We have a way of organizing our experiences, memories and thoughts that produce some pretty prejudiced outcomes. It prevents us from listening to what someone has to say when we disagree. It prevents us from treating people as individuals with dignity and respect. It has the power to destroy faith and religion.
As a Christian I often find myself fighting against those that have come before me. It is not direct conflict. It is the influence others have had on those I encounter. To explain my faith or my beliefs, or to help someone find faith in a world and culture like ours, I regularly have to redefine Christian language that has been misused and abused by other Christians.
Our Muslim neighbors are experiencing this on a scale unknown to the modern Christian, as their words, their beliefs and their faith have been co-opted by extremists for global terrorism. The actions of a few Muslims have given certain Americans and Christians all they needed to hate and dismiss the many faithful Muslims around the world.
In October of last year, a conservative Christian began a New York add campaign to slander Muslims, referring to them as “savages”, asking the viewer to “defeat Jihad.” A pivotal concept in the faith system of Islam is the ‘jihad,’ but it has become synonymous with ‘terrorism,’ as it has been used by both extremist Muslims and extremists Christians to instill fear into their listeners.
Yes, ‘jihad’ can be defined as a militant holy war on behalf of Islam, but it is better represented in the faiths of millions of Muslims as a ‘personal struggle in devotion to Islam especially involving spiritual discipline,’ as worded by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Under that definition, Christians should not only stop using ‘jihad’ to strike fear into Americans, they should also find a place of reverence and respect for Muslims seeking to more closely align themselves with the heart of God.
The first responses to these hate-ads came from the Christian group, Sojourners, and a Jewish group, Rabbis for Human Rights – North America. Each posted their own ads beside the others in the New York subway stations. They called for love of our neighbors, asked us to choose love over hate, and to reject bigotry. It is an amazing and unique moment to see that type of respect between religions that they (we) can stand with and support one another.
This is wonderful and truly representative of the best of religion, but it doesn’t address the deeper problem in the anti-islamic ads. The real issue at hand is that the millions of faithful Muslims who understand ‘jihad’ in their personal devotion are stereotyped and categorized with the extremist. Our Christian and Jewish ads, while a beautiful gesture, do not understand the depth of the Muslim experience in North America and fail to draw out the necessary introspection in ourselves.
Myjihad.org has launched a national ad campaign to reclaim their language from those who have abused it for political power. In an effort to redefine the word ‘jihad’ in the public sphere and to begin reversing the negative stereotypes, their ad campaign truly speaks to the root of the problem.
Go take a look at what ‘jihad’ means to different Muslims, and share in the process as Muslims reclaim ‘jihad’ for its intended, faithful use.