I came across an interesting news piece recently from The Washington Post about the Arabic word “jihad”. An organisation called My Jihad has started a campaign across the USA to re-brand the word to try and distance it from those on the extremes of Islam (and of course outside Islam) who use and abuse its translation.
For me this is fascinating from a language point of view – Muslims trying to address the (mis) translation of an Islamic term.
Jihad. I guess many of us react to this word in certain ways due to media usage over the past 11 or so years. Be honest, what words jump out at you when you hear the word?
“Jihad is synonymous with terrorism, blowing up things, and spilling innocent blood. For many others, including members of the media and academia and even some Western dictionaries, jihad is often mistranslated simply as ‘holy war,’” explains Ahmed Rehab one of the key stakeholders at My Jihad.
How did we come to this collective understanding? Well, a few reasons.
Within the media “jihad” has been used specifically in discourse and reporting surrounding the topics of war and/or terrorism. Granted, some of this is down to the groups shouting “jihad” when waving their guns and Qurans about. On top of this, the Orientalist academics over the past 100 or so years have mistranslated the word into English so that to many, it became synonymous with “holy war” and Islamic expansionism. Only recently have some commentators made the case to look at the real meaning of the word and its intent.
So what does “jihad” actually mean? To really understand the meaning you need to understand a bit about the religion of Islam. For Muslims, this world is simply a plane of transition – the world isn’t ‘real’ per se but more a journey we take in order to reach our final destination. During this journey God tests us. These tests come in different shapes and sizes whether it is money, family, war or drug addiction. The whole idea of this world is to ‘struggle’ against these tests and react to them in the appropriate manner. This struggle is seen as a route to personal development and spiritual enlightenment.
Jihad essentially means struggling in the path of God. So what could be considered jihad?
Going to war, yes is jihad. Why? Because war is disliked in Islam, killing is disliked and environmental destruction is disliked. To go to war, is a struggle. To pick yourself up, leave your family and potentially travel for months to go and kill people or be killed is not easy – its jihad – i.e. it’s a struggle in the way of God.
Do you raise children? It’s not that easy is it? Guess what? Yes, Muslims consider this to be jihad. Raising your kids to become decent people, to work to feed and clothe them, to wake with them at 2am to clean a wet bed or keep them safe is all a struggle in the way of God – jihad.
Feeding the hungry, the homeless, the orphans and the needy – you guessed it – jihad. Anyone doing this will know of the sacrifice in time, energy, money, etc. but if it’s done in the path of God, it is jihad, i.e. it has a spiritual dimension to it.
Hopefully you get the idea. Jihad is simply and utterly about struggling to do good things and do them right.
With the hope of reclaiming jihad from Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists alike, the website has also launched a “#My jihad” ad campaign which recently began running in Washington D.C. metro stations. The ads have previously appeared on buses in San Francisco and Chicago.
Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), says that he is hoping to change the narrative around the word jihad.
“We kind of got tired sitting there watching people tell us what we believe or what we don’t believe. Jihad is a central tenet of the Islamic creed which means struggling uphill in order to get to a better place.”
Rehab also is inviting Muslims to tweet using the hashtag #myjihad to explain how jihad shapes their lived spirituality.
“The best jihad is a word of justice to an unjust ruler” – The Prophet Muhammad