Does Jihad have any aspects or dimensions?
The first Revelation to God’s Messenger was the command
Read! (96:1). As
there was hardly anything to read at that time, the intended meaning was
that believers should use their intellectual and spiritual faculties to
discern God’s acts, as well as His laws related to creating and operating
the universe. Doing so will allow believers to purify themselves and their
minds of all superstitions and, through observation and contemplation,
acquire true knowledge.
We are more than our minds, and thus have many faculties that must be
satisfied. While feeding our minds with the Divine signs seen in the
universe, we can cleanse our hearts of our sins. Such a balanced life leads
to a greater awareness of being seen by God and seeking His forgiveness.
This seeking, if sincere and continuous, enables us to break our carnal
self’s desire for what is forbidden and to turn it, through prayer, to good
The command Read! thus signifies an action. Being absolutely pure in
spirit and without superstition, God’s Messenger understood that he would
have to start his mission by reciting the Revelation and explaining God’s
signs to his people. Through this process, he would purify their minds of
superstition and their hearts of sin. He would enlighten them,
intellectually and spiritually, by explaining the Revealed Book of God (the
Qur’an) and the Created Book (the universe) to them:
We have sent among you, of yourselves, a Messenger who recites to you Our
signs, purifies you, and instructs you in the Book and in the Wisdom, and
also instructs you in what you know not. (2:151)
All people are like raw minerals to be worked upon by the Prophets, who
purify and refine them by opening their hearts, ears, and eyes to the truth.
Once enlightened, people can understand the meaning of the Divine laws of
nature (signs of God’s Existence and Unity) and penetrate the subtle reality
of things and events. Only through such guidance can we attain the high
status that God expects us to reach.
In addition to teaching the signs, the Prophets also instructed their
followers in the Book and in Wisdom. As the Qur’an was the last Revelation
to the Last Prophet, God means the Qur’an when He speaks of the Scripture,
and the Sunna (the Prophet’s example) when He speaks of Wisdom. Therefore we
have to follow these two sources if we want to be rightly guided.
The Prophet teaches us how to purify ourselves from sin, and humanity
will continue to learn from him until the Day of Judgment. Many great
believers became saints in this way, among them ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, who said
that his belief in the Unseen and the essentials of Islam was so firm that
his certainty would not increase even if the veil of the Unseen were lifted.
If God had not ended the line of Prophethood, such great believers as ‘Abd
al-Qadir al-Jilani, Imam Ghazali, Imam Rabbani, Fudayl ibn ‘Iyad, Ibrahim
ibn Adham and Bishr al-Khafi might have been endowed with Prophethood.
The Prophet’s guidance removed the dark clouds of ignorance from
humanity’s intellectual horizon, and the light that he brought from God will
cause many more scientific and technological advances to be made.
Believers keep their belief vigorous and active by striving in God’s way.
Just as a tree keeps its leaves as long as it yields fruit and is fed by the
soil, believers can preserve their vigor as long as they struggle. Those who
abandon it become hopeless pessimists, while those who pursue it are always
enthusiastic and trying to increase the scope of their activities.
The greater and lesser jihad
Jihad has two aspects: fighting against superstition, wrong belief,
carnal desire, and evil inclinations in the quest of intellectual and
spiritual enlightenment (the greater jihad); and encouraging others to
strive for the same goal (the lesser jihad).
The lesser jihad does not refer only to striving on battlefields. Being
comprehensive in nature, it includes every action from speaking out to
presenting oneself on the battlefield when necessary—but only if it is done
for His sake. Speaking or keeping silent, smiling or frowning, joining or
leaving a meeting, and all other actions taken to help individuals or
communities can be considered part of this type of jihad.
The lesser jihad seeks to mobilize all material facilities and is
performed in the outer world, whereas the greater jihad is a personal
struggle against one’s carnal self. These two forms of jihad cannot be
separated. Only those who defeat their carnal selves can perform the lesser
jihad, which, in turn, helps those engaged in the greater jihad.
Those who abandon the lesser jihad are liable to spiritual deterioration
and subsequent recovery. Everything praises and glorifies God with each
breath and thus is a sign of God’s Existence and Unity, a sign that may
guide them to the Straight Path. For this reason, there are as many paths
leading to the Straight Path of God as the breaths of all His creatures.
Those who return from the lesser jihad can be captivated by such worldly
weaknesses as pride, love of comfort and ease, and may think it is time to
relax and indulge in such things. This is why the Prophet warned his
Companions once when they were returning to Madina after a victory:
We are returning from the lesser jihad to the greater. However, to
secure God’s help and protection and to be successful in the greater jihad,
in fighting against animal desires and impulses, depend upon supporting His
religion. If people want to be safe from going astray, their aim in life
must be to strive for God’s sake, and all of their actions, even the
simplest (i.e., eating, sleeping, choosing, and training for a job, etc.)
must be directed toward this objective. God declares in the Qur’an:
believers! If you help [the religion of] God, God will help you and make
your feet firm [in practicing your religion and against Satan, your carnal
selves, and enemies]. (47:7)
The Prophet combined perfectly these two aspects of jihad. He displayed
monumental courage on battlefields. ‘Ali, one of the most courageous
Muslims, stated that the Companions took shelter behind the Prophet at a
battle’s most critical moments. For example, when the Muslims experienced a
reverse and began to scatter during the first phase of the Battle of Hunayn,
the Prophet urged his horse toward the enemy lines and shouted to the
retreating Muslims: “I am a Prophet, this is no lie! I am the grandson of
‘Abd al-Muttalib, this is no lie!”
This bravest of all people was also the most devout worshipper of God. He
was consumed with love and awe while praying, and all who saw him felt great
tenderness for him. He frequently fasted every other day or even several
days in a row. Sometimes he would stand almost the whole night in prayer,
which would cause his feet would to swell. Sahih al-Bukhari records that
once ‘A’isha thought such prayer excessive and asked him why he prayed so
much, seeing that God had forgiven all of his sins. His reply: “Shall I not
be a grateful servant to God?”
The Messenger of God sometimes prayed without waking his wife. Such
Traditionists as Muslim, Tirmidhi, and Haythami relate from ‘A’isha that
once she woke up and saw that the Messenger was not beside her. Thinking he
might be with another wife, she became jealous and started to get up. But
then her hand touched the Prophet’s feet, and she realized that he was
prostrating in prayer, saying: “O God, I seek refuge in Your pleasure from
Your wrath, in Your forgiveness from Your punishment, and with You from You.
I am not able to praise You as You praise Yourself.”
The Companions also combined jihad’s two aspects in their lives. They
used to spend their nights praying. Ibn Hanbal relates that once two
soldiers had to take turns praying while standing guard. An enemy soldier,
understanding this situation, shot a shower of arrows at the praying
soldier, who continued to pray even though he had been hit. After he
finished his prayer, he woke his fellow soldier. Seeing his friend bleeding
profusely, this man asked why he had not woken him up sooner. The Companion
replied: “I was reciting Surat al-Kahf, and did not wish the deep pleasure I
found therein to be interrupted.”
They were very sincere in their deeds, for they constantly disciplined
themselves in order to attain God’s good pleasure. During his caliphate,
‘Umar once interrupted his own sermon with: “O ‘Umar, you were a shepherd
taking care of your father’s sheep!” When asked why he had said that, he
answered: “I remembered that I was the caliph, and became afraid of feeling
proud.” One time, when asked why he was carrying a sack on his back, he
replied: “I felt some pride, and wanted to get rid of it.”
Only such people can obtain the desired results from their jihad. Those
who retain their pride, self-regard, and insincerity most likely will cause
great harm to the cause of Islam and never obtain the hoped-for result.
Jihad requires both self-control and preaching the truth, as well as
overcoming our carnal desires and animal impulses and encouraging others to
do so to obtain God’s good pleasure. Neglecting the former produces social
anarchy; neglecting the latter engenders laziness. The Prophet expresses
jihad’s two aspects as: “The eyes of the two people will never witness the
fire of Hell: the eyes of soldiers who keep guard at frontiers and on
battlefields, and of those whose awe of God causes them to cry.”
In Surat al-Nasr, the Qur’an describes both types of jihad:
When the help
of God comes, and victory, and you see people entering God’s religion in
throngs, then glorify the praise of your Lord, and seek His forgiveness; for
He is Relenting, Merciful (110:1-3).
When the believers sincerely pursued the lesser jihad on the battlefield,
against those who sought to prevent their worship of the One God, or their
enjoining good and forbidding evil, God’s help and victory came and people
started embracing Islam in throngs. At that moment, the Almighty decreed
that His praises should be glorified and His forgiveness sought. As all
success and victory are from God, only He deserves our praise and worship.