Peter Awn (Columbia University photo)
The Washington Post wrings its hands this morning about the meaning of jihad, which has been, says reporter Jerry Markon, “debated by scholars for centuries.”
At two recent trials in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, it became clear that the argument — an especially loaded topic since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — is far from settled.
Prosecutors labeled five men charged with preparing stateside for combat abroad as being part of an 11-member “Virginia jihad network” and said they had been readying for “violent jihad.” Defense attorneys said the government had twisted the meaning of the word and that jihad is instead a peaceful term that can mean anything from studying Islam to caring for the sick.
The Post, of course, gives the last word in the article to the defense, hauling out a dhimmi professor to do the job:
Peter Awn, a professor of Islamic religion at Columbia University, said it was prosecutors who were “grasping to come up with a subcategory of jihad when the defense arguments were quite legitimate.”
“If you want to stigmatize someone today, you use the word jihad,” he said. “The word has enormous emotional power, it really does.”
of course. But Professor Awn should know full well that this is not an either/or question. Jihad in Islamic theology, history and law has a set of quite well-defined meanings, and they encompass both violence and acts such as caring for the sick. I invite him to pick up a copy of Onward Muslim Soldiers for the details from Islamic texts. Heck, Prof, send me your address and I’ll send you one, gratis. Don’t thank me, it’s no trouble!
The operative question here is not actually what jihad really means. It is: what do those who commit violence in the name of Islam think it means? If the “paintball terrorists” or any other terrorists believe that jihad is a religious responsibility to make war, it will do no good for Awn or any other “authority” to explain to them that it actually means caring for the poor and voting Democratic. The only viable approach would be a comprehensive refutation of the principles of jihad that are derived from Islamic texts, including but not limited to the Qur’an. And that can come only from a worldwide Islamic reformation, or revolution.