The Liberal Muslims Trying To Reclaim The Word ‘Jihad’

“The Prophet said, ‘A single endeavor of fighting in Allah’s Cause is better than the world and whatever is in it.’ ” —Sahih Bukhari 4:52:50

In A Nutshell

When you hear the word “jihad,” what do you see? Chances are it involves explosions and angry imams screaming about spilling the infidel’s blood. The word is now associated almost exclusively with Islamic terrorism, to the extent that anti-Muslim groups call themselves things like “jihad watch.”

In reality, “jihad” literally means “struggling in the way of God.” While that can be interpreted as waging Holy War, it can also be applied to far more peaceful things. After a decade and a half of jihadist terrorism, liberal Muslims are now trying to reclaim the word.

The Whole Bushel

On the surface, Imam Sarr sounds like Donald Trump’s worst nightmare. A Senegalese preacher, the devout Muslim has been calling for fellow believers to involve themselves in global jihad. Only his goal isn’t to smash planes into towers or establish a brutal caliphate. It’s to protect the environment.

For anyone who only knows the word “jihad” in conjunction with terrorism, this might seem a little odd. But jihad has never exclusively referred to Holy War. Literally interpreted, it means “struggling in the way of God.” For ISIS and other extremists, that’s synonymous with murdering innocent people. But for the world’s liberal Muslims, it means something else entirely. And they’re so disgusted by ISIS’s version that they’re trying to reclaim the word for the public good.

Chief among these is Ibrahim Saidy. A Norwegian imam, he was the one who came up with the idea of waging a war against climate change. For a year now, he’s been promoting his “green jihad” on a global scale, even taking part in the Paris global warming talks in December 2015. The stated goal of his jihad is “to protect and save lives.” In other words, the opposite of what ISIS is doing.

It may sound strange to Western ears, but it’s worth bearing in mind that “jihad” is a neutral word in Arabic. In the same way that presidents can launch a “war” on cancer without bombing anyone or charities can start a “crusade” against gambling without invading the Holy Land, so can Muslim groups use “jihad” in a positive sense.

In the USA, this has led to the #MyJihad campaign. A deliberate attempt to reclaim the word from extremists, it focuses on encouraging Muslims to launch jihads against society’s ills. In Chicago alone, it has led to a jihad against poverty, a jihad against domestic violence, a jihad against discrimination, and even (bizarrely) a “Jihad against expensive and inaccessible health care.”

While it might seem unlikely that a word as loaded as “jihad” can ever be uncoupled from its negative associations, it’s worth bearing in mind that similar things have happened before. Throughout the 20th century, “socialism” was one of the dirtiest words in American politics, reminiscent of Stalin and Red Peril and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Fast-forward to 2015 and Bernie Sanders is now able to poll remarkably well in the Democratic primaries, despite openly referring to himself as a socialist. (There are obviously plenty of people on the other side of the aisle who still find the term repugnant.) Supporters are clearly attempting to rehabilitate the term.

If doing so with “jihad” can weaken ISIS’s claim to power, that can only be a good thing.

Show Me The Proof

MyJihad: About The MyJihad Campaign
Al Jazeera: Senegal imam calls for ‘green jihad’
i100: This imam wants to reclaim the word ‘jihad’ to fight for climate change justice

  • OldBoris

    It’s rather difficult to use their definition of the word if the Quran states:

    “Have you not considered those who went forth from their homes, for fear of death, and they were thousands, then Allah said to them, Die; again He gave them life; most surely Allah is Gracious to people, but most people are not grateful.
    And fight in the way of Allah, and know that Allah is Hearing, Knowing.” (Quran 2:243-244)

    “O you who believe! if you obey those who disbelieve they will turn you back upon your heels, so you will turn back losers.
    Nay! Allah is your Patron and He is the best of the helpers.
    We will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve, because they set up with Allah that for which He has sent down no authority, and their abode is the fire, and evil is the abode of the unjust.
    And certainly Allah made good to you His promise when you slew them by His permission, until when you became weak-hearted and disputed about the affair and disobeyed after He had shown you that which you loved; of you were some who desired this world and of you were some who desired the hereafter; then He turned you away from them that He might try you; and He has certainly pardoned you, and Allah is Gracious to the believers.” (Quran 3:149-152)

    “Therefore let those fight in the way of Allah, who sell this world’s life for the hereafter; and whoever fights in the way of Allah, then be he slain or be he victorious, We shall grant him a mighty reward.
    And what reason have you that you should not fight in the way of Allah and of the weak among the men and the women and the children, (of) those who say: Our Lord! cause us to go forth from this town, whose people are oppressors, and give us from Thee a guardian and give us from Thee a helper.
    Those who believe fight in the way of Allah, and those who disbelieve fight in the way of the Shaitan. Fight therefore against the friends of the Shaitan; surely the strategy of the Shaitan is weak.
    Have you not seen those to whom it was said: Withhold your hands, and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate; but when fighting is prescribed for them, lo! a party of them fear men as they ought to have feared Allah, or (even) with a greater fear, and say: Our Lord! why hast Thou ordained fighting for us? Wherefore didst Thou not grant us a delay to a near end? Say: The provision of this world is short, and the hereafter is better for him who guards (against evil); and you shall not be wronged the husk of a date stone.” (Quran 4:74-77)

  • rightfighter

    All Muslims are terrorist killers.