A Word of Truth on Jihad and Islam

NihadBy Nihad Awad
Word Count: 810

There is a growing attempt by some commentators to label the recent bombings in Boston as “jihad” and to blame the deadly blasts on a non-existent concept they call “radical Islam.”

I call “radical Islam” non-existent because radicalism or extremism is not permissible in Islam. Islam prohibits extremism and an essential part of the faith is moderation. A more accurate term might be “Al-Qaeda ideology.”

The Quran, Islam’s foundational holy text, states clearly: “We made you to be a community of the middle way, so that (with the example of your lives) you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind.” (Quran, 2:143)

The Quran also states: “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for God can best protect both.” (Quran, 4:35)

There is no such thing as radical Islam, but there are radical Muslims — just as there are extremists of every other religion or belief.

But there’s a huge difference between the existence of radical individuals and a religion that permits radical beliefs or actions. These radicals certainly do not represent the teachings of Islam or the behavior or beliefs of mainstream Muslims.

In one Islamic tradition, called a “hadith,” the Prophet Muhammad said: “Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded; and gain strength by worshipping in the mornings, the nights.”

In recent years, we have seen the term “jihadist” come to be used as if it means a person who kills people out of a religious motivation, but this is terribly inaccurate.

“Jihad” does not mean “holy war.” Literally, jihad means to “struggle,” strive and exert effort. It is a central and broad Islamic concept that includes struggle against evil inclinations within oneself, struggle to improve the quality of life in society, struggle in the battlefield for self-defense (e.g., – having a standing army for national defense), or fighting against tyranny or oppression.

For the sake of accuracy and to avoid spreading false information about a major world religion, extremist Muslims who commit crimes should be called criminals or, in cases where the definition fits, terrorists. We should not legitimize their actions by calling them jihadists, even if they attempt to call themselves by that label and seek a false religious connection or justification. These criminals should not be honored with a religious label.

Islam allows legitimate self defense, but prohibits the killing of innocent people, even in times of war or conflict. Aggression is never permitted.

“And fight in the cause of God those who fight against you, and do not commit aggression. Indeed God does not love those who are aggressors,” (The Quran, 2:190).

So yes, there are some Muslims who have extreme views, or mental illnesses, or political grievances, or a host of other reasons that lead them to kill people, and this is not only a tragedy and a crime but an egregious violation of the principles of Islam.

The difference between Muslim killers and killers from other backgrounds is often the way they are described by the media and viewed by the public: with Muslim killers, the crime is almost always attributed to their religion.

Because the word “terrorism” is used almost exclusively to describe crimes whose perpetrators are Muslims, you might think that a majority of mass killings and acts of terrorism in the U.S. were committed by Muslims. But when we look at the facts, that perception does not hold up.

In a well-known hadith, a man asked the Prophet Muhammad, “What is the best jihad?” to which Prophet Muhammad replied, “Speaking a word of truth to an oppressive ruler.”

The constant misuse of terms like “jihad” and “radical Islam” is offensive to the truth and is counterproductive to our nation’s efforts to achieve security.It is time we all speak a word of truth by applying the proper labels to criminals and their acts of violence, no matter their religious background.


Nihad Awad is national executive director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties group. He may be contacted at: nawad@cair.com


ISLAM-OPED: A Word of Truth on Jihad and Islam

ISLAM-OPED is a syndication service of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) designed to offer an American Muslim perspective on current political, social and religious issues. ISLAM-OPED commentaries are offered free-of-charge to one media outlet in each market area. Permission for publication will be granted on a first-come-first-served basis.

Please consider the following commentary for publication.

CONTACT: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-744-7726, ihooper@cair.com