Beyond the Cusp

August 3, 2007

Greater Jihad vs Lesser Jihad

Filed under: Uncategorized — qwertster @ 4:10 PM
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We endlessly find references to Jihad in the news, in speeches, in opinion pieces, and even sometimes in our daily conversations on politics and such. What we usually find is that Jihad has two distinct translations, one peaceful, one violent. So, which one is the true Jihad? Both. One is the inwardly aimed Jihad and the outward aimed Jihad. One is performed on a personal level while the other is performed on a group or societal level. What we need whenever Jihad is discussed is to first establish if both sides are referring to the same form of Jihad, Greater Jihad or Lesser Jihad. There is a world of difference between the two.

Many of us, myself included, have the greatest respect for the ideas and ideals behind the Lesser Jihad. Introspective inspection in order to improve oneself and bring one closer to their religion and deity is something basic to all religions. The inner struggle for inner peace and betterment most often will improve the individual and allow them a better path in life and in dealings with others. Inner Jihad is a laudatory pursuit that is probably honored and accepted throughout much of our societies in the world.

Greater Jihad is a totally different idea that includes parts that purport violence as necessary. The existence and difference of Greater Jihad from Lesser Jihad has many comments in Islamic literature and holy books. Here are a few examples and quotes.

We were told by Layth, on the authority of ‘Ata’, on the authority of Abu Rabah, on the authority of Jabir, who said, “The Prophet returned from one of his battles, and thereupon told us, ‘You have arrived with an excellent arrival, you have come from the Lesser Jihad to the Greater Jihad – the striving of a servant (of Allah) against his desires.”

“Those believers who sit back are not equal to those who perform Jihad in the Path of Allah with their wealth and their selves. Allah has favored those who perform Jihad with their wealth and their selves by degrees over those who sit back. To both (groups) has Allah promised good, but Allah has favoured the Mujahideen with a great reward, by ranks from Him, and with Forgiveness, over those who sit back. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most- Merciful.” (Quran 4:95-96)

“Standing for an hour in the ranks of battle in the Path of Allah is better than standing for sixty years in prayer.” [Sahih Al-Jami’]

Abu Hurayrah said, “Is any of you able to stand in prayer without stopping, and to fast continuously for as long as he lives?” The people said, “Oh Abu Hurayrah! Who could endure that?” He said, “By Allah! A day of a mujahid in the Path of Allah is better than that.”

Not only do these quotes point to and define Jihad into two differing categories, Lesser Jihad and Greater Jihad. They also show that of the two, one is held as higher; the Greater Jihad, conquest in the name of Allah, is preferred over Lesser Jihad, self-introspection. It is this preference for Greater Jihad over Lesser Jihad that should trouble non-Muslim people greatly. The higher obedience, aka submission, in Islam is not self-improvement as much as it is conquering others in the name of Allah.

This is the problem we face when we debate Jihad with those wishing to minimize the violence demanded by Islam of its adherents. While we may be referring to the violence committed to defend and spread Islam, often the Muslim will defend Jihad by speaking of Lesser Jihad and then will, by use of taqiyya, religiously condoned lying, misrepresentation or false denial, renounce the existence of Greater Jihad for good Muslims.

So, how are we to determine which form of Jihad is being discussed? Well, the easy way is simply to inspect the outward appearance of the person performing Jihad. Jihad translated literally means struggle. So, is the act in question one of passivity, which comes from facing an inner struggle, or is the act in question confrontational, which is a result of an outward based struggle. Even if you believe the defensive insistence that Jihad is passive, always keep in the back of your mind that Jihad is not necessarily peaceful and that the tranquil Lesser Jihad is held in less esteem then the violent sword of Greater Jihad. Even the writings of Islam say that there is a progression from Lesser Jihad to Greater Jihad. Lesser Jihad is the first step and it is expected to lead one logically to the next step, Greater Jihad. Lesser Jihad is the teacher and Greater Jihad is the practice of the teacher’s lessons. The first naturally leads to the other and that is the central face of the coming confrontation whether we wish it or not. It is not our choice which form of Jihad will be approved and which will be disapproved, both are part and parcel of Islam and Greater Jihad is the preferred adherence.

Beyond the Cusp


  1. I am currently a student studying Islamm, and although you have made some valid points I would like to correct one thing. The greater jihad is actually the internal struggle, while the lesser jihad is the violent struggle. I’m sure if you checked this with other sources you would be able to validate this fact.


    Comment by Anonymous — August 6, 2007 @ 6:58 AM | Reply

  2. The poster above is correct…greater jihad is the struggle to perfect one's soul; lesser jihad is the striving to perfect society. Incidentally, lesser jihad does not always signify violent struggle; there are also interpretations of Islamic law that hold that non-violent pursuit of social change is lesser jihad as well. Since a diversity of opinions exist in Islam, according to the four differing schools of Islamic law and the variety of opinions within each, the use of violence is not condoned by every Muslim, nor even a majority of Muslims.


    Comment by Anonymous — August 6, 2009 @ 4:23 AM | Reply

  3. Yes please make the correction that the Greater Jihad is the internal struggle, whereas the Lesser Jihad is the external struggle. This is very clear from the very first Hadeeth quoted in the article. Thanks.


    Comment by Anonymous — October 23, 2009 @ 7:14 PM | Reply

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