"The Truth" About Jihad

When someone entitles their book "The Truth About [Something]", you can be fairly confident that "The Truth" is not what the author is in search of. So it is in the mind-numbing work "The Truth About Muhammad" by Robert Spencer, in which the author uses the term "jihad" in a completely different fashion than Muhammad ever did. Whereas "jihad" means 'a struggle against one's self', Spencer claims that it gives license to all Muslims to be violent warriors in their 'crusade' to convert the globe to Islam.

I met several Iraqis when I was in Iraq. Of those I met, some were angry that I was there as an American soldier, but none of them wanted to kill me. They preferred, instead, to improve their personal lives through living the tenets of Islam, including practicing "jihad".

In his book, "The  Truth About Muhammad," Robert Spencer doesn't seem to care how Muhammad (or most Muslims today, for that matter) defined "jihad". Instead, proceeding from the incorrect assumption that it means violent warfare, Spencer refers to Islam as not "a religion of peace" and applies the term "jihadist" several times in book to all Muslims, implying that they either currently are or will be violent warriors in the cause of Islam. The terms "jihadist" and "jihad", despite their similarity, mean almost exactly the opposite of each other.

To be sure, there are "jihadists"--violent warriors, such as those who destroyed the Twin Towers--but this small group of violent Muslims has adulterated the term "jihad" into something that is nearly opposite of its original meaning. Rather than take the bait (from those who profit from fear and control) that all Muslims are violence in embryo, I think it would be better for non-Muslims to ask a Muslim what "jihad" really means.

In his book, "How to Win a Cosmic War", Reza Aslan, an Iranian American Muslim (who abhors what happened on 9/11, by the way) explains what jihad really is and how some Americans--lathered into a religious frenzy against Islam by people like Spencer--seem to relish mis-understanding what the term means.

Aslan tells us
There has been much confusion over the meaning and application of the word "Jihadism", because it is so often misappropriated either by opportunistic politicians who place all of America's adversaries into a single category or by careless media that too often pander to the fears of an unknowledgeable public. Muslims in particular are annoyed by the term, arguing (correctly) that the concept of jihad, as utilized by al Qa'ida...is a base and corrupt rendering of a centuries-old doctrine...  In Arabic, jihad literally means "struggle"...and is almost always followed in the Qur'an by the phrase "in the way of God." Jihad implies a struggle against the self.

How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror, p. xvi-xvii
Interestingly, little if any evidence actually exists that Muhammad used jihad in the way that Robert Spencer, some American politicians, and much of the America media use it today. The violent term "jihadism"--which, in action, bears very little resemblance to the word "jihad"--didn't come into use until the last century or so.

In a time of increasing violence around the globe, it's important that we don't do anything to exacerbate that violence, especially when the exacerbation of violence is based on an utter lie. American pundits and politicians should practice more "jihad" and less "jihadism".

Comments

  1. So when Muhammad's troops stormed across Egypt and North Africa and into Asia forcing Christians and other to convert to Islam (or pay the Jizya), and when the Ottomans conquered Eastern Europe and besieged Vienna (twice), none of that had anything to do with Jihad? Maybe conquering and forcibly converting other nations are merely means to struggle internally against oneself. Maybe Islam knew the Americans would overthrow Mossadegh in the 1950s and were just retaliating in advance.

    Yes, Christians had the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery and other atrocities, and Muslims had the Barbary pirates, the devshirme, Janissaries, slavery and other atrocities so there's no need to get into an argument over which side was better or worse. Both were bad.

    The issue is religious extremism and overreaction to religious extremism. Certainly most Muslims are not jihadists if we use Spencer's definition, but some are. We can cite several examples of violent groups imposing their will on the majority and leading them to disaster (Russia in 1917, Japan in the 1930s). Back in 1933, not all Germans wanted to exterminate the Jews and launch the planet into a world war, but enough did to make a difference.

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