So you turn on the television, and you see on the news that another jihadist movement is fermenting terror around the world, you see several news stations talking about how Muslims have “infiltrated” America, you hear about jihadists are killing freedom- but I want to take a step back from all this, and talk about the very important word- Jihad.
(Boy will this be controversial.)
So what is Jihad? Jihad is a difficult word to explain, even for someone who has done extensive research on Islam and the Middle East. Most of the time, it’s translated as “struggle”- the translation of jihad being “holy war” is incorrect in most contexts. For most branches of Islam, there are two kinds of jihad- the lesser jihad, and the greater jihad- the outer struggle, and the inner struggle respectively. Traditionally, the internal struggle of faith, against one’s ego, combating desire,striving for good and justice is the greater jihad. When you think about it; of course the inner jihad is more important! I mean it’s constant, it’s harder, and remember what several of human civilization’s greatest thinkers said:
To conquer oneself is a greater task than conquering others.
But then why is it that by far, the lesser jihad- jihad of the sword- gains much more attention, and what does it tell us about ourselves?
Firstly, the lesser jihad is the physical struggle. Sometimes this can involve war, but not always. Now I’m not going to quote the Koran in fear of backlash for an incorrect translation or an allegorical meaning, but Islam only permits physical jihad against people who harm Muslims- not any non-believers. It also clearly states (about jihad or war of any kind) that you shall not harm civilians, children nor infrastructure. But if this is so, then why do so many terrorists claiming to be under the banner of Islam kill hundreds of civilians and bomb hundreds of buildings a year- and when they point to a verse in the Koran, how can this justification be true?
Well, the first question is hard to answer- it can be for numerous reasons: Insanity, political motives, it could be a military move- but remember this: The Koran (for the most part, but we’ll address this problem later) promotes peace. Jihad- (which is a righteous thing, to struggle for God) is not what these terrorists conduct. Although it is debated, many prominent experts in the field say that the correct term for what terrorists do would be Hirabah ( حِرابة), translated usually as “unlawful warfare”, or “piracy”- hirabah also coming under a larger umbrella of Islam principle called Fasad, or basically crimes against law in the Muslim community. This term (Hirabah) means when someone creates unlawful chaos, destruction and rage- something that is heavily condemned in the Koran. So now that we know that it’s not jihad, let’s move onto the second, more interesting question.
More than anything, the real issue of terrorists using the Koran as justification is with context. With anything, context can be very important. Historical context, geographical context, social context, these things are all very important to the reading of any book- a rule that is perhaps, highlighted in the case of the severely misunderstood Koran. With God was revealing His word to Muhammed the prophet, he was at war. These revelations, about slaying your enemies, was justification for fighting back then- but that doesn’t mean it is justification for fighting now. Of course, one could argue that if this were the case, then the Koran must be very loosely and abstractedly interpreted- but I’m not here to plead any case, just to explain. Quotes, when they are moved out of their context, can be misinterpreted very easily- this is the basis of what the terrorists call “justification from God”. Perhaps the most interesting case recently was the snippet of Obama’s speech about businesses that the Republicans used against him in the 2012 election.
Here’s a good example.
Claim: President Barack Obama believes that business owners do not deserve credit for the success of their business.
Quote: “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” (Barack Obama, stump speech in Roanoke, Virginia, July 13, 2012)
Quote in Context: “There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me — because they want to give something back. They know they didn’t — look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. You didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something — there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
So you can see why context is important.
Finally, I want to talk about why Islam is so misunderstood, especially in America. I really think fault can be placed on the media, but ultimately the fault falls on the people. Too many times, people just accept all these butchered, out-of-context quotes as fact, and too many times do people fall into the trap of not looking things up themselves. This combination- of a media which profits from stories involving terrorism and a significant number of people who will not bother to look things up- really separates the human race. We are all born equal, I’m sure everyone knows that; but too often the media tries to make it look otherwise.
Hopefully, you now know a little more about Islam, Jihad, Hirabah, terrorism and context. As always, if you have any suggestions for terms to be explained, go to the “ask” section of this blog- and if you have any questions or corrections (remembering that I’m not a Muslim, and even though in my Asian Studies degree I’ve covered Islam quite a bit- there’s still a lot to learn.) regarding Islam, Jihad, Hirabah, or basically anything mentioned above- don’t hesitate to leave a comment.
(Again, for fear of persecution, I have to say that there is no bias here. If you find something that resembles bias, it mustn’t be taken as such. Also, please don’t put hate comments below. I have no interest in fighting with you, and there’s nothing I find more horrible than a hate war where no-one wins, no information is exchanged and where everyone is left angry. Thanks!)