'Jihad' misused, misunderstood, scholar says

Dr. Jihad is no more.

Jeremiah McAuliffe, a convert to Islam who holds a doctorate in formative spirituality from Duquesne University, adopted the name as an online persona when he pioneered the Islamic Internet a decade ago. The songwriter from Swissvale recorded Islamic rock music with a group called Dr. Jihad and the Intellectual Muslim Guerrillas.

The name was meant to be light-hearted, but it also reflected his commitment to the traditional understanding of jihad in the Koran, which is best translated as a struggle or striving. It is an inner, spiritual struggle to triumph over evil, to live in submission to God and service to humanity.

On Sept. 11, sick with sorrow and outrage, McAuliffe purged Dr. Jihad from his Web site. The terrorists who used jetliners filled with innocent people as weapons of mass destruction, and who may have justified their actions as a jihad against enemies of Islam, have so perverted the noble word that he cannot use it.

"Jihad is a very broad concept that includes theories of just war. But the Koran is very clear that Muslims are only to wage defensive wars," he said. "The more important meaning of jihad is the struggle to be good."

The Arabic term for holy war would be al-harb muhadassa, but "there is no holy war in the Koran. There is no combination of words that means holy war," he said.

Verses such as Koran 9:20-22 are among those that have led suicide bombers to believe they will inherit Paradise:

Those who believe, and who have forsaken the domain of evil and have striven [jihad] hard in God's cause with their possessions and their lives have the highest rank in the sight of God; and it is they, they who shall triumph in the end! Their Sustainer gives them glad tidings of the grace that flows from Him, and of His goodly acceptance, and of the gardens which await them, full of lasting bliss, therein to abide beyond the count of time. Verily, with God is a mighty reward!

The terrorists have ripped such verses out of context and failed to understand their true meaning, McAuliffe said. Passages on fighting refer to a particular war, when enemies of Islam tried to destroy the Prophet Muhammad and his followers. They do not give blanket permission to condemn or kill those who hold political or religious views other than your own, he said.

Take not life, which Allah hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law: Thus doth he command you, that ye may learn wisdom. Koran 6:151

Ihsan Bagby, a Muslim who teaches international relations at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., doesn't know how suicide bombers shut out the many verses that extol peace, mercy, restraint and forgiveness. He suspects they convince themselves that military jihad has always had "collateral damage" and that, if American policy sustains injustice, they can target any American interest.

"Of course, such logic is irrational and immoral," Bagby said.

American Muslims have long urged the media not to refer to terrorists as "Islamic" but as "Islamists," meaning those who attempt to impose Islam by force. Few Muslims consider such tactics Islamic.

On the Web, McAuliffe challenges extremists. Their distorted theology "is not so much a matter of which passages of the Koran they read, but which they ignore," he said.

Few extremists would commit violence, he said. They are extreme because they "don't take the book as a whole. They don't grasp its ethos, or see the balance between the different passages."

The Koran is believed by Muslims to have been dictated by the Angel Gabriel to Muhammad in the early 7 th century A.D. Lesser writings, called hadith, are used to interpret the Koran. Hadith include the sayings and biography of Muhammad.

Hadith makes clear that war is only for defense, that innocent civilians must not be targeted, and that fire must not be used to kill, McAuliffe said. In it, Muhammad declares battle the "lesser jihad" and spiritual purification the "greater jihad."

Extremists ignore the historical and social context of hadith, and those few who condone terrorism claim that hadith's restraints on violence are not true sayings of Muhammad, he said.

"We don't have any kind of an official body that interprets the Koran in light of hadith. People look to certain scholars or certain charismatic leaders or groups, and get interpretation from them. But there is no Vatican that can say, 'This is the official teaching. ' "

At the center of the quarrel between mainstream Muslims and extremists is how to know when a person or a nation has become an "oppressor" or an enemy of Islam.

In the traditional debate over how to respond to an unjust ruler, "One side maintained that you have to fight back. The other side, which is really the standard Sunni Muslim approach, is that you can't fight anyone unless they prevent you from practicing your religion," he said.

But arguing with extremists is exhausting. Until Sept. 11, if some hothead lectured fellow Muslims about America the Infidel, "People just kind of rolled their eyes," McAuliffe said.

Extremists "don't let up. They are bullies. They seem to have an infinite amount of time and energy and they do not listen. They will not entertain the possibility that they might be incorrect. It's like talking to a wall."

Now, "The good people need to bring as much energy and passion to the confrontation as the evil people do."

Most of those he chats with online share that conviction, he said.

"There is almost a feeling of helplessness that these guys have -- and I hate to use this word -- hijacked the Islamic message," McAuliffe said.

We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone slew a person -- unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land -- it would be as if he slew the whole people: And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Koran 5:32

While extremists have monopolized media attention, respected Muslim groups and leaders have countered extremist theology, said John O. Voll, associate director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and co-author of "Islam and Democracy."

He cited Minaret magazine, published by the Islamic Center of Southern California, which circulates nationwide.

"The moderate view is mainstream Islam and always has been," Voll said. "Claiming that someone is an unbeliever and therefore has to be attacked has long been recognized as a heretical approach."

Voll compares the usage of jihad to that of crusade, which was a military term in 1099 when European Christian armies took back Jerusalem from Muslim Turks who had conquered the Holy Land. Now, however, it usually means an evangelistic meeting or a moral crusade against drugs or violence.

Medieval crusaders who slaughtered Muslim civilians, Jews and Orthodox Christians doubtless believed they had sanction from God. But their actions so poisoned the view of Western Christianity in Eastern Europe and Asia that, nearly 1,000 years later, Billy Graham dropped the word "crusade" from his overseas missions.

The consensus of mainstream Islam is that each individual has a duty to apply his or her full intellect to understanding the Koran.

"You don't just blindly sit down and believe what some teacher has told you," Voll said.

"That relatively blind copying of what others have said is the theological foundation of people like Osama bin Laden and it is different from most of the fundamentalists."

McAuliffe worries that a shortage of qualified religion teachers leaves American Muslims vulnerable to simplistic interpretations of many issues. Most teachers are intelligent and devout, but their education often is in medicine or engineering, rather than religion, history, literature and anthropology, he said.

He was struck that the suicide bombers of Sept. 11 were educated men -- but educated in technology rather than religion.

"What is very scary is that these were not poor, desperate people whose desire to lash out could at least be understood. You can find these educated people in the extremist groups, but they tend to be trained in the natural sciences."

Children of Abraham, it's time to make a stand/ against the injustice and evil in our lands/ Believers come together and join your voice as one/ We don't care what country you are from/ Jew, Christian, Muslim, it's time that we grew up/ Accept each others' differences and leave the rest to God/ Compete in piety, worship and good deeds/ Give up your hatred, your guns and your greed.

McAuliffe wrote that in response to Sept. 11.

The name of his new recording group is Emergency!


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