The Real Meanings of Jihad

Powerful Essays
The concept of Jihad was not widely known in the western world before the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. Since then, the word has been woven into what our media and government feed us along with notions of Terrorism, Suicide Bombings, Hamas, Al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, and now, Jihad. Our society hears exhortations resounding from the Middle East calling the people to rise up in Jihad and beat back the imperialist Americans. Yet, if we try to peel back all of these complex layers of information we can we attempt to find out what Jihad really means. Webster’s Dictionary defines Jihad as “a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty or a crusade for a principle or belief” (1). Often, media depicts Jihad in the same manner—as a vicious clash between two very different peoples, each of whom believes that righteousness, and in many cases God, is on their side. From this interpretation and our daily media intake, one may reasonably assume that Jihad refers to nothing more than violent acts, or “holy wars.”

While there is no precise definition of the term, the meaning of Jihad is far more complex. In fact, the term Jihad generally refers to the struggle one must undertake as one “strive[s] in the path of God” (Church 110). That struggle is defined both externally and internally. As so, they are classified in terms of an external struggle with enemies or non believers, or an internal struggle with oneself to reject greed and temptation. While popular opinion has been misconstrued to see Jihad as a malevolent, violent action; a serious investigation of the term’s historical and religious background reveals a multi-defined word.

An examination of the Jihad’s etymological context will lend a keener insight into why the word is often associated with violence. Pre-Islamic Arabia was populated with tribes that often engaged in civil warfare because it was the tradition and norm to settle disputes violently rather than through peaceful means. Commenting on this, Asghar Engineer, a learned western Muslim wrote:

Violent Jihad as a struggle against one’s enemies has its root in [these] situations. When the Islamic religion spread over the region, Jihad became a religious tenet and assumed the form of a peaceful, internal struggle to strive for the good and reject the evil in one’s action. Violent, external conflict was never r...

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... careful not to develop a hierarchy of world superiority where Islamic culture lies beneath us lest we continue to misunderstand such an exquisite word like Jihad. We must also not consider the media at face value. As Americans, we must approach Jihad with sensitivity, an admission of our ignorance on the subject, and an earnest attempt to properly educate ourselves.

Works Cited

Church, Kenneth. “Jihad.” Collateral Language. Ed. John Collins and Ross Glover. New York: NYU Press, 2000. 109-123.

Engineer, Asghar Ali. “The Real Meanings of Jihad.” December 2001. 4 October 2012.

Husaq, Nina. E-mail to the author. 19 October 2012.

Juergensmeyer, Mark. Terror In The Mind Of God. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary., Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 2012. Web. 4 October 2012.

Rogers-Melnick, Ann. “Jihad Misused, Misunderstood.” Post-Gazette 23 September 2001. 2 October 2012.

The Qu’ran. LXI:11, p.398; IX:41, p.149.

Witham, Larry. “Muslims See Wordplay as Swordplay in Terrorism War.” The Washington Post. 24 July 2002. Web. 3 October 2012.
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