Qur’an 2:216 Jihad (holy fighting in God’s Cause) is ordained for you (Muslims), though you dislike it. But it is possible that you dislike a thing which is good for you, and like a thing which is bad for you. But God knows, and you know not.
The first mistake in this translation is that this Qur’anic verse actually does not use the word “Jihad”. This verse actually uses the word “Qitaal”, which refers to physical fighting. Fighting is ordained for Muslims in order to defend themselves and their rights, as well as the rights of others. The obligation to physically defend one’s rights, and to establish justice was elaborated on in the previously mentioned article on Jihad. It is sufficient to quote a verse from the Qur’an in this regard:
4:75 And what is wrong with you that you fight not in the Cause of Allah, and for those weak, ill-treated and oppressed among men, women, and children, whose cry is: “Our Lord! Rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from You one who will protect, and raise for us from You one who will help.”
It is most certainly a duty of all human beings to help each other from oppression and injustice. This is what Islam teaches. Commenting on verse 2:216, Abdullah Yusuf Ali writes:
To fight in the cause of Truth is one of the highest forms of charity. What can you offer that is more precious than your own life? But here again the limitations come in. If you are a mere brawler, or a selfish aggressive person, or a vainglorious bully, you deserve the highest censure. (Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an, Text, Translation and Commentary )
Therefore, the fighting ordained by God in the Qur’an is the fighting to establish justice and security in the land, and this is a duty upon all human beings. We will always hope for peace, but we must realize that without justice, freedom, rights and equity, peace will never be able to survive. Likewise, on verse 2:216, Abdul Majid Daryabadi writes:
War, it has been truly said, is sanctioned by the law of nature ? the constitution of man and the constitution of society ? and is at times a biological and sociological necessity. Islam, the ideal and practical religion has allowed it, but only in cases of sheer necessity. (Daryabadi, The Glorious Qur’an, emphasis added)
Islam has designated war as the last resort and only in cases of sheer necessity, in order for us to defend the rights of ourselves and others. Also, the picture becomes even more clear when we take into consideration the historical context of the revelation. Abdullah Yusuf Ali goes on to explain the historical context in his commentary on verse 2:217:
The intolerance and persecution of the Pagan clique at Mecca caused untold hardships to the holy Messenger of Islam and his early disciples. They bore all with meekness and long-suffering patience until the holy one permitted them to take up arms in self-defence? (Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an, Text, Translation and Commentary )
In light of the above quote, it becomes apparent that fighting has been especially ordained in conditions of severe persecution and hardship. Consequently, the Muslims are required to defend themselves from oppression and establish justice. To abstain from helping those under oppression is cowardice. Abdul Majid Daryabadi also explains the historical context of the verse:
Persecuted, harassed, afflicted, poverty-ridden, exiled, and small in number as the Muslims were at the time of the enactment of warfare, it was but natural that they were none too fond of crossing swords with the mighty forces that had conspired for their extirpation. Nothing short of express and emphatic Divine Command could urge them on to the field of battle [in order to defend their rights]. And yet the Islamic jihads are declared to be ‘designed by the Prophet to satisfy his discontented adherents by an accession of plunder!’ (Margoliouth). Such is this European scholar’s love of veracity! Such is his wonderful reading of history! (Daryabadi, The Glorious Qur’an)
The commentary on this verse makes it very clear that Muslims have always understood this verse as the legal right to defend one’s rights from the forces of oppression, but never to transgress limits in defence.