Lecture dispels myths about meaning of jihad

    In light of the 9/11 attacks, the American media and the public have speculated on the real meaning of “”jihad,”” an islamic word defined as “”Holy War.”” On Jan. 7, professor Sohail Humayun Hashmi of Mount Holyoke College tried to dispel misconceptions about the term when he presented a lecture titled “”Sept. 11 and the Tradition of Jihad.””

    Tibora Girczyc-Blum
    Guardian

    Hashmi spoke about the history surrounding the Islamic concept of jihad, as well as its relationship to Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaida’s recent actions and agenda.

    He began his speech by noting that latter-day Muslims often complain that their religion is frequently misunderstood, particularly the tradition of jihad in recent years.

    “”However, Muslims themselves are often bitterly divided by the different definitions of [the] term [jihad],”” Hashmi said.

    According to Hashmi, jihad was originally a non-violent, inward struggle developed during the earlier years of Muhammad’s life. Despite the persecution that Islam’s founder faced, Muhammad denounced retaliation and violence.

    It was only later that the notion of jihad developed another meaning — that of physical struggle against another, Hashmi said. At first, permission was only given to those defending themselves against attack. Gradually, imperialistic conquests in the name of god were also sanctioned.

    However, as ancient legal scholars recorded the Islamic laws, the focus shifted to what Hashmi called the “”newer”” type of jihad.

    “”It was left to mystics to emphasize the non-violent, traditional jihad,”” Hashmi said.

    Hashmi also noted that there were a number of limitations put on the potentially violent form of jihad. There was a hierarchy of options that had to be followed in consequential order.

    “”First, the enemy was to be offered the chance to hear the preaching of Islam and accept it into their lives,”” Hashmi said. “”Second, they could accept Islamic sovereignty as a protected minority with religious and political freedoms. Third, they were to be given fair warning before the fighting started.””

    Among scholars today, it is generally agreed that the imperialistic conquest side if jihad is inappropriate and immoral for various reasons, according to Hashmi.

    While Osama bin Laden’s grievances are not remarkable, Hashmi said, his tactics are what puts him and his group on the outer, fanatical fringe of Islam.

    “”Bin Laden and al-Qaida do not differentiate between civilians and soldiers,”” Hashmi said. “”They claim there aren’t any innocents. Traditional Islamic law does not endorse this notion.””

    According to Hashmi, bin Laden and his followers do use accurate quotes from the Koran to support their arguments, but they also choose to ignore other large sections that emphasize forgiveness.

    The final dissenting aspect of al-Qaida’s conduct from mainstream Islam is the use of suicide.

    “”Within Islamic culture, suicide has always been deeply condemned,”” Hashmi said.

    Hashmi said that even in extreme cases such as tortured prisoners of war, Muslims denounce the act of suicide. Hashmi condemned 9/11 and other al-Qaida acts as senseless murder and terrorism.

    “”Terrorism is the intentional killing of civilians,”” Hashmi said. “”No matter who is doing the killing.””

    Hashmi is a distinguished Islamic scholar who teaches international relations at Mount Holyoke College. His visit to UCSD was sponsored by the Rivers of Paradise Endowment, UCSD, the Middle East Studies program and the Burke lectureship.

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