Understanding Jihad: Definition and Methodology – Part Two

S. Abdullah Schleifer

Witnessing (Ash-,Shahid – The Witness), and His Angels bear witness to the shahid’s extraordinary spiritual rewards; the shahid is promised he will witness God.“36” 

The Believers are assured in the Qur’an that the shahid is among those to whom Allah has shown special favour; that those who are slain in the way of God live on in His care, and His Pardon and Mercy are far better for the shahid than all of the spiritual and material blessings to be acquired in this life.

The prerequisites and spiritual rewards of both jihad and martyrdom are elaborated upon in hadith. The shahid is he whose intention is pure – he fights and dies solely in Allah’s way, not for pride or worldly profit. The shahid is the best among the Believers; he will not be touched by the fire. A day and a night engaged in jihad is better for the Believer than a month of lasting and prayer, for jihad (as a mode of exceptional worship) is more excellent than obligatory prayer. “37”

The shahid is spared both the punishment and the trial of the grave; he is the first to enter paradise where he is stationed closest to God. His good deeds continue to increase until the Day of Judgement. So honored is the shaltid in Paradise that he alone of all men wishes to return to this world and be killed ten times more for the sake of the ecstatic Divine Illumination the Beatific Vision that is his to witness – or, at another level, of comprehension, for a mankind that in its generality has rarely experienced or considered ecstasy except in its most directly physical mode – for the seventy-two dark-eyes maidens who will be his wives. “38”

In the limits to holy war mentioned earlier that were set either by God in the Qur-‘an or His Prophet in hadith are to be found the many elements such as the requirement of a declaration of war and offer of terms, the prohibition of mutilation, avoidable destruction of civilian property and the killing of non-combatants or the slaying of enemy fighters who embrace Islam on the field of battle – that would be combined with conditions derived from the Qur’an and hadith that permit fighting, into a juridical doctrine of the jihad.

The formulation of this juridical doctrine would be the task of the ‘ularna in the earliest generations that followed the Prophet and his Companions, as part of their overall task to elaborate the shari `a – the comprehensive, eternal, divinely revealed Law, that (as we noted earlier) determines in Islam man’s duties to God and to fellow man.

The sense of combat, of warfare, also adheres to the multiplicity of meaning within jihad in its more-than-occasional and generally non-violent forms of struggle. This combative identity is particularly so in that dimension of jihad that is most distant from physical, armed struggle, which is most continuous and which is in effect a contemplative mode: jihad as spiritual warfare.

Thus the classic lexicons classify mujahada (fighting with the enemy) as an expression of both armed struggle against the unbelievers and waging war against the carnal Soul. “39”It is understood as such by the Companions who report the Prophet saying:

The mujahid is one who tries to struggle against his self (carnal soul).“40”

The relaionship between these two dimensions of jihad is defined by the
famous hadith which directly alludes to the movement from the outward and occasional to the inward and continuous when the Prophet, returning from a military expedition, declares:”We have come back from the lesser jihadto the greater jiahad.”

The greater jihad is greater because it is more difficult, for according to hadith, ” Your most hostile enemy is your nafs, enclosed between your two sides, “41”and because as a continuous struggle it encompasses and affects the efficacy (which is always determined by intention and sincerity, a quality of the perfected soul) of the lesser jihad. Ibn Qaiyim a1-Djawziya, the noted 13th centurt theologian, observed:

The jihad against the enemies of Allah with one’s life is only a part ofthe struggle which a true sevant of Allah carries on against his own self [nafsl for the sake of the Lord. This striving against the evil tendencies which have dominated his mind and heart is more important than fighting against the enemies in the outside world. It is in fact the basis on which the struggle in the path of Allah can be successfully launched. “42”

Just as the goal of the lesser jihad is to purify the social order of disbelief so the immediate odjective of the greater jihad is to purify the spiritual heart, by struggle against those turbulent aspects of the soul which the 13th century mystic Najm ad-Din Razi defines as passion and anger. Not by annihilating what is present in the soul for a purpose, but by disciplining and transforming these attributes into a state of equilibrium, to be exercised only in accordance with the Divine LaW.“43”

The method or “weapon” of the greater jihad is dhikr – simultaneously understood as the Remembrance of God and the Invocation of His Name. Qushayri, author of one of the classical manuals of tasazememf describes the dhikr as a sword with which the mujahid – who has set out on the spiritual encountered difficulties – threatens his enemies, for God, Qushayri notes (in a paraphrase of a number of ayat from the Q,ur’an), “will protect him remembers Him constantly in the moment of affliction and danger.“44”

The same theme is echoed in the Ihya ulum al-Din by al-Ghazali, who frequently compares dhikr to jihad and provides an extensive commentary on the Prophet’s saying that whoever dies waging the greater jihad will share the rank of shahid with the martyrs of the lesser jihad. Both, according to alGhazali, have sealed their belief, severing all ties except to Allah by dying at the moment of sacred combat, and it is this blessed sealing state that assures them Paradise.“45”

Jalal al?Din Rumi and numerous other writers compare the first shahada, la ilaha illa’Llah which is also one of the formulas of dhikr most frequently recommended by the Prophet ? to a sword, for it is this invocation which “slays the idol”, denying worldliness by denying any other object worthy of worship, and in its most profound sense denying the ultimate reality of anything apart from God. “46”

The great jihad is the first step on the Way to the intuitive knowledge of God; a Way that is based upon the promise made by God and reported by the Prophet:

My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have imposed upon him, and my servant continues to draw near to Me with freely given works so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks.

My earth hath not room for Me, neither hath my Heaven, but the Heart of My believing servant hath room for Me. “47”

When the sword of dhikr has disciplined the rebellious nafs and cleansed the spiritual heart at the center of the soul, then the heart will mirror the Divine aspect that resides within:

There is a polish for eveything that takest away rust; and the polish of the Heart is the invocation of Allah. “48”

Thus the greater jihad removes “all obstacles which veil the Truth, and make it inaccessible.“49”

Between armed struggle and the greater jihad is an intermediate zone of behaviour contributing definition to the meaning of jihad.

To approach that zone requires first reconsidering the fundamental encounter in Islam, which is between man and his Creator ? the priority for consciousness of the meaning, duties and rewards of jihad, as in all other things Islamic, is personal or individual rather than collective. But the “rights” of the individual Believer in Islamic society are acquired by submitting to the obligatory practices and ethical norms contained in shari `a ? in other words, acquired by the individual by entering into a divinely governed community, where the performance of divinely ordained duties by men within that community create those “spaces”, so to speak, which may be described as rights.“50”

The struggle to create a social and spiritual enviroment that will allow the indivdual Believer to fulfill the practices of shari’a and conform to its ethical norms is still another dimension to jihad based upon the Qur’anic imperative, al-amru bil mar’uf wa’nahya anil munkar (“to enjoin the doing of what is right and to forbid the doing of what is wrong”) and when the Qur’an most directly expresses this imperative for the individual, it does so by addressing the community:

You are indeed the best community that has ever been brought forth for (the good of ) mankind: you enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong, and you belive in God.“51”

This appeal from individual to collective consciousness is stressed and elaborated upon in hadith:

By Him in Whose hand I repose! You must enjoin right and forbid wrong or else God will certainly send down chastisement upon you; then you will call to Him , but He will not respond to you.

If people see a wrongdoer but do not stay his hand, it is most likely that God will encompass them all with all His punishment.

A community in the midst of which sins are being committed which could be, but are not corrected by it is most likely to be encompassed in it entirety by God’s punishment.“52”

In contrast to the most apparent dimensions of jihad as the practice of armed struggle or the contemplative practice of spiritual struggle, the imperrative of al-amr bi’l-ma’ruf depoys jihad in an almost ambiguuous middle ground. This less defined dimensions of struggle occupies a domain_ the socio-political order of Islam itself_ in which divergence between the effective and the ideal became so apparent not long after the Prophet’s death that there was a bitter, violent contention among the Muslims over the content of jihad in this context. The understanding that emerges is a factor in defining Sunni orthodoxy.

In the same social domain as al-amr bi’l-ma’ruf but without its potential for violent consequences, is the concept of vocation. This is suggested first by jihad’s etymology, embracing painstaking and diligent labor as root on the one hand for the most demanding and restricted practice of legal scholarship: ijtihad, to form an independent opinion in shari’a law respecting a doubtful and difficult point by the method of analogy to the Qur’an and Sunna;“53” and on the other hand, to the broadest exertion of human energy and effort_ jahud_ working difficult or hard land.“54”

The vocational sense of jihad is also suggested in the phrase with the Prophet turns away a man who volunteers for a military expedition, but whose paarents rely on him as their sole support: “fa-fihiima fa-jahid” (“exert yourself on their behalf”).“55” The performance of work for the support of God’s creatures dependent upon the Believer constitutes jihad. The traditionalists classify both this hadith and still another, that striving for perfecting in performing one’s work is a form of worship, under the general heading of jihad, which is also expressed in the hadith: “God loves that when any one of you does a job, he does it perfectly.“56”

Thus al-Ghazali, in his commentary on the former hadith, can argue that those who follow the Q,ur’anic verse, “Every living creature’s support comes from God,” without comprehending its meaning in relation to the verse, “Man obtains nothing except by striving,” place stress solely upon Allah’s Beneficence and ignore His justice, thereby approximating to Unbelief.“57” 

The aim here, as in the immediate objective of the greater jihad, is for man to discipline the soul as he engages the world and thereby achieve equilibrium.

This understanding ofjihad as vocation is also derived from the Qur’anic concept of man’s potential as khalifa (viceregent), God’s deputy on earth by inheritance from Adam, with a spiritual capacity to mirror God’s divine attributes or Names _in the sense that man’s true idea of perfection in his work, or of beauty in his work, is a reflection of the Perfection and Beauty of God.“58” The exercise of vocation in all of these senses is a jihad to sacralize one’s own portion of the world.

As the practice of al-amr bi’l_ma’ruf occupies a middle ground_within what we will call the social jihad _ between armed struggle and spiritual struggle but suggests for all its ambiguity a movement towards outward, occasional action that is highly combative in tone and intent if not necessarily in deed, so jihad as vocation points from its position within the social jihad towards the contemplative techniques and concerns of the continuous, inward spiritual jihad.

Yet it is in this very domain that the Prophet acknowledges his own combative mission: “Every prophet has his vocation and my vocation is jihad.“59” The earliest biographies of the Prophet, written but one generation removed, were called kitab al?maghazi, Book of Military Expeditions, and the enduring term, from the 8th century, for the Prophet’s biography _ sira was adopted by scholars and jurists in its plural form _ siyar _ as a technical heading for the early collections of hadiths or fikr bearing on warfare. “60”

The image of combat penetrates all dimensions, from the most inward to the most outward: as mujahada, spiritual warfare against the turbulent soul; as jahada, the striving for perfection of one’s soul by striving to perfect one’s work; as al?amr bi’l ma’ruf, the discerning intellect as the sword of Islamic ethics: and as qital fi sabil?illah, fighting in the way of God, in a manner made known to the Believer by Revelation and the sunna of the Prophet.

These dimensions are somewhat approximated by the four different ways acknowledged by the jurists in which the Believer may fulfill the obligation to engage in jihad. by his heart, his tongue, his hands, and his sword.“61”

In each dimension jihad opposes disequilibrium and the combativeness of the Muslim (by example of the Prophet) engaged in jihad transfigured into a state of repose by his certainty of divine determination and reward:
And those who fight for the cause of God, their works He will not suffer to miscarry. He will guide them and bring their hearts to peace and lead them into Paradise, which He has made know to them.“62”

Thus Schuon, after Qushayri, suggests that “the practice of Islam at whatever level means to be at rest in effort,” or, rephrased more pointedly, at peace in jihad. “63”

The two farther dimensions of jihad_the combative and the contemplative_ are more than complementary; each dimension contains within itself an aspect of the other. The mujahid of the armed struggle seeks the promise of the Beatific Vision in the Hereafter by fulfilling his duties to the Law (shari’a) brought by the Prophet; the mujahid of the spiritual struggle seeks knowledge of the Divine Presence in this life by following the Way (tariqa) of the Prophet. Both are purified through combat in the sense required by their respective dimensions; both have contemplative goals. The equilibrium suggested by this model of jihad conforms to the central doctrine of Islam_ at-tawhid_ the Unity or Oneness of God.

The forces that jihad opposes are the forces of disequilibrium, be they at the frontiers or beyond the boundaries of the Islam community, within the community in the form of tyranny, crime, vice, corruption (in the broadest sense), heresy, or rebellion, or within the soul. All of these combat zones, so to speak, are suggested in the canonic texts_ the Qur’an, haith, tafsir, and the four madhahib of orthodox Sunni Islam.“64”

Since jihad is a reactive mode, it is disequilibrium and crisis that has determined the reference points wherein definitions of jihad were elaborated upon within traditional Islamic Consciousness.

36) Lane’s Lexicon, IV, p.1610; SEL, s.v. “Shahid”. See also Qur’an IV:69; 46:4-6; 3:161.
37) At-Tabriz,ed., Mishkal al-masabih, J.Robson, tran., 4 voles.(Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1963), Bk.
38) Mishkal, XVIII, Ch. I. For an Islamic perspective on the relationship between conjugal love and contemplation see Ibn’Arabi, T. Burckhardt and A.Culme_Syemour, translators, The Wisdom of the Prophets, Fusus al_Hikam (Glouocestershire, England: Beshara Publications, 1975),pp. 116_125.
39) Lan’s Lexicon, II, p.473.
40)Tirmidhi cited in A.H. Siffiqi, “Jihad in Islam: a Comperhensive View”,Criterion, Part I, III (November_December, 1968), p.28.
41) Hadith cited by the 13th century mystic Najam ad_Din Razi in Mirsad al-‘ibad and translated in “From the Heritage of Islamic Literature: “Jihad”, Al Bayan (June,1976), p.15.
42) Ibn Qaiyim, cited in Siddiqi, “Jihad in Islam”,pp.28_29.
43) Razi, “Heritage”,pp. 15_16. For full re-statement of the traditional view, also see Sheikh Abdul Wahad Yahya’s discussion, published as Rene Guenon, Symbolism of the Cross, A.MacNab, tran. (London: Luzac& Co., 1975),pp.40_45.
44)Quran VII:56; VII:45; XIII:28: qushyri cited in Anne-marie Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions of Islam (Chapel Hill: University of North Caroline Press, 1975),p.167.
45)Al-Ghazali, “The book of Invocation”, Ihya ulum al-Din, translated by Kojiro Nakamura as Ghazali on Prayer (Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, 1975),p.167.
46) Schimmel, Mystical Dimensions, pp.136-138; 168.
47) These are hadith qudusi_ the speech of God reported by the Prophet in manner of these “holy traditions”. Al-Bukhari, Mishkal, IX, Ch. II. Both hadiths also appear in Martin Lings, what is Sufism? (London: George Allen & Unwin,1975), pp.59,49.
48) Al-Bayhaqi, Mishkal, IX, Ch.II.
49) Nasr, Islam and the Plight of Modern Man (London: Longmans, 1975),p.73. For futher Discussion of the method see Schuon, Understanding Islam,D.M. Matheson, trans, (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1963), Ch.4, and Nasr, Ideals, Ch.5.
50) F.Schuon, Understanding Islam, pp. 13-18; H.A.R> Gibb, “Islam”, Concise Encyclopadia of World Religious.
51) Quran, III:110.
52) Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud, Mishkal, XVIII, Ch. XXII.
53) Lane’s Lexicon, II, p.473.
54) Lane’s Lexicon, II, p.474.
55) Al-Bukhari and Muslim, Mishkat, XVIII,Ch. I.
56) Al-Bayhaqi cited by Muhammed Umar chapra in “Objectives of the Islamic Economic Oreder”, in Islam: Its Meaning and Message, K.Ahmed and S. Azzam, eds. (London: Islamic Council of Europe, 1975),p. 185.
57) Al-Ghazali, The Alchemy of Happiness, C. Field, trans. (Lahore: Sh. Muhammed Ashraf, 1964), p. 45.
58) Quran, II:29_35; Nasr, Ideala, PP. 18_19.
59) Which is also a portion of the haith: “My forune is under the shadow of my spear.” Al-Bukhari cited in Elie Adib Salem, Political Theory and Institutions of the Khawarij ( Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1956), p. 82.
60) Khadduri, The Islamic Law of Nations, pp. 38-41;SEI, s.v; “Sira”.
61) Hamidullah, Conduct, P.169.
62) Quran, XLVII: 4-6
63) Schuon, Understanding Islam, p/53.
64)The four Sunni schools of Jurisprudence; see SEL, s.v.: “fikh”.

The Islamic Quarterly, London 
Third Quarter 1983