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My Jihad, an American campaign

Date: 06/02/2013 A.D 25 Rabi'i al-Awal 1434H H

By: Bayynat editor

Monique Parsons, a freelance writer on religion based in Chicago whose stories have been featured on National Public Radio, Chicago Public Radio and various newspapers, discussed the new campaign in America, MyJihad campaign.

As part of the campaign, people voice the challenges they have to overcome, sharing their experiences with the public as a means of clarifying the meaning of the word “Jihad”.

As Parsons explains;the Arabic term is often mistranslated as “holy war”. However, the term encompasses a broader and more profound sense: it is actually a synonym for “struggle” or “striving.”

Angie Emara’s son, Adam, was just four-years-old when he died from complications of Hunter’s Syndrome in 2009. Every day since, Emara, 35, of Naperville, Illinois, has struggled with a painful and private grief.

In December, she took her heartbreak public - to the side of a city bus, to be exact. Cuddling with her three grinning children, her youngest clutching a photograph of little Adam, the ad reads: “MyJihad is to march on despite losing my son. What’s yours?”

It is one of five that appeared on the side of twenty-five Chicago Transit Authority buses last December and debuted in Washington, DC subway stations on January 28.

Emara and her moving story are part of a Chicago-based campaign known as MyJihad, an effort to insert a broader, and more nuanced, definition of “jihad” into the public discourse.

How It Began

“When confronted with the easy path and the right path, it is choosing the right path over the easy path,” said campaign founder Ahmed Rehab of Chicago. “Jihad is a very positive term, one that I want to embrace and not run away from. I believe it means a struggle to get to a better place. It does not mean for me, nor for those whose practice is like mine daily, to pick up a gun and shoot someone.”

Rehab, the Executive Director of the Chicago chapter of the Council of American Islamic Relations, conceived of the idea last fall after hearing that controversial advertisements using the term “jihad” were slated for New York and Washington, DC subways, and Chicago city buses and transit stations.

Rehab said he was startled by how many people, Muslims and non-Muslims, accepted that “jihad” was an inherently violent term. He bristled at the fact that Islamic extremists, as well as those who denounce Islam, both claim to define the term for the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims.

Embracing the broader definition of jihad as internal struggle, Rehab posted on Facebook that his jihad was to work against discrimination and to educate people. “What’s your jihad?” he posted.

The response was overwhelming, Rehab said. People began posting about their personal struggles, from losing weight, to doing better in school, to building bridges between people in their communities.

Among those who took notice were Emara and Chicago-based photojournalist Sadaf Syed. Both contacted Rehab to offer help, and before long were helping to coordinate a Twitter hashtag, Facebook page, YouTube videos, scores of volunteers and a fundraising effort.

Its Mission

“MyJihad is to build friendships across the aisle,” reads one ad, depicting a Muslim African American leaning against a Caucasian, Jewish man wearing Hebrew lettering on his t-shirt. Another, showing a young woman lifting weights while wearing a bright pink sweater and a headscarf, reads: “MyJihad: Modesty is not a weakness.” Yet, another shows two young Muslim women, one wearing a headscarf and the other with long brown hair flowing past her shoulders; the caption reads “MyJihad is to not judge people by their cover.”

Rehab says the campaign has been criticized on two fronts: by extremist Muslims and by those who appear to have an irrational fear of Islam. He is not fazed by his critics.

Emara, now the volunteer coordinator for the campaign, said they are working on expanding the program to other cities, including New York. And an educational campaign, including more MyJihad advertisements, is in the works.

Syed, the photographer who has volunteered her time to the campaign, said she has been thrilled to see her work featured so publicly.

“It feels awesome, honestly. The whole goal for me as a photographer is to inspire people, to educate them,” she said. “People always say, where’s the moderate Muslim voice? Where is the average Muslim American speaking? We are going to speak up for ourselves. We don’t need other people to tell us what Muslims are.”

As mentioned by His Eminence, the late Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra): On the spiritual level, Jihad means fighting against one’s desires and instinctual needs no matter how persisting they were. For instance, it requires great patience and fortitude to be able to resist temptations and dismiss sexual desires. The issue is also a matter of resisting one’s impulse to attain more fortune and possessions, and even fighting the urge to brag about good deeds that one undertakes. In this context, Jihad is used as a basis of judgment. In other words, it is the means to distinguish the most pious Muslims and those who truly deserve Heavenly rewards: “Do you think that you will enter the garden while Allah has not yet known those who strive hard from among you, and (He has not) known the patient.” (3:142)  

Another form of Jihad is to fight evil inclinations to inflict harm upon others even in case they have harmed him: “But indeed if any show patience and forgive, that would truly be an exercise of courageous will and resolution in the conduct of affairs.” (42:43). After the conquest of Mecca in 8th Hijri year, the Prophet (p) entered the city, ordered the idols to be destroyed. Then he asked the people of Mecca: “What do you say and suspect?” They said: “We say good things and have good thoughts. A noble brother, the son of a noble brother has now become victorious.” Then the Prophet (p) said: “Now I will say unto you what my brother Yusuf (a.s.) said: “This day let no reproach be (cast) on you. God will forgive you, and He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy. I free you all. You can go.” The Prophet (p) demonstrated qualities of nobility when he chose to let go of the people of Mecca after the conquest of the city despite the fact that they were the people who had persecuted him and his followers for years, engaged with him in a brutal war, and not only killed his uncle, Al-Hamza, but also mutilated his body.

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