The ads that recently appeared to the sides of buses in several American major cities declare: "#MyJihad is to march on despite losing my son," "#MyJihad: Modesty is not a weakness," "#MyJihad is to build bridges through friendship," and "#MyJihad is to not take the simple things in life for granted." The ads are part of a public education campaign sponsored by the Chicago Council of American-Islamic Relations. They remind me of a noble moment during President George W. Bush's presidency when, on Sept 17, 2001, while the ruins of the Twin Towers were still billowing smoke and many of the bodies had not yet been pulled out, he stated that, "The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace." It was a magnanimous and even courageous statement to make -- although not a particularly accurate one.
Those behind the #MyJihad campaign argue that the term "jihad," which is defined as "struggling in the way of God," has been misrepresented by extreme Islamists and Islamophobes alike. Countering common associations of jihad with violence, terrorism, and religious extremism, the #MyJihad campaign presents jihad as, "a concerted and noble effort against injustice, hate, misunderstanding, war, violence, poverty, hunger, abuse or whatever challenge big or small we face in daily life, with the purpose of getting to a better place."
Actually, an intensive study of Muslim texts and preaching that we conducted leaves little doubt that Jihad can be understood in two different ways. For some, jihad is a holy war waged against the infidels while others see it as a spiritual struggle for moral self-improvement. Regarding the former, textual support can be found in Quranic verses urging Muslims to "Slay the idolaters wheresoever you find them," (9:5) or the Hadith's statement that "the Messenger of Allah declared: I have been directed to fight against people so long as they do not say: There is no god but Allah."
A rather different interpretation of jihad, associated with the Sufis, is that it refers primarily to the internal spiritual struggle against immorality rather than an outward battle against one's enemies. Thus, Sufis attribute to Muhammad the statement "The greater jihad is the struggle against the self." And as the twelfth-century Sufi master Abd al-Qdier al-Jilani explained, "[There are] two types of jihad: the outer and the inner. The inner is the jihad of the soul, the passion, the nature, and Satan. The outer is the jihad of the infidels who resist Him and His Messenger." When a pollster asked 10,004 adults in predominantly Muslim countries "what jihad means to you," he found that the majority of responses spoke of jihad as a "duty toward God," a "divine duty," or a "worship of god" -- "with no explicit militaristic connotation at all."Read the rest at The Huffington Post.