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How does Sufism view jihad?

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Harry Neale's  book 'Jihad in Premodern Sufi Writings' is the only comprehensive study in a European language that analyzes how Sufi treatises, Qur’anic commentary, letters, hagiography, and poetry define and depict jihad.

The depiction of Sufis fulfilling a martial role would seem to contradict the contemporary image of Sufis as the peaceful, introspective mystics of Islam. In the Western popular imagination, Sufis compose allegorical poetry, sing, and dance in order to achieve a trance-like mystical state and are not overly concerned with outward manifestations of religions but rather with the universal truths common to all faiths.

Most importantly, Sufis exemplify the true meaning of jihad as a spiritual struggle against the lower self, which they refer to as the “greater jihad.”

Neale analyses Sufi jihad discourse in Arabic and Persian texts composed between the eleventh and seventeenth centuries, providing access to many writings that have been unavailable in English.  Despite the diversity of practice within Sufism that existed throughout the premodern period, Sufi writings consistently promulgated a complementary understanding of jihad as both a spiritual and military endeavor.

Neale discusses the disparity between contemporary academic Sufi jihad discourse in European languages, which generally presents Sufis as peaceful mystics, and contemporary academic writing in Arabic that depicts Sufis as exemplary warriors who combine spiritual discipline with martial zeal.

The book concludes that historically, Sufi writings never espoused a purely spiritual interpretation of the doctrine of jihad.

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