Trying to Explain Jihad al-Nafs to Christopher Robin*

An Ode to Uncle from Precocious, Eight-Year-Old Ben
September 14, 2010
At once I knew, small boy
September 17, 2010

I said to him: “Brace yourself, lad! There’s a storm!”

To which he replied naively: “Hail and such? All that gustiness and water from the clouds? Tigger! Pooh!! Find a tree!”

Now, I can’t get down on the lad too awful much. The world’s a complicated place and metaphors are slippery. Like the tiled great halls of the greats.

“No, no!” I persisted. “It’s about tug-of-war, see? You give this bit, you give up that. In the end it comes out about even if you’re paying any attention. Like the birds and the bees.”

“I thought that felt good,” he mumbled, greatly perplexed. Pooh tugged at his oversized shirt. “The last time I played tug-of-war—”

“Yes, well, on a good day, yes,” I interrupted. “But let’s not be too literal, shall we? Look, all I’m saying is that you can’t have a rainbow without a storm, follow?”

“Not really. Is it about to rain?” His bulbous eyes stared back at me while Tigger nipped at his tail. They were both starkly blank in the face.

“No.” Sighing, I reconsidered the matter: “Alright, let me start again. Suppose you tell your friend you’ll go to his birthday party.”

“Like Pooh’s party? That’s in a week! We’re going to have tea with honey and Tigger’s making biscuits and cookies, and then—”

“Yes, yes, like all of that,” I cut him off again, impatient. “But now, if your dear mother came down with a horrendous cold and needed someone to take care of her on the very day you were supposed to have the party, what would you do?”

“That’s easy! I’d bring her tea with honey, and biscuits, and cookies, and the cake that Eeyore is making, and—”

“Look, just shut up for a moment about the party, will you? You’re making this insanely difficult to explain.”

“You’re trying to explain something? Pooh is good with words! I’m sure he could help you!”


“Well, did you want to help us bake cookies for the party? I’ll bet you love cookies!”

“No, see, you’re missing the point. It’s not about the party, or about cookies, or …” I stopped.

The four of them—Eeyore, Tigger, Pooh, and Christopher—stared up at me, mouths agape in innocent awe, wondering what I was going to say next.

“Nevermind,” I murmured, resigned. “Cookies sound simply delightful. Lead on.”

And they gleefully bounced into the forest to prepare biscuits and cookies and cakes and tea with honey. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

[*Jihads are commonly misunderstood in the Western world as calls to war or battle issued by Muslims. The actual translation of “jihad” is “struggle,” and most often deals with internal moral, spiritual, and ethical struggles. Specifically, these are referred to as jihad al-nafs.]

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