by Hugh Esco
The author, a reader and colleague of BAR, offers a corrective to our use of the word “jihad,” a term that, in “an Islamic conception, has nothing to do with ‘holy war.’” In this “appeal,” Mr. Esco warns: “When we fail to interrupt this abuse of human language, We lend support to registration programs and internment camps, to islamaphobic attacks and imperial wars of aggression.”
Confusing Jihad with Hirabah Won't Build a More Peaceful World
by Hugh Esco
“No one seems to use of phrases like ‘Christian Terrorists,’ although there is plenty of evidence in our history and contemporary experience to support the use of such a phrase.”
Black Agenda Report led the way by banning the perjorative use of “illegal” to describe workers in this country without documentation. This publication did so in an article years ago comparing its use to that of the n-word. Many other media outlets including those in the mainstream have since followed suit, so that these days the word is only heard in those venues intent on expressing their contempt for our fellow workers in this divisive way.
This is my appeal that Black Agenda Report and the readers who look to this publication for thought-leadership decide for ourselves that FOX news does not need our help creating a hostile world for our Muslim neighbors who respect a messenger who in his final sermon instructed the faithful, "Treat others justly so that no one will be unjust to you."
Fringe white supremacist groups have long shown a willingness to use violence to advance their political agenda and to justify their tactics by misquoting the Bible and claiming a Christian Identity. Still no one seems to paint all Christians as equally heinous, to treat the claims by these violent criminals of Christian faith with any seriousness or to adopt the widespeard use of phrases like “Christian Terrorists,” although there is plenty of evidence in our history and contemporary experience to support the use of such a phrase.
Yet it serves the monied interests who profit from war to create fear by conflating the actions and strategies of small sectarian militias who misquote the Quran to advance their secular agenda with the beliefs of 1.6 billion Muslims who actually seek to practice its precepts.
“The Arabic word ‘jihad’ most often translates as ‘struggle.’”
For Muslims around the world an Islamic conception of jihad has nothing to do with “holy war,” a concept put forward in 1095 by the Catholic Pope Urban II to justify the crusades against Muslims. The Arabic word most often translates as “struggle,” and my research suggests it is used forty-one times in the Quran, thirty-one times to speak of what the context reveals as a “jihad al-nafs,” or an inner struggle in the path of the Divine, what Islamic scholars have called “the greater jihad.” It is the sort of lifetime commitment to personal integrity that supports being good partners to spouses, good parents to children, good neighbors, to be civically engaged to create a better world for our communities.
The Quran includes ten references to “jihad al-qital,” referred to as the “lesser jihad” by the scholars and theologians. Jihad al-qital is an external militant struggle, ordained by legitimate civil authorities and constrained by rules-of-engagement respecting the distinctions between combatants and others. It includes an expectation that the lives of captured combatants will be spared. Jihad al-qital bears more in common with the Christian concept of just-war, than with the scorched earth policies of the crusades which burned the libraries of Byzantium, or the Jewish tribes annihilation of all the indigenous peoples of Canaan, along with their livestock and shrines.
We create a communications disconnect when we turn jihad into a pejorative, one where Muslims and non-Muslims wind up talking past each other.
“We'd never let Timothy McVeigh define Christianity for us.”
We also empower Al-Qaida and ISIS and similar organizations and their allies among the elites of the United States, when we let them appropriate this key Islamic concept to describe their terrorist activities. We'd never let Timothy McVeigh define Christianity for us.
When we fail to interrupt this abuse of human language, this hate speech, this disrespect for the faith of 1% of our fellow US citizens and roughly a quarter of our global neighbors, we first show our ignorance but worse share responsibility for creating an atmosphere which lends support to the attacks being suffered on a regular basis by our Muslim neighbors, both here at home and abroad. We lend support to registration programs and internment camps, to islamaphobic attacks and imperial wars of aggression.
If we need an Arabic word to describe terrorism, that word would be hirabah, which translates as “unlawful warfare.”
Nuclear blackmail is hirabah. Drone strikes are hirabah. Cluster munitions are hirabah. White phosphorous is hirabah. Wars of imperialism, aggression and occupation are hirabah. Wars for oil are hirabah.
And distorting language to tell people that words mean the opposite of what they mean is also a form of cultural warfare, and ought to be unlawful, but is perpetrated daily by elected officials, agencies of our own government, the war industry funded think tanks, FOX-News and other Islamophobes in the media. Sectarian militias and FOX news ought not be given the power to redefine what some have called the 'sixth' pillar of Islam for the non-Muslim world.
“Wars of imperialism, aggression and occupation are ‘hirabah.’”
And they certainly do not need our help doing it. In that final sermon referenced above, the Muslim Prophet also prohibited usurious loans and instructed those with accumulated wealth to give every year to the state specified percentages for distribution to the needy. No wonder the disaster capitalists want us to be afraid of our Muslim neighbors.
If fearing our neighbors serves the interests of disaster capitalists, it is highly unlikely to do us any good.
Jihad, even in its lower form, shows its practitioners to be more civilized that the imperial purposes to which our tax dollars are put in imperial wars of aggression and occupation. Jihad al-nafs is an Islamic principle to which all the worlds' people, with or without faith, should aspire.
So-called 'jihadist terrorist' is an oxymoron, one which creates a disconnect for those who actually understand the Arabic language or Islamic teachings. We ought to say 'sectarian militia' when that is what we mean. Doing so is as essential to our learning to respect our immigrant neighbors as was our rejection of the pejorative use of 'illegal'. Getting the language right is a key early step to creating peace with our Muslim neighbors in the global community. It will help us take the next step of ending our imperial occupations. FOX news is not a legitimate source for a vocabulary useful to our struggle, our jihad for a just future. But respect for the faiths of others can move us in the right direction.
Although not a scholar of Islamic studies, Hugh Esco is a founding officer of the Georgia Green Party who works by day in IT, and on nights and weekends for a world worthy of passing on to the next generation. He can be contacted at [email protected]