Misunderstanders of Islam Alert: in “Professor addresses perceptions of term ‘jihad'” by Katt Henry in the University of Virginia’s Cavalier Daily, we see repeated yet again the now quite familiar distractions and diversions from the main question which is: even if the jihadists are somehow misusing the term jihad, they are doing so all over the world, and winning recruits among peaceful Muslims as they do so. What are peaceful Muslims doing to convince them that they are misusing the word?
Examining the relationship between Islamic culture and current events, including concerns about the use of violence, was the focus of a lecture yesterday given as part of Islamic Awareness Week.
Islamic Studies Prof. Timothy Gianotti noted in the lecture, which was sponsored by the Muslim Student Association, the difference between the use of the term jihad in Islamic tradition versus its use in popular culture.
“The word jihad in Arabic didn’t begin as a term that made people cringe,” he said.
According to Gianotti, the word literally refers to a struggle.
“Feeding the poor is jihad,” he said. “Writing your Congressperson is jihad.”
Prior to the lecture, Arabic Prof. Mohammed Sawaie said there is “the bigger jihad and the smaller jihad.” The bigger sense of the word, he said, refers to a struggle for self-improvement while the smaller sense is a struggle to show support for Islam.
The use of the term to describe wars waged in support of Islam “is incorrect in the sense that it is not the primary meaning of jihad,” he said. “It is a slogan to create a gap between East and West.”
All right. But who is creating that gap? The Islamic jihadists who use the term, or people like me who quote them? I think I know the answer the professor would give, and I think you do too. “Feeding the poor is jihad…Writing your Congressperson is jihad.” Fair enough. The Islamic Republic of Iran has a Department of Agricultural Jihad, and that department has nothing to do with anything more incendiary than trying to increase crop yields. But does the fact that a word has multiple meanings mean in itself that one of those meanings — indeed, its primary meaning in contemporary geopolitics — is wrong? Of course it doesn’t. The Shafi’i Sharia manual Umdat al-Salik, which was endorsed in 1991 by the most respected Sunni authority, Al-Azhar University, as a reliable guide to Sunni orthodoxy, spends one paragraph talking about the greater jihad (that is, the spiritual struggle), and eleven pages discussing the lesser jihad (that is, warfare). Which is more important?
Note that in all this, at least as reported here, no one actually says that the jihadists’ use of the term is incorrect — just “incorrect in the sense that it is not the primary meaning of jihad.” They just say the word has other meanings as well. Great. Logged and noted. But how does my noting that help stop the jihadists, and what are the speakers at this event actually doing to stop the spread of the jihadist ideology among Muslims?