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The Manipulation of Jihad

In the world today through the media, newspapers and internet an idea of Jihad is perpetuated throughout a variety of communities. The lack of understanding of the concept of Jihad and how radical groups have used it continues to strike fear into society. While this fear is understandable, the concept of Jihad needs to be understood in its own context. The history of jihad is complex to a certain degree the way it has developed over the centuries and how it was eventually used in the attacks of 9/11, is in fact due to Western colonialism. This is in no way condoning the radical use of Jihad or supporting the attacks of 9/11, the focus is the influence of Western civilizations on Islamic communities around the world. This influence is significant because in a way it has impacted the development of Jihad and its use in the modern world. Jihad is only one aspect that makes up Muslim communities, and is part of Islamic history. There are many other characteristics that make up Islam, which promote peace and communal prosperity. The five Pillars of Islam express all of these ideas and do not discuss violence as a trait of Muslim communities. Islam is not a religion solely founded on violence and the way Jihad has been manipulated has painted Islam as a violent, oppressive, and terrorist based religion. To understand how Jihad has been influenced by Western colonialism, the concept of Jihad must be addressed.

When one hears the word Jihad in the news or on the radio, one may think about the attacks of 9/11 or other attacks, which inherently refers to something negative and an act of brutality. This is the concept that many people have about Jihad. While this is to a degree accurate when addressing radical Jihad that has been manipulated and used by certain groups in this manner, it is not exclusively what Jihad means. The term Jihad “means to struggle or to strive.”[1] The meaning of this term is important because it means to struggle or strive for something, but does not necessarily mean something awful. Historically Jihad has a dual meaning depending on the context. The first meaning is “‘aggressive jihad’ which is a pro-active, and according to the majority, constituted a communal requirement to be carried out at least once every year.”[2] The second meaning is just as important and it is the “‘defensive jihad’, which was waged whenever Muslim lands were attacked.”[3] Both of these definitions of Jihad are key to understanding how it developed and was used within Muslim communities. Within Islamic history “Muslim conquests were neither for the purpose of conversion nor annihilating the infidel.”[4] These conquests were based on other agendas and goals, not only based on destruction and forced conversion. “The purpose of jihad, in other words, is to provide the security and freedom of the Muslims in a world that kept them under constant threat.”4 Similar to our fear now about Islam and Jihad, originally jihad was a form of protection and security for Muslim communities and their freedom. This idea is not so alien and distant from our own, an example of this is before Islam was the threat to us, it was Communism and communist countries. Similar to our laws and government that are put in place to protect us from “constant threats”, this was the function of jihad. With this to consider, even within historical context Jihad was not being used in the past with the intent to annihilate the infidels in the world and this is also the same case in the modern world.

While Jihad has had a dual meaning in the past it now needs to be understood in its specific situation and context when being used. Now the reason Jihad has developed and changed is due to Western colonialism. As expressed in Said’s, Orientalism the Western world imposed certain ideas, standards, stero-types and a specific image on the people that they ruled over. Due to this fact Muslim communities with development over time have “claimed to recuperate an “authentic Islam” comprised of self- evident truths purged of alien and corrupting influences.”5 Islam is trying to break away and purge its self of Western influence. This is not unusual; the same concept can be seen in India with the rise of Hindu nationalism and movements within Native American tribes in the United States both are trying to reclaim their true identity. Due to this need to return to something authentic, Jihad has been manipulated and used as a tool to express certain ideas. Jihad has developed more meaning in today’s world. The development of Muslim radicals that manipulate and use radical Jihad should not be ignored and pushed aside because this is part of the progression of Jihad in the modern day context and will continue to play a role in the world. Radical Muslims have taken Jihad and its function of protection for Muslim communities from threats and twisted it into something that justifies offensive attacks of brutality that lead to the massacre of people. This is the new form of Jihad that has developed and is a prominent part of the modern world.  “A more productive approach would be to search for ways of drawing Muslim Radicals into a logic that is both shared and esteemed by them and capable of serving a basis for moving them beyond the blind and reckless radicalism that often characterizes their views.”6 This may be a good goal to have with future development of these radical groups, but it will not be something that changes over night.

This new form of Jihad has become an imperative part of the world today that cannot simply be over looked, because it has created a new sense of fear, and misunderstanding of the Islamic world. The radical form of Jihad has not only been something that is detrimental to the Western world, but it has also been harmful to the Muslim communities around the world, in the shear fact that it has furthered ideas of Islam being an aggressive, violent religion focused on destroying all the infidels. This development of Jihad is far more treacherous for the entire world, including Muslims. Jihad needs to be understood in its specific context and how it is being used, because its past use is different then how it is being interpreted and used in the modern day. The history of Islam, including Jihad is not just about violence it does have aspects that make it a peaceful religion. A new understanding of Jihad needs to be created by the world; the only way to do this is to give Islam the opportunity to be a peaceful religion. This means that the Western world is just as responsible for their actions as the Muslim world is.[5] Both must work together to stop radical Jihad and to recreate a more accurate understanding of Jihad and its actual role within a Muslim community.

[1] Roxanne L. Euben, Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought, 40.

[2] Sherman A. Jackson, Jihad and the Modern World. The University of Michigan, (2002), 15.

[3] Sherman A. Jackson, Jihad and the Modern World. The University of Michigan, (2002), 15.

4 Sherman A. Jackson, Jihad and the Modern World. The University of Michigan, (2002), 15.

5 Roxanne L. Euben, Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought, 27.

6 Sherman A. Jackson, Jihad and the Modern World. The University of Michigan, (2002), 21-22

7 Sherman A. Jackson, Jihad and the Modern World. The University of Michigan, (2002), 25-26.

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Discussion

7 thoughts on “The Manipulation of Jihad

  1. Your article quickly introduces us to the stereotypical depiction of Jihad in the West. This misrepresentation is problematic since it breeds confusion, anger, and resentment on both sides of the world. In addition, your analysis presents a historical examination of the term which allows us to relate to the struggles of a spiritual community seeking to preserve its traditions. A social, cultural, and historical understanding of the Muslim world as well as the tools developed within the community in order to preserve its principles demand a readjustment of our pre-established definitions along with the reinterpretation of the accepted classifications. In other words, as we reflect on our understanding of the “other,” we must explore the cultural and socio-political mindset that created it.

    Most of us acknowledge that the West depicts the East as intellectually inferior and religiously dangerous (the Middle East in particular). Furthermore, we also recognize that the interpretation of the “other” is often erroneous, politically motivated, and vastly misleading. In sum, your article challenges the reader to question the Western intent of depicting Islam as religious extremism.

    Although I agree with the fact that Western political movements have influenced the Islamic response against the West, I believe that radical forms of Islamism are also often misunderstood and misrepresented. Furthermore, I believe that Islam has been a religion of peace as much as Christianity has been a religion of peace in the West; therefore we must continue to strive for understanding one another without disrespecting and misrepresenting the “other.”

    Posted by alfredo71 | February 20, 2012, 1:52 am
  2. I enjoyed how your article awakens people to the multiplicity and context of jihad, but I think stylistically it could have been made more concise. From your article I get the idea that the verdict is still out on Jihad. You say that the term has been manipulated by different groups, it would be nice to hear some specific examples of this. I also get the sense that there is a right or wrong way for Muslims to use jihad. How do you know this? Is it because of majority feelings, ways of interpreting text, etc.? Your article leaves me with more questions and maybe this is something you wanted. “This new form of Jihad has become an imperative part of the world today that cannot simply be over looked, because it has created a new sense of fear, and misunderstanding of the Islamic world. The radical form of Jihad has not only been something that is detrimental to the Western world, but it has also been harmful to the Muslim communities around the world, in the shear fact that it has furthered ideas of Islam being an aggressive, violent religion focused on destroying all the infidels.” I want to know is this radical form detrimental to Muslims themselves? What are non-radical Muslims saying about this? Does the majority not accept this way of looking at Jihad?

    Posted by cassidylp | February 20, 2012, 3:13 pm
  3. Your article presents an interesting case for how Jihad should be understood. Early on in your post, you suggest that the idea of jihad that dominates (at least) American discourse is an inaccurate representation of the idea. You state that “the concept of Jihad needs to be understood in its own context.” Also stated above: “While Jihad has had a dual meaning in the past it now needs to be understood in its specific situation and context when being used.” Your emphasis on context is understandable, however somewhat confusing to me. Are you suggesting that perhaps the notion of jihad used by the media is acontextual? I would contend that the dominant western notion of jihad is MORE contextual than traditional past definitions. When the American media uses the word “jihad,” it is generally in a very specific narrative concerning the threat of extremist Muslims to the freedom of America. I don’t feel that the term gets thrown around in a way that ignores context, but perhaps ignores the context of past Muslim-generated notions of jihad.
    Concerning the end of your post: you state that we need to allow a new definition of jihad so as to allow Muslims to be peaceful and Islam to be a religion of peace. I think you have identified a potential reason that this new, peaceful definition has not, and will not be enacted – certain western powers have an interest in being able to control the Middle East (perhaps for natural resources?), and therefore, the American people have to believe that “those Muslims in the Middle East” are detestable, that their religion rewards and incites violence against America, and that they will never have a peaceful, free society until we impose democracy on them.

    Posted by fetheras | February 20, 2012, 3:47 pm
  4. While I agree with most of your post, particularly the assertion that “jihad” should be understood in its context (for I definately agree that context is everything because words are often interpreted in many ways), the end of your post struck me as untenable.

    You state, “A new understanding of Jihad needs to be created by the world; the only way to do this is to give Islam the opportunity to be a peaceful religion. This means that the Western world is just as responsible for their actions as the Muslim world is. Both must work together to stop radical Jihad and to recreate a more accurate understanding of Jihad and its actual role within a Muslim community.”

    You begin this excerpt by pushing for a new peaceful interpretation of jihad and end with the assertion that this would “recreate a more accurate understanding of Jihad.” It seems that what you are suggesting is a return to a former understanding of jihad, but it is not clear what that vision of jihad entails other than it is peaceful and defensive. Underlying this assertion that the accurate definition of jihad can be renewed is the premise that there is one accurate interpretation. While you are free to make such claims (from a theological standpoint) it seems that this is one of the problems people in the West have when speaking about Islam. The belief that there is one real Islam that needs to be uncovered and that all other forms of Islam can be dismissed is what leads to generalized pictures of the “other.” Either Islam is peaceful or Islam is violent, but it cannot be both, for we are trying to find one definition of Islam. In the same way, by poisiting a correct understanding of jihad distances the discussion from real interpretations in history. I certainly do not disagree that a more peaceful understanding of jihad would be beneficial, but this does not mean it is the one true understanding of jihad.

    As a side note, your assertion that “the Western world is just as responsible for their actions as the Muslim world is” is far fetched. It’s like saying I am responsible when my neighbor kills someone. Even if they think I’ve been tormenting them for years, it still seems they are a little more responsible for their violence than I am.

    Posted by shannonwiese | February 20, 2012, 7:41 pm
  5. Everyone thank you for your comments.

    Alfredo, I would like to address your point about how radical Islam is also misrepresented and misunderstood. While I do agree with this point of yours, the point I was trying to make in my piece is that first the general misconception the West has of Jihad needs to be addressed and fixed. Only when we can fix this misunderstanding than we can address radical Islam and how it has been misunderstood and misrepresented. Until then I think automatically leaping to the idea that radical Islam may be difficult and more problematic. There are many other things that need to be over come and addressed before being able to do this.

    Cassidy, as for your first question I may not have cited sources of Muslim communities expressing their disagreement with how Jihad has been used by Radicals, but this has been expressed. With futher development of this piece it would be something I would add. My point was to express how the West has an inaccurate understanding of Jihad based events like 9/11, when in reality Jihad does not inherently mean the act of terrible things like this. It was my intent to more questions in the reader, the reason being to spark interest and a new way of thinking about Jihad. The goal was to make the reader question their own misunderstanding and interpretation of Jihad, including if it is bias. Another point you inquire about is “this radical form detrimental to Muslims themselves?” I would say yes. There have been car bombings and radical acts of Jihad in Muslim communities as well, not just the United States. Also because of the actions of radical Muslims and events like 9/11 the over all effect and view of the Muslim world is that these actions have painted a brutal, violent, unforgiving, destroy the infidels idea about Islam and Muslims. So Muslim communities that are not and did not partake in radical Jihad are now seen, judged and represented by these actions. This makes it difficult for these communities to over come these ideas that have been branded into Westerners minds about Islam and Muslims. This is similar to the Nazis and their actions, which created a specific image, and understanding of Germany and Germans during this period. When in reality not everyone in Germany acted like that or even supported it but Germans were still feared. Again with more work done on this piece I would expand this point and how Muslims communities have been affected by these acts of radical Jihad as well. A point I would like to make is that we do not even know how long the repercussions these actions of Radical Muslims will have on the world or this erroneous understanding of Islam and Jihad.

    Alex, the point you raise about the term Jihad and it being addressed in this specific context is accurate, but I believe the problem is that Jihad is only used in one specific context and while the past notion of it is not addressed neither is how it is being used in other contexts in the Muslim world. The word Jihad has become the emblem of 9/11 and terrorism and this is problematic and only focuses on one specific situation and context. I also think you make a valid point about how certain western powers are more interested in controlling the Middle East and therefore have Americans believing that Muslims are reward for being violent against the United States. This is a terrible fact of this situation, but imposing democracy is only going to create even more repercussions and problems for the future.

    Shannon, while I agree with most of what you say. I do disagree with your last point and analogy. I am talking about a larger group of people more specifically two civilizations. This is not nit picky stuff occurring between neighbors and them just harassing and bothering each other. This is much larger and has far greater consequences, which have lead to a significant number of deaths, injuries, continued conflicts and a complete Islamphobia in the world. This is not some childish quarrel that we can continue to blame others for and assert that we have had no part in. Again I state that the Western World and the Muslim world are both equal responsible for their actions. This is not far fetched and it is time to stop denying our role in this and own up to our actions and the consequences involved.

    Posted by tealam12 | February 21, 2012, 4:50 pm
  6. If we look at the usage of this word in terms of semantic drift, then it usage is not problematic. This happens to words over time. In one temporal period a word might have a meaning which matches its denotation. Then, over time, one or more connotations of the word may come to be its primary meaning in regular use. This is perhaps what has occured with jihad. Other words with similar semantic drift are demagogue and gay.

    Demgagogue used to mean “a leader of people,” from Greek dēmagōgós (δημαγωγόσ) = dêmos (δήλοσ, people) + agōgós (ἀγωγόσ, leader). Now, this word means a political figure who manipulates through appeals to emotions and prejudices. This is what most of our political leaders are now, incidentally, when they mention the word jihad. Another word that describes something which might have a causal relationship to both being a demagogue and also jihad (in certain cases) is gay. This innocent word once meant “happy.” Now, it can almost absolutely not be used in this manner because its new meaning is “homosexual.” It has even suffered further drift and come to mean “awful” or “terrible.” Incidentally awful (originally awe + full) has undergone a similar shift, once meaning “something which fills one with terror or awe.” Now it just means “bad.”

    On one hand, these words are all victims of poor usage and illiteracy. On the other hand, they have been given the chance to mean a whole new thing. They are reborn! How we use them is sometimes problematic. Sometimes we choose to use these words instead of describing something more fully. We say, “Islamic jihad” when we mean “protests and violence caused by economic and political disenfranchisement in a country which has a Muslim majority population.” Or we might say, “that sweater is so gay,” but we do not mean that the sweater is a sexual being which only interacts sexually with other sex-categorically similar beings. No, we mean that the sweater is awful, or that perhaps it is something that a gay (not awful or happy, just homosexual) person might wear. We also might use “Islamic jihad” to describe the wars of the Khawarij (an early political grouping of Muslims) against the followers of ‘Ali and also the followers of Mu‘awiya. That was definitely jihad in the sense of a violent struggle against someone else in defense of the religion (or at least the religion that the Khawarij believed was Islam. Incidentally, they were fighting other Muslims, and many of the reasons were political rather than religious, so there we go again.

    On the other hand, a Sufi may describe his internal spiritual struggle as a jihad, and he would be right in doing so. While this usage may seem a bit hyperbolic, Sufis believe the human soul to be a troubling entity, full of temptation, which must be tamed, sometimes violently. So our usage of words is contextual, as you say, and we have to be mindful of this context, or we risk saying and writing things which mean nothing at all or mean the opposite of what we wish to express.

    Posted by johndmartin | February 21, 2012, 5:42 pm
  7. I committed a few typos. Apologies. The first line should read:

    “If we look at the usage of this word in terms of semantic drift, then its usage is not problematic, at least not in a linguistic sense.”

    The first line of the second paragraph should read:

    Demgagogue used to mean “a leader of people,” from Greek dēmagōgós (δημαγωγόσ) = dêmos (δήμοσ, people) + agōgós (ἀγωγόσ, leader).”

    Posted by johndmartin | February 21, 2012, 5:48 pm

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