Concept of Jihad in the Sufi world.


Before explaining jihad, I request that you keep in mind that when Adam (A.S) descended to Earth, Allah (SWT) told him that His guidance would continue to come to mankind; whoever follows it, will be successful and will enter Paradise, and whoever does not, their abode will be Hell [2:38-39]. This clearly means that getting guidance to humanity was included in Allah’s (SWT) greater plan.

Allah’s (SWT) chosen prophets brought that guidance and spread it to their communities. Finally, Allah’s (SWT) guidance was completed and perfected with Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon them). Since he was to be the final prophet and no other prophet was to come after him, the duty to advance his guidance to future generations became an obligation upon Muslims. With this, Allah’s (SWT) promise to Adam (A.S) was fulfilled.

Moreover, like many other things, fighting, killing, and spilling blood, for one reason or another, is part of human nature. if these evil aspects of human nature are not controlled and regulated, it is not possible to bring peace and happiness to Earth.  Therefore, since someone will always be looking to fight and kill, then not giving permission to fight back or to prepare to defend one’s self, family, and property would be unjust. Oppressors and tyrants never let a single soul live in peace on Earth; in fact, they wish to bury them beneath it. When people are granted the permission to fight back, it must be accompanied with clear-cut and comprehensive rules to prevent the oppressed from becoming oppressors themselves, once they triumph over their oppressors.  In contrast, if defense is not permitted, then consequently, nor many people will be left alive.  Therefore, it is natural and necessary to grant permission to defend oneself lawfully.

Muslims, as followers of Islam, are assigned the duty of jihad to spread the message of Islam. They are permitted to do qital (Killing) to defend themselves, their land, property, and livelihood and to overcome those who hinder their struggle in the “prophetic” duty of spreading Islam though of course only through religiously sanctioned means.

If the real concept of jihad and qital is not understood completely and properly, then other teachings and philosophies of Islam will seem contradictory to each other. Certainly, there cannot be contradictions in the guidance of the Lord. Once all other concepts of Islam are understood truly and correctly, the concept of jihad and qital can be comprehended easily.

Jihad as per various dictionaries, is literally defined as struggle, strife, fighting, religious war, holy war ( by Muslims), supreme effort, etc. However, jihad is a term that cannot be understood by any of its literal definitions or even what it literally means in Arabic. Jihad is a concept with many physical and spiritual aspects, temporary and ever-lasting effects, and worldly and other worldly dimensions . Thus, on the basis of Islamic teachings, jihad should be more correctly referred to as ” the striving of Muslims with utmost efforts in the way of Allah (SWT) by adhering to every rule and regulation related to it, with the intent of the greater good for Muslims and non-Muslims, and to achieve  prominence for the deen (religion) of Allah (SWT).”

Therefore,every allowable struggle and difficulty Muslims undertake to spread the message of the Lord to humanity can be defined as jihad. [Qur’an 29:69]

Since Deen-e-Islam is the complete way of life covering every aspect of life, then Islam’s various concepts, such as jihad, must include a whole lot as well. As per the above (most appropriate) definition,based on Qur’anic injunctions, the main purpose of jihad is to achieve prominence for the deen of Allah (SWT). Now one might ask, “Is there one or several ways to achieve that prominence?” If there are several ways, as there should be, then there must also be several kinds of jihad. So now the question is, “Are there several kinds of jihad?”

Upon paying close attention to the commandments of Allah (SWT) and carefully analyzing the traditions of the Prophet (Peace be upon them), we find that the main concern of jihad certainly is to achieve prominence for Islam and that jihad should continue to be a duty of Muslims until this goal is achieved. The Prophet (Peace be upon them) said, “…jihad will continue until the last day…” [Bukhari and Tirmidhi] now, to achieve this prominence, let us suppose that there is only one way, which is to kill all disbelievers or convert them to Islam forcefully, even through this is impossible given the current settings of the world and in light of future expectations, but let us suppose this anyway. In this case, jihad will not continue till the Last Day, when the Prophet (Peace be upon them) has stated that it will. Therefore, contrary to the misconception of many, the intent and purpose of the institution of jihad is not to kill disbelievers or convert them to Islam forcefully. So clearly, there are many ways to achieve prominence for Islam;hence there are many kinds of jihad.

Before proceeding, let me explain what is mean be “prominence for Islam.” Allah (SWT) could have left Adam (A.S) and his progeny alone, to spend their lives on Earth in any way they would like, without his guidance. In such a case, they certainly would have all gone astray. In face, even with His guidance, many have gone astray; one can imagine what would happen without it. Allah (SWT) did not want this happen. he wanted His ‘best of all Creatures’ to succeed in the Hereafter. thus, He informed Adam (A.S) about sending guidance to humanity so, as a result, humanity, could have the choice to be successful.

If a religion is doubted, misunderstood, or fails to reach people, how can it ever be practiced for people to receive salvation? Allah (SWT)  took it upon Himself to send his guidance through prophets and through their followers. Once the message of Islam has been successfully conveyed to all people, its true message, philosophy, and practices are understood, and Islam then is realized as the way of life revealed by Allah (SWT) for human salvation; this is thereby the prominence of Islam.

This is an important mission and necessary to be achieved. No doubt, this is quite a difficult course to travel for the betterment and success of humanity. Sometimes, it is difficult to get people to realize something, even when it is to their benefit. Certainly, this effort requires much physical, mental, financial, and spiritual struggle. nevertheless, it can be done individually or collectively and whenever or wherever necessary.Every bit of effort is worth the cause because it can potentially result in the ultimate success for billions of people. That is why the entire concept of struggling in the way of Allah (SWT) i.e., jihad, is established to seek prominence for Islam, so all people can have a chance to benefit from it guidance.

Let me clarify here that achieving prominence for Islam through  jihad does not mean that everyone must convert to Islam. Of course, this would be excellent, but if this were what is meant by prominence for Islam, then why would Allah (SWT) have said:

And if Allah so willed, He would have made you into one ummah (community)…[Qur’an 16:93]

Since He Himself did not make us one ummah, forcefully conversion cannot be the purpose of jihad. Allah (SWT) wants people to choose Islam willingly and not as a result of coercion. Prominence for Islam simply means that people are given  a fair choice to become aware of Islam and to realize that Islam is the only true religion for people and that salvation is only possible through it. After this message has been conveyed to people, they are free to choose whether or not to embrace it. Whatever people choose, they will see the result of their choice.

The intent of a Muslim doing jihad must be to seek prominence for Islam, not for any personal goal. To achieve prominence for Islam,three things are necessary: preservation of Islam, protection of Muslims, and propagation of Islam. It is not possible to take the message of Islam to others and invite them into it without first preserving it and protecting Muslims. if Islam is not preserved in its original form and if Muslims are not well protected, how would it be possible to spread the message, make people realize that Islam is the true religion, and invite them to embrace it? Therefore, all of this is part of the greater goal of achieving prominence for Islam, and since jihad is the way to preserving, protecting, and preaching Islam will continue, and as said earlier, this is why and how jihad will continue until the Last Day.

Muslims have already surrendered their will to the will of Allah (SWT). They did not make jihad incumbent upon themselves; it was Allah (SWT) Who commands muslims to do jihad. This is Allah’s (SWT) will and commandments. Based on islamic teachings, Muslims are to participate in several kinds of jihad, of which the major categories are:

  • “Jihad with one’s Self,” known as jihad bin Nafs. As per the prophet (Peace be upon them), it is jihad al-Akbar, i.e., “The Greater Jihad.”
  • “Jihad with others. ” To the surprise of many, “Jihad with others” is referred to as Jihad al-Asghar, i.e., “The lesser Jihad.”

Jihad bin Nafs means to struggle to purify one’s base self. The base self attempts to focus on the material world and on illegitimate desires, taking a person away from the actual purpose of lie: worshiping the Lord and completely surrendering to his will. Jihad bin Nafs also includes Jihad bish shayta’n, “jihad against Satan,” which is the inner struggle with the Devil,so he canot misguide and lead you away from the Sirate Mustaqim (The straight path). “Jihad with One’s Self” never ceases, even up until the last moment of life.

Jihad with Others is ” The lesser jihad.” It can be done with sword, pen, and wealth, and it is commonly referred to as Jihad bin saif, jihad bil Qalam, and Jihad bil maal, respectively. These kinds of jihad can be exercised one at a time or simultaneously. 

Jihad with pen and with wealth is usually associated with preserving and propagating Islam Jihad with sword, supported by wealth, is utilized to protect and defend Muslims and their territory, and to remove any hindrance in the propagation of Islam. Jihad with sword is applicable only as a last resort, and only when the enemy had gone to extremes, and/or to protect the Muslim ummah and dhimmis (no-Muslims living under Islamic rule).

Before I go any further to explain jihad with sword, “armed jihad,” which is the Lesser jihad, I would like you to be fully acquainted with Jihad bin Nafs (Jihad with One’s self). This jihad is a prerequisite for all other kinds of jihad, and this is why it is called jihad al-Akbar (“The Greater jihad”).

Jihad bin Nafs (Jihad with ones’s self)

Jihad bin Nafs means to struggle with one’s nafs (base self). The human nafs is inherently attracted to this world and to worldly desires, while Islam intends to prepare its followers to be successful in the Hereafter, which means that believers must remove the love of this world from their hearts. This world and our temporary stay in it are not the end but the means to acquire ultimate success, which is the pleasure of Allah (SWT). We must suppress anything and everything that hinders our struggle to that fact. The nafs is a powerful entity that independently and with Satan’s support interferes in performing deeds, in obeying the commandments of Allah (SWT), and in seeking his pleasure.

Since jihad is carried out only for the pleasure of Allah (SWT) and for the greater good of the people, especially non-Muslims, qualities such as selflessness, sincerity, purity of intent, and obedience to every divine commandment are required of those participating in jihad. Since the nafs is always active against such human qualities, they are not easy to adopt without fighting against the base self. Hence the nafs must be suppressed constantly, and this is what is meant by jihad bin Nafs.

From the very beginning, in fact immediately after the Battle of Badr (the first and most important battle between the Muslims and the Makkans), the Prophet (Peace be upon them) established Jihad bis Saif (Jihad with the Sword), as “The Lesser Jihad” and Jihad bin nafs as “The Greater Jihad.” [Bukhari and Muslim] This important distinction should always be kept in mind. 

Most of the time, people only discuss the Lesser Jihad and over look the Greater Jihad. Tragically, some self-proclaimed Muslims kill people indiscriminately, wrongfully thinking that they are engaged in armed jihad when, in fact, they are not engaged in any Islamically sanctioned form of jihad. Because of the unlawful actions of some ignorant “followers, ” sometimes thousands of innocent men, women, and children pay the price.  These murderers ignore the essential Jihad bin Nafs and stubbornly and wrongfully call their armed struggle “Islamic jihad,” and many people even believe them out of their own ignorance about Islam. Jihad bis Saif without Jihad bin Nafs results in chaos and anarchy. 

The Superiority of Jihad bin nafs over Jihad bis Saif can also be understood by the fact that no matter how much good a mujahid (one who does jihad ) brings to Islam and Muslims through his ‘sword,’ if his personal conduct and character are questionable and contradict Islamic teachings and philosophy, his good deed is rejected and does not count. In fact, he will be punished for his misconduct, and he will not be relieved of punishment simply because of his services to Islam [Zia un Nabi, Vol. 4, pg 261-2]. Without successful jihad with one’s self, a Muslim cannot truly perform armed jihad and achieve its true purpose. Therefore, jihad with one’s self is the priority and is far more important than striving for prominence for Islam through arms. 

If one cannot fight with his own base self for the pleasure of the Almighty, then how can he fight with others for the same reason? In such as case, his fight with others would be for personal sake/goals, but not for the sake of Allah (SWT), and it would not be worthy of being called jihad. If he cannot defeat his own desires, which prevent him from becoming a better Muslim,how can he claim to have the right to convert anyone into Islam and to make vows to achieve prominence for Islam? if he cannot tame his own base self, how can he think of correcting others? If he cannot embark on the path to ultimate success, how can he call upon others to surrender their will to the will of Allah (SWT)? Regardless of the kind of jihad pursued, if the base self is not first successfully suppressed through Jihad bin Nafs, any other jihad will bear no fruit. 

Narrated Abu Musa (R.A)

  A man came to the Prophet (Peace be upon them) and asked, “A man fights for war booty, another fights for fame, and third fights for showing off; Which of them fights in Allah’s cause? The Prophet (Peace be upon them) said, “He who fights to achieve prominence for Islam, fights in Allah’s cause.”  [Bukhari]


So it is important that before embarking on armed jihad , jihad with one’s self must be practiced to avoid violating Islamic rules of war and peace and to avoid superseding the limits established by Islam. [Zia-un nabi,  Vol. 4, pg. 365] Armed jihad must not be motivated by any personal reason or wish, including nationalism and geopolitical issues. Only then can that fight be Islamic  jihad, holy war for peace, and struggle in the way off Allah (SWT). Therefore, jihad with one’s self,being the prerequisite, prepares Muslims to be fair, Lawful, and aware of their religious obligations even during the craziness of war. Muslims conditioned through jihad with one’s self maintain the true purpose of armed jihad, which is not to take away disbeliever’s lives, but to struggle to bring Islam’s message to people. [Zia-un nabi, Vol. 7, pages 572-3]


During the Battle of the Trench, and invincible warrior challenged Muslims to fight him. Ali (Karam Allah Wajhu) the Prophets’s (Cousin) and Son-in-Law, agreed to the challenge. During the fight, Ali (Karam Allah Wajhu) pinned his opponent to the ground. Certain of his death, the warrior spat on Ali’s face. Instead of killing him out of rage, Ali (Karam Allah Wajhu) let him free, saying, “Had I killed you for personal rage, it would not have been for the sake of Allah. ” The honorable Ali’s (Karam Allah Wajhu) reaction and behaviour could not have been possible without his successful jihad with self. 


You may be wondering what the nafs is, that a Muslim is required to fight it first, in order to suppress and tame it.  Within the human body, the nafs (base self) is like a king, and worldly wants and wishes are his soldiers. The nafs is blind, cannot distinguish between good and evil, and cannot see matters that cause death and destruction to the human soul. When the nafs invites man towards evil and subjugates him, it is in the state of ammara. A Muslim is commanded to disobey the Nafs -e Ammara, to fight with it, suppress it, and take control of it. [Qur’an 12:53] Once this state of taming is achieved, Allah (SWT) blesses the nafs and enlightens it. At this point, its every negative feature become visible, and the believer recognizes the enemies of the soul and of the body, and it begins to clean erase the vices, evil characteristics, and spiritual diseases. Once a believer cleanses his nafs, he decorates it with divine attributes and becomes worthy of being called the Best of all Creatures. This state of nafs is called Nafs-e-Mutam’inna, ” the satisfied and the contented soul.” 

Jihad bin Nafs is necessary to convert Nafs-e-Ammara to Nafs-e -Mutma’inna, so hat this structure of flesh and bones can develop from a brute to a human and can achieve the purpose for which he was created. Thus certainly on the battlefield as well as elsewhere Muslims maintain their humanity and are not reduced to barbaric beasts. This is why the Prophet (Peace be upon them) declared Jihad bin Nafs  “The Greater Jihad.”  Islam intends to make man righteous before commanding him to fight in the battlefield. Islam recognizes that if the human mind is left unrestricted and independent of the fear of divine accountability, it brings great disaster. History is full of examples of those uncontrolled and independent monsters who brought irreversible harm to humanity. 

When the thinking process is turned upside down and the power of reasoning becomes corrupted, wrong become right, and what is right becomes wrong. This is the worst state of the human mind and is the point of no return for righteousness and humanity. Jihad with one’s self is the most effective tool against reaching this worst state. This is why jihad with one’s self is the greater jihad. When one defeats the base self, it becomes easy to win others. 

It is a very fine point and worth mentioning, that many modern day Muslims ignorantly believer that they are actively engaged in some kind of legitimate jihad, whereas their sayings and actions clearly show that they have yet to overcome their nafs. As a result, instead of bringing prominence of Islam, their “struggle” has defamed it. They are Wrong! to call their actions Islamic. Another important point to note is that whenever jihad is mentioned in the holy Qur’an and ahadith, it is followed with the words fi sabilillah, “in the way of Allah (SWT) or “for Allah’s (SWT) sake,” not for the sake of ones self. 


Jihad bil Qalam (Jihad with Pen/Writing)

The first and foremost objective of Jihad bil Qalam is to preserve and propagate Islam through Literature. This kind of Jihad is proof that fighting is not the only option and that Jihad bis Saif is not the only jihad or way to achieve prominence of Islam.

So do not follow the infidels, but do jihad against them using (the logic ) of this (Qur’an) with your utmost capacity. [Qur’an 25:52]

Here too, Muslims are directed to present the logic and wisdom of the holy Qur’an, and using sword is not the priority. The application of the different kinds of jihad varies based on the circumstances at hand. As said earlier, it is important first to preserve Islam in its original form for later generations of Muslims, and before propagating it to others. 

War between good and evil has existed since the history of mankind, and so it will continue until the end of time. This same war happened between Islam and its antithesis/enemies, and it will continue until the prominence of Islam is achieved. Thousands of Muslim scholars dedicated their entire lives in jihad bil Qalam to preserve and explain Islam and its various philosophies. They provided answers to questions raised about Islam and its teachings, and current Muslim scholars continue to do so

Through Jihad bil Qalam, Muslims interpreted, translated, and explained the wisdom and knowledge contained in the holy Qur’an and in the ahadith of the Propeht (Peace be upon them) in every major language. The prophet’s (Peace be upon them) teachings and traditions have been preserved and explained in such unique ways that people have been awestruck. They extracted both spiritual and scientific knowledge, which helped to understand the message of Islam. 

Jihad bil Qalam popularized Islam throughout the world, and many who were unaware of the religion of Islam understood and embraced it just by reading about it. Had Muslims not utilized this jihad, many people would have remained in the dark. There are no followers of any religion doing as much as Muslims did for Islam for preserving and propagating their religion throughout the world. The importance of Jihad bil Qalam over Jihad bis Saif can be understood through just one saying of the honorable Prophet (Peace be upon them):

The ink of the pen of a true scholar of Islam is holier than the blood of a martyr. [Tibrani]

If anyone still blames Islam for being violent or inciting violence, then that would be unjust, however, Muslims must keep on teaching until the moment arrives for the Lord to decide.


Jihad bil Maal (Jihad with Wealth)

Jihad bil maal means to struggle with wealth, it is a fact that money is required for all projects undertaken. Muslims who provide their wealth to undertake other forms of jihad execute Jihad bil Maal. Of course, not everyone can do every kind of jihad; thus, different kinds of jihad enable all Muslims to participate as per their capacity and position. Wealth, like everything else, is given by Allah (SWT) and as per His commandments is not burdensome. In fact, Muslims merely spend what is given by Allah (SWT) in the way of Allah (SWT) and, in turn, receive rewards for free. 

This post is in a series of many to come on the topic of Islam from a Sufi Perspective. More articles are to follow. Please follow in the Category : Islam as a Sufi Perspective, or Alternatively subscribe to our blog!

Topics to be covered in coming future Insha Allah!:

Jihad bis saif (Jihad by the sword)

Permission granted to fight back

Difference between Jihad and Terrorism

Islam and Extremism

Is fundamentalism a part of Islam or not?

error: Content is protected !!