No, Jesus WASN’T a Pacifist: The Problem with the Muhammad vs. Jesus Comparisons

jesus vs muhammad

This is part 5-ii of the Understanding Jihad Series.  Please read my “disclaimer”, which explains my intentions behind writing this article: The Understanding Jihad Series: Is Islam More Likely Than Other Religions to Encourage Violence?

Throughout his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), professional Islamophobe Robert Spencer misleads the reader by selectively comparing Muhammad to Jesus.  Muhammad is portrayed as a “warrior prophet” and contrasted with the (supposedly) non-violent Jesus.  Spencer argues on page four of his book that his “Muhammad vs. Jesus” comparisons are intended to “draw a distinction between the core principles that guide the faithful Muslim and Christian.”  We are told that Islam’s militancy stems from its founder, as Christianity’s peacefulness traces back to its earliest figure.  Although Robert Spencer is a fringe extremist, his sentiments are shared by many average Christians (and even non-Christians).  To the average Westerner, Muhammad was a man of violence, whereas Jesus was the quintessential pacifist.

Prof. Philip Jenkins explored a similar mindset when it came to the Koran and the Bible. Jenkinsexplained (emphasis added):

Unconsciously, perhaps, many Christians consider Islam to be a kind of dark shadow of their own faith, with the ugly words of the Koran standing in absolute contrast to the scriptures they themselves cherish. In the minds of ordinary Christians – and Jews – the Koran teaches savagery and warfare, while the Bible offers a message of love, forgiveness, and charity…

But in terms of ordering violence and bloodshed, any simplistic claim about the superiority of the Bible to the Koran would be wildly wrong. In fact, the Bible overflows with “texts of terror,” to borrow a phrase coined by the American theologian Phyllis Trible. The Bible contains far more verses praising or urging bloodshed than does the Koran, and biblical violence is often far more extreme, and marked by more indiscriminate savagery.  The Koran often urges believers to fight, yet it also commands that enemies be shown mercy when they surrender. Some frightful portions of the Bible, by contrast, go much further in ordering the total extermination of enemies, of whole families and races – of men, women, and children, and even their livestock, with no quarter granted.

I have extensively (and painfully) elaborated on this point earlier in this article series.

The comparisons between Muhammad “the warrior prophet” and Jesus “the pacifist” are equally faulty.  For one thing,  many were the “warrior prophets” in the Judeo-Christian tradition before Muhammad, including MosesJoshuaSamsonDavidSaul, and so many others.  Moses, the prototypical “warrior prophet”, was the key figure of Judaism–would these Islamophobes vilify Judaism as they do Islam?  (Nowadays it is often considered socially taboo to criticize Judaism but completely acceptable to malign Islam.  Why the double standard?)

For the record, these Biblical prophets and holy figures are just as much a part of Christianity as they are Judaism.  Christian theology holds these personalities in very high regard.  Therefore, to suddenly limit the discussion to Jesus alone is misleading.  Yet, this disingenuous tactic is critical to the Islamophobic rhetoric.  If Islam is to be deemed a violent faith based on the personality of Muhammad, then both Judaism and Christianity must similarly be designated as violent faiths based on the personalities of Moses, Joshua, and all the other myriad of figures in the Bible who engaged in acts of violence far more atrocious than anything Muhammad stands accused of.

Leaving aside this point, it ought to be noted that Jesus as a pacifist is pure fiction.  Prof. Reza Aslan recently published a book on Jesus, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, which disproves the myth of the pacifist Jesus.  Although Aslan’s message may be news to some lay persons, it is in fact (as Reza Aslan himself points out) “old news” in scholarly circles.  Thanks to the viral Fox News interview and Aslan’s addictive writing style, Zealot became a best-seller.  Christian Islamophobes wrongfully assumed, without reading the book, that Aslan was attacking the character of Jesus.  In fact, however, Aslan reveres Jesus, even while he dispels many of the myths about the man.

One of the myths that Aslan dispels is the idea that Jesus was a pacifist.  Many Christians think of Jesus separately from the personalities of the Old Testament.  But, in fact, there is a great deal of continuity in the Biblical narrative.  According to the Bible, God rescued Moses and his people from Egypt and promised them the land of Canaan.  However, Canaan was occupied by pagans, so God commanded the Jews to completely annihilate the indigenous population.  This divinely sanctioned genocide helped establish a Jewish kingdom in the Promised Land.  After some time, however, the Jews were conquered by outside forces.  By the time of Jesus, the Jews were under imperial occupation by Rome.

What many Christians (and others) fail to realize was that Jesus was a Jew.  He was in fact one of many different Jews who claimed to be the Messiah.  The Messiah, it was believed, would be a conquering king sent down to liberate the Jewish people, “fight Hashem’s [God’s] wars” (Maimonides in Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 11:4), and then not only conquer but punish (with great vengeance) the enemies of Israel.  Jesus’s connection to the war heroes of the Bible is underscored by the fact that he is called “a Davidic king”–the same David who engaged in acts of war and genocide against the Philistines and Amalekites.  Aslan writes:

[A] fair consensus about who the messiah is supposed to be and what the messiah is supposed to do: he is the descendant of King David; he comes to restore Israel, to free the Jews from the yoke of occupation, and to establish God’s rule in Jerusalem.  To call Jesus the messiah, therefore, is to place him inexorably upon a path–already well trodden by a host of failed messiahs who came before him–toward conflict, revolution, and war against the prevailing powers.

This was the role Jesus was claiming for himself by saying he was the Messiah.  This is why the Romans crucified him.

In his book, Reza Aslan writes:

It was a direct commandment from a jealous God who tolerated no foreign presence in the land he had set aside for his chosen people. That is why, when the Jews first came to this land a thousand years earlier, God had decreed that they massacre every man, woman, and child they encountered, that they slaughter every ox, goat, and sheep they came across, that they burn every farm, every field, every crop, every living thing without exception so as to ensure that the land would belong solely to those who worshiped this one God and no other…

It was, the Bible claims, only after the Jewish armies had “utterly destroyed all that breathed”…only after every single inhabitant of this land was eradicated, “as the Lord God of Israel had commanded” (Joshua 10:28-42)–that the Jews were allowed to settle here.

And yet, a thousand years later, this same tribe that had shed so much blood to cleanse the Promised Land of every foreign element so as to rule it in the name of its God now found itself laboring under the boot of an imperial pagan power, forced to share the holy city with Gauls, Spaniards, Romans, Greeks, and Syrians–all of them foreigners, all of them heathens–obligated by law to make sacrifices in God’s own temple on behalf of a Roman idolater who lived more than a thousand kilometers away.

How would the heroes of old respond such humiliation and degradation? What would Joshua or Aaron or Phineas or Samuel do to the unbelievers who had defiled the land set aside by God for his chosen people?

They would drown the land in blood. They would smash the heads of the heathens and the gentiles, burn their idols to the ground, slaughter their wives and their children. They would slay the idolaters and bathe their feet in the blood of their enemies, just as the Lord commanded. They would call upon the God of Israel to burst forth from the heavens in his war chariot, to trample upon the sinful nations and to make the mountains writhe at this fury.

Jesus was crucified by the Romans before he could mete out vengeance on the enemies of Israel, but–as a I detail in my earlier article Jesus Loves His Enemies…and Then Kills Them All–he will fulfill this task during his Second Coming:

Jesus will “will release the fierce wrath of God” (19:15) on them, and “he shall execute the severest judgment on the opposers of his truth”.   Because of this, “every tribe on earth will mourn because of him” (Rev. 1:7), and they will “express the inward terror and horror of their minds, at his appearing; they will fear his resentment”.  Just as the people of Canaan were terrified by the Israelite war machine, so too would the unbelievers “look with trembling upon [Jesus]”.  This is repeated in the Gospels, that “the Son of man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn” (Matthew 24:30).  “All the nations of the world shall wail when he comes to judgment” and the enemies of Jesus “shall mourn at the great calamities coming upon them”.

Far from the meek prophet of the First Coming, Jesus on his return will command a very strong military force that will “destroy[] every ruler, authority, and power”.  Not only is this consistent with the legacy of conquests by the Biblical prophets, it is actually a fulfillment or completion of the task that Moses initiated: holy war and conquest in the name of God.  In First Corinthians (part of the New Testament) it is prophesied that instead of loving his enemies, Christ will subdue and humble them under his feet:

1 Corinthians 15:24 [Jesus] will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power.

15:25 For Christ must reign until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet.

Reza Aslan concludes:

[T]he Jesus that emerges…[is] a zealous revolutionary swept up, as all Jews of the era were, in the religious and political turmoil of first-century Palestine–[which] bears little resemblance to the image of the gentle shepherd cultivated by the early Christian community.

Once Jesus is understood as a continuation and culmination of the Biblical narrative, it becomes clear that he was not a pacifist.  The Biblical war ethic that Jesus believed in was arguably more violent than the equivalent Koranic discourse Muhammad operated from.  (More on this in a future article.)  The only difference was that Jesus’s rebellion was cut short by his crucifixion, whereas Muhammad triumphed against his former tormentors.

It should be noted that Jesus, like Moses and Muhammad, was an enigmatic personality; nobody can know for certain who the real Jesus was.  People (including scholars) subconsciously project into Jesus their own self-image.  Remembering Jesus as a pacifist is a healthy option for the Christian believer, especially when it forms the basis of a peace-loving theology.  But, once that pacifist image is used by right-wing warmongers as a stick to bash Muslims over the head with, it’s time to call foul.

Danios was the Brass Crescent Award Honorary Mention for Best Writer in 2010 and the Brass Crescent Award Winner for Best Writer in 2011.

The Muslims Are Coming: Pamela Geller Discovers Comedy Jihad

Dean_ObeidallahThe Muslims Are Coming:  Pamela Geller Discovers Comedy Jihad

by Sheila Musaji

In 2009, Dean Obeidallah wrote The Muslims Are Coming! in which he talked about an early Muslims Are Coming efforts:

… In an effort to speed up the Muslim take over of America—which on some level would probably help my comedy career because I’ll get even more bookings by Muslim groups—my fellow Arab-American comedians Aron Kader and Maysoon Zayid went out to the streets of NYC with me to see if we could recruit Americans to Islam. (We did this a little while back when we first heard this allegation.) We offered prizes to people to convert to Islam, such as a toaster, a blender and even Sudoku. Here is a clip of our efforts to convert Americans! …

By 2011, this initial skit had become the Muslims Are Coming comedy tour which Dean Obeidallah wrote about in the article America, how can Muslim-Americans reach non-Muslims?.  You can see Dean Obeidallah’s Tedx talk about the comedy tour hereThe_Muslims_are_Coming

And during the comedy tour, Dean Obeidallah and Negin Farsad began working on making a documentary film based on the comedy tour.  In 2011, Obeidallah requested an interview with Robert Spencer to be included in this The Muslims Are Coming documentary film, and Spencer turned this into a “prove to me you’re not a radical Muslim test”.  I laid out the whole saga in the article The Muslim comedian and the Islamophobe:  A funny thing happened on the way to the interview.  That article includes Spencer’s 1,000 word plus questionnaire requiring an answer before he would consider being interviewed by Obeidallah, and my answers to those stupid questions.  The bottom line is that Spencer didn’t agree to the interview.

Obeidallah and Farsad created a Facebook page, and ran a Kickstarter donation compaign to get the funds to complete the film project.

Now, in 2013, the film is completed, and is set to be released in theaters on September 12th.  This documentary film is co-directed by Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah.  You can see the trailer here.

Patrick Gavin published an article about this film titled Film tackles Islamophobia with humor.  He noted that “The film tracks a group of Muslim-American stand-ups as they performed in the Muslims are Coming Comedy Tour across the country and tackle people’s stereotypes.  The film also features cameos by Jon Stewart, David Cross, Janeane Garofalo, Colin Quinn, Lewis Black and Aasif Mandvi.”

Pamela Geller doesn’t find this funny.  She has just written Cultural Jihad: Hollywood Documentary to Mock ‘Islamophobes’.  Here are just a few of her objections to this Muslim comedy:  ”… We aren’t even allowed to discuss Islam and the doctrine of jihad in the mainstream media, but “Islamophobia” is a matter for comedy?  …  So the new cultural jihad is to make it cool and happening and now to make fun of the people who do talk about it at risk of their reputations and livelihoods and personal safety.  …  The Hollywood hordes who have signed on for this film have no intellectual depth, but fighting against “Islamophobia” is perceived to be politically correct and chi chi, and that’s all they need.  …  Meanwhile, anti-jihad activists can’t get movies made. …”

Yes, Geller is right this is a jihad, in the sense that mainstream, traditional Muslims understand jihad — not in the sense that Islamophobes and the Muslim lunatic fringe distort the term.  It is a comedy jihad.  A jihad for truth, justice, and the American way.

I for one am going to buy a ticket and have a good laugh at the idiocy of Islamophobes like Geller and Spencer and the rest of the Islamophobia echo chamber.
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RESOURCES FOR DEALING WITH ISLAMOPHOBIA SUMMARY

The Islamophobia Industry exists and is engaged in an anti-Muslim Crusade.  They have a manifestofor spreading their propaganda, and which states their goal of “destroying Islam — as a culture, a political ideology, and a religion.” They produce anti-Muslim films.  They are forming new organizations and coalitions of organizations at a dizzying speed, not only nationally, but also internationally.   They have formed an International Leadership Team “which will function as a mobile, proactive, reactive on-the-ground team developing and executing confidential action plans that strike at the heart of the global anti-freedom agenda.”

The Islamophobia of these folks is very real, it is also strikingly similar to a previous generations’ anti-Semitism, and it has predictable consequences.   The reason that this is so obvious to so many is that rational people can tell the difference between legitimate concerns and bigoted stereotypes.

Sadly, the Islamophobic echo chamber has been aided by some in the Jewish and Christian clergy, and even by some of our elected representatives, particularly in the GOP.

The claim that the Islamophobes are “truth-tellers” and “defenders of freedom” who actually “love Muslims” and have never engaged in “broadbrush demonization” or “advocated violence”, or thatnothing that they say could have had anything to do with any act of violence,  are nonsense.  The claim that they are falsely being accused of Islamophobia for no reason other than their legitimate concerns about real issues and that in fact there is not even such a thing as Islamophobia, or their claim that the fact that there are fewer hate crimes against Muslims than against Jews or that some Muslims have fabricated such crimes “proves” that Islamophobia doesn’t exist,  or that the term Islamophobia was made up by Muslims in order to stifle their freedom of speech, or that anti-Muslim bigotry is “not Islamophobia but Islamorealism” are all nonsense.

These individuals and organizations consistently promote the false what everyone “knows” lies about Islam and Muslims (including distorting the meaning of Qur’anic verses, and distorting the meaning of Islamic terms such as taqiyyajihadsharia, etc.).  Islamophobes falsely claim to see “JIHAD” PLOTSeverywhere, particularly where they don’t exist.   They, like Muslim extremists, don’t understand the true meaning of the term jihad.  The Islamophobes have uncovered countless examples of “shocking”, non-existent Muslim jihad plots.

Here are just a few ridiculous claims about nonsensical Muslim plots:

An Eid Celebration for Muslim Special Needs Kids was described as a “stealth jihad”.   A children’s page in a newspaper focusing on Eid was described as a toxic propaganda plot.  Joel Hinrichs (a Christian) had a beard and had walked through the parking lot of a campus mosque thus proving that his crime was an example of sudden jihad syndrome.  Leon Alphans Traille, Jr., the Arlington, Virginia Mall Bomber was accused of possible “sudden jihad syndrome” just because he had a beard, obviously, a case of beard jihad.     Tyler Brehm who carried out theHollywood shooting jihad was accused of “sudden jihad syndrome” because he shouted something that one witness from the Philippines said he might have shouted “Allahu Akbar”.  This report was not backed up by any other witnesses.  The awful April 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech by a Korean student was also called Islamic jihad because Cho’s father had once worked in Saudi Arabia (before he was married and before Cho was born).    A Muslim doctor had a heart attack and died at the wheel of his car which then crashed into a shopping mall and this was described as “vehicular jihad”.   A Muslim cab driver objected to what he considered pornographic ads on the roof of his cab, and that became a stealth-jihad plot to impose Sharia on America.  Any Muslim who has sued an employer for violation of their rights under the EEOC is engaged in employment jihad, or litigation jihad.  Muslim environmentalists are said to be actually engaged in “civilizational jihad”.  A cartoon series “The 99” aimed at young Muslims was described as “cultural jihad”.  The victims of the terrorist attack of 9/11 included Muslims, they were accused of dying as martyrs in an act of jihad. Muslims hoped to open a Muslim hospital in the U.S. and that was called hospital jihad.

The Islamophobes have uncovered countless examples of “shocking” Muslim jihad plots.  They have uncovered:

bumper sticker jihad — Thanksgiving turkey jihad — paisley scarf jihad — marriage to important men jihad — spit jihad —  fashion jihad — spelling bee jihad — rape jihad —defacing dollar bills jihad — population jihad — creeping Sharia jihad —  mosque building jihad — terror baby jihad — “creeping Sharia” jihad — pedophilia jihad — bus driver prayer jihad — forehead bruise jihad — postage stamp jihad — soup jihad —  banning alcohol jihad — fake hate crimes jihad — piggy bank jihad — tv reality series jihad —handshake jihad — prom jihad — interfaith jihad — Arabic language jihad — public school jihad — religious accommodation jihad — Crescent moon jihad — Christmas tree tax jihad— oath of office jihad — immigration jihad — community fundraiser jihad— public school/madrassa jihad — post office jihad — food jihad — pyramid jihad — crucifixion jihad in Egypt — fireworks jihad — computer donation jihad — civic participation jihad —Olympic “judo” jihad— stealth name jihad— pre-violent jihad — Love jihad — fashion jihad 2 — #MyJihad ad jihad — talk show host jihad — art museum jihad — Halloween jihad —DNC Muslim Prayer Jihad — cat crucifixion jihad in Ghana — Scottish Muslim women’s stealth jihad — anti-democracy jihad — un-neighborly Musims in Paris jihad — jihad on Christopher Columbus — Iranian smallpox jihad — Muslim Christmas grinch jihad —#MyJihad twitter jihad — Muslim takeover of National Parks jihad

 

Nothing is too trivial to escape the eagle eyes of these “defenders of Western civilization” against devious Muslim stealth jihad plots.  Christina Abraham (a Muslim) has a name that is not recognizably Muslim enough and so we have stealth name jihad. And, if a Muslim somewhere is not doing anything at all suspicious, then they are engaged in pre-violent jihad.

Islamophobes generalize specific incidents to reflect on all Muslims or all of Islam.    Islamophobes consistently push demonstrably false memes such as:  – we are in danger from creeping Sharia, – the Muslim population is increasing at an alarming rate, – 80% of American Mosques are radicalized,  –  There have been 270 million victims of “jihad”  –  There have been 17,000+ “Islamic terrorist” attacks since 9/11    – Muslims in government are accused of being Muslim Brotherhood plants, stealth jihadists, and creeping Sharia proponents and should be MARGINALIZED or excluded.  Muslim and Arab organizations and individuals are connected to the infamous Muslim Brotherhood document or theunindicted co-conspirator label, or accused of not condemning Hamas, telling American Muslims not to talk to the FBI, of being “Jew haters”, etc.

When Islamophobes are caught in the act of making up or distorting claims they engage in devious methods to attempt to conceal the evidence.

Islamophobes do not understand freedom of speech or that freedom of speech does not include freedom from condemnation of that speech and they are quick to call for censorship and repression of speech they don’t like.

There is a reason that many, even outside of the Muslim community see such demonization of Muslims as Islamophobic.  There is a reason that the ADL has stated that Brigitte Gabriel’s Act for America, Pamela Geller & Robert Spencer’s Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA), David Yerushalmi’s Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE)  are “groups that promote an extreme anti-Muslim agenda”.  There is a reason that The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated SIOA as a hate group, and that these individuals are featured in the SPLC reports Jihad Against Islam and The Anti-Muslim Inner Circle.  There is a reason that these individuals and organizations are featured prominently in: — the Center for American Progress reports “Fear Inc.” on the Islamophobia network in America and Understanding Sharia Law: Conservatives skewed interpretation needs debunking. — the People for the American Way Right Wing Playbook on Anti-Muslim Extremism.  — the NYCLU reportReligious Freedom Under Attack:  The Rise of Anti-Mosque Activities in New York State.  — the Political Research Associates report Manufacturing the Muslim menace: Private firms, public servants, and the threat to rights and security.  — The ACLU report Nothing to Fear: Debunking the Mythical “Sharia Threat” to Our Judicial System — in The American Muslim TAM Who’s Who of the Anti-Muslim/Anti-Arab/Islamophobia Industry.   There is a reason that the SIOA’s trademark patent was denied by the U.S. government due to its anti-Muslim nature.   There is a reason that these individuals and organizations are featured in just about every legitimate report on Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred.

See Resources for dealing with Islamophobes for many more reasons that these people cannot be trusted.

Sheila Musaji is the founding editor of The American Muslim (TAM), published since 1989.  Sheila received the Council on American-Islamic Relations 2007 Islamic Community Service Award for Journalism,  and the Loonwatch Anti-Loons of 2011: Profiles in Courage Award for her work in fighting Islamophobia.  Sheila was selected for inclusion in the 2012 edition of The Muslim 500: The World’s 500 Most Influential Muslims published since 2009 by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan.    Biography  You can follow her on twitter @sheilamusaji (https://twitter.com/SheilaMusaji )

#MyJihad: San Francisco Tells Hate Group Leaders Pamela Geller & Robert Spencer To Hit The Road

MyJihad4

We covered the #MyJihad ad campaign back in December, a campaign that seeks to reclaim the term Jihad from Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists alike. The response from Islamophobes has been nothing short of shrill, quixotically they want nothing more than to highlight and advance the “Jihad of Bin Laden as the correct Jihad.”:

These advertisements challenge the prevailing idea about Jihad being foremost about “Holy War,” a view which is most enthusiastically propagated by the hate group AFDI/SIOA and their founders Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer (whose Ad campaigns this past year have sent an opposite message of hate and racism.)

In response to the bus ads Islamophobes are going berserk, which is understandable as they have pegged their careers and lives on demonizing Islam and Muslims. The question I would ask is: If Muslims are telling you that they don’t believe in the “Jihad” of Bin Laden why tell them they have their religion wrong? What interest does it serve Geller and Spencer to propagate the Jihad of Bin Laden as the correct Jihad? That seems to be the height of absurd Islamophobia.

Recently, Geller and Spencer have put up response ads to the #MyJihad campaign, however not only have they been shown to be the kooks that they are but the money they spent on the ads are being used to fund Human Rights research on discrimination against Muslims!

Controversial ad campaign appears on San Francisco buses

by Claudine Zap

Bus ads many believe are anti-Muslim have roared into San Francisco. The campaign, sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), includes one running on 10 of the city’s Muni buses with an image of Osama bin Laden, the burning twin towers and the tagline, “That’s his jihad. What’s yours?”

The ads supposedly quote from extremists. One attributes a statement from the militant group Hamas, which reads: “Killing Jews is worship that brings us closer to Allah.”

AFDI had beat back an attempt by New York City’s transit authority to block a similar campaign in that city’s subway system. Comparable ads have run in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

San Francisco officials have condemned the campaign, but they have allowed them to run. The $5,000 the group paid to Muni will go to the Human Rights Commission to study discrimination against the Islamic community, according to the city.

“These offensive ads serve no purpose than to denigrate our city’s Arab and Muslim communities,” District Attorney George Gascon told local ABC News on Monday. The city has also created a campaign of its own to counter the ads.

#MyJihad: Can “jihad” survive Pam Geller?

MyJihad3

An excellent article by Alex Seitz-Wald of Salon.com on the background, import and history of the #MyJihad campaign and the “counterjihad” effort to derail it.:

Can “jihad” survive Pam Geller?

by Alex Seitz-Wald (Salon.com) 

MyJihad.org bus ad featuring two volunteers, an American-Muslim and an Israeli-Jew. (Credit: MyJihad.org)

So you want to rebrand a word. It’s hard to think of a more difficult rebranding project than “jihad.”

Since Sept. 11, the term has become synonymous with terrorism and villainy — but now a group of Muslims is trying to reclaim the word from the extremists, and redefine “jihad” to mean something normal and peaceful and good. They realize this won’t be easy.

The campaign hinges on the idea that “jihad” has two commonly accepted usages. One is the violent, physical struggle most of us are familiar with. The other, which many Muslims and Islamic scholars consider the more correct definition, refers to the inner struggle to do good and follow God’s teaching; Muslims strive to attain this every day. This is the “proper meaning” being promoted by My Jihad, a public education campaign recently launched on billboards and on buses in Chicago.

“The campaign is about reclaiming Islam, and not just ‘jihad,’ from both Muslim and non-Muslim extremists,” said Ahmed Rehab, the leader of the effort, in an interview. “Whether it’s the bin Ladens and the al-Qaidas of the Muslim world, or the Pam Gellers and Frank Gaffneys of the non-Muslim world, ironically — even though they come from the two opposite ends of the spectrum — they agree exactly on the same definition of ‘jihad’ and on the same worldview of Islam versus the rest of the world.”

In fact, the ads were directly inspired by Geller, the anti-Muslim blogger and activist, who has plastered her own billboards on subways and buses in New York. They label Muslims as “savages” and incite viewers to “defeat Jihad.”

“Everybody was talking about the ‘savage’ part, but to me, that’s just sort of an insult — she thinks I’m a savage, I think she’s an idiot, we’re even,” he said. “But the problem for me was the use of the word ‘jihad.’ When no one seemed to care about that, I realized that we have a problem.”

In billboards on buses and subways, smiling Muslims and non-Muslims share universal human aspirations, personalized by the individual “jihads” of the non-actor volunteers who share their struggles. In this context, a jihad is no more threatening than a New Year’s resolution. “My jihad is to stay fit despite my busy schedule,” one woman with a headscarf and a barbell says. Others deal with raising children, doing well at work, and making friendships with different kinds of people. To Rehab, jihad means that when you are “confronted with two choices, you make the right choice and not the easy one.”

Ads have already gone up on buses in Chicago and San Francisco, and will soon go up in 10 other major American cities and a handful of international ones, including London, Sydney and Melbourne. There’s a website, Facebook page and Twitter hashtag where people can share their own personal jihads.

On Monday, Egyptian activists working with the group even unfurled a giant banner in front of the main church in Cairo wishing a Merry Christmas (Coptic Christians celebrate the holiday on Jan. 7) in contravention of hard-line Islamic proclamations that Christmas should not be recognized.

That may not sound so scary, but the opposition has been predictably vitriolic. The group’s Twitter and Facebook pages have received hateful messages from hard-line Islamists. Geller, predictably, is exercised.

She has written at least a dozen posts using the campaign’s #myjihad hashtag, which currently represent about two out of every three posts on the front page of her influential anti-Muslim blog. Geller also seems determined to play a game of bait and switch to sabatoge the rival campaign. She registered the domain name MyJihad.us (the real URL ends in .org) and is even trying to run copycat ads that are clearly designed to be confused with Rehab’s. In her ads, the peaceful Muslim is replaced with pictures of Osama bin Laden and the burning twin towers. She trying to get approval from the Chicago Transit Authority for the ads to appear on city buses, but they may be rejected for infringing on My Jihad’s copyright to the template.

One would think that My Jihad is exactly the kind of moderate Muslim voice that Geller — who claims to be so threatened by Muslim “extremists” — would want to promote. But in reality, “the extremists on both sides need each other for validation. And we’re a threat to both,” Rehab said.

Rehab is the executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), but he’s doing this on his own time and with separate funds to keep it a grass-roots effort. What started as a Facebook group less than a month ago has grown into a sophisticated public relations campaign that has already raised $20,000 and recruited dozens of volunteers, most of whom are “soccer moms” who don’t want their kids to feel intimidated at school because of their religion, Rehab said. “These are the army of My Jihad,” he quipped.

But can the popular conception of “jihad” really be changed with some ads and a hashtag?

“I would look at this conflict as I would any other product: We have an image problem,” said Arash Afshar, an Iranian-American marketing consultant who is not involved with the campaign. “This is exactly what Muslims should be doing … The way to combat an image problem is not to simply sit back and hope it goes away. You develop a branding strategy and motivate your already existing fan-base.”

The challenge will be to sustain the campaign, he said, pointing to the similarly buzzy and controversial Israel Loves Iran campaign.

The challenge is no doubt immense, however, explained Jean-Pierre Dubé, a professor of marketing at Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago. “The problem we have here is that this is a case where we literally want to do an about-face on the interpretation of the word. And there’s so much passion behind how people have used this term that it’s hard to imagine this is something you can change overnight.”

Still, there are plenty of examples of brands dramatically turning their image around, Dubé said. Marlboro, contrary to its contemporary image of masculine ruggedness personified by the Marlboro Man, was initially marketed as a cigarette for women. Its signature red color comes from a red band on the tip designed to hide lipstick stains — “A cherry tip for your ruby lips,” as the slogan went. Likewise, Mountain Dew successfully remade itself as a drink for the X-Games in the 1990s. There’s even some precedent, of sorts, in the religious world. Catholicism essentially tried to rebrand itself in the 1960s with Vatican II, though the success is more dubious.

But those turnarounds took a lot of time and “tons and tons of money,” Dubé noted, and there was hardly the passion around the gender connotation of Marlboro as there is around the concept of jihad. What jihad needs is a “brand hijacking,” Dubé said, like what happened to Doc Martens in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when teenage grunge rockers took over what had been a gardening boot. When Doc Martens executives realized the potential, they immediately changed gears to capitalize on the trend.

The problem here for My Jihad, however, is that there is no central authority in Islam, unlike in Catholicism or with Doc Martens, and thus no “owner” of the brand associated with jihad. So you have Rehab and his cohort trying to execute a “hijacking of a hijacking,” as Dubé put it, to take back the word from the extremists who initially commandeered it. But in the end, no one can rightfully claim to be the final arbiter of the word “jihad.”

If you talk to other Muslim activists, they’ll probably agree that the general usage of “jihad” is an unfortunate perversion, but they are wary to engage in what seems like a losing battle over semantics, especially when there are so many other pressing problems with Islamophobia. Rehab said he’s sympathetic to this argument, but that semantics are important and that his community is starting to realize it. “That was my message to the community. Not only is it so misidentified, but we as Muslims — a lot of us — have resigned ourselves to that and moved on or even stopped trying to change it.”

This isn’t the first effort to change the popular usage of “jihad.” In 2005, Islamic historian Douglas Streusand submitted a paper to the Pentagon arguing that the military should stop using the word to refer to Islamist militants. “If we are calling them ‘people who strive in the path of God,’ in other words — if we are calling them meritorious Muslims — then we are implying that we are fighting Islam, even if we’re not,” he wrote. To make a comparison more Americans would understand, Streusand said calling militants “jihadis” is “like calling Germans during the Second World War ‘National Socialist Aryan Heroes.’”

UCLA law professor Khaled Abou El Fadl, a prominent critic of puritanical interpretations of Islam, has long campaigned against the modern usage of the word. “When I write an article speaking to extremists and convincing them that they are wrong theologically and morally and legally, I consider myself in a state of jihad. I expect to be rewarded by God,” he told NPR in 2006.

Rehab and his compatriots realize it will be difficult to change the meaning of “jihad,” but he’s hoping the campaign will at least “start a conversation” about a concept that is critical to the practice of Islam, yet completely misunderstood. The same could be said about Islam more generally in the West. The religion, omnipresent in pop culture and foreign policy debates, is still mysterious to so many Americans and its popular image too often dictated by the extremists, and not its everyday adherents. If nothing else, the fact that Geller feels threatened shows they’re doing something right.

Hopefully, this campaign can start to demystify Islam by taking the edge out of the scariest word in the religion and making jihad as quotidian as going to the gym. That’s Rehab’s jihad, what’s yours?

Close

Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon’s political reporter. Email him at aseitz-wald@salon.com, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

Sumbul Ali-Karamali: Who Are You Calling a Jihadist?

sumbul_ali_karamali

Sumbul Ali-Karamali shares her views and understanding of Jihad. (h/t:Fred A.)

Who Are You Calling a Jihadist?

Jihad, Jihadi, jihadist, even — most ridiculous of all — counter-jihadist. These labels are used by laypeople and journalists alike, often using jihad as a synonym for “any violence undertaken by Muslims.” An extreme example is the ad campaign posted a few months ago on New York City buses, equating Muslims to savages and any opinion not supportive of Israel as “jihad.” In fact, the ads — the creation of Pamela Geller, who is the head of what has been deemed a hate group — equate savagery with jihad, as well.

More recently, another set of bus ads have hit Chicago — this time, trying to counter some of the hate. The first features a young family with the caption, “My jihad is to march on, despite losing my son. What’s Yours?” On Twitter, too, check out the #MyJihad hashtag, where statements vary from the inspirational (“My jihad is to build friendships across the aisle”) to the humorous (“My jihad is not to eat the whole box”).

So what does jihad really mean, then? The media and anti-Islam manipulation of the word has so obscured the actual meaning that confusion is inevitable. I even encounter, alarmingly, a reluctance on the part of journalists and lay people to believe Muslims who try to explain their own religion and what jihad actually means.

Well, I’m a Muslim woman, an American, and a former corporate lawyer, and I know my religion pretty well, as I’ve not only been a practicing Muslim all my life, I have an additional degree in Islamic law. So let me explain what jihad, a specifically defined term of art, means in Islam.

The word itself means “effort” or “struggle.” Generally speaking, jihad can be divided into two broad categories: the internal jihad and the external jihad. The internal jihad is the struggle to make oneself  better — more just, more fair, more compassionate. The external jihad is the struggle to make society better — more just, more fair, more compassionate. Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, who died in 632, once famously described the internal jihad as the “Greater Jihad” and the external jihad as the “Lesser Jihad.” The most difficult struggle and the greatest, in other words, is the struggle to improve our own selves.

The external jihad can again be divided into further categories. How can we improve society? First, by “jihad by the word” which is using verbal persuasion to try to correct an injustice in society, such as letters to the editor or petitions. If that doesn’t work, then Muslims may use “jihad by the hand,” which is doing good works to correct an injustice in society, such as volunteering in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. And the last resort is “jihad by the sword,” which is taking up arms to correct an injustice in society.

But here’s what vast majority of Islamic scholars, for centuries, have decreed when it comes to jihad by the sword: it can be exercised only to overthrow an oppressor or in self-defense. That’s right: only in self-defense or to overthrow an oppressor.

Some scholars over the centuries have even contended that the jihad doctrine does not allow the overthrow of a mere run-of-the-mill oppressor, but only one who is actively preventing people from practicing their religion.

Other Islamic scholars, however, disagreed with this opinion; they said that invading a country and oppressing its people was sufficient reason to fight back (I suspect that’s what Americans would do if we were invaded), and that no suppression of religious practice was necessary. But, even so, they confirmed, jihad must be exercised only in self-defense or to overthrow an oppressor.

What about al Qaeda’s version of jihad? It’s not jihad. Terrorism has never been allowed in Islam, not in 1,400 years of history, and in early Islam it was severely punished.

Using religion as justification for violence is not unique to any one religion. Religion was used to justify the Crusades, as well as the Spanish Inquisition, and the attendant killing of tens of thousands of Muslims and Jews. In modern times, the Serbs’ genocide of Bosnian Muslims and themassacre of thousands of Muslims in Gujarat by Hindus also were at least partly, by some, justified by religion. But no religion condones murder or genocide.

To the Pamela Gellers of the world, a Muslim living in the U.S., going about his or her business and living everyday life as an American, is practicing jihad. But if that means that Muslims are trying to make themselves better people, then that’s a good thing. If that means that Muslims are trying to make their societies better by working within the law to correct injustices, then that’s a good thing. And it’s no different from what most of us are trying to do, regardless of our religions.

“#MyJihad” Brings Out Anti-Muslim Rage Amongst Hypocritical Islamophobic Warmongers

Social media, specifically Twitter and Facebook have been abuzz with the anti-extremism campaign MyJihad: Reclaiming Islam. On Twitter the trending hashtag #MyJihad has been quite lively as the reclamation of this very central theological term and concept has been met with a warm welcome from audiences, specifically Muslims who have long felt misrepresented by the misappropriation and manipulation of the term “Jihad” in the public conscience (due in large part to the actions of extremists such as Bin Laden and their counterparts, the self-described “counter-Jihad” extremists like Anders Behring Breivik, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer.)

According to the MyJihad website the campaign officially kicked off on Tuesday, December 11. We first got wind of the campaign back in September when it unofficially launched on Facebook and twitter. Back then, Garibaldi wrote about the campaign,

It is clearly an attempt to reclaim the meaning of Jihad from the extremists and absolutists in both the “West” and the “East,” who feed off of each others hate.

Garibaldi’s article focused on a Twitter exchange between the founder of the MyJihad campaign Ahmed Rehab and JihadWatch director Robert Spencer in which Spencer inadvertently admitted that Jihad means more than “warfare” or as he likes to paint it “terrorism” against innocents, which proves the campaign’s purpose:

Robert_Spencer_Ahmed_Rehab_My_Jihad

The campaign is now displaying ads on buses that essentially have Muslims explaining how they relate to Jihad in their daily lives, a reality that has long gone missing from the overall discussion which tends to take the side of the extremists and the sensational.

Jihad in the face of personal loss:

MyJihad1

Jihad has to do with making friendship across the isle:

MyJihad2

A Muslim man with prayer beads and a Jewish man with Hebrew on his shirt (which I can’t really make out) building friendships:

MyJihad3

This Jihad has to do with the challenge of wearing a veil and judging those who “cover”:

MyJihad4

These advertisements challenge the prevailing idea about Jihad being foremost about “Holy War,” a view which is most enthusiastically propagated by the hate group AFDI/SIOA and their founders Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer (whose Ad campaigns this past year have sent an opposite message of hate and racism.)

In response to the bus ads Islamophobes are going berserk, which is understandable as they have pegged their careers and lives on demonizing Islam and Muslims. The question I would ask is: If Muslims are telling you that they don’t believe in the “Jihad” of Bin Laden why tell them they have their religion wrong? What interest does it serve Geller and Spencer to propagate the Jihad of Bin Laden as the correct Jihad? That seems to be the height of absurd Islamophobia.

Of course Geller and Spencer are resorting to conspiracy theory, pushing the idea that this is all “Taqiyya,” and that the non-Muslims who are involved are a bunch of “dhimmi” half-wits. It seems that in response they want to reproduce their own Ad which essentially copy the MyJihad campaign but emphasize the voices that MyJihad is pushing against:

BinLaden_GellerAd

It is apt, here, to highlight what MyJihad founder Ahmed Rehab has said about his motivations in initiating this campaign. He remarked in a tweet that he was inspired by the words of a South Side Chicago Imam who said that,

“When you have a glass of dirty water on the side of the road all you have to do is put a clean glass of water next to it and let the people decide which one to choose.”

Pamela Geller: “The Ultimate Definition of a Criminal Troll”

Geller on Russell Brand’s show Brand X. Geller’s views are “completely unacceptable”:

http://youtu.be/CDePmk6gv7U
Watch the complete interview here.

Sheila Musaji: Robert Spencer Discovers Halloween Jihad

Let the loony Islamophobic conspiracies about a war on Halloween begin. (h/t: CriticalDragon)

Robert Spencer discovers Halloween Jihad

by Sheila Musaji

Robert Spencer finds it noteworthy enough to note on Jihad Watch that Seattle elementary school bans Halloween costumes: they could offend students from “other cultures”.

He engages in his typical snarky innuendo:

Gee, I wonder which culture would have students in the Seattle elementary schools who would be offended by Halloween costumes. Still, there is no indication that any Islamic supremacist group demanded this ban; the school officials are just playing the dhimmi on their own initiative. Please write them, politely and respectfully, and ask them why American culture always takes a back seat to others, and why they’re pandering to an imaginary offense.

And, of course, his partner Pamela Geller also posted an article on this non-story, sayingDismantling America, piece by cultural piece, law by American law …… the parents ought to protest en masse – in costume.

The article Spencer and Geller refer to says only that a Seattle school has banned students from dressing up in costume for Halloween this year at school.  One district representative said that costumes “could offend and upset students who come from other cultures”.  The principal of the school said that “This decision was made by the entire staff after two deep and detailed discussions. The initial conversation was initiated by staff members who suggested that since Halloween falls this year on a half day of school, we not allow costumes. It takes students a while to change into their costumes, and students are distracted taking away from the already limited instructional time.

That’s it, the whole story that is known from this.  We don’t know whether or not any parent made any request or complaint to the district or to the school.  We don’t know what is the demographic of the community where this school is located.  Blaming this decision on some sort of Muslim plot, or a self-imposed fear of a possible Muslim reaction, to take away an American holiday is absolute nonsense.

To jump to the conclusion that Spencer does from this very limited information is a clear sign of his deeply held Islamophobia.  We know that Spencer is blaming Muslims for this school decision because he says the school officials are “playing dhimmi” on their own initiative.  Is it only some Muslims who don’t celebrate Halloween?

Here is a quote from one such “dhimmi” who refuses to participate in American culture:

“I think we ought to close Halloween down. Do you want your children to dress up as witches? The Druids used to dress up like this when they were doing human sacrifice…[The children] are acting out Satanic rituals and participating in it, and don’t even realize it.”Pat Robertson, “The 700 Club,” 1982-OCT-29

Robertson is not exactly known for his fondness for Islam or Muslims.  I wonder is Spencer will ask his followers to write letters to The 700 Club to complain about Robertson’s attempts to “dismantle America”.

If any parents did say something to the school or district administration, they might have been parents from just about any religious or cultural background.

Yes, there are some Muslims who are opposed to celebrating Halloween, for a variety of reasons.  The reasons given are pretty much identical with the reasons that many Christians and Jews are opposed to celebrating the holiday.  There is a wide range of opinion within all of these communities about the holiday, what it means, and why it should not be celebrated, or can be celebrated as simply a cultural event.

Read the rest…

Robert Spencer’s Attacks on #MyJihad Campaign Debunked

Garibaldi of Loonwatch wrote about a recent twitter exchange between terrorist inspirer and pseudo-scholar Robert Spencer and Civil Rights activist Ahmed Rehab. Spencer was forced into undermining his career long effort to demonize Islam and Muslims, reluctantly conceding that the term Jihad means more than “terrorism” and “violence,” a position he is loathe to share on a daily basis with his readers since it doesn’t fit his scheme of evil Muslim hordes Islamizing the universe.

This fits a pattern of doublespeak on Spencer’s part: on the one hand he tells his audience that there are “no distinctions between peaceful and violent Muslims” and that the “only good Muslim is a bad Muslim,” yet when pressed in public about his positions he backtracks, and says things like, “Islam makes a lot of people be very moral and upright and live fine lives.”

This brings us to Spencer’s recent double speak, in which he tells his fans that the “true meaning” of Jihad is the one that is forwarded by radical Muslim preachers. Intriguingly, Spencer finds himself in the unenviable company of agreeing with extremists such as Omar Bakri, Anjum Chaudhry, Osama Bin Laden and others who believe that the targeted killing of innocents is a legitimate expression of Jihad in Islam.

Spencer’s article begins by first trying to delegitimize the #MyJihad campaign, he writes,

“The deceptive and misleading #MyJihad campaign…”

Off the bat one can see that Spencer has already made up his mind, for him anything that runs counter to the “Jihad is evil” mantra is unacceptable. That is why he is eager to hide the true import of the campaign: giving voice to how millions of Muslims relate to Jihad in their daily lives. The #MyJihad campaign also clearly states on both its website and Facebook page that its goal is, “taking back Jihad from anti-Muslim and Muslim extremists alike.”

One would think that if Spencer was honest about promoting peace and justice (words he bandies about meaninglessly), and not being anti-Muslim he would welcome such an initiative. Of course Spencer would be out of a David Horowitz Subsidized job if he welcomed the campaign. Spencer goes on to write,

This campaign is designed to foster complacency among Americans, and to blind them to the fact that Islamic jihadists are committing violence in the name of jihad around the world every day.

Spencer is worried by the educational potentiality of the #MyJihad campaign and attempts once again to obfuscate its message. Clearly Spencer missed the memo about what this whole campaign actually is about, let’s repeat it for him,

“taking back Jihad from anti-Muslim and Muslim extremists alike.”

Robert Spencer’s many faulty claims regarding Jihad have been directly debunked in Danios’ Understanding Jihad series. In this series Danios tackles Spencer’s assertions one by one, adding context and facts and also criticizing the enormous falsities Spencer forwards about Jihad, thereby putting “Jihad” in proper perspective. This may be the reason why to this day Robert Spencer refuses to reply to Danios’ rebuttals in the series and has also ran away from Loonwatch’s open invitation to debate.

Also read Sheila Musaji’s article: AFDI/SIOA Roll Out 8 More Anti-Muslim Ads

#MyJihad Twitter Bout Takes One Round

by Garibaldi

Danios has been writing a series on Understanding Jihad which rebuts Robert Spencer‘s lies, decontextualized and selective usage of Islamic texts and history to advance myths regarding Jihad. The series is unfinished, but has been credited for bringing much needed facts and perspective to the understanding and meaning of Jihad.

One aspect that is yet to be covered is how the majority of everyday, regular Muslims relate to Jihad, and what it means to them. Today, in response to Geller’s racist ad campaign calling Muslims and Arabs “savages” whilst juxtaposing “Supporting Israel” with “Defeating Jihad,” Muslims (and non-Muslims) have taken to Twitter to relate what Jihad means to them with the hashtag #MyJihad (h/t: Fred A.). Here’s a description from the Facebook page about the impetus for the campaign,

There has been a lot of commotion recently in broadcast and social media about hate ads placed in the NY Subway by islamophobe Pamela Geller that states:

“In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
What many on both sides of the debate are missing is that at the heart of the problem is the blatant misuse of the word “Jihad” as if it were an acceptable synonym of say “terrorism.”

Islamophobes aside, many Americans remain confused about this.

The best response to the hateful ad campaign is to convert it into an opportunity to get to the heart of the problem and to reclaim the word “Jihad,” a word many Muslims have shied away from and left to the ravaging of the ignorant in both the Muslim extremist and anti-Muslim extremist circles – both of whom seem to ironically agree on a bloody definition for the word. I love Jihad! Not Jihad the perverse way Bin Laden & Pam Geller define it. But: the struggle against ignorance, injustice & hate. It is the struggle against the darkness in ones own soul. It is the struggle to be patient in times of adversity etc.

Jihad is not savage, except in the minds of those who are too lazy or too careless to wish to understand a well-documented 1400 year old concept in both Islamic literature and Muslim life.

My Grandma’s Jihad was against diabetes and MS while bedridden for seven years. #MyJihad is against bigotry and hatemongering. What’s yours?

1. Tweet #MyJihad and tell us what your Jihad is.

Also this will be more than a twitter campaign. There will be an ad campaign as well in public transportation in various cities. The best tweets will be used as ads, so tweet away.

so:

2. Donate and help us get physical ads on billboards.
http://www.cairchicago.org/make-a-donation-form

Non-Muslims welcome, tell us about your Jihad too!

Anyone with the slightest bit of knowledge of the Arabic language and Islam knows that Jihad literally translates to “struggle.” Hence, the preponderance of involved Twitterati are relating the concept of Jihad to their everyday struggles and tying it to a spiritual dimension rooted deeply in their faith. It is clearly an attempt to reclaim the meaning of Jihad from the extremists and absolutists in both the “West” and the “East,” who feed off of each others hate.

An interesting interaction involving perennial anti-Loon Ahmed Rehab and hate monger Robert Spencer underscored how such campaigns can be effective tools in turning the hate machine’s propaganda on its head:

Robert Spencer made the mistake of tweeting at Ahmed Rehab with what he thought was a wisecrack and witty side-busting tweet, but ended up receiving a rhetorical Jiu Jitsu flying kick which left him floored. The question still stands Spencer, are you going to “watch” yourself now as part of your “Jihadwatch?”