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Reconceptualizing ‘Jihad’

A New Understanding of Jihad

Watch video here:

(medium: video, response: week 2)

This video is a presentation that re-conceptualizes “jihad” according to the new histories/philological understandings that I acquired in reading Week 2’s Chapter 2 of Professor Asani’s manuscript, Infidel of Love.

The Google definition begins with the short pretext: “(among Muslims).” This is the caveat that is necessarily put before the definition “a war or struggle against unbelievers.” (One thing worth considering is the idea that many Americans have today that only Muslims ever take issue with people who have divergent beliefs than themselves. Not that some Muslims do not, but so do some Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Democrats, Republicans, socialists, feminists, anti-choice activists, etc.)

Another definition is given before with the pretext ISLAM, which reads “the spiritual struggle within oneself against sin.” I’ve never seen a definition qualified so many times, and to the same purpose – to illustrate how the concept is Other, alien, and divorced from our ways of knowing and from Western action in the world. Perhaps that is to be expected from the linguistic origins, but it is also simply a word from Arabic that has been trans-culturated into common use – it could, the same way “crusade” has been divorced from it’s linguistic/cultural origin and is applied at large – be used more liberally and without the Otherizing sense of belonging to that monolithic, Islamophobic conception of “violent Arab Muslims.”

I had somehow never learned or been taught (perhaps not that surprising?) that the US was responsible for the training of the leaders of Hamas and Al-Qaeda, down to the ways of speaking about Islam and for what many would consider a subversion of the concept of jihad. Much of this links back to Prof. Asani’s original question at the beginning of our course: How do we know what we know about Islam?

Correspondingly, what is the incentive for the media and politicians to frame the ideological conflict, dualisms, and ongoing physical wars in the ways that they do? The section in Infidel of Love on the oft-cited ‘sixth pillar’ of Islam was fascinating to me and illuminated a historical context applicable to the modern concept of jihad – the way it is enacted in the public imagination. Worth noting is the below graph of how the use of the term has increased over time – considering mapping the change of meaning, as I try to show in the film presentation, as drawing so many messier lines over the exponential increase.

Use over time for term: Jihad

I end with a question that became far more stinging to me upon realizing how recent the manipulation of language around the idea of the struggle/ effort truly is:

Can over a thousand years of nuance and dialogue over the meaning of this concept be flattened into the contemporary political scare tactic we are seeing played out? 

~ by kirin on February 13, 2014.

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