WASHINGTON – An American campaign to reclaim the true meaning of jihad is an attempt to give Muslim children in the United States the chance to be judged on their own merits and not according to radical stereotypes.
“The word ‘jihad’ literally means struggle, struggle for a good cause,” Nihad Awad, National Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told CNN on Monday, February 4.
“It is a concept, a noble concept, within Islam that emphasizes a personal struggle within yourself to be a better person, a better husband, better wife, better worker, better neighbor.”
He said the term “Jihad” does not mean doing harm or aggression against other people.“If people commit harm against innocent people, it will be in violation of the spirit of Islam and a violation of the concept of jihad.”
Launched by the CAIR-Chicago in December, the #MyJihad campaign aims to explain the true and proper meaning of Jihad as believed and practiced by the majority of Muslims.
Along with the official MyJihad website, the campaign includes putting up public ads on buses and trains, as well as a social media component on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, where users are asked to tweet what their Jihad (struggle) is using the #MyJihad hashtag.
The Muslim campaign has so far been launched in three American cities; Chicago, San Francisco and Washington.
Reaching new frontiers, the campaign has also made its way to the Egyptian capital, Cairo, where it displayed messages of Muslim and Christian unity during the Christmas season.
It has also been introduced in Canada to help dispel fears promoted by Islamophobes about Muslims and their faith.
Jihad is often stereotyped by Western media as meaning “holy war”.
But Muslim scholars have repeatedly affirmed that the word Jihad, which is mentioned in the Noble Qur’an, means “struggle” to do good and to remove injustice, oppression and evil from society.
Karen Armstrong, the prominent and prolific British writer on all three monotheistic religions, has criticized stereotyping the Arabic word “jihad” as merely meaning holy war.
Organizers say the campaign aims to give Muslim children a hope of growing in a world where they are judged on their own merits and not according to radical stereotypes.
“I don’t wake up in the morning looking for my Kalashnikov or AK-47,” Ahmed Rehab, director of CAIR-Chicago, said.
Spreading across American states and abroad, the campaign was facing criticism from those who resist its message.
But Awad believes that they will be successful in starting a conversation about this important tenet of Islam.
“It’s an uphill battle, because you are trying to dismantle preconceived ideas about the concept of jihad, because traditionally people have seen stereotypes and they have seen actions by some Muslims, and the majority of Muslims did not step in to say, ‘No, this is our faith, and we are going to claim it,'” he said.
“It is going to be an uphill battle, because you are trying to undo accumulation of misperception and mispractice — misperception by non-Muslims and mispractice by some Muslims, and I think it’s important for us to take this initiative.”
The Muslim group hopes to place ads in more cities in the United States and around the world and to expand to other media such as radio and television.
“The message is global. The goal is anti-radicalization,” Rehab said.
US Muslims, estimated at between seven to eight million, have been sensing hostility in recent months.
A recent report by CAIR, the University of California and Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender found that Islamophobia in the US is on the rise.
A US survey had also revealed that the majority of Americans know very little about Muslims and their faith.
A recent Gallup poll had found that 43 percent of Americans Nationwide admitted to feeling at least “a little” prejudice against Muslim