ON JIHAD AND HOLY WAR
In the Islamic tradition a distinction is made between two holy wars, the "greater holy war" (el-jihadul-akbar) and the "lesser holy war" (el-jihadul-ashgar). This distinction originated from a saying (hadith) of the Prophet, who on the way back from a military expedition said: "You have returned from a lesser holy war to a great holy war." The greater holy war is of an inner and spiritual nature; the other is the material war waged externally against an enemy population with the particular intent of bringing "infidel" populations under the rule of "God's Law" (al-Islam). The relationship between the "greater" and "lesser holy war", however, mirrors the relationship between the soul and the body; in order to understand the heroic asceticism or "path of action", it is necessary to understand the situation in which the two paths merge, the "lesser holy war" becoming the means through which a "greater holy war" is carried out, and vice versa: the "little holy war", or the external one, becomes almost a ritual action that expresses and gives witness to the reality of the first. Originally, orthodox Islam conceived of a unitary form of asceticism: that which is connected to the jihad or "holy war".
The "greater holy war" is man's struggle against the enemies he carries within. More exactly, it is the struggle of man's higher principle against everything that is merely human in him, against his inferior natur and against chaotic impulses and all sorts of material attachments. This is expressly outlined in a text of Aryan warrior wisdom: "Know Him therefore who is above reason; and let his peace give thee peace. Be a warrior and kill desire, the powerful enemy of the soul." (Bhagavadgita 3.43)
The "enemy" who resists us and the "infidel" within ourselves must be subdued and put in chains. This enemy is the animalistic yearning and instinct, the disorganized multiplicity of impulses, the limitations imposed on us by a fictitious self, and thus also fear, wickedness, and uncertainty; this subduing of the enemy within is the only way to achieve inner liberation or the rebirth in a state of deeper inner unity and "peace" in the esoteric and triumphal sense of the word.
In the world of traditional warrior asceticism the "lesser holy war", namely, the external war, is indicated and even prescribed as the means to wage this "greater holy war"; thus in Islam the expressions "holy war" (jihad) and "Allah's way" are often used interchangeably. In this order of ideas action exercises the rigorous function and task of a sacrifical and purifying ritual. The external vicissitudes experienced during a military campaign cause the inner "enemy" to emerge and put up a fierce resistance and agood fight in the form of the animalistic instincts of self-preservation, fear, inertia, compassion, or other passions; those who engage in battles must overcome these feelings by the time they enter the battlefield if they wish to win and to defeat the outer enemy or "infidel".
Obviously the spiritual orientation and the "right intention" (niya), that is, the one toward transcendence (the symbols employed to refer to transcendence are "heaven", "paradise", "Allah's garden" and so on), are supposed as the foundations of jihad, lest war lose its scared character and degenerate into a wild affair in which true heroism is replaced with reckless abandonment and what counts are the unleashed impulses of the animal nature.
It is written in the Koran: "Let those who would exchange the life of this world for the hereafter fight for the cause of Allah; whether they die or conquer, We shall richly reward them." (Koran, 4:76) The presupposition according to which it is prescribed "When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads, and when you have laid them low, bind your captives firmly" (Koran 47:4); or, "Do not falter or sue for peace when you have gained the upper hand" (Koran 47:37), is that "the life of this world is but a sport and a past-time" (Koran 47:37) and that "whoever is ungenerous to this cause is ungenerous to himself" (Koran 47:38). These statements should be interpreted along the lines of the evangelical saying: "Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it: but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it" (Matthew 16:25). This is confirmed by yet another Koranic passage: "Why is it that when it is said to you: 'March in the cause of Allah.' you linger slothfully in the land? Are you content with this life in preference to the life to come?" (Koran, 9:38) "Say: 'Are you waiting for anything to befall us except victory or martyrdom?'" (Koran, 9:52).
Another passage is relevant as well: "Fighting is obligatory for you, as much as you dislike it. But you may hate a thing although it is good for you, and love a thing although it is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not." (Koran, 2:216). This passage should also be connected with the following one:
"They were content to be with those that stayed behind: a seal was set upon their hearts, leaving them bereft of understanding. But the Apostle and the men who shared his faith fought with their goods and their persons. These shall be rewarded with good things. They shall surely prosper. Allah has prepared them gardens watered by running streams, in which they shall abide forever. That is the supreme triumph." (Koran, 9:88 - 9:89)
This place of "rest" (paradise) symbolizes the superindividual states of being, the realization of which is not confined to the post-mortem alone,as the following passage indicates: "As for those who are slain in the cause of Allah, He will not allow their works to perish. he will vouchsafe them guidance and ennoble their state; He will admit them to the paradise He has made known to them." Koran (47:5-7). In the instance of real death in battle, we find the equivalent of the mors triumphalis found in classical traditions. Those who have experienced the "greater holy war" during the "lesser holy war", have awakened a power that most likely will help them overcome the crisis of death; this power, having already liberated them from the "enemy" and from the "infidel", will help them avoid the fate of Hades. This is why in classical antiquity the hope of the deceased and the piety of his relatives often caused figures of heroes and of victors to be inscribed on the tombstones. It is possible, however, to go through death and conquer, as well as achieve, the superlife and to ascend to the "heavenly realm" while still alive.