What is Mujaahadah?
Mufti Muhammad Qasim Attari
Allah Almighty has stated:
وَ الَّذِیْنَ جَاهَدُوْا فِیْنَا لَنَهْدِیَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَاؕ-وَ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ لَمَعَ الْمُحْسِنِیْنَ۠(۶۹)
And those who struggled in Our way, We shall definitely show them Our paths; and indeed, Allah is with the virtuous.
Exegesis: The meanings derived from this verse are vast; its comprehensiveness covers matters of Shari’ah and spirituality. This verse explicitly relates to mujaahadah. Similar to how the path of sincerity is shown to those who consistently endeavour to repent, the path to practice to those seeking knowledge, and the path to Paradise to those seeking to act upon the Sunnah, pathways are also opened for those who strive in the way of Allah Almighty. Those who strive in matters of worship and purify their heart and inner self (Nafs) are increased in their understanding of Allah Almighty and experience spiritual openings revealing divine secrets. Imam Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَـلَيْه states: ‘I heard Ustaad Abu Ali al-Daqaaqرَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَـلَيْـه saying: “Whosoever beautifies his outer state by striving for a religious cause (mujaahadah), Allah Almighty will beautify his inner state with spiritual openings (mushaahadah).” Evidence for this is the verse: ‘And those who struggled in Our way, We shall definitely show them Our paths.’ The Imam also mentioned a quote of the Sufis: ‘There is blessing in striving’, meaning, actions [striving in worship] are the means to attain blessings related to the inner state.’
The meaning of mujaahadah
Imam al-Qurayshi رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَـلَيْه summarized the meaning of mujaahadah in the following way: ‘Know that the foundation and strengthening of mujaahadah is centred around denying the lower self (nafs) most of the time what it desires and compelling it to act against its cravings and wants.’ He further states: ‘There are two attributes of the lower self: remaining indulged in desires and staying afar from good deeds. Therefore, when the lower self becomes uncontrollable in pursuit of desires, it is necessary for it to be abated using the rein of piety (taqwa). When it attempts to stand as an obstacle in performing good deeds, it is necessary to steer it away against its will.’
Mujaahadah is necessary for the inner state
Without worship and effort, nothing is attained on this path. Shaykh Abu Ali al-Daqaaq رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَـلَيْه states: ‘Know that nothing is accomplished in this journey by the one who does not perform mujaahadah to begin with.’ Sayyiduna Abu Usman al-Maghribiرَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَـلَيْـه states: ‘Whoever thinks that without deeming mujaahadah necessary he will experience [spiritual] openings on the path to seeking nearness to Allah Almighty or that something will be revealed to him is in error.’
Two categories of mujaahadah
The first type pertains to performing outward worship and avoiding outward sins. The second type refers to observing inner forms of worship and purifying one’s character and inner state. The second type is more difficult than the first, but also more beneficial. Imam al-Qushayri رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَـلَيْه writes regarding this: ‘The masses seek to act upon outward actions, whilst the pious seek to purify their hearts. It is easy to endure hunger and remain awake in the night, but it is of utmost difficulty to refine your character and keep the lower self (nafs) pure from base things.’
The first type of mujaahadah is also prestigious, as it is beloved to Allah Almighty when His people use their wealth and body in matters of worship. This was the Sunnah of the Prophet صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم and the way of the pious predecessors. The Holy Quran has also placed great emphasis on this. Note the following verses:
It is stated regarding charity (sadaqah), standing in prayer and repenting:
اَلصّٰبِرِیْنَ وَ الصّٰدِقِیْنَ وَ الْقٰنِتِیْنَ وَ الْمُنْفِقِیْنَ وَ الْمُسْتَغْفِرِیْنَ بِالْاَسْحَارِ(۱۷)
(They are) the patient, and the truthful, and the courteous, and the ones who spend in the cause of Allah, and the seekers of forgiveness in the last part of the night.
Regarding remaining awake in the night [for worship], reciting the Holy Quran and prostrating, it is stated:
لَیْسُوْا سَوَآءًؕ-مِنْ اَهْلِ الْكِتٰبِ اُمَّةٌ قَآىٕمَةٌ یَّتْلُوْنَ اٰیٰتِ اللّٰهِ اٰنَآءَ الَّیْلِ وَ هُمْ یَسْجُدُوْنَ(۱۱۳)
All of them are not similar; amongst the People of the Book are some who are firm on the truth, they recite the verses of Allah during parts of the night and they prostrate.
Sacrificing sleep to pray in devotion to Allah Almighty
It is stated in the Quran:
تَتَجَافٰى جُنُوْبُهُمْ عَنِ الْمَضَاجِعِ یَدْعُوْنَ رَبَّهُمْ خَوْفًا وَّ طَمَعًا٘-وَّ مِمَّا رَزَقْنٰهُمْ یُنْفِقُوْنَ(۱۶)
Their sides become detached from their beds and they call upon their Lord, fearing and hoping, and they donate some from what We have provided them.
Despite spending the nights in worship whilst prostrating and standing, these people do not fall prey to pride and arrogance. Rather, they humbly supplicate to Allah Almighty for salvation from Hell and seek forgiveness. The Almighty stated:
كَانُوْا قَلِیْلًا مِّنَ الَّیْلِ مَا یَهْجَعُوْنَ(۱۷) وَ بِالْاَسْحَارِ هُمْ یَسْتَغْفِرُوْنَ(۱۸)
They would sleep less during the night. And would seek forgiveness in the latter part of the night.
He also stated:
وَ الَّذِیْنَ یَبِیْتُوْنَ لِرَبِّهِمْ سُجَّدًا وَّ قِیَامًا(۶۴) وَ الَّذِیْنَ یَقُوْلُوْنَ رَبَّنَا اصْرِفْ عَنَّا عَذَابَ جَهَنَّمَ ﳓ اِنَّ عَذَابَهَا كَانَ غَرَامًاۗۖ(۶۵)
‘And those who spend the night prostrating and standing for their Lord. And those who submit, 'O our Lord, avert the punishment of Hell from us, its punishment is indeed a noose around the neck.' 
Regarding those who seek to please their Lord, are immersed in His love and supplicate to Him, Allah Almighty states:
وَ لَا تَطْرُدِ الَّذِیْنَ یَدْعُوْنَ رَبَّهُمْ بِالْغَدٰوةِ وَ الْعَشِیِّ یُرِیْدُوْنَ وَجْهَهٗؕ-
And do not keep away (from your gatherings) those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening; seeking His pleasure.
The emphasis on prayer, Quranic recitation and Fajr salah is evident where the Almighty has stated:
اَقِمِ الصَّلٰوةَ لِدُلُوْكِ الشَّمْسِ اِلٰى غَسَقِ الَّیْلِ وَ قُرْاٰنَ الْفَجْرِؕ-اِنَّ قُرْاٰنَ الْفَجْرِ كَانَ مَشْهُوْدًا(۷۸)
Keep Salah established, from the declining of the sun until the darkness of the night, and the Qur'aan of the morning (i.e. Fajr Salah); indeed, the angels are present at the Qur'aan of the morning.
Allah Almighty stated regarding Qiyam al-Layl and Salah al-Layl:
یٰۤاَیُّهَا الْمُزَّمِّلُۙ(۱) قُمِ الَّیْلَ اِلَّا قَلِیْلًاۙ(۲) نِّصْفَهٗۤ اَوِ انْقُصْ مِنْهُ قَلِیْلًاۙ(۳) اَوْ زِدْ عَلَیْهِ وَ رَتِّلِ الْقُرْاٰنَ تَرْتِیْلًاؕ(۴) اِنَّا سَنُلْقِیْ عَلَیْكَ قَوْلًا ثَقِیْلًا(۵) اِنَّ نَاشِئَةَ الَّیْلِ هِیَ اَشَدُّ وَطْاً وَّ اَقْوَمُ قِیْلًاؕ(۶)
O you who wraps himself (in a shawl i.e. the Prophet Muhammad). Stand up (for prayer) during the night except some part of the night. Half the night, or even a little less than that. Or increase a little on it, and recite the Qur'aan delightfully in slow distinct stages (i.e. each letter of the Qur'aan must be pronounced distinctively and correctly). Indeed, We shall soon decree a heavy Word (of commandments) upon you. Indeed, getting up in the night (for Salah), that is heavier (on the body) and the most appropriate (time) for the words to flow properly.
In imitating the Prophet’s Qiyam al-Layl, the Companions would also worship in abundance:
Allah Almighty states:
تَرٰىهُمْ رُكَّعًا سُجَّدًا یَّبْتَغُوْنَ فَضْلًا مِّنَ اللّٰهِ وَ رِضْوَانًا٘-سِیْمَاهُمْ فِیْ وُجُوْهِهِمْ مِّنْ اَثَرِ السُّجُوْدِؕ-
‘You will see them bowing and falling in prostration, seeking Allah's Benevolence and His contentment. Their signs are on their faces by the marks of prostrations.’ 
The second type of mujaahadah is to perform inner forms of worship and purify the inner state and character:
Inner forms of worship refer to love for Allah and His Messenger صَلَّى الـلّٰـهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم; having religious conviction; being sincere; drawing closer to Allah; relying on Allah; being content, patient and grateful; feeling remorse, reflecting and repenting; contemplating the Divine; being enthusiastic about doing good; turning to Allah when sad; being modest; revering Allah and having hope in His mercy; fearing divine punishment; being God-conscious; and turning to Allah Almighty in every matter. These are all high forms of worship. Purifying one’s inner state and character is known as ‘tazkiyyah al-nafs’ (self-purification). It is stated in the Holy Quran:
قَدْ اَفْلَحَ مَنْ تَزَكّٰىۙ(۱۴) وَ ذَكَرَ اسْمَ رَبِّهٖ فَصَلّٰىؕ(۱۵)
Indeed, successful is the one who became pure. And offered Salah, having mentioned the Name of his Lord.
The Quran also states:
وَ نَفْسٍ وَّ مَا سَوّٰىهَاﭪ(۷) فَاَلْهَمَهَا فُجُوْرَهَا وَ تَقْوٰىهَاﭪ(۸) قَدْ اَفْلَحَ مَنْ زَكّٰىهَاﭪ(۹) وَ قَدْ خَابَ مَنْ دَسّٰىهَاؕ(۱۰)
And by the soul and by Him Who made it proper. And instilled in it (i.e. in the human soul, the understanding of) its sins and its piety. Indeed, successful is the one who made it (i.e. his soul) pure. And unsuccessful is the one who covered it in sins.
On the path of spirituality, it is this tazkiyyah and purification of the heart that is emphasised greatly, because rectifying the heart results in rectification of the outer state too. The Prophet صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَاٰلِهٖ وَسَلَّم said: ‘Beware! There is a piece flesh in the body; if it is sound, the entire body remains sound, and if it is corrupt, the entire body becomes corrupt. Take heed; it is the heart.’
To understand and become closer to Allah Almighty, it is also necessary to accomplish this second type of mujaahadah. It is more challenging than the first type. However, with the grace of Allah Almighty, those who are determined also master this. Challenges arise in this journey because the deceptions of the lower self (nafs) are very subtle and many. A person does not realise in normal circumstances the snares of the lower self which he has fallen prey to. However, when certain situations arise, then one comes to know that such-and-such spiritual illness of the heart is still present. For example, someone might believe that he is a patient individual. However, when a calamity strikes, he discovers the reality of himself; the difficulty renders him restless, and he utters words of complaint. The same arises in a situation if one is not shown respect; it makes a person realise how the heart desires praise and respect and is replete with narcissism.
Imam Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَـلَيْه narrates a fascinating account related to this. The Imam writes: ‘There was a Shaykh who offered Salah in the first row of the Masjid for many years. One day, due to some reason, he was unable to make it to the Masjid in time, and so he offered the Salah in the last row. Thereafter, he disappeared for a long time. After a lengthy period, when he was seen again, he was asked where he had been. He replied: “I was making up for the prayers that I had offered in the first row of the Masjid for all those years. I thought those prayers consisted of sincerity for Allah Almighty. However, due to arriving late one day, the people saw me offering Salah in the last row, which caused me to feel embarrassed. And so, I came to realise that I had been attending the masjid early all those years just to show people. Hence, I repeated them prayers.”’
Another similar account is mentioned regarding Sayyiduna Abu Muhammad al-Murtaish رَحْمَةُ الـلّٰـهِ عَـلَيْه. He states: ‘I performed Hajj many times, but then I came to know that my lower self (Nafs) played a role in all of them. This is because one day, my mother told me to bring a pitcher of water. This felt burdensome to my lower self. Therefore, I came to know that for my lower self to easily accept what I pursued during the multiple times I performed Hajj was due to its influence and self-interest. Had my lower self been done away with, it would not have been difficult for it to fulfil something deemed right in Islam: obeying my mother.’
It is further stated in the verse:
وَ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ لَمَعَ الْمُحْسِنِیْنَ۠(۶۹)
And indeed Allah is with the virtuous.
Allah Almighty aids them in the world, and He will bestow upon them forgiveness and reward in the Hereafter.
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)](Part 21, Surah al-Ankaboot, verse 69)
 Madarik, al-Ankaboot, Ayah. 69, p. 899, al-Khaazin, al-Ankaboot, verse 69, vol. 3. p. 457
 al-Risaalah al-Qushayriyyah, pp. 306 - 307
 al-Risaalah al-Qushayriyyah, p. 308
 al-Risaalah al-Qushayriyyah, p. 306
 al-Risaalah al-Qushayriyyah, p. 309
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)](Part 3, Surah Aal Imran, verse 17)
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)](Part 3, Surah Aal Imran, verse 113)
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)](Part 21, Surah al-Sajdah, verse 16)
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)](Part 26, Surah. al-Zaariyaat, verses 17 - 18)
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)](Part 19, Surah al-Furqaan, verses 64 - 65)
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)](Part 7, Surah al-Anaam, verse 52)
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)](Part 15, Surah Bani Israeel, verse 78)
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)](Part 29, Surah al-Muzzammil, verses 1 - 6)
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)](Part 26, Surah al-Fath, verse 29)
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)](Part 30, Surah al-Alaa, verses 14 - 15)
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)](Part 30, Surah al-Shams, verses 7 - 10)
 Sahih al-Bukhari, Hadith 52
 al-Risaalah al-Qushayriyyah, p. 309
 [Kanz-ul-Iman (translation of Quran)](Part 21, Surah al-Ankaboot, verse 69)
 Madarik, Surah al-Ankaboot, verse 69, p. 900