To exert oneself with a praiseworthy aim, this is what the word jihad firstly means in Arabic, according to the Qur'an and the tradition [sunnah] of the Prophet. Stemming from such a holistic and personalized construct, it seems that the concept of jihad has travelled down several stages of development. From the classical age (9th-12th centuries) with jurists like Shamseddin al-Sarakhsi to more politicized figures such as Sayyid Qutb in the 20th century, the interpretations of jihad have been problematized into an evolutionary theory which appears entangled in temporal issues rather than to embrace spiritual dispositions.
What we will examine in this presentaton is the religious and moral doctrine of jihad, the one carried with "the pen" or with "the tongue", as the Prophet put it, as opposed to the one "with arms." Textual evidence point towards jihad constructed as the struggle against passions and desires (animal nature of man), yet this "greater jihad", as it is expounded over and over again in the hadiths tended to be overshadowed by the "lesser jihad", that of warfare. The contention is a run-off on how the enemy is defined, or more specifically how to switch from a political to a moralist standpoint. No wonder that the soul [nafs] of the believer, deemed the genuine battlefield, became the spot of accomplishment and fulfilment of Islamic mysticism.
However, mysticism comes with normative expectations, or at least some legal qualifications (theological knowledge, spiritual training, and so forth). Is it accurate to suggest that the true jihad, set against one's own ego, stands for Muslim monasticism? To what extent does transcendence turn the believer into a witness [shahid] of God's mercy? Is jihad possible at all without trust and surrender? Lastly, what are the practical exigencies of jihad (for al Ghazali, the [nafs] was the human being in reality), beyond the spiritual take on the Qur'an? These are a few questions that will have a bearing of what "fighting" means and encompasses.