Sufism -- Sufis -- Sufi Orders
The "affirmation" can be said to take the form of embracing and engaging the presence of God in whatever form it may appear within one's consciousness--even in the form of the thoughts that "God is absent," "I am depressed, or "I am distant from God." This unconditional embrace of the presence of God is simply called taslim in Muslim languages. This word is cognate with and is at the root of the word "Islam," and in light of the meaning expressed here, I have translated it as "engaged surrender."
In this regard, the struggle with one's own nafs has been called
the greater struggle or greater "holy war" (al-jihad al-akbar) in
contrast to the lesser struggle (al-jihad al-asghar), which is
against injustice and oppressors in this world. The concept derives from
the popular hadith of the Prophet, in which he said to Muslims returning
from a battle,
"You have returned from the lesser struggle to the greater struggle." And
he was asked, "What is the greater struggle?" He answered, "The struggle
against one's self (nafs), which is between the two sides of your
body." Needless to say, in Sufism these two struggles are mutually
reinforcing and occur simultaneously. In particular, the practice of
"engaged surrender" in the "greater" struggle with one's own nafs
diminishes certain obstacles in the consciousness of the Sufi, obstacles that--if
not stuggled against--will hinder the Sufi's capacity to engage in
the "lesser" struggle in their life in the world.
An early text on the struggle with one's self is the treatise Jihad al-nafs, written by the al-Hakim al-Tirmidhi (d. 932). (Fixed, 1 October 2000.)
Another treatise on the struggle with the nafs is al-Ghazali's jihad al-nafs. This is taken from his masterpiece Ihya' 'ulum al-din (The Revival of the Religious Sciences). Al-Ghazali (d. 1111) is one of the most well-known Islamic scholars and is often credited with establishing the orthodoxy of Sufism. A substantial biography of al-Ghazali (link fixed 20 August, 2005) emphasizing his contribution to Islamic philosophy is by the scholar, Kojiro Nakamura. A short biography of Al-Ghazali is present in the online Encyclopedia Britannica (but only a few paragraphs are online unless the reader has a paid subscription to the Britannica, which libraries often have, or which individuals can obtain for free though a 14-day subscription). (Link fixed, Jan. 1, 2002.)
See also Jihad al-akbar, an except from the book Islamic Beliefs and Doctrine According to Ahl al-Sunna: A Repudiation of "Salafi" Innovations written by the contemporary Naqshbandi, Shaykh Hisham Kabbani. In this online article, the author discusses the idea of the struggle against one's self, the "greater jihad" (al-jihad al-akbar), paying particular attention to the various evidence from hadith literature. Note that at the beginning of the excerpt a reference is made to the "above Hadith." It is possible that the hadith in question is the hadith on the "greater jihad" that I have mentioned above.
In spite of strong arguments for the idea that the greater jihad is the jihad against the self, Muslim militants and Wahhabis resist such a concept and attempt to invalidate it on the basis of hadith criticism and the conviction that relegating warfare to the status of "lesser jihad" gives it far less significance than it should have in Islam. See the article Greater and Lesser Jihad (fixed 20 February 2008) by a certain Abu Fadl and on line originally at Nida ul-Islam (The Call of Islam), a website supportive of al-Qaeda.
A contemporary discussion of jihad from a Sufi perspective is expressed in the essay The Spiritual Significance of Jihad by Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University.