This quarter I am taking a class called Introduction to the Middle East. Basically, we use historical moments in the Middle East to pinpoint how things like ISIL or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict came about.
During one of my lessons, we discussed the origination of the word jihad.
Jihad originally meant expanding Islam through violence. Waging war was considered a way of displaying God to different portions of the world. But before we start throwing up our hands and saying that Breitbart was right all along, it is important to recognize what type of world this was. It was a conquest era. Every empire at this time was trying to expand their boundaries and become more powerful than their neighbors.
However, as the world transitioned to a more stable era where empires were not constantly trying to conquer each other the word jihad also changed. Religious scholars realized that jihad does not need to be violent anymore and instead wrote new doctrines explaining what Jihad is.
Jihad became a community duty and not an individual duty. There are also two forms of jihad. There is lesser jihad, which is fighting. But there is also a greater jihad. This means expanding Islam through good deeds. Someone is performing jihad by being pure, by praying, or by volunteering. This is the form most Muslims follow.
As recent events have shown, small select groups like ISIL and Al Qaeda have dissented from this definition of jihad and have manipulated it to justify their own violent actions.
But it is important to remember that this is not the majority's view of what jihad means.
Words are important. It is how we communicate with each other and express our beliefs and positions.
So when we discuss contentious topics like ISIL and discuss what “all Muslims” believe, we should educate ourselves about other people’s cultures and their histories.