Harper and terrorists misuse the term “jihad”

Photo: Paul S. Graham

Photo: Paul S. Graham

by Shahina Siddiqui

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s obsession with what he considers jihad is reaching the point of fatal attraction. In his latest assault on Canadians’ rights and freedoms, Harper has promised if elected he will ban travel to “terrorist hot spots.” He says, with a straight face, that it will help make Canada secure. The prime minister and his Conservative party have milked this fear-based political cow to death.

Canadians should know what jihad is all about and how both the terrorist and the prime minister are misusing, mislabelling and abusing this noble religious obligation. First, the terrorists misuse it to lure vulnerable youth to their criminal web; Harper feeds this by continuing to equate jihad with terrorism.

Jihad is derived from the Arabic word juhad, meaning struggle and striving in the path of justice and for the welfare of society and personal development.

While the term jihad has become of common usage in our media and political lexicon, there is scarcely any appreciation of how spiritually significant this concept is to Muslims. There has been no serious attempt to differentiate between a war of self-defence as prescribed by Islam, and criminal violence against the innocent as perpetrated by IS, Boko Haram and others. Very few in Canada know that jihad is not holy war — a term that is alien to an Islamic frame of reference. Holy war is a term that was coined by the Crusaders. War is about greed and power causing pain and suffering.

Jihad takes many forms for Muslims. It is exertion in worship, struggling in the service of humanity, and a personal striving to better oneself spiritually. Islamic law makes provision for military jihad, but only in defence of one’s life, country and family or to defend others when entreated. Even so, armed struggle is the last resort, restricted by an ardent code of conduct that prohibits violence against civilians and civilian infrastructure.

Literally, the term jihad means striving, struggle and exertion in the promotion of justice and self-purification. Unfortunately, due to sensational reporting and political pandering, the term jihad has mutated into something ugly and violent. The terms “jihad,” “jihadis” and “jihadist” have come to define violent terrorism and terrorists.

When the likes of ISIS call for jihad it is ignored, dismissed and rejected by an overwhelming majority of Muslims worldwide, but when western leaders and media side with the terrorists and call their criminal actions jihad, it confuses vulnerable youth and emboldens the terrorist by giving the veneer of legitimacy to their criminal actions.

Military jihad is not a political slogan. For it to be sanctioned, a qualified body of jurists rigorously schooled in Islamic law must be satisfied that all necessary preconditions exist before authorizing the use of military force by a legitimate government in a particular context. Much the same way any country decides to go to war.

IS, al-Qaida and their kind have no legitimate authority (spiritual, legal or otherwise) to call for jihad. First, because they are not qualified to make legal rulings and, second, their actions are unjust and in violation of the letter and spirit of Islamic law. They are political, ideological and economic opportunists of an inhumane kind.

By continuing to use the term jihad to explain the acts of ignorant and spiritually and socially disturbed criminals, western politicians and media, as well the extremists, have sullied the discourse about Islam’s most cherished concepts and manipulated its principles to serve their respective agendas. Although fair and respectful critique of Islam and Muslims is welcome, the discourse thus far has been anything but. Canadian public opinion about Islam and Muslims thus far is being shaped by the ramblings of criminals, the fear-mongering of racists, and the “expert” opinions of religious bigots.

Not surprisingly, more and more Canadian Muslims find themselves isolated and stigmatized. It is not far fetched to see Harper’s obsession with consistently equating terrorism with jihad in his quest to win the next election as a war on the rights of citizens and a form of Harperism that is threatening the very core values of our democracy.

To safeguard the sanctity of life, property, progeny and reputation is a paramount requirement of Islamic law. When we allow false claims to be made about Islam and Muslims we are risking healthy integration and civic harmony in Canada.

Shahina Siddiqui is a spiritual counsellor and elder in the Muslim community, as well as executive director of the Winnipeg-based Islamic Social Services Association.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press, April 14, 2015.

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