Its no secret that Muslims in the West face a certain amount of discrimination and are often stereotyped as outsiders or even terrorists. There are many attempt to reduce bigotry towards Muslims, but a new one has caught the attention of many people. Myjihad.org is attempting a rebranding campaign, of the word “jihad” itself. They feature, among other things, adverts like this one:
The purpose of these is to, according to the organization’s about page:
MyJihad is a public education campaign that seeks to share the proper meaning of Jihad as believed and practiced by the majority of Muslims.
Jihad is a central tenet of the Islamic creed which means “struggling in the way of God“. The way of God, being goodness, justice, passion, compassion, etc (not forcible conversion as wrongly claimed by some).
As Muslims, we are taught to put forth a concerted and noble effort against injustice, hate, misunderstanding, war, violence, poverty, hunger, abuse or whatever challenge big or small we face in daily life, with the purpose of getting to a better place.
While the struggle for justice may be physical (as a last resort, and even then it ought to be a just struggle that goes above and beyond observing the universal code of conduct and rules of engagement), the greatest Jihad is that of the self, a fact often ignored by, or unknown to, many. In more than one sense, Jihad is more about peace and education than anything else. The highest form of scholarly pursuit (the complex, tiring but important scholarly work of Muslims to decipher their faith and its relation to the world around them) is referred to in Islam as ijtehad which by no coincidence is derived from the same root word as Jihad (jahada meaning “to exert effort.”)
Jihad is a personal commitment to service, patience, determination, and taking the higher road, as such, it tasks us with confronting our own weaknesses, vices, and shortcomings; it is about taking personal responsibility.
While I applaud efforts to reduce bigotry towards Muslims, I must say that this effort was doomed from the start. Jihad is ingrained in our collective consciousness as a negative. The word conjures a visceral negative reaction in me, no matter how you define it (or in this case, redefine). Whether it means, “struggle,” or “holy war,” or “love and kisses,” it will remain a negative no matter how this group chooses to spin it.
In my opinion, this group would be better served by picking their battles more carefully. It would be far easier to simply portray Muslims as they are: as “one of you.” Many, many groups that were looked at as outsiders successfully assimilated into American culture. My Italian and Irish ancestors had to endure prejudice, but once they became, “one of us,” they became just another bunch of Americans. Isn’t that a better goal than to re-define jihad in all of Western (and some of Muslim) culture? It’s certainly more likely to succeed.