Much in the same way that radicals have hijacked the public persona of Islam throughout the West, Western media has failed to maintain objectivity in its portrayal of Islam.
The interpretation of the term ‘Jihad’ in contemporary Islam is one of the most common misconceptions, as well as points of debate, inside and outside the Arab world. The different types of Jihad, its interpretations and the role it plays in the contemporary understanding of Islam are subjects of constant debate in the post- 9/11 globalized world. Even more so after the fundamentalist Islamic groups skyrocketed to international stardom.
Jihad is the daily struggle to do what is halal and to avoid what is haraam. The Jihads in Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Chechnya, and Kashmir have provided a vivid and uniting consciousness for Muslims around the world.
When translated literally from Arabic, Jihad means effort or struggle.
What exactly Muslims are struggling against, however, depends on the type of Jihad one is referring to. There are technically four types Jihad: of the heart, the tongue, the hand, and the sword. Jihad is often more simply categorized as either greater or lesser, although there is some debate as to whether or not war/armed battle constitutes the lesser Jihad according to the Prophet’s teachings.
Lastly, Jihad of the sword, lesser Jihad, involves the defense of a Muslim’s faith and person if being attacked.
The term “holy war” when referring to Jihad of the sword dates back to the days of Saladin and the liberation of the Holy Land from the infidels. It is important to keep the holy wars within their 11th to 13th century context.
When Catholic Pope Urban II called for Christians to aid in defending the Byzantine Empire from the Turkish invasion, Europe was engulfed by a series of endless territorial battles. The Pope saw the Crusades as an opportunity to unite Christians against a common enemy as well as satisfy the seemingly endless European lust for battle. After the arrival of the French and Italian Crusaders to Constantinople, they pledged to restore territories to the Byzantine Empire that had been seized by the Turks, which would eventually lead to the first siege of Jerusalem.
As was the practice of the times, the Christian Crusaders pillaged the town, murdering its Jewish and Muslim civilian inhabitants, destroying their places of worship and eventually, the city itself. The reinterpretations of Islam by ideological leaders like Hassan Al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in early 20th century Egypt, Mawlana Mawdudi created the foundation upon which modern Islamic fundamentalists have based their interpretations of Islam and therefore the familiar clamoring for Jihad.
The resurgence of powerful Islamic ideological and political societies, the eventual demise of Western Colonialism in the region along with the independence of countries like Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, and Pakistan has opened up the debate over the implementation of Shariah law.
Newly liberated colonies with Muslim-majority populations adopted constitutions that were similar to those of their ex-colonizers. The failure to implement Shariah law in newly established majority-Muslim countries helped drive a new wave of Islamic fundamentalism, which had been brewing under the West’s radar until the Iranian Revolution in the 1970s.
Suddenly the West became very aware of a seemingly backwards revolution where the people of a country chose to fight against modernization instead of for it. Within the next decade, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the American support of any and all opposing forces created a figurative perfect storm. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan gave the fundamentalists a very real Jihad to fight, the first of such in centuries.
In the latter half of the twentieth century, Jihad became the struggle to defend Islam and the umma, or community of Islamic faithful, against the West’s perceived cultural imperialism. With the perceived corruption of Islamic societies throughout the Arabic world and beyond, fundamentalist leaders are calling for a return to a purer and more authentic Islam, similar to that of the Prophet Mohammed.
The ability to apply itself within evolving social contexts is what allows Islam to remain relevant in modern times. The struggle against those of our internal longings that are haraam is the greatest of Jihads. However the vast majority of people in the West have no idea that Jihad constitutes anything beyond a war against the freedoms of secular societies. Today Muslims living in the West face many of the same challenges that other minority groups, long since assimilated into mainstream society, once faced in the past.”
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