Thursday 26 March 2009
by: Abukar Arman, t r u t h o u t | Perspective
A Palestinian walks along a deserted road in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (Photo: Muhammed Muheisen / AP)
In light of the rampant extremism and militarism around the world, nothing
proves more dangerous than the manipulation of truth for political ends. This
tactic facilitates the demonization process that blurs ideologies and beliefs
in both the West and the Islamic world. And, no concept is more abused by both
sides than the concept of Jihad.
To Muslim extremists and their cronies, Jihad is a narrowly defined license
to fight their perceived enemies (including Muslims, as is the case in Somalia)
even if that leads to atrocities against civilians. And to Western extremists
and their cronies, Jihad is a religiously sanctioned, perpetual holy war led
by militant non-state actors sworn to destroy Western values and civilization.
However, Jihad is a complex concept deeply embedded in Islam. It is a principle
that all Muslims who adhere to the teachings of their religion embrace. And,
contrary to prevalent post-9/11 perception, the concept does not connote senseless
violence against innocents or suicide bombings.
While the concept carries different relevance for different people, the Arabic
word means to strive or struggle toward achieving a higher aim, which includes
the “struggle in the way of God.” It can also mean to defend oneself,
or to strive against injustices. Finally, Jihad means the attainment of the
ultimate goal of Tazkiyatul Nafs, or purification of the soul – morally, spiritually
and ethically. Indeed, it is this latter aspect, the Jihad with oneself as one
resists temptations and strives against his/her evil tendencies, which Prophet
Muhammad referred to as “the Greater Jihad.” The purification of the
soul, or simply self-purification, is an around-the-clock process of deep introspection.
Despite great achievements in the fields of science and technology; in the
compilation and standardization of knowledge; and, yes, in the art of its dissemination,
humanity still remains in an embryonic, if not an imbecilic, stage when it comes
to morality and ethics.
Human beings, though endowed by their Creator with a profound faculty that
renders them superior to other known creatures, they are given by that same
Creator the capacity or the free will to bring themselves to “the lowest
of the low.” This latter capacity inspires wickedness, extremism in all
its forms (social, economic, political and religious) and the ever-increasing
appetite to exploit others, to kill and destroy.
The human being remains a profound enigma and a paradox of clashing potentialities.
As we surpass animals in the realm of intellect and wisdom, we surpass them
in savagery as well. There is no animal group that plays “war games”
and makes deliberate plans to oppress or annihilate others while they are belly-full
– all in the name of ideology, religion, economic exploitation, strategic opportunism
or simply racism.
So when the Prophet was referring to a particular aspect of Jihad in such high
regard, he was not merely offering an opinion. Rather, he was pointing to what
the majority of Muslim scholars consider the peak of piety – to a process which,
according to the Qur’an, leads to the ultimate salvation.
As He does throughout the Qur’an for emphasis, in the Chapter Al-shams (The
Sun), God swears multiple times; in fact, more than any other time: “(I
swear) By the sun and its glorious splendor; and by the moon as it follows it;
and by the day as it reveals it; and by the night as it conceals it; and by
the sky and what built it; and by the earth and what smoothes it out all over;
and by the soul and who gave it balance and order, and inspired it with the
capacity to turn to disobedience and the capacity to fear God; Verily, whosoever
purifies the soul attains the highest of success, and verily whosoever corrupts
it descends into utter failure!” And the engine that drives this process
is known as Taqwah (sincere fear and devotion to God). It is through Taqwah
that one attains the profound God-consciousness which cultivates one’s capacity
to self-police against all evil.
So how could such a noble concept get so distorted? How come the robe-wearing
extremists of the East and the suit-wearing extremists of the West are the ones
who hold monopoly on the definition of Jihad?
In the past eight years of global political discontent, one persistent warning
has been systematically ignored: When militant politics takes over the stage,
reason makes a run for the exit. This was a period when people were generally
herded toward one side of the argument or the other. Two nihilistic manifestos
dominated the political discourse and brought the world closer to a self-fulfilling
prophecy known as the “clash of civilizations”: the global war on
terror and the global Jihad.
The former was based on an erroneous premise that “political Islam”
in all its manifestations is anti-democratic and anti-Western, and, as such,
should never be afforded a space in the marketplace of ideas. Proponents of
this view insisted that such movements were dangerous fronts for Muslim militants
with sinister “Jihadist ambition,” intent on destroying the West because
of its freedom and economic success. Therefore, they were to be met at their
incubation place: with “preemptive” force if they were based in foreign
lands and by draconian policies if they were stationed in the West.
The proponents of this view work hard to conceal two particular facts that
dismantle their claim by default: the success of the Turkish political system
led by a democratically elected Islamist government, and the millions of Muslims
who live peacefully in the US and various parts of Europe in spite of ever-growing
The concept of “global Jihad,” on the other hand, was based on an
opposite yet equally erroneous premise – that the West is collectively bent
on destroying Islam by occupying the Islamic world: exploiting its natural resources,
oppressing its peoples and Westernizing Islamic values. And as such Jihad against
them is not only right, but the moral thing to do.
The proponents of this manifesto, such as Al Qaeda, selectively use the confrontational
rhetoric often used by their counterparts in the West – secularist and evangelical
Zionists – to lend credence to their claim. And they, too, work hard to conceal
two particular realities: that Muslims are afforded more rights in the West
than in most of the so-called Islamic countries when it comes to practicing
their religion freely and establishing Islamic institutions; and that the Obama
administration is adamant about its desire to improve relations with the Muslim
Back to the abused concept: Until Jihad is openly discussed in both the Islamic
and the Western worlds, and its true nature is unveiled, abuse of the concept
for self-serving political ends will continue – and so will its unjust violent
Abukar Arman is a writer who lives in Ohio. His articles and analyses
have appeared in the pages of various media groups.