And [all this befell you] so that God might put to a test all that you harbor in your bosoms, and render your innermost hearts pure of all dross: for God is aware of all that is in hearts. ~ Qur’an 3:154
“If you get irritated by every rub, how will the mirror of your heart ever be polished?” ~ Rumi
The above passage from the Qur’an is referring to a specific situation that arose among Mohammad and his followers during the Battle of Uhud, when a group of the Prophet’s soldiers “was stirred to anxiety by their own feelings, moved by wrong suspicions of Allah – suspicions due to ignorance.” (3:154) The Battle of Uhud, fought just 3 years after the Hijra to Medina, was a bloody and treacherous battle, when the Muslims were pushed back, many killed or injured, and the Prophet himself was badly injured and almost died at the hands of the Quraysh tribe. Many of the soldiers in Mohammad’s small army behaved shamefully at Uhud, some by defecting before the battle even began, and others turning away from their post, against orders, when they thought they had succeeded in defeating the vastly superior Quraysh army. This resulted in the unnecessary loss of many Muslim lives and serious injury to the Prophet Mohammad. His loyal companions saved his life by treating his wounds and carrying him to safe ground. The lessons from the battle are revealed in the Qur’an, and the message for all humankind comes down to this: we will be tested by life’s circumstances and some of this will be God’s way of revealing and then purifying our hearts from the dross of jealousy, hypocrisy, greed, selfishness, and other ego qualities that lie deep within. God is aware of it all; it is we who are unaware. Yet, in order to purify ourselves, we must become aware of all of our negative and self-defeating tendencies. This is why, according to a popular hadith, or saying of the Prophet Mohammad, after the Muslims returned home from a battle, he told his companions, “We have come back from waging the lesser jihad. Now it is time for the greater jihad.” The lesser jihad referred to the outward battle (or literally, struggle) with the enemies of Islam. The greater jihad was in reference to the inward battle every person has with the negative attributes of our own ego; those qualities which prevent us from becoming a more developed and God-conscious human being.
The greater jihad is a life-long process through which we become aware of our ego tendencies, little by little, and slowly but surely dismantle them and replace them with divine qualities. This requires patience, persistence, and continuous self-analysis. The Prophet said, “Know thyself and you shall know thy Lord.” This process also requires compassion towards ourselves and others. The more we understand and begin to eliminate our own faults and negative tendencies, the more likely we will be to have patience with others. We begin to understand that we will be held accountable for our own actions, not the actions of others. Christianity teaches the same lesson: “Judge not, lest ye be judged yourself.” (Matthew 7: 1-3) We are responsible for our actions, and the best way to gain control over them is to become aware of our innermost thoughts and tendencies as they arise. Remember: we are not alone in the struggle. We can always turn to Allah and ask for guidance, protection, and strength to do right and avoid evil. “Allah guides to Himself all who turn to Him.” (Qur’an 13:28)