The Blog

Why I'm a 'Jihad' - And You Should Be Too

My parting plea is that next time you read an Arabic-sounding scare-word, re-read it and ask yourself "what does that actually mean?" You'll soon realise how full of tosh our right-wing commentariat are.

Today The Sun is carrying the provocative frontpage splash "1 in 5 Brit Muslims' Sympathy for Jihadis". There are two things wrong with that. Firstly it's a wilful misrepresentation of the truth, and doubtless many commentators will point that out. But secondly, and more perniciously, it references a sacred practice from my religion - jihad - and distorts it beyond all meaning.

Terms matter, and when a term is misused its inaccurate and annoying. But when a religious teaching is misused it is not only annoying, but dangerous and insulting to 1.6 billion people around the world.

We've heard "jihad" used wrongly so often we've forgotten what it actually means to Muslims: a central tenet of their religion that they must believe in that teaches them how to conduct war in an ethical manner, and how to struggle against their inner evil urges.

If this is what a "jihadi" means then I am proud to be one and I encourage you to be too.

But of course that's not what they mean, because they've emptied "jihad" of its beautiful message and filled it instead with bile and vitriol and hatred.

It's like if someone consistently uses "peace activist" or "democratizer" in conjunction with pictures of Osama Bin Laden. It's insulting and really inaccurate.

And the damage has been done.

Ask the average person on the street what "jihad" means, and thanks to the likes of The Sun he will tell you it means terrorism and butchery. But that couldn't be further from the truth.

Jihad is a central tenet of Islam and all Muslims believe in it as it is something the Qur'an tells them is ordained upon them in the second chapter. "Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah does not like the transgressors," it says.

There are traditionally understood to be two elements of jihad - the internal jihad, or struggle, against the inner desires to do immoral things, and the external jihad, against oppressors and in self-defence.

What ISIS are doing could not be any further from either element of jihad.

And while we're at it, "jihadi" is not an Arabic word. "Jihad" is, as is "mujahid" - someone who engages in jihad - "jihadi" is simply a tabloid invention to conveniently spook people by using a scarey-looking Arabic words that don't mean anything.

Unfortunately this abuse of my religion, and its religious teachings doesn't stop there. "Shariah" is a term much bandied about, but again no one knows what it means.

It doesn't mean "corporal punishment" and "chopping off heads" and "barbarism". It actually means the all-encompassing corpus of Islamic law that deals with everything from how to live, eat, drink, marry, and pray. In other words, Shariah is Islam.

The Shariah teaches me to be kind to animals, to look after my parents when they are old, and to brush my teeth in the morning. It teaches me not to be a terrorist and harm my neighbours.

Now can you see why it is so insulting when hostile and ignorant TV presenters ask Muslims they support Shariah law?

Then there is the word "Islamist". Again, this is not an Arabic word and is a complete invention of the tabloid commentariat who conveniently use it to insult Islam and Muslims without actually saying "we hate Islam" and "we hate Muslims."

Of course the neo-cons would say, "We're using 'Islamist' to mean political Islam, not Muslims. We don't hate Islam and Muslims, just those who call for a political Islam."

Firstly, why?

My religion teaches me to encourage good and forbid evil wherever I can. If I decide to do that through politics, what's wrong with that? If the Egyptians vote for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Turks vote for the AK Party, what's wrong with that?

Secondly, to separate out essential bits of a Muslim's identity is impossible. You can't invent a new word like 'Islamicator' and say "this word means all those Muslims who pray five times a day, and we are criticising them, no one else," because in reality you're just using a different word to insult all Muslims.

The truth is that once again, being politically and socially active is a commandment in the Qur'an that all Muslims must follow. By using the word "Islamist" the right-wing commentators seek to isolate a bit of Islam they don't like and then attack it.

Don't get me wrong, it is fine to attack Islam and criticise it, but at least do it openly and clearly, not by using weasel-words like "islamist" to maintain a façade of liberal tolerance.

My parting plea is that next time you read an Arabic-sounding scare-word, re-read it and ask yourself "what does that actually mean?" You'll soon realise how full of tosh our right-wing commentariat are.