The Inner Jihad
Islam is not a rhetorical religion, it is based on unity, love and rational action. Soon after the Prophet’s death, Islam radiated outwardly from its earthly center, the Ka’aba, implacable symbol of the faith. Jihād was the dynamic of this expansion. Outwardly it embodied the power of Islam against error and falsehood, while inwardly it represented the means of spiritual awakening and of transcending the self. Referring to this, the Prophet said while returning from battle:
قدمتم خير مقدم، وقدمتم من الجهاد الأصغر إلى الجهاد الأكبر: مجاهدة العبد هواه
We are now returning from the lesser Jihād to the greater Jihād, the Jihād against the self.
The Prophet is reported to have said during the Farewell Pilgrimage:
المجاهد من جاهد نفسه في الله
... The Fighter in the Way of Allah is he who makes Jihād against himself (jāhada nafsah) for the sake of obeying Allah.
Allah says in the Holy Qur’ān,
وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا
Those who have striven for Our sake, We guide them to Our ways.
In this verse, Allah uses a derivative of the linguistic root of the word “Jihād” to describe those who are deserving of guidance, and has made guidance dependent on Jihād against the false desires of the soul. Therefore, the most perfect of people are those who struggle the most against the selfish promptings of the ego for Allah's sake. The most obligatory Jihād is that against the base side of the ego, desires, the devil, and the lower world.
The great Sufi Al-Junayd said:
Those who have striven against their desires and repented for Allah's sake, shall be guided to the ways of sincerity. One cannot struggle against his enemy outwardly (i.e. with the sword) except he who struggles against these enemies inwardly. Then whoever is given victory over them will be victorious over his enemy, and whoever is defeated by them, his enemy defeats him.