The recasting of the word “jihad” is one of the greatest propaganda triumphs of the 21st century. The contemporary spiritualizing of the word to mean merely something akin to an inner struggle would have been news to the half of the known world who were conquered by Islamic armies in the 7th , 8th and 9th centuries across southern Europe.
(For a fascinating treatment of what jihad was like in medieval Spain as it was being sacked by Muslim armies in the 8th century, you must read “The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise,” a new book out by Dario Fernandez-Morera).
Thus, it’s no surprise that the use of the j-word by a Muslim activist caused quite a ruckus recently. As the Washington Post reported:
Linda Sarsour, a lead organizer of the Women’s March on Washington and one of the most high-profile Muslim activists in the country, gave an impassioned speech last weekend that at first gained little attention.
Speaking to a predominately Muslim crowd at the annual Islamic Society of North America convention in suburban Chicago, Sarsour urged her fellow Muslims to speak out against oppression.
In her speech, Sarsour told a story from Islamic scripture about a man who once asked Muhammad, the founder of Islam, “What is the best form of jihad, or struggle?
“And our beloved prophet … said to him, ‘A word of truth in front of a tyrant ruler or leader, that is the best form of jihad,'” Sarsour said.
“I hope that … when we stand up to those who oppress our communities, that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad, that we are struggling against tyrants and rulers not only abroad in the Middle East or on the other side of the world, but here in these United States of America, where you have fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House.”
I agree that one should be allowed to speak frankly to one’s own group but Sarsour is smart enough to know that the word “jihad” carries a lot of baggage.