The "Greater Jihad" hadith comes to us
• marfuʿ (as a Prophetic saying),
• mawquf (as a Companion-saying), and
• maqtuʿ (as a Tabiʿi-saying or later).
As a Prophetic saying this hadith has two similar wordings from Jabir:
1. "Some troops came back from an expedition and went to see the Messenger of Allah ﷺ sallallahu ʿalayhi wa-Sallam. He said: "You have come for the best, from the smaller jihad (al-jihad al-asghar) to the greater jihad (al-jihad al-akbar)." Someone said, "What is the greater jihad?" He said: "The servant's struggle against his lust"(mujahadat al-ʿabdi hawah).
Al-Bayhaqi narrated it in al-Zuhd al-Kabir (Haydar ed. p. 165 §373 = p. 198 §374) and said: "This is a chain that contains weakness" (hadha isnadun fihi daʿf). One might cautiously conclude from this that al-Bayhaqi himself does not consider it a forgery in view of his shart [ie. condition] that he does not narrate forgeries in any of his books except he indicates it.
2. "The Prophet ﷺ upon him and his Family and Companions blessings and peace returned from one his expeditions and said: "You have come for the best. You have come from the smaller jihad to the greater jihad." They said, "What is the greater jihad, Messenger of Allah?" He said: "The servant's struggle against his lust."
Al-Khatib narrated it in Tarikh Baghdad (13:493=13:523).
Both their chains contain Yahya ibn al-ʿAla' al-Bajali al-Razi who is accused of forgery as per Ibn Hajar in the Taqrib, in addition to Layth ibn Abi Sulaym - Ibn Hajar said he was abandoned as a hadith narrator due to the excessiveness of his mistakes in addition to being a concealer of his sources (mudallis). (Al-Bukhari and Muslim did narrate three hadiths from him but only as corroborations of established chains.)
This shows that the statement of Ibn Taymiyya in Majmuʿ al-Fatawa (11:197 = his anti-Sufi tract al-Furqan bayna Awliya al-Rahman wa-Awliya al-Shaytan) "La asla lahu" is inaccurate, as this expression in their terminology denotes chainlessness. Al-Zaylaʿi also could not find it but, instead of positively denying the existence of hadiths he does not know like Ibn Taymiyya, he uses the expression "gharib jiddan" (extremely solitary/odd) as he does here in his Takhrij Ahadith al-Kashshaf (2:395 §825).
Most accurate is the verdict of Ibn Hajar: "its chain contains weak narrators" in his Takhrij Ahadith al-Kashshaf (p. 114) while al-Ahdab in his Zawa'id Tarikh Baghdad (9:309-311 §2077) says "isnad talif" (a worthless chain).
All of the above negative verdicts concern the chain. The hadith in its meaning is confirmed by the Qur'an and established reports, at least two of them explicit in the preference of the mujahada or jihad of the ego over any other type but without using the specific term jihad akbar. This has been discussed elsewhere:
sunnipath.com/Resources/Questions7, x L 20120703
sunnipath.com/Resources/Questions2, x L 20120703
Yet, Shaykh ʿAbd al-Fattah Abu Ghudda mentioned in his marginalia on al-Lacknawi's al-Ajwibat al-Fadila (p. 156 bottom) that his teacher Shaykh Ahmad al-Ghumari authored a monograph titled Tahsin al-Khabar al-Warid fil-Jihad al-Akbar ("The Fair Grade of the Extant Report on the Greater Jihad") - presumably from an isnad standpoint but I have not seen this monograph by the Moroccan muhaddith mirabilis.
As a Companion-saying Ibn Rajab attributes something similar to ʿAbd Allah ibn ʿAmr ibn al-ʿAs in Sharh Hadith Labbayk (p. 128) but without chain nor reference.
1. As a Tabiʿi-saying this report is narrated as a statement of the brilliant Tabiʿi Imam of Palestine Ibrahim ibn Abi ʿAbla by al-Nasa'i in his Kuna as mentioned by al-Mizzi in Tahdhib al-Kamal (2:144); Ibn Hajar in Tasdid al-Qaws, Tahdhib al-Tahdhib (1:142), and al-Kafi al-Shaf fi Takhrij Ahadith al-Kashshaf (p. 114); and al-Zaylaʿi, op. cit.
Al-Dhahabi in the Siyar (Fikr ed. 6:486) says Muhammad ibn Ziyad al-Maqdisi said it was the habit of Ibrahim to address whoever came back from ghazu with that phrase. (Also among his sayings: "Whoever carries strange and unusual knowledge carries much evil.")
2. As an Atbaʿ-saying al-Bayhaqi also narrates it in al-Zuhd from Ibrahim ibn Ad-ham (p. 152)
3. and Abu Hatim al-Asamm (p. 286).
Ibn Taymiyya himself leaves no doubt as to the fact that jihad al-nafs comes first and is the precondition sine qua non of military jihad as he states it in and as related from him by Ibn al-Qayyim toward the very end of Rawdat al-Muhibbin: "I heard our Shaykh say, 'The jihad of nafs and hawa is the foundation of jihad of the disbelievers and hypocrites; one cannot do jihad of them before he first does jihad of his nafs and hawa, then he goes out and fights them.'"
As for Ibn al-Qayyim then haddith wala haraj, he goes on and on about the jihad of the ego as the "prime" (al-muqaddam) and "most obligatory" (al-afraD) jihad in al-Fawa'id, Zad al-Maʿad, al-Ruh, Ighathat al-Lahfan....
But neither he nor his teacher uses the term al-jihad al-akbar.
(upd. Feb 28, 2005)
"In any case, what Westerners call civilization, the others would call barbarity, because it is precisely lacking in the essential, that is to say, a principle of a higher order."
René Guénon, East And West, 1924
صلّى الله على سيّدنا محمّد و على آله و صحبه و سلّم
The blessings and peace of Allah on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions, ( sallAllahu `aleihi wa sallam ) .
Texts, Video by GF Haddad