This universal quality, common to every person ever is what is known in Islam
. I can envision, and sometimes almost taste the self I long to be, compassionate, serving, forgiving, trusting, patient. At times I feel it, I'm there, if even for a moment.
Conversely, I know, like the back of my hand my most formidable of all my enemies, the shrewdest, keenest, most deceptive, and most relentless of all people constantly attacking that great me I want to be … me. That me is selfish, self-absorbed, prideful, distracted, thoughtless, impatient, ineducable; repeating for a lifetime the faults, and every shortcoming as often and as fast as I swear off them.
, this me versus me is Jihad. It is translated as
"striving, applying oneself, struggling, persevering." We are all Mujaheddin. The Greenpeacenik? Mujahid. The heroin addict? Mujahid. The mom with the hungry infant screeching at 3 in the morning? Mujahid. In short we struggle. We are innately driven in the longing to be better, and to live in a better world. There is no exception. The fight? Do not be selfish. Mom, ugh, get up. You'll get to sleep someday. The addict, GO. Go to the meeting. Struggle. You'll be clean someday. The brokenness is not who you are. And so the battle goes.
We Mujaheddin come in all stripes. Some are more serious about the work than others, some more successful in our struggle than others.
We Mujaheddin attach ourselves to all sorts of teachings and exemplars. For a great many the Qur'an and the Ahadith give the best account of how things are and how to make both me and things better. For some the Vedas seem best, for others it's Oprah, Dr. Phil, or some Paleo-Dietician. Whichever is ours there is no one who is not related to some "best" account of life in the world, or else is patching some "best" account together. Somebody, or something, some system, or some faith
guides our Jihad, our struggle, our striving to be my best self, and help build a "best" world. We relate to that "system," conventional or experimental, sufficient or still being built. In relation to that we each bring our struggle, our "applying ourselves," our Jihad.
Our shared condition, our shared humanness, our common participation in Jihad is not the root of the barbaric, extremist violence that plagues our current days. Rather it is the loss of history's saints, angels, and teachers, history's enlightened women and men of intellectual courage and surrendered piety who are passed down in communities as our models of struggle. Their lives are preserved to show how the struggle must be elegant and noble
. In the modern world the institutions that have traditionally carried forward to each generation the lives of those who give beauty to struggle are crippled. Without them struggle has degenerated into the evil, sub-human ways that darken and haunt our world
Modernity, wherever development succeeds grows in its rejection of traditional religions
and organized, communal spiritual life. This is understandable in many ways. And religion itself for a great many serious failures is responsible in many ways. But regardless of who's to blame or who's at fault, the fact is that the decline of prevalent and healthy religion and socially embraced spiritual community creates the vacuum into which rushes perversion with a "religious" mask
The equation goes like this: The stuggle, the battle, has a good guy (the good me), and a bad guy (the lying, tricky, selfish, lazy me). This struggle is painful, it is torture in a way. In it we have a basic choice of orientation. We can put all our energy into nurturing and encouraging the good me, OR we can put all our energy into hating, "crushing," and vanquishing the "evil" me, the enemy me. Healthy religion trains us to resist the temptation to live in the obsessions of hate, and instead strengthen, grow and mature the option that energizes, encourages, and strengthens the good. For a Muslim or for any religious person that training on how
to carry out Jihad comes from studying sacred texts, from praying, from serving others, and from the support and encouragement of those around us.
If we are not guided by healthy, mature, engaged, caring spiritual leaders, we will not get the tips and guidelines about how to do Jihad in the wise and healthy way, namely strengthen the good. If we fail in this, we end up up possessed and obsessed in this "hating evil" energy. And from there, there is nothing but trouble ahead. We then not only see, fear, and hate the evil in myself, but in the shortest of leaps begin to see everyone and everything with the same consuming fear and hatred. My innate, human makeup to pursue good snaps and twists to see enemies everywhere, enemies that must be hated, destroyed, vanquished. In the process ever more become possessed of demonic energy to defile, and to destroy.
The revival and resuscitation of engaged, intellectually courageous, compassionate teachers and guides in the great world religions is a desperate need of our time. In many places this is happening.
It is not enough to point out that Jihad is the inner struggle. Healthy, religious and spiritual leaders of true influence are needed to re-guide people and societies about the enlightened nuances of mastering the right energies for Jihad. What we do within is surely what we will do outward to others. And getting that right needs teachers, structures, and support.