There is a persistent notion among many Muslims that fighting in the battlefield is something very inferior to fighting againstone's desires.While the former is termed as Jihad-i-asghar (the lesser Jihad), the latter is called the Jihad-i-akbar (the greater Jihad). Does this mean that we should be more anxious to take part in Jihad-i-akbar?
It is generally understood that the terms Jihad-i-akbar and Jihad-i-asghar are supposedly attributed to the Prophet (sws). However, this attribution does not have a sound basis. The chain of narrators of this narrative is very weak. Authorities of Hadīth like Ibn Hajar, Ibn Taymiyyah and Al-Bānī have convincingly challenged the authenticity of this narrative1. So, one can safely conclude that there is no such thing as a greater Jihad or a lesser one.
It needs to be appreciated that the word Jihad is used in the Qur'an to connote striving in the way of Allah. One particular form of such a struggle is that in which one might have to fight for Allah's cause. This is also termed as qitāl. In other words, striving in the way of Allah in whatever form one is able to in accordance with the needs that arise is what is required from a believer. Whether striving in His way in a particular form is more superior than some other one has not been indicated in any authentic source.
1. For details see Ibn Hajar's Takhrīj al-Kashshāf as annotation on Zamakhashrī's Kashshāff, 1st ed., vol. 3 (Beirut: Dār al-Turāth al-'Arabī, 1997), 174-5; Ibn Taymiyyah, Fatāwā, 2nd ed., vol. 11 (Riyād: 1399 AH), 197; al-Bānī, Silsilah al-Ahādīth al-Da'īfah wa al-Mawdū'ah, 1st ed., vol. 5 (Riyād: Maktabah Al-Ma'ārif, 1992), 478-480