Jihad of the Heart

by on February 6, 2012

Integrative Medicine Doctor

I have practiced holistic medicine for several decades, and I have undertaken many journeys into the healing of the mind, body and spirit. From this has emerged a vision of what the world could be, which is in stark contrast with religious extremism and violence. Every terrorist incident seems to harden the hearts of more and more Americans, and in the last several decades it seems that anti-Islam, hate groups seem to be proliferating. I suspect that hate is going to significantly influence politics in this important election year.

Hate and fear creates fight/flight stress, technically called dysautonomia, which destroys people’s health and generates disease. So does the violence inflicted on others which can behaviorally emerge from hate and fear. Some of our wounded warriors returning in droves this year as foreign wars wind down are my patients, and I have witnessed first hand the medical and psychiatric results of hate and violence. As an integrative doctor and a healer I am uniquely compelled to make a statement about this unfortunate trend I see.

The rise of admittedly scary Islamo-fascism and violent Jihad, which apparently intends to destroy the western world and replace governing institutions with Sharia Law, has led many to conclude that nothing redeemable can be found in all of Islam, and even that all Muslims are misguided, evil people. Rather than condemn all Islam as unacceptable, and judge all Muslims as ignorant, even the 99+% of Muslims who prefer to live in peace and live a decent life, I believe a preferable tactic for a Christian-raised fellow like me would be to investigate Islam from the standpoint of an old mind/body/spirit healer, and look at some of the prophet Muhammad’s ideas and what some serious Islamic scholars have established over thousands of years, especially the Sufis.

I discovered that Jihad indeed has something to do with war, battles and struggles, but that a significant segment of Muslim society does not see Jihad having anything to do with violence! How is this possible? The answer is that one has to define exactly what the war effort is directed at, in order to understand non-violent Jihad. A widespread proselytizing of these useful insights listed below , rather than widespread condemnation of Islam, could serve to marginalize the violent, radical, Islam-fascists as extremists, and in so doing, truly devout Muslims could potentially be persuaded to turn away from them and rightly feel ashamed that Islam could be so adulterated by a few nut cases. While Jihad is still usually interpreted to mean a declaration of war against non-Muslims, I was surprised to find some serious disagreement with this conclusion amongst spirituality-minded Islamic Scholars.

4 kinds of Jihad

Apparently 4 kinds of Jihad exist (see footnote #1), and the greatest of them (probably according to Muhammad himself (see footnote #2) – Jihad of the heart (jihad bil qalb/nafs) – is in my opinion akin to Shambhala (see footnote #3) in Tibetan Buddhism, a spiritual warrior’s struggle of the heart. The other Jihads are progressively “lesser” until you get down to the 4th and lowest Jihad, Jihad by the sword (jihad bis saif).

1) Jihad of the heart (jihad bil qalb/nafs) is concerned with combatting the devil and in the attempt to escape his persuasion to evil. This type of Jihad is and was regarded throughout history as the greater jihad (al-jihad al-akbar) by some insightful Muslims and scholars. The fight is against lust, greed, fear and anger, in order to purify the heart and cast evil out.

Sufism or taṣawwuf (Arabic: تصوّف‎) is defined by its adherents as the inner, mystical dimension of Islam. A practitioner of this tradition is generally known as a ṣūfī (صُوفِيّ). Classical Sufi scholars have defined Sufism as “a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God”. Alternatively, in the words of the Darqawi Sufi teacher Ahmad ibn Ajiba, “a science through which one can know how to travel into the presence of the Divine, purify one’s inner self from filth, and beautify it with a variety of praiseworthy traits”.

2) Jihad by the tongue (jihad bil lisan) is concerned with speaking the truth and spreading the word of Islam with one’s tongue. Jihad by the tongue is, according to Muhammad, still a greater Jihad (#3 and #4 below are the lesser) but Jihad of the Heart is apparently the greatest of all. Wouldn’t it be nice to listen to a politician who practices Jihad by the tongue!

3) Jihad by the hand (jihad bil yad) refers to choosing to do what is right and to combat injustice and what is wrong with action. This is a lesser Jihad, but noteworthy, as it involves a commitment to social action.

4) Jihad by the sword (jihad bis saif) refers to qital fi sabilillah (armed fighting in the way of God, or holy war), the most common usage by Salafi Muslims and offshoots of the Muslim brotherhood. These “Jihadists” are positioned to take over Egypt, and they have gained power over the years by Jihad by the hand, having performed many helpful social functions to aid the impoverished.

Some contemporary Islamists, I refer to them as Islamo-fascists (see footnote #4) , seeking popularity and power, have manipulated many into believing that the greater jihad is not the Jihad of the heart, but is instead the holy war to establish, defend and extend the Islamic state. In purely Islamic terms, they have in my opinion, sold their souls entirely to “the Devil,” to use their terminology, and those of us who are non-Muslims should make that very clear.

Muhammad put the emphasis on the “greater Jihad” via a supposed quote, “Holy is the warrior who is at war with himself”(see footnote #5) . In this sense external wars and strife are seen as but a satanic counterfeit of the true “jihad” which can only be fought and won within. No other Salvation can save one without the efforts of the individual himself being added to the work involved of self-refinement.

This is similar to the view of the Holy Grail which comes closest to this Sufic ideal; for to the Sufis Perfection is the Grail; and the Holy Grail is for those who after they become perfect by giving all they have to the poor then go on to become “Abdal” or “changed ones,” like Enoch who was “taken” by God because he “walked with God” (Genesis:5:24). Here the “Holy Ones” gain the surname “Hadrat” or “The Presence”(see footnote #6).

I have seriously studied interpretations of various religious precepts and applied them to my life, and I have taught them to thousands of patients as indispensable part of my integrative medical practice for over 3 decades. Through the years I have found some concepts which are common to all the world’s major religions. At first they are always based on faith or in the eyes of the beholder. But as a practical application of the concepts achieves beneficial results, especially by bolstering the health and well-being of my patients, these truths are less based on faith anymore and are more based on direct experience. I have found first of all that all paths lead to God (see footnote #7) and that unconditional love is a core teaching of all the world’s major religions, and most importantly Islam.

The teachings of the mystical branches of all the world’s major religions get to the root of it all; The Kabbalists of Judaism, the Sufis of Islam, The Gnostics (see footnote #8) of Christianity and the Buddhists (dhyāna yoga) of Hinduism, to mention a few. These mystical branches are all marginalized and relatively unpopular by their mainstream adherents, because (I believe) they all propose in various ways that the authority for moral behavior lies within. The authority for moral behavior does not come from outside of oneself or dictated by some religious text, Iman, Rabbi, Preacher, Priest or some type of “spiritual leader,” the media’s favorite oxymoron. This undercuts the power and authority of all the world’s major religions and has led to violent persecutions.

Violent people always put the responsibility for their actions on others, which is the fundamental misinterpretation of all the world’s popular religions. One justifies murder in the name of God, or in the name of religious scriptures, which provides excuses for one to engage in unspeakable violence. Furthermore, since one’s rigid, religious beliefs are right and those of some other religious group are utterly wrong, one is free to rationalize their violence as cleansing the world of evil.

Alternative to Violence

The alternative, in my opinion, spiritual approach (not religious necessarily), is to first of all acknowledge that one’s own hate in one’s own heart as the core problem. Then to deliberately tangle with it is the declaration of war, the Jihad of the heart. And because all human beings possess egos (which will often unconsciously, automatically blame others, justify hateful/fearful behaviors and rationalize violence), each individual’s mind provides ample opportunities to begin and continue the true spiritual struggle, the Jihad of the heart.

At the rate we are going, with relatively few people having the slightest clue what I am talking about here, unfortunately it is inevitable that another very serious 9/11 event will happen in the US. At the very least, all this dysautonomia or fight/flight, fear and hate going around, will take its toll on the health of Americans, which is partly why the World Health Organization ranks us way behind many other nations and falling rapidly.

Understanding that the problem in the world out there is actually about removing “the beam out of thine own eye (see footnote #9) ”, seems to elude most people. But for those of us who see it, now we have an avenue to arouse the sentiment of 99.99% of the Muslims of the world, to return to the heart of Islam – the Jihad of the heart. Instead of assigning blame to and feeling persecuted by non-Muslims, advocates of the greater Jihad could police their own communities, which is what turned the lost war in Iraq around.

If enough Muslims can hear the timeless messages from the great Islamic mystics, scholars and the Prophet himself, and discover that their moral choices are dictated from within, (not from without), we may yet get through this dark period of religious extremism relatively unscathed. As Ghandi said, “an eye for an eye is a good way for the whole world to go blind.” Why should the world go blind when Jihad of the heart is the solution?

This is not to suggest that any country should not defend its citizens and deal with violent extremists of any stripe or affiliation via police or military action, covertly and or confrontationally, or that economic sanctions are not occasionally a useful option. I am suggesting that we should devote an equal amount of resources towards supporting Islam’s spiritual teachers and scholars, those proponents of the Greater Jihad, which has a lot of common ground with Christianity and other religions.

Don’t condemn Islam. Instead hold Islamist’s feet to the fire of Islam. Why, because such discussions, communication and support of Islam, (through Jihad of the Tongue and Hand, instead of confrontation through Jihad of the Sword), inherently possesses far greater likelihood of getting cooperation.

The Greater Jihad of the heart, unlike the Lesser Jihad of the Sword, is not particularly exciting, and will not garner much media interest or sell ads. The Jihad of the heart is difficult inner work which requires each and every one of us to let go of any tangible payoffs, to take the higher path, and relentlessly engage in battle with our fight/flight, primitive, limbic brain.

While the suggestion that Muslims recognize the greater Jihad is far preferable to condemning Islam, it won’t work unless we insist that all religions emphasize the Greater Jihad of the heart as critically important to personal salvation. And most of all, it begins with my personal responsibility, declaring Jihad of the heart, and to “cast out the beam out of “mine” own eye.” Lighting one little candle takes far greater precedence over cursing the darkness, or as an old Chinese saying would put it, “All the darkness in the world cannot put out the light of one little candle.”
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1) See Wikipedia: Jihad
2) Who knows what historical references are actually true. Do we have videotape and forensic evidence for anything, or is it all based on faith.
3) Trungpa Rinpoche (1976) Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior
4) Fascism, to use Benito Mussolini’s definition, is defined as the subjugation of individual liberties to the dictates of the state.
5) Who knows what historical references are actually true?
6) Wikipedia
7) John 14:2-3 – In my Father’s house are many mansions
8 ) Elaine Pagels (1979) The Gnostic Gospels
9) Matthew 7:5, “first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”



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