Westerners often hear news reports of groups known as the Mujahideen, the Taliban, and Al-Qaeda. It can be easy to confuse or merge them in one's thinking, but they are of course separate organizations with differing histories, goals and characteristics.
The Mujahideen (singular mujahid) comes from the word jihad, which means, "struggle." First referenced in the Quran, a mujahid is a Muslim who struggles in the path of Allah. Over time this has taken on the connotation of being one who proclaims himself a warrior for the faith, or someone who is a freedom fighter struggling to liberate his land from non-Muslim influence, sometimes by violent means. The term is currently used rather freely, often to describe any Muslim group engaged in hostilities with non-Muslims or with secularized Muslim regimes.
With respect to Afghanistan in particular, Mujahideen was first used by the British to describe a group of individuals in the Afghan high country who fought ...