Jihad and Terrorism
Every Muslim must do jihad (struggle). Must do. In the literal meaning of the word, they strive in the path of God by observing the five essentials of Islam and trying to be good human beings.
The Prophet Muhammed, upon returning from one war, said, “We have come from the smaller jihad to the greater jihad.” Asked what he meant, he replied, “the jihad against oneself.”
The word jihad strikes fear in the West, where it is understood soley in terms of war, but it is a more benign word for most Muslims. To them, the first jihad is the struggle against the ego. Then there’s the jihad against the devil. There’s also the jihad of the tongue to spread the word of Islam. There’s the jihad of charity. There’s the jihad of the pen to spread knowledge. These are all individual jihads.
Muslims are also sometimes urged to undertake similarly peaceful but collective jihads for the most mundane matters, such as the jihad for cleanliness, once declared by the Egyptian government; the jihad for literacy, initiated by the Tunisian government; the jihad against corruption in government, periodically proclaimed in Pakistan with little or no success; the jihad for water conservation, and so on.
“Nowadays, jihad is often used without any religious connotation, more or less equivalent to the English word, crusade – ‘a crusade against drugs,’” writes Rudolph Peters, professor at the University of Amsterdam. “If used in the religious context, the adjective ‘Islamic’ or ‘holy’ is added to the jihad.”
But in the West where jihad is a highly charged term, especially since 9/11, we have two parallel discourses. Those looking to discredit Islam insist that it is an inherently violent religion. “Look, it says right here in the Qur’an,” they say. Osama bin Laden and other terrorists quote these same Qur’anic passages to justify terrorism. But most Muslims and many non-Muslims say Islam is a religion of peace, and they resent that both Islamophobes and militant Muslims are twisting it’s meaning to suit their disparate agendas.
Falling somewhere in the middle is the Western media narrative on holy war. The American media, in particular, have played hot and cold on the issue. They were highly critical when Iranians rallied under the Islamic banner for the 1979 revolution that toppled the pro-American dictator, the Shah. But during the US-backed 1980-89 holy war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the media glorified the 35,000 Mujahideen (those waging jihad) who had been recruited from forty-three Muslim countries and paid for by the Central Intelligence Agency, and whom President Ronald Reagan called the moral equivalent of America’s founding fathers. Dan Rather, CBS-TV news anchor, proudly posed on the Afghan frontier wearing the local costume of long shirt and pantaloons, as if he had joined the jihad himself.
The media adopted a more neutral tone during Saddam Hussein’s 1980-88 war on Iran, which he called a jihad and which the United States supported. The media became hostile when Israel and America were targeted – by the Hezbollah during the 1982-2000 Israeli occupation of Lebanon, by some Palestinians during the second intifadah, by Al Qaeda on 9/11 and by various groups since in occupied Iraq and elsewhere.
Holy war is good when it suits the West but evil when it doesn’t.