept of jihad encompasses more than just warfare, and a more accurate translation probably would be "holy struggle", "righteous struggle" or "holy endeavour". The denotation is of a challenging or difficult, (frequently) opposed effort, made either in accomplishment or resistance.