The rejection of the notion that an inner struggle of the soul is the greater jihad is a common theme among modern Islamist ideologues, not least Hassan al-Banna, who in his Book of Jihad writes: "Many Muslims today mistakenly believe that fighting the enemy is jihad asghar (a lesser jihad
) and that fighting one's ego is jihad akbar (a greater jihad)." (59)
Banna attempted to marginalize sayings of Prophet Muhammad that drew a distinction between the lesser jihad
(warfare) and greater jihad (leading an individual moral life), saying it was a weak hadith (saying).
Muhammad is reported to have advised his companions as they return after a battle, "We are returning from the lesser jihad
(physical fighting) to the greater jihad (disciplining the self)." Sufis have traditionally understood this greater form of jihad to be the spiritual struggle to discipline the lower impulses and base instincts in human nature.
To this day, most Muslims see jihad as a personal rather than a political struggle, while physical actions taken in defense of the realm are considered the lesser jihad
. It is not surprising, then, that disagreement over the meaning of jihad has continued into the modem era.
The lesser jihad
(jihad al-asghar) is the physical (external) struggle, a shared communal obligation for some Muslims (fard kifaya), on behalf of all, to defend the ummah from aggression.
Though it is true that medieval Muslim scholars did divide the world into these two basic categories, Sicker overlooks the long and sophisticated discussions regarding the multivalent meanings of jihad fi sabil Allah (struggle in the path of God), especially the jihad that scholars referred to as the greater jihad (jihad al-akbar); that is, the spiritual struggle within oneself, which is more meritorious than the lesser jihad
(jihad al-asghar) conducted against the Dar al-Harb.
He noted that the Muslims he talked to in places other than Pakistan and Afghanistan emphasized the orthodox Islamic position that the "greater jihad" (the inner struggle of the believer to overcome the forces of his lower nature) is more important than the "lesser jihad
" (the waging of struggle with nonbelievers).