What does “jihad” mean to you?
A “My Jihad” bus advertisement. (Council on American-Islamic Relations)
Concerned that many people misunderstand the term — and have negative stereotypes of Muslims — the Council on American-Islamic Relations has launched a an advertising campaign on San Francisco buses.
“Jihad is a central tenet of the Islamic creed which means struggling uphill in order to get to a better place,” CAIR said in a media release.
“My Jihad is to build friendships across the aisle,” the ads say. “What’s yours?”
CAIR started the advertising partly to counter an earlier bus advertising campaign by Pamela Geller, an activist and author known for her negative views of Islam. “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel,” said Geller’s ads. “Defeat jihad.”
Muni began running Geller’s ads in August after a federal judge ruled that New York City had accept them on public transit there. The San Francisco agency later posted its own ads on the same buses explaining that Muni disavowed Geller’s message.
The CAIR campaign started last week in San Francisco, and as of Jan. 3, ads were circulating on the sides of 35 Muni buses, according to the media release. It extends a similar campaign that began Dec. 11 in Chicago.
The understanding of “jihad” in English seems to be evolving.
The 1895 book “A Dictionary of Islam” by Thomas Patrick Hughes gives this definition:
Lit. “An effort, or a striving.” A religious war with those who are unbelievers in the mission of Muhammad. It is an incumbent religious duty, established in the Qur’an and in the Traditions as a divine institution, and enjoined specially for the purpose of advancing Islam and of repelling evil from Muslims.
My 1971 edition of the Compact Oxford English Dictionary similarly defines jihad as “A religious war of Mohammedans against nonbelievers in Islam, inculcated as a duty by the Koran and traditions.”
But according to the 2010 book “Essential Islam: A Comprehensive Guide to Belief and Practice” by Diane Morgan, “jihad” has long been used within the religion both to mean an internal struggle and a fight against the enemies of Islam.
And the Free Online Dictionary gives three definitions:
1. Islam An individual’s striving for spiritual self-perfection.
2. Islam A Muslim holy war or spiritual struggle against infidels.
3. A crusade or struggle: “The war against smoking is turning into a jihad against people who smoke” (Fortune).
Here’s how the current campaign started, according to the media release:
Volunteers working on the campaign include activists and students, but the crux of the volunteers have been a group of working moms who are disturbed by the prospects of their children growing up in an environment of gross misinformation about Islam that sometimes spills into outright hatred such as with the recent anti-Islam ads sponsored by Pamela Geller.
The CAIR campaign has a website and extends to Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter where users are asked to tweet about their own jihad #MyJihad hashtag.
Many tweets follow the spirit of the CAIR campaign, such as this one:
Okay new intentions. #MyJihad for this month is to study harder and keep my prayers on time. Starting tomorrow.
But others tweets are taking a more critical tone, including this one from Pamela Geller: