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The Struggle of the Soul

In the mid-1980s I boarded a plane in a major U.S. city and to my surprise found myself seated next to a young Afghan man. He told me his name was Mahmoud. Dressed in typical Afghan clothes, he carried a small Quran in his right hand. I asked him if I might hold his Quran. Sheepishly, in broken English he let me know that he preferred that I should not touch his holy book. Nevertheless, in a few minutes he reluctantly handed me his small Quran. Though he was a Dari speaker, his Quran was obviously in Arabic. I quickly read aloud several verses. The ice was broken and his reaction was: “Are you a mumin”—a Muslim believer? I told him “no”, upon which he became even more inquisitive. 


Mahmoud explained that he had been wounded while fighting as a mujahid in the war to expel the Russians from his country and had been sent to America for shoulder surgery. He proudly raised his sleeve and tunic to reveal a huge scar. Then he said, “Praise be to Allah, I am well now and will rejoin the jihad to liberate my country.”


Broadly speaking, Islam uses the Arabic word jihad, “struggle,” in two senses: spiritual struggle and military struggle. The spiritual struggle, called the greater jihad, is a personal quest to become a better person. It has always been held as primary, a battle waged within one’s own soul to strive for reconciliation with the requirements of Allah. Islam identifies the greater jihad as a duty incumbent upon every believer. The importance of this for every Muslim is paramount. “Struggle for Allah as is His due, for He has chosen you” (Quran 22:78).


The second form of jihad, often termed the lesser jihad, is the physical struggle of combat, primarily in defense of Islam. While all Muslims should undertake the greater jihad, not all are required to participate in the lesser jihad, which might entail actual warfare, though all may be obligated to support such war when it is under way. Islam refers to 149 verses of the Quran as “The Sword Verses”—each of which supports an act of violence. It is important to remember that Muhammad fought 29 battles and planned 39 more! The radical version of military jihad is based in the desire of every Muslim to “emulate the prophet.” Muhammad had no hesitation in rallying his followers to spread his teachings and proclamations by the sword.


Especially in the modern era, most Muslims believe that a military campaign may be undertaken only in certain instances. One is the defense of Islamic people and territory, if attacked. A second purpose is a war fought to right a wrong. Theoretically, in order to participate in a military jihad, a Muslim is subject to a formal fatwa (declaration), provided by a recognized Muslim imam (holy man).


Jesus never rallied His followers to spread His teachings with the sword. Instead, He emphasized the need for each individual to fight against sin, and strive for forgiveness and peace. According to the teaching of the gospel, the most critical struggle for the believer is the “struggle of the soul.” The first step is to recognize that we are all sinners and that the only answer to our sinful nature is to accept the finished work of Christ at Calvary—and receive Him as Savior and Lord.


Dear reader, how about you? Are you unable to find peace in your inner man? Are you struggling with the burden of sin in your life? Consider the words of Jesus:


Come unto me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)


As apologist Jay Smith often says when closing his presentations to Muslim audiences: “Stop trying to fix yourself—and come home to Jesus.” Trying to fix oneself is a predictably arduous and disappointing journey, not just for Muslims, but for anyone. Why not save yourself the trouble and just “come home to Jesus?”

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