The Real Meaning of Jihad

Amir Butler
Muslims have been in Australia for close to 50 years, but unfortunately the image most closely associated with Islam in people's minds is the Bali bombings and September 11.

It is therefore understandable that many Australians hold misgivings and concerns about Muslims.

However, just as the Bali bombers justified their actions with exaggerated claims of Western political injustice and immorality, many of those who hold anti-Muslim views in the West base them upon a distorted view of Islam and the Muslim community.

Although the September 11 hijackers and Bali bombers were not American Muslims, there exists a distrust of Muslim minorities in the West.

This has been exacerbated by the occasional media reference to Australian Muslims with links to, or sympathies for, bin Laden.

The response of most Muslim spokesmen has been sophistry or denial. However, it is true that many Australian Muslims sympathise with bin Laden.

Yet those Muslims who hold sympathies for him do so not because they believe he carried out the repulsive attacks of September 11, but rather because they believe he did not; that the case against bin Laden has yet to be conclusively proven. It's an important distinction.

Indeed, Muslim support for jihad has been misconstrued by a public discourse that uses the term as a synonym for violent terror campaigns against civilians.

However, as one Muslim speaker recently quipped, terrorism is to jihad as adultery is to marriage.

Jihad, as understood by almost every Muslim, amounts to the belief that man has a natural right to defend himself and his interests from attack.

It is a concept that, if adequately explained, most Australians would accept.

In that sense, the jihads being fought by Muslims today are not wars to expand the borders of the Islamic world. Chechens don't desire to expand their borders into Russia, and Palestinians do not aspire to a Greater Palestine that extends from the Nile to the Euphrates.

Rather, these are simply battles for self-determination: the right of the people to choose not only those who rule them but also the systems by which they are ruled.

The demand for an increased political role for Islam in Muslim societies is reflective of the global Islamic revival. Even in the West, increasing numbers of mostly young Muslim men and women are turning to Islam as the answer to the many uncertainties and issues we face in the modern world.

In Melbourne, lectures organised by ostensibly fundamentalist, yet non-extremist organisations such as the national Islamic Information and Services Network of Australasia (IISNA) comfortably draw more than 1000 people.

The distinction between Islamic fundamentalism and Muslim extremism has been collapsed, with every fundamentalist seen as a wide-eyed anti-Western fanatic.

However, terrorism is not born out of a fundamentalist interpretation of one's faith, but rather from a lax and ignorant interpretation of the fundamentals. It is based on the idea that just causes can be furthered by unjust means.

The most vociferous exponents of moderation and opponents of terrorism in the Muslim world have been the fundamentalists themselves.

The previous Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Ibn Baz, condemned all attacks on civilians and the spreading of civil strife in the name of jihad.

This condemnation came years before September 11 when such fatwas became fashionable. His successor has condemned September 11 and called for the perpetrators of the Riyadh bombings to be brought to justice.

Likewise, here in Australia, Islamic fundamentalist groups and scholars have spoken widely and loudly opposing terror and in favouring peaceful co-existence between Muslim and non-Muslim worlds.

Just as Muslims must recognise that the West is more than alcohol, pornography and Zionism, non-Muslims must recognise that Islam is about more than beards, burqas and bombs.

The prevailing myths about Islam and the Muslims must be abandoned in favour of a more dispassionate and nuanced understanding.

Only when we have this understanding can we have trust, and it is only on a foundation of trust that true social cohesion can be built.

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