Jihad bin Nafs // Self Control

Azfar Rizvi
4 min readAug 16, 2020

I’ve been thinking about the importance of power and how/why/when we wield it. The true measure of one’s strength is not the physical power, not brute force, not one’s ability to inflict pain.

The true measure of strength and power is the ability to modulate one’s impulses. It is about being self-aware so much that whatever you do, it is rooted in the best principles of self-worth and humanity that we are trying to espouse or live by.

Broadly, Jihad bin Nafs, is what it is called. And I find myself reading up on Imam Ali’s (as) lifestyle to understand this better.

Out of an existence that transpired solely out of his love for Parwardigaar, there are countless moments in Imam Ali (as) life that educate us about the true nature of Jihad bin Nafs or the struggle against self. This is the true jihad — the superior and mandatory jihad against personal and social evil, intrinsic desires, and of course anything impulsive like anger. As we try to comprehend his life, which understandably is beyond us, there are moments when we are blessed with clarity that can help us be better human beings, help us heal, or simply encourage us to sustain.

History witnessed one such moment during the battle of trench, or Khandaq as it is called across Urdu and Arabic.

If you recall in the battle of Khandaq, a defensive trench or ditch was dug around the Prophet’s army, so the enemy could not get across. Amr bin Abdawud managed to get across the ditch from a narrow pathway. Now Amr was famed amongst the Arabs for his strength and valor, and was considered equal to a thousand mounted men. He challenged the army of Prophet (pbuh) but no one stepped forward. Eventually, Imam Ali (as) stepped up after giving everyone in the Prophet’s army the opportunity to take Amr down.

The two brave warriors engaged in the traditional dueling and historians write that the dust rose as high as 200 feet. The onlookers and soldiers from both sides narrate that there was so much dust, both warriors got lost in it as the duel intensified. After a while, Ali (as) physically picked up Amr and threw him on the ground. All this while, the soldiers from either side could only hear heavy blows being traded through all the dust — when finally they heard screams. But it was unclear which of the two, Ali (as) or Amr, was successful. When the dust settled, the soldiers, the universe and the Malaika witnessed Ali mounting Amr’s chest to deal one final blow to him. Amr, now at the brink of defeat and certain death, felt humiliated and spat on Ali’s face.

Now, this is the moment where Ali’s Jihad bin Nafs takes over. He calmly got up from the defeated warrior’s chest, put Zulfiqar back in its sheath, and walked away.

Soldiers from both sides were left bewildered at this. Surely Ali knew how important it was to defeat Amr bin Abdawud. In fact, it was almost a certainty that because of this insult, Amr would arrive at his conclusion faster. But to everyone’s disbelief, Ali (as) retreated at that moment, only to settle it a while later. After the battle was over, people asked Imam Ali (as) the reason why he had spared Amr’s life when he had first overpowered him.

Mola (as) replied that if he had killed him immediately after he had spat on him, then people will claim that it was to remedy the insult and not the cause. They would be able to insert doubt that this was not for the sake of Allah but for the satisfaction of his own anger. So he let him free.

Here’s how Jalaluddin Rumi tells this tale:

𝐿𝑒𝑎𝑟𝑛 ℎ𝑜𝑤 𝑡𝑜 𝑎𝑐𝑡 𝑠𝑖𝑛𝑐𝑒𝑟𝑒𝑙𝑦 𝑓𝑟𝑜𝑚 𝐴𝑙𝑖
𝐺𝑜𝑑’𝑠 𝑙𝑖𝑜𝑛, 𝑓𝑟𝑒𝑒 𝑓𝑟𝑜𝑚 𝑎𝑙𝑙 𝑖𝑚𝑝𝑢𝑟𝑖𝑡𝑦:
𝐷𝑢𝑟𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑎 𝑏𝑎𝑡𝑡𝑙𝑒, ℎ𝑒 𝑠𝑢𝑏𝑑𝑢𝑒𝑑 𝑎 𝑓𝑜𝑒
𝑇ℎ𝑒𝑛 𝑑𝑟𝑒𝑤 ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑠𝑤𝑜𝑟𝑑 𝑡𝑜 𝑑𝑒𝑎𝑙 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑓𝑖𝑛𝑎𝑙 𝑏𝑙𝑜𝑤.
𝑇ℎ𝑎𝑡 𝑚𝑎𝑛 𝑠𝑝𝑎𝑡 𝑖𝑛 𝐴𝑙𝑖’𝑠 𝑝𝑢𝑟𝑒 𝑓𝑎𝑐𝑒, 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑝𝑟𝑖𝑑𝑒
𝑂𝑓 𝑒𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑦 𝑠𝑎𝑖𝑛𝑡 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑝𝑟𝑜𝑝ℎ𝑒𝑡 𝑓𝑎𝑟 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑤𝑖𝑑𝑒
𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝑚𝑜𝑜𝑛 𝑝𝑟𝑜𝑠𝑡𝑟𝑎𝑡𝑒𝑠 𝑖𝑡𝑠𝑒𝑙𝑓 𝑏𝑒𝑓𝑜𝑟𝑒 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑓𝑎𝑐𝑒
𝐴𝑡 𝑤ℎ𝑖𝑐ℎ ℎ𝑒 𝑠𝑝𝑎𝑡 — 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑎𝑐𝑡 𝑤𝑎𝑠 𝑎 𝑑𝑖𝑠𝑔𝑟𝑎𝑐𝑒!
𝐴𝑙𝑖 𝑝𝑢𝑡 𝑑𝑜𝑤𝑛 ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑠𝑎𝑏𝑒𝑟 𝑠𝑡𝑟𝑎𝑖𝑔ℎ𝑡 𝑎𝑤𝑎𝑦
𝐴𝑛𝑑, 𝑡ℎ𝑜𝑢𝑔ℎ ℎ𝑒 𝑤𝑎𝑠 𝑜𝑛 𝑡𝑜𝑝, ℎ𝑒 𝑠𝑡𝑜𝑝𝑝𝑒𝑑 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑓𝑟𝑎𝑦.
𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝑓𝑖𝑔ℎ𝑡𝑒𝑟 𝑤𝑎𝑠 𝑎𝑠𝑡𝑜𝑛𝑖𝑠ℎ𝑒𝑑 𝑏𝑦 𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑎𝑐𝑡,
𝑇ℎ𝑎𝑡 ℎ𝑒 𝑠ℎ𝑜𝑤𝑒𝑑 𝑚𝑒𝑟𝑐𝑦 𝑡ℎ𝑜𝑢𝑔ℎ ℎ𝑒’𝑑 𝑏𝑒𝑒𝑛 𝑎𝑡𝑡𝑎𝑐𝑘𝑒𝑑.

There is much learning here for the wise about the role of intention in this scenario. It sheds light on the importance of the struggle with the Self, the Jihad bin Nafs. It reminds us that while we start something with pure intentions, it may easily lead us on a path where our intentions can be altered during the course of our journey towards the ultimate goal. So it is important to keep our intention front and center all the time.

Later, we learn about hadith-e-zarbat or the tradition of the Sword-strike by the Prophet (pbuh):

“𝑨 𝒔𝒘𝒐𝒓𝒅 𝒔𝒕𝒓𝒊𝒌𝒆 𝒐𝒇 𝑨𝒍𝒊 (𝒂𝒔) 𝒅𝒖𝒓𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒃𝒂𝒕𝒕𝒍𝒆 𝒐𝒇 𝑲𝒉𝒂𝒏𝒅𝒂𝒒 𝒘𝒂𝒔 𝒔𝒖𝒑𝒆𝒓𝒊𝒐𝒓 𝒕𝒐 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒄𝒐𝒎𝒃𝒊𝒏𝒆𝒅 𝒘𝒐𝒓𝒔𝒉𝒊𝒑 𝒐𝒇 𝒎𝒆𝒏 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝑱𝒊𝒏𝒏𝒔 𝒖𝒏𝒕𝒊𝒍 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒅𝒂𝒚 𝒐𝒇 𝑸𝒊𝒚𝒂𝒎𝒂𝒕.”



Azfar Rizvi

Journalist-turned award-winning filmmaker. Writer. Chai drinker. Pakistani Canadian in Contemporary America! | W: AzfarRizvi.com