By Dr. Shahid Athar

With gratitude to Dr. Athar for permission to reprint this.

Muslims for centuries have engaged themselves and the world in pursuit of inner Jihad. This has been their way of getting closer to their Creator, achieving inner peace and getting closer to God's creations. Unless we are at peace with ourselves, we can not have peace with the Creator and vice versa.

The word Jihad is from the Arabic root word JHD which basically means striving or struggle. The question is striving for what or a struggle for what? The struggle is of two types, one is inner and one is outer. Both have the same purpose which is to change the status quo - a status which is not in line with God's will or not in line with nature as such, a status which causes unrest and disturbance. Thus, if there is an evil temptation for wrong doing and we struggle very hard to overcome that temptation, it is striving in the cause of God and is considered one of the best forms of Jihad. Thus if there is a tyrant ruler who is oppressing people and one stands up to that tyrant and says a word of truth against his rule it is also one form of Jihad.

In [the] Sufi tradition, the self is the enemy and conquering the self is overpowering the enemy and one of the best forms of Jihad. Unfortunately, the West describes Jihad as a holy war which is a wrong translation. If one translates holy war back to Arabic, the translation would be harb-e-maqadas or sacred war. Thus, holy war is not Jihad as such.

In fact, the word holy war came from the crusade when this call was made to the crusaders by then the Pope Urbana to unite them to fight against "infidels" who were occupying the birth place of Jesus (peace be upon him). Yet, it is true that one form of Jihad, that is the external form, can be described as taking up arms in defense of Islam and Muslims when they are attacked by external forces. But, this form of Jihad can only be declared by a head of the Islamic state who is a practicing Muslim or a consensus of Islamic Ulema or Scholars when they agree on a clear-cut threat on Islam or on Muslims by external forces. If a call for Jihad is made by a non-practicing Muslim ruler then [the] Muslim masses are not to heed such call.

Coming back to the inner Jihad, which is the Jihad and the most important part of Jihad, I must say that there are two forces within us operating all the time in opposite directions. One is inviting us to do good and the other inviting us to do evil. These opposing forces are trying to take over our hearts and our minds which have control over our actions to go in their direction. The inner Jihad is overcoming the forces of evil by the forces of good and the triumph of one over the other. Because, if the forces of evil, which insight us to do wrong doings are not overpowered the man will be destroyed internally and will be tempted to destroy his surroundings externally. God in His ultimate wisdom is with the forces of good and therefore He associates Jihad with listening to Him. In translation, [the] Qur'an says, "Those who believe, who strive in the cause of God with their wealth and their persons, are the ones who are successful." So, the winner is not the human being who overcomes the wrong temptations but the winner is God in this inner Jihad. If we do not submit to the will of God then we are submitting to the will of the devil and the winner is the hunter who overtakes our souls at that moment of wrongdoing.

Thus, harmony is the creation of a peaceful bliss within our souls so that we achieve a state of peace to make us worthy of entrance into Heaven. As [the] Qur'an says: "O, soul at peace, return to thy Lord well pleased and well pleasing. Return as His servant, return to His Heaven." When we are successful in inner Jihad and have subdued the devil or the forces within us inviting us to do wrong, then we are not only at peace and a level of surrender and allow God to carry on our tasks and fulfill His mission. Even those folks who rely only on external Jihad as a mission from God without having achieved inner Jihad first must ask themselves if they are at peace. There is no promise of peace for those who take the lives of the innocent thinking that they are doing a holy war which is not holy. In this regard, Muslims have a great role to play in removing misconceptions about Jihad as it prevails in the media and give its true meaning which is peaceful inner struggle.

Dr. Athar is the author of Healing the wounds of September 11, 2001 (Reflections of an American Muslim) Published October 2003 by 1stbooks in the U.S.A.