This article is from the second edition of Jihad in the Qur’an: The Truth from the Source. The book is now in its third edition.
There are a number of sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad that mirror the Qur’anic emphasis on the centrality of peaceful jihad to Islamic life. He is reported to have said:
Do jihad against your lower drives as you do jihad against your enemies.1
The Mujahid (the person who does jihad) is he who does jihad against his lower self in obeying Allah, the Mighty, the Sublime.2
Die before you die.
The last saying means that the Muslim should kill his lower self before he faces physical death.
These sayings totally agree with the Qur’anic concept of jihad and its pivotal role in the life of the Muslim. Peaceful jihad is the quality control measure that the Qur’an has put in place to ensure that the true Muslim, as opposed to that who is Muslim only in name, acquires noble attributes.
Many would be surprised to know that jihad is not only about fighting, and that peaceful jihad — which covers all peaceful efforts to oppose evil and promote good — is a form of jihad that is far more present in the Muslim’s life than armed jihad. Many more would be astonished to learn that one major form of peaceful jihad is an ongoing war against the enemy inside the individual. This enemy is the lower self. It is this particular enemy, not an external enemy, which poses the greatest threat to the human being.
An overly aggressive external enemy whose threat cannot be fended off can turn killer — bringing about the physical death of his victim. But regardless of his power, means, and aggression, he would be completely incapable of causing the spiritual demise of that victim. Killing an innocent person is, in fact, a serious threat to the spiritual well-being of the murderer himself not the victim. While the murderer is a deadly external enemy as far as the victim is concerned, he is still a substantially more dangerous internal enemy for himself. The murderer might well see his successful execution of a crime as a victory of some sort, but it is in reality a complete and disastrous personal defeat.
The enemy within is far more dangerous than the enemy without, because it can cause the person’s spiritual demise, the ultimate death. Most physically living people are spiritually dead, because they are in a state of surrender to and refusal to fight their lower selves. The Qur’an is clear that it is one’s own sins that could make him ultimately a loser who ends up in hell, and that it is for those sins that repentance is required. These sins, it goes without saying, are the making of the lower self, that is the inner rather than an outer enemy.
It should have become perfectly clear by now that peaceful jihad has a far greater scope and presence in the life of the Muslim than armed jihad. The Muslim is required to be always in a state of peaceful jihad because no matter how better a Muslim is at any moment, there would always be more spiritual diseases to treat, and more refinement to do to the soul to bring it nearer to Allah. The Muslim must remain in jihad against the enemy inside him until he dies. Only then, this peaceful war should come to an end.
Armed jihad is the Muslim’s last resort to live in peace with others. That peace he needs for his unrelenting peaceful war against his lower self and all forms of evil in the world! Armed jihad ultimately paves the way for peaceful jihad. This is not what many think. It is, nevertheless, the conclusion drawn from the Qur’an.
The Qur’an does not teach the killing of non-Muslims. Absolutely the opposite. It portrays non-Muslims as targets for the peaceful efforts to teach the truth of Islam. The Muslim resorts to armed jihad when his right to choose his preferred faith and to teach it is eroded by violent and deadly oppression. So, the ultimate goal of armed jihad is to create the free and tolerant environment necessary for peaceful jihad.
It is fitting to end this chapter with a reported story that singularly shows the prominence that Prophet Muhammad gave to peaceful jihad, particularly fighting the lower self, over armed jihad. Upon returning from one battle, the Messenger of Allah said to his companions: “We have returned from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad.” The Prophet’s reference to “the lesser jihad” was clear to the companions, but some could not understand what he meant by “the greater jihad.” When asked about it, the Prophet explained: “The jihad against the lower self”! There is no better way of emphasizing the special status of peaceful jihad in Islam.
1 Cited by al-Asfahani in the entry for the word juhd in his book Mufradat al-fadh al-Qur’an (Glossaries of the Qur’an).
2 Musnad Ahmad, saying 24678.
Copyright © 2004 Louay Fatoohi
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