Lesser and Greater Jihad
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Within the Islamic tradition, the word "jihad" or "struggle" has two specialized meanings: either a personal struggle of self-improvement and following the law of Allah, or as a military struggle or holy war to expand the domain of Islamic political control or to defend Islamic territories and believers from infidel aggressors. The former definition, though designated as the "greater jihad", in fact stems from the latter definition, which is the earlier, more primordial meaning of the word in Islamic religious literature. In fact, this "lesser jihad" seems to have been a fundamental aspect of religious devotion from the earliest times of the believers' movement, and the earliest material in the Islamic canon refers solely to this aspect of jihad. The former definition was highly influenced by Christian polemic against Islam, which cast it as a "religion of the sword" against the foible of Christianity as preached by Jesus as a religion of "turning the other cheek" to aggressors.
As Paul M. Cobb, Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania notes, "the 'Greater Jihad,' is often overemphasized by contemporary apologists uncomfortable with the prominent place of jihad in medieval Islamic sources" and "it is also perfectly clear that when medieval Muslims discussed jihad, they were almost always discussing it in the sense of armed struggle against infidels."
The two forms of Jihad in Islam are sometimes explained as follows:
- Lesser outer jihad (al-jihad al-asghar); a military struggle, i.e. a holy war
- Greater inner jihad (al-jihad al-akbar); the struggle of personal self-improvement against the self's base desires
It is claimed that this "inner Jihad" essentially refers to all the struggles that a Muslim may go through, in adhering to the religion. For example, a scholarly study of Islam can be an intellectual struggle that some allegedly may refer to as "jihad."
Adam J. Silverstein, professor of Islamic studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, provides the following summary of the dispute:
During Prophet Muhammad's lifetime, and onward to the present, the word 'Jihad' was, and is, almost always used in a military sense. This idea of a greater and lesser jihad was a later development which originated from the 11th century book, The History of Baghdad, by the Islamic scholar al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, by way of Yahya ibn al 'Ala', who said:
All four schools of Sunni jurisprudence (Fiqh) as well as the Shi'ite tradition, all formulated in the 2nd and 3rd centuries after Muhammad's death, make no reference at all to the "greater" jihad, only the lesser.
Nonconformity with the Qur'an
One of the most important factors in the classification of a genuine hadith, is that it must conform with what is written in the Qur'an. This hadith appears to directly contradict the teachings of the Qur'an.
Nonconformity with Major Hadith Collections
In all six major Hadith collections (Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Dawud, al-Sughra, Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah), jihad almost always refers to the "lesser" outward physical struggle and not the "greater" inward spiritual struggle. As an example, there are nearly 200 references to jihad in the most trusted collection of hadith, Sahih Bukhari, and every single one assumes that jihad means literal warfare.
The fabricated hadith compiled by al-Baghdadi does not appear in any of the famous hadith collections and is inconsistent with the teachings found in corroborated (Mutawatir) sahih hadith. Some of these hadith state that fighting jihad is second only to the belief in Muhammad and Allah, and that standing for an hour in the ranks of battle is better than standing in prayer for sixty years (this seems, again, to directly invert the idea that religious devotion is somehow greater than participation in the Muslims' military struggle).
Furthermore, Muhammad himself appears to directly refute the claim that the "greater" jihad is the inward spiritual struggle, when he states the best jihad is that of a man whose "blood is shed and his horse is wounded".
The importance placed on physical jihad in Islam is made apparent in sahih hadith which record Muhammad referring to Muslims who refuse to fight or consider going to jihad as 'hypocrites'.
Sahih hadith, Tafsir Ibn Kathir
Views and Research by Scholars
Lesser vs Greater Jihad Hadith
The "lesser versus greater jihad" hadith's isnad (the completeness of the chain of narrators and the reputation of each individual narrators within the chain of oral tradition) has been categorized by scholars as "weak" (da`if), and generally in Islamic law, only the authentic (sahih) and good (hasan) hadiths are used in deriving the rules. The weak hadiths have no value for the purpose of Shari'ah. Contemporary Islamic scholars have even classed it as "maudu" (fabricated), meaning this narration, by some, is not even considered to be a hadith at all.
Dr. Abdullah Azzam:
Ibn Taymiyyah (also known as Shaykh ul-Islam):
Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani:
Abu Yala al Khalili:
Amru bin Ali an Nasai and Ad Darqutni:
Mufti Zar Wali Khan (who is given the title Sheikh ul hadith) mentioned in his "Dora Tafsir" that this hadith was fabricated by Sufis.
Related Hadith From the Same Source
A similar narration taken from the same source reads:
This hadith has also been classed as Maudu (fabricated), even by its originating source.
Dr. Suhaib Hassan:
Shaikh Abdullah Faisal:
The above-mentioned fabricated hadith gives preference to the method of da'wah over jihad for spreading Islam. However, the best method for spreading Islam is jihad and not da'wah. Thus the Holy Prophet (s.a.w) spent thirteen years in Makkah giving da'wah and only approximately one hundred people embraced Islam. But when he (s.a.w) entered Makkah with military might and Shawka (power) two thousand took their Shahadah in one day.
The Mujahideen conquer lands and save the entire populace from entering Hell-fire by delivering Islam to them. This accomplishment is much greater than what books can do.
Also this fabricated hadith contradicts the Holy Qur'an:
Surah An Nisa verse 95:"Not equal are those of the believers who sit at home(except those who are disabled by injury or are blind or lame), and those who strive hard and fight in the Cause of Allah with their wealth and lives. Allah has preferred in grades those who strive hard and fight with their wealth and their lives above those who sit at home."
Lesser vs Greater Jihad Concept
In the Editors preface to Yusuf al ‘Uyayree's "Thawaabit ‘ala darb al Jihad" (Constants on The Path of Jihad), we find the following in reference to the concept of the 'greater jihad' being the inner struggle:
Answer: There are different kinds of jihad - with one's self, wealth, supplication, teaching, giving guidance, or helping others in good in any form.The highest form of jihad, however, is with one's life (the intent here is not suicide, for that is forbidden in Islam), then comes Jihad with one's wealth and jihad with teaching and guidance, and in this way Da'wah is a form of jihad, but jihad with one's life is the highest form.
Dr. Muhammad Amin:
In accordance with the historical evidence, the lesser versus greater jihad hadith and other similar narrations have been shown by Islamic scholars to be, not only weak, but false. Their place in Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) is thus suspect, as is their use in Islamic thought, as they contradict sahih hadith and the Qur'an itself. Professor David Cook sums up the consensus which was reached from these scholarly discussions:
- Paul M. Cobb, The Race for Paradise: an Islamic History of the Crusades, Oxford University Press, p. 30, ISBN 9780190614461, 2016, https://global.oup.com/academic/product/the-race-for-paradise-9780190614461?cc=us&lang=en&
- Bernard Lewis, "The Crisis of Islam", chapter 2, 2001.
- Fayd al-Qadir vol. 4, p. 511
- Imam Abdullah Azzam, "Join the Caravan (p. 4)", Religioscope (originally from al-haqq.org), December 2001, http://www.religioscope.com/info/doc/jihad/azzam_caravan_1_foreword.htm.
- Abu Khubayb and Abu Zubayr, "The Slandered Jihad (Refutation of Jihad Asghar)"
- Muzammil Siddiqi, "May People Act According to a Weak Hadith?", Islam Online, Fatwa Bank, September 27, 2003 (archived from the original), http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=https%3A%2F%2Fweb.archive.org%2Fweb%2F20061216005731%2Fhttp%3A%2F%2Fwww.islamonline.net%2Fservlet%2FSatellite%3Fpagename%3DIslamOnline-English-Ask_Scholar%2FFatwaE%2FFatwaE%26cid%3D1119503547442&date=2014-03-15.
- Ibrahim B. Syed, "52 Weak Ahadith", Islamic Research Foundation International, accessed November 20, 2011 (archived), http://www.irfi.org/articles/articles_251_300/52_weak_ahadith.htm.
- Imam Abdullah Azzam, "Join the Caravan: Conclusion", Religioscope (originally from al-haqq.org), December 2001 (archived), http://www.religioscope.com/info/doc/jihad/azzam_caravan_6_conclusion.htm.
- Ibn Taymiyyah, "Al Furqan", pp. 44-45
- Shaykh Hisham Kabbani, "Jihad Al Akbar", As-Sunnah Foundation of America, (from: "Islamic Beliefs and Doctrine According to Ahl al-Sunna: A Repudiation of "Salafi" Innovations"), accessed November 20, 2011 (archived), http://www.sunnah.org/tasawwuf/jihad004.html.
- Dr. Suhaib Hassan, "The Science of Hadith", TheReligionIslam, accessed November 20, 2011 (archived), http://www.thereligionislam.com/islamicideology/scienceofhadith.htm.
- "Be Aware - Da'eef (weak), mawdoo’ (fabricated) hadeeth", World of Islam Portal, May 10, 2008 (archived), http://islam.worldofislam.info/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=729:qwe-have-returned-from-the-lesser-jihad-to-the-greater-jihad-jihad-un-nafs-jihad-ul-akbarq&catid=129&Itemid=63.
- Imam Abdullah Azzam, "Join the Caravan (p. 27)", Religioscope (originally from al-haqq.org), December 2001, http://www.religioscope.com/info/doc/jihad/azzam_caravan_1_foreword.htm.
- Shaikh Abdullah Faisal, "100 Fabricated Hadiths", Darul Islam Publishers, 2000 (archived), http://www.missionislam.com/knowledge/books/100FabricatedHadith.pdf.
- Shaykh al Uyayree - Constants in the Path of Jihad - Lecture series delivered by Imam Anwar al Awlaki, transcribed and edited by Mujahid Fe Sabeelillah
- Shaykh Abdul-Azeez Bin Baaz, Fatawa Islamiyah, Vol 8, p.24
- Dr. Muhammad Amin, Path of Islamic Propagation
- David Cook, "Understanding Jihad", University of California Press, pp. 165-6, ISBN 978-0-520-93187-9, 2005 (archived), http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppjtw.