Reclaiming the Noble Concept of JihadWritten by Batoul Hreiche
Masters of Journalism student Batoul Hreiche explores the use of the term "jihad" in mainstream media.
When I was younger, I would always associate the word “jihad” with tabouli. This may sound a little strange at first, but allow me to explain. Around 14 years ago, at the age of nine, I began to fast during the holy month of Ramadan with my family. One day in particular stands out from the rest. I was with my parents in the kitchen helping them set the dinner table. Sunset was approaching, meaning that it was almost time to break our fast. My mom was seasoning the tabouli by adding salt, lemon juice and olive oil. I told her it looked delicious and that I was tempted to break my fast early. She responded by saying: “resisting the urge is a form of jihad.” I didn’t know the meaning behind that phrase, but it somehow inspired me to change my mind. Later, while we broke our fast, the conversation around the dinner table revolved around this very noble concept.
I no longer think of tabouli when I hear the word “jihad.” The innocence and the purity of the concept that I grew up hearing and learning about have been blurred by the dominant discourses of today. Since the 9/11 attacks, the trail of political Islam has entered the international news media and the term jihad has gained popularity in speeches by politicians, in our headlines, and in news stories. It evokes panic and fear among audiences as it brings to mind images of radicals who wish to wage a “holy war”(although the words “holy” and “war” are never simultaneously referenced in the Qur’an). In the eyes of the press and the public, jihad has become apposite to “terrorism.”
Mainstream representations pay no attention to the ethical rules that govern a defensive form of jihad, or even to the greater form of social and personal jihad, which ironically hold a lot in common with the liberal democratic ideals flaunted in our societies. Instead, journalists continuously refer to standardized and naturalized terminology in order to explain complex and multifaceted conflicts. Terms such as “jihadists,” “Islamic radicalization,” “jihadi terrorism,” and “Sharia law” now embody the dominant definitions of almost every situation in which the Muslim religion appears to be a leading factor for the violence.
Moreover, the media often relies on the framework of interpretation offered by public officials and security experts. For example, following the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices last year, Stephen Harper said “We will not be intimidated by jihadist terrorists,”adding that “the international jihadist movement has declared war” on Canada and its allies. Following Harper’s comments, the term “jihad,” or “jihadi” were widely referenced in government’s speeches, and subsequently flooded our news intake. The same could be said about the attacks that occurred on Parliament Hill and in Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu last fall, as well as with the countless violent attacks all over the globe.
For non-Muslim Canadians who do not read Islamic scriptures, the information they are receiving from the media is fostering anti-Muslim sentiments. The misleading representations present today alienate the visible Muslims who live and identify with the Westernized part of the world. Moreover, organizations such as ISIS, who portray themselves as guardians of the Muslim world, are satisfied when the media broadcasts that the West is at war with Islam. Such extremist groups rely on the word “jihad” in an attempt to legitimize their agenda. Thus, when then media and the politicians refer to them as “jihadists” and state that they are indeed performing “jihad,” they end up reinforcing, instead of rejecting the misleading and absurd idea that they are “holy warriors.”
Thus, government officials must halt the use of such sensationalist terminologies, and the mainstream media must also be wary about the plasticity of such language. This doesn’t go to say that the Muslim community must watch idly. No. The Muslim community must reclaim the concept of jihad which has been abused for too long by militants, politics, and the media. We must seek to associate it with the teachings of our prophet—that is academic achievement, familial values, pluralized and civilized societies, and so forth—anything that represents a peaceful struggle in the path.
My grandmother passed away in August after becoming chronically ill with Alzheimer’s. I think of her and her struggles on a daily basis. She was widowed at a very young age, raised eight young children all on her own, struggled in a war-torn country and faced harsh life circumstances. But she strove. She raised eight remarkable children. She lived to see them all grow up, marry and have children of their own. My grandmother embodies the noble aspect of jihad—to strive in the path no matter what life throws your way. And that is what I want to be reminded of everyday, not what we’ve become channelled to see.
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