Patheos: My Jihad is Autism, Faith and Everything In Between. What’s Yours?

What’s your jihad?

Mine is autism awareness and living with autism.

My jihad is my son, Lil D, and helping him (and our family) overcome challenges brought on by his autism, helping him be as healthy as possible and finding out what we can do to make him happy. My jihad is making a place for him in this world, getting this world to accept him, care for him, and help him to succeed the best that he can.

My jihad is my children — raising proud, well-adjusted, Muslim-American children who follow their faith, live as proud Americans and do good for the sake of Allah.

My jihad is to be a faithful Muslim and accept Allah’s will for my son and my family with grace and gratitude, not despair.

I never considered these things a “jihad” before – just my life by way of raising our son, Lil D, who has autism spectrum disorder and is on the severe end of the spectrum. But then again, what is jihad, a term so often misused and misconstrued by non-Muslims and Muslims alike? Is it a “holy war?” A war declared on the kaffir, or “disbelievers?” Is it a violent term that lends itself to violent acts? Because this is the negative connotation this word has acquired around the world.

Jihad, however, is a beautiful word, a word worth knowing, worth practicing, worth reclaiming. And the “MyJihad” campaign is doing just that.

Jihad means “struggling in the way of God.” And, as the campaign explains, jihad is a central tenet of Islam, with the way of God being “goodness, justice, passion, compassion, etc.” and “not forcible conversion, as wrongly claimed by some.”

The MyJihad campaign was founded by Chicago activist Ahmed Rehab as an independent initiative, sponsored by CAIR-Chicago (of whom Rehab is the executive director). With a series of bus and train advertisements in Chicago, the campaign has taken off and has been embraced by Muslims around the world, who are tweeting what their Jihad is at the hashtag #MyJihad, writing blog posts featured on the MyJihad website, and spreading the word through social media.

According to the MyJihad website:

“Jihad is a term that has unfortunately been widely misrepresented due to: a) first and foremost, the actions of Muslim extremists; b) attempts at public indoctrination by Islamophobes who claim that the extremists are right and the rest of us are wrong; c) a selective media that understandably focuses on the sensational.

For Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists (who ironically are on perfect agreement), Jihad is synonymous with terrorism, blowing up things, and spilling innocent blood. This campaign is about reclaiming our faith and its concepts from these extremists, both Muslims and anti-Muslim, as well as their cheerleaders and clap-trappers, all of whom have for too long now effectively hijacked and dumbed-down the conversation about Islam and Muslims.

For many others, including members of the media and academia and even some Western dictionaries, Jihad is often mistranslated simply as “holy war.” This campaign is also about pushing for an intelligent and informed understanding of Islam and its concepts and practices in the media, the educational circles, and the public.

Most of all this campaign is about representing our voice, our lives — our reality. The “My” in MyJihad is as important as the “Jihad.” The purpose of the campaign is to bring forth the mainstream majority moderate voice that is often squeezed out between two extremes.”

Hesham Hassaballa, a Patheos columnist and Chicago-based pulmonologist who lost his eldest daughter to a rare genetic condition, writes in a blog post for the MyJihad campaign that his jihad is moving forward and not giving into sadness:

“There is not a day that goes by that I don’t remember my beautiful daughter and remember the terrible torture of having to watch her die in front of my eyes. There is not a day that goes by that my heart doesn’t scream out in horror that I lost my baby forever. Sometimes, I want to literally scream out – to try to comfort the devastating torment I endure each and every day.

But I don’t, and that is my Jihad.”

“MyJihad” goes beyond reclaiming the word. It’s a way of sharing our struggles in our lives – the things we are trying to improve, or stay away from, the ways in which we are working to better ourselves and our communities. This is why autism is my jihad – it is my son’s struggle, so it is my struggle. We work hard every second of every minute of every hour of every day to help Lil D live with autism, overcome aspects of his autism and manage his autism.

We struggle to live with his autism as an entire family – embrace our life as it is, the way it unfolds, while striving to better Lil D’s life. To live our lives as Muslims in acceptance of Allah’s will while working hard to improve the quality of Lil D’s life. To raise our other children to the best of our abilities and teach them to live their faith for the sake of Allah.

Qasim Rashid writes in the Washington Post that the MyJihad campaign has been a long time coming, the need for which was “sown on that fateful day in September 2001:

“While nothing compares to that horrific loss of life, terrorists did not only destroy 3,000 innocent lives on Sept. 11, 2001. They also condemned the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims to an eye of suspicion, misunderstanding, and in a growing number of cases—discrimination. One word many Americans heard for the first time that day continues over a decade later to dominate anti-Islam Web sites, blogs, and books: Jihad. The maligning, misdirection, and misinformation about jihad that spread since by self-proclaimed scholars with degrees in Google-ology has only created more fear and discrimination.

Today, #MyJihad is our opportunity to reverse the trend. #MyJihad allows Americans to unite despite our differences and show the world our beautiful struggle for peace and pluralism. #MyJihad invites all humanity to the common principle of love for all and hatred for none.”

Join in this campaign. Tweet your jihad at hashtag #MyJihad. Post what your jihad is on Facebook and YouTube. Write a post for us to publish here on Patheos or for the MyJihad website. Donate money towards a bus ad. Talk to people. Spread the word.

My jihad is autism, faith, and everything in between. What’s yours?