Published on November 17th, 2015 | by John OMeara0
WHAT IS JIHAD?
There have times recently when I can’t remember the word ‘jihad’. It is as if my brain can’t bear to bring it to mind, so malevolent have its associations become. This is why, as one of no formal faith, I want to reclaim it – for my own peace of mind I need to protest, I need to proclaim that all the Muslims I know live such a different meaning of the word.
In Arabic ‘jihad’ is ‘to strive, to apply oneself, to struggle, to persevere’; in Islam, it is to do all these things in order to ‘serve the purposes of God on earth.’ Jihad is the schoolchildren producing work for the community art show; Jihad is the Muslim men I know who devote their time and energy to developing the strength of the community across all its varied cultures and faiths; Jihad is the Muslim woman who endures another sleepless night in a homelessness hostel during which she is assaulted by an addict, and who still insists on bringing me food for lunch because I am helping a bit with her job search; Jihad is the other Muslim women living with all kinds of adversities who bring a smiling presence and a joy in sharing with and helping others; Jihad is the small Muslim girl running to get an important answer from an elderly Buddhist gentleman (click on‘The Front Room in the Park’); Jihad is the Muslim women focused on ending outdated and harmful cultural practices such as FGM; Jihad is the group of Muslim men using their own time and money to set up a nursery, and overcoming obstacles and uncertainties that would have defeated most others. I have encountered nearly all these in the last 6 months, and some of them every week. And then, instead of feeling despair at the thought of ‘jihad’, I feel uplifted and grateful.
Not least, Jihad is the spiritual leader pointing towards an openness to other perceptions of ‘God’, and other routes to that reality (click on ‘Spiritual Risk Takers’) – it may be through a devoted imitation of the Prophet’s approach to daily tasks, through ‘mindfulness’, through any number of means that the individual employs for that reality to ‘become his ear through which he hears, his eye with which he sees, his hand with which he grasps, and his foot with which he walks’ (quoted from Seyyid Hossein Nasr). Jihad is the spirit of this week – Interfaith Week.