In Arabic, Jihad refers to the struggle to attain slated goals by persevering against all difficulties and obstacles that may come up in the process. Indeed, the term Jihad has been used both in the Qur'an and the saying of the Prophet to mean the highest exertion in the cause of God. It never implied the attacks against non-Muslims.
It is the duty of every Muslim to strive in the way of God. Look, for instance, at a verse of the Qur'an which exhorts to the way of incessant striving. 'And strive in His cause as ye ought to strive, (with sincerity and under discipline). He has chosen you, and has imposed no difficulties on you in religion; it is the religion of your father Abraham. It is He who has named you Muslims, both before and in this(Revelation); that the messenger may be a witness for you, and ye be witness for mankind! So establish regular prayer, give Zakat and hold fast to Allah! He is your Protector - the Best to protect and the Best to Help?' (H.Q. 22:78)
It is especially relevant that in this verse, which explains the nature of Jihad and exhorts the believers to come forward for the same, the statement 'that the messenger may be a witness for you, and ye be witness for mankind' has been mentioned explicitly. The Muslims are those who, after Muhammad (e), have been entrusted with the furtherance of the mission of all the earlier prophets. Therefore, Jihad is the struggle and sacrifice that becomes necessary in accomplishing the mission of witnessing to the true religion.
A Muslim must firstly prepare himself for the mission of witnessing to the true religion. An individual carries out Jihad with his own self by subjecting, and controlling, all his likes and dislikes to the dictates of the divine commandments. Indeed, in accomplishing his mission a Muslim is duty-bound to subject his wealth, family, society and environment to a proper and apt preparedness. All these preparations come within the meaning of the term Jihad.
A Muslim fulfills his mission of bearing witness to the true religion by living his life according to the divine religion and also by its propagation. It is also the duty of each Muslim to become part of the process of working for change in a situation wherein the freedom for carrying out both these objectives is curtailed. It is also his obligation to be an active member even of an armed campaign for the restoration of the freedom of religious practice in the event that such a situation comes up and, wherein, the Muslim society does decide that such a course of action is, indeed, imperative.
Jihad is never the battle waged against non-Muslims in a simplistic and general sense. It is, in fact, the nature of life that is lived in accordance with Islam and the exertions, sacrifices and struggle that will be necessary to throw aside the forces that disallow one to live as a Muslim. Only in such circumstances, therefore, will Jihad be in the form of an armed campaign. All legal codes in the modern world recognize the right of every single person to live by, and to propagate, the tenets of the religion that he, or she, believes in. It is the duty of the Muslim community to make efforts to regain this fundamental right if it is denied to it. It is only when resort is made to the use of force in such efforts that italicize comes to imply armed opposition. The Qur'an does permit the Muslim community to employ force when it becomes quite inevitable in the context wherein the freedom to live one's life in accordance with the religion of truth and to propagate it is denied.
Even in the instances where armed struggle is waged against those who deny the right to live one's life according to Islam and come forth to make war against the Muslim community, it is the recommendation of the Qur'an that limits be not crossed and that no further action be taken against them if they refrain from the opposition and antagonism which they had displayed earlier.
'Fight in the cause of God those who fight you but do not transgress limits; for God loveth not transgressors.' (H.Q. 2:190)
'But if they cease, God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.' (H.Q. 2:192)
Where but in the Qur'an can we ever find such a humane recommendation that full justice must be meted out even in the field of battle!
In all other situations it will remain only as the life that is lived according to Islam and as the struggle that goes with the propagation thereof.