The So Much Talked-About Inner Jihad

A fatwa issued by Sheikh M. S. Al-Munajjid, a prominent Saudi Islamic lecturer and author:


First, jihad is of various kinds, some of which are obligatory upon everyone who is accountable, and some are obligatory upon the community as a whole, i.e., if some people undertake them then the rest are relieved of the obligation. And some kinds of jihad aremustahabb (recommended).

Jihad an-nafs (jihad against one’s self) andjihad ash-Shaytan (jihad against Satan) are obligatory upon everyone who is accountable. Jihad against the munafiqin (hypocrites),kuffar (disbelievers) and leaders of oppression and innovation is obligatory upon the community as a whole. Physical jihad (i.e., fighting) against the kuffar may become an individual obligation upon everyone who is able to do it in certain circumstances, which will be described below.

Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy on him) said: Once this is understood, then jihad is of four kinds: jihad an-naf s(jihad against one’s self),jihad ash-Shaytan (jihad against Satan), jihad against the kuffar and jihad against the hypocrites.

1.Jihad an-nafs  (jihad against one’s self) is of four kinds:

a.Striving to learn the teachings of Islam without which one cannot attain success and happiness in this world or in the Hereafter. If this is missing, then one is doomed to misery in this world and in the Hereafter.

b.Striving to make oneself act in accordance with what one has learned. Simply knowing without acting, even though it may not cause any harm, is not going to bring any benefit.

c.Striving to call others to Islam, teaching those who do not know about it. Otherwise one will be one of those who conceal the guidance and teaching that Allah has revealed, and it will not benefit him or save him from the punishment of Allah.

d.Striving to bear patiently the difficulties involved in calling people to Allah and the insults of people, bearing all that for the sake of Allah.

If a person achieves all these four levels, then he will be one of therabbaniyyin (learned men of religion who practice what they know and also preach to others. [see Al `Imran: 79]). Thesalaf (righteous predecesors) were agreed that the scholar does not deserve to be called arabbani unless he knows the truth, acts in accordance with it, and teaches it to others. Whoever teaches, acts in accordance with his knowledge, and has knowledge will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

2.Jihad ash-Shaytan (jihad against Satan) is of two types:

a.Warding off the doubts that Satan stirs up to undermine faith.

b.Striving against Satan to ward off the corrupt desires that he provokes.

The first jihad is followed by certainty of faith, and the second is followed by patience. Allah says:“And We made from among them [Children of Israel], leaders, giving guidance under Our Command, when they were patient and used to believe with certainty in Our Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.)”(As-Sajdah: 24)

Allah tells us that leadership in religion is attained through patience and certainty of faith. Patience wards off desires and certainty wards off doubts.


So we can see that inner (also called greater) jihad cannot be considered as something opposite to violent (lesser) jihad. It means simply strengthening faith in what Muhammad taught and cutting off any doubts. If Muhammad taught things like freedom of religion, freedom of speech, gender equality and equality before law, the fruit of the inner jihad would be corresponding. However this is not the case. I’ll dare to make a hypothesis that the peaceful majority we are constantly reminded of are those Muslims who are not very successful in their inner jihad, they do not know the Islamic doctrine well enough, they are not always ready to implement it, and they still have doubts if killing people for having and expressing different views or having different sexual behavior is a good idea.


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