The purpose of jihad is development of a peaceful society through self-reformation of Muslims towards higher standards of righteousness, and spread of the teachings of peace, justice, tolerance, respect of other religions and their followers. Muslims are only permitted to fight in self-defence if they are being attacked for their faith and being prohibited from worshiping God. It is an act of self-defence and not an act of aggression. If the aggressor ceases to fight then Muslims are obliged to stop as well for the sake of peace.
8:62 – And if they incline towards peace, incline thou also towards it, and put thy trust in Allah. Surely it is He Who isAll-Hearing All-Knowing .
See:What does the term “jihad” mean?
The example of the founder of Islam, Prophet Muhammad(sa) is a very clear demonstration of this point. After eight years of exile and being forced to fight some defensive battles against the oppressors who had the intention of killing the Muslims including the Prophet(sa) himself and to ‘wipe off the religion of Islam’, the Prophet(sa), at the conquest of Makkah, declared a general pardon for all Makkans. They were also granted freedom to continue to practise their own religion.
Some of the Makkans were so surprised at this that they did not initially believe it and still fled, including one of their leaders, Ikrama. He was called back by his wife who reassured him that she had personally met with Prophet Muhammad(sa) and confirmed that the pardon was a reality. Ikrama returned, still fearful, but when he realised the facts, he was so impressed that he chose to convert to Islam. In fact this example is typical of the manner of spread of Islam amongst the non-Muslims during its early history.
There are examples of the Muslim army fighting to protect its citizens including those who were non-Muslims. Testimony to protection of the right of people of other religions to live and think freely and practice their own religion in an Islamic state have been repeatedly quoted by several Jewish and Christian historians relating to the early centuries of the Muslim states in Spain, Iraq, Arabia, North Africa and Syria.
The Promised Messiah(as) has said, ‘None of the true Muslims who ever lived, maintained that force should be employed in the spread of Islam. On the other hand Islam has always flourished on the strength of its inherent qualities of excellence’. (Tiryaq ul Qulub, Roohani Khazain, Vol.15, p167)
Furthermore it is evident from the Qur’an that people of different faiths must be free to practice their own religion (2:257); Islam does not claim monopoly over salvation or truth (2:63 , 3:114-116 , 35:24-25) ; accepts truth and authenticity of founders of other Divinely revealed religions (16:37, 2:286, 4:151-153) ; teaches the followers to remain just and respectful towards followers of other religions (60:8 , 5:3).