Saturday, August 17, 2013

Jihad, Fundamentalist Islam, and the West

Dear Blue Abaya readers, the following is a guest post written by Alex Bint Eisa. I recommend her article especially for the non-Muslim readers to learn a thing or two about Jihad that you might not have known before.
If you think you've got what it takes to write for Blue Abaya, your writing is factual, beneficial to the readers and as a bonus spiced with a dash of humor, feel free to contact me and send your article through for evaluation. The article MUST be related to Saudi Arabia, and/or Islam, ME, or fall within the interests of Blue Abaya. Contact me at blueabaya at

"Jihad, Fundamentalist Islam, and the West"

Much in the same way that radicals have hijacked the public persona of Islam throughout the West, Western media has failed to maintain objectivity in its portrayal of Islam. The interpretation of the term 'Jihad' in contemporary Islam is one of the most common misconceptions, as well as points of debate, inside and outside the Arab world.

The different types of Jihad, its interpretations and the role it plays in the contemporary understanding of Islam are subjects of constant debate in the post- 9/11 globalized world. Even more so after the fundamentalist Islamic groups skyrocketed to international stardom. Jihad is the daily struggle to do what is halal and to avoid what is haraam. The Jihads in Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Chechnya, and Kashmir have provided a vivid and uniting consciousness for Muslims around the world.

When translated literally from Arabic, Jihad means effort or struggle.

What exactly Muslims are struggling against, however, depends on the type of Jihad one is referring to.  There are technically four types Jihad: of the heart, the tongue, the hand, and the sword.

Jihad is often more simply categorized as either greater or lesser, although there is some debate as to whether or not war/armed battle constitutes the lesser Jihad according to the Prophet’s teachings.

Greater Jihad, Jihad of the heart, is the daily struggle against ones evil desires, which the devil uses in order to tempt man.  Jihad of the tongue is the struggle to proselytize the word of God (Allah) to those who do not know it and bring to them knowledge of the one true faith, Islam.  Directly related to Jihad of the heart is that of the hand, or the compulsion to fulfill ones duties within society and especially to ones family. Lastly, Jihad of the sword, lesser Jihad, involves the defense of a Muslim’s faith and person if being attacked.

The term “holy war” when referring to Jihad of the sword dates back to the days of Saladin and the liberation of the Holy Land from the infidels.  It is important to keep the holy wars within their 11th to 13th century context.

When Catholic Pope Urban II called for Christians to aid in defending the Byzantine Empire from the Turkish invasion, Europe was engulfed by a series of endless territorial battles. The Pope saw the Crusades as an opportunity to unite Christians against a common enemy as well as satisfy the seemingly endless European lust for battle. After the arrival of the French and Italian Crusaders to Constantinople, they pledged to restore territories to the Byzantine Empire that had been seized by the Turks, which would eventually lead to the first siege of Jerusalem. As was the practice of the times, the Christian Crusaders pillaged the town, murdering its Jewish and Muslim civilian inhabitants, destroying their places of worship and eventually, the city itself.

The reinterpretations of Islam by ideological leaders like Hassan Al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in early 20th century Egypt, Mawlana Mawdudi created the foundation upon which modern Islamic fundamentalists have based their interpretations of Islam and therefore the familiar clamoring for Jihad.

The resurgence of powerful Islamic ideological and political societies, the eventual demise of Western Colonialism in the region along with the independence of countries like Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, and Pakistan has opened up the debate over the implementation of Shariah law. Newly liberated colonies with Muslim-majority populations adopted constitutions that were similar to those of their ex-colonizers. The failure to implement Shariah law in newly established majority-Muslim countries helped drive a new wave of Islamic fundamentalism, which had been brewing under the West’s radar until the Iranian Revolution in the 1970s.

Suddenly the West became very aware of a seemingly backwards revolution where the people of a country chose to fight against modernization instead of for it. Within the next decade, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the American support of any and all opposing forces created a figurative perfect storm.  The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan gave the fundamentalists a very real Jihad to fight, the first of such in centuries.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, Jihad became the struggle to defend Islam and the umma, or community of Islamic faithful, against the West’s perceived cultural imperialism. With the perceived corruption of Islamic societies throughout the Arabic world and beyond, fundamentalist leaders are calling for a return to a purer and more authentic Islam, similar to that of the Prophet Mohammed.

The ability to apply itself within evolving social contexts is what allows Islam to remain relevant in modern times. The struggle against those of our internal longings that are haraam is the greatest of Jihads. However the vast majority of people in the West have no idea that Jihad constitutes anything beyond a war against the freedoms of secular societies. Today Muslims living in the West face many of the same challenges that other minority groups, long since assimilated into mainstream society, once faced in the past."

Alex Bint Eisa is a freelance writer currently based in Doha, Qatar. She is the first Cuban-American student at the University of Qatar's Gulf Studies Program.
You can contact her at

Works Cited:
Amir, Ali. "Jihad Explained." The Deen Show ~ It's a Way of Life. Web. 04 Dec. 2010. <>.
Esposito, John L. . Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002. Print.
Gould, Mark. "Understanding Jihad." Hoover Institution. 1 Feb. 2005. Web. 03 Dec. 2010. <>.
Halsall, Paul. "Medieval Sourcebook: Urban II: Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095, According to Fulcherof Chartres." FORDHAM.EDU. Fordham University, Dec. 1997. Web. 05 Dec. 2010. <>.
Ibrahim, I. A. A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam. New Delhi: Goodword, 1997. Print.
Lapidus, Ira M. A History of Islamic Societies. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008. Print.
Price, Nelson L. "Jihad: What Is It?" Welcome. Web. 04 Dec. 2010. <>.
Yusufali, Abdullah, and A. A. Razwy. The Qurʼan: Translation. Elmhurst, NY: Tahrike Tarsile Qurʼan, 2000. Print.


Jerry Mc Kenna said...

In so far as Islam makes the news in the West, it is usually not for a complicated reason. There is little reason for a reporter to explain the gentle, introspective side of jihad. News is simplistic, its not history.

Marjory said...

Good article, very clear and informative. Thanks for posting it.

BB said...

Well written and learned a thing or two. I would like to ask what does the part of the christians have to do with jihad? thanks

Anonymous said...

A good article. I would like to ask one thing, is it according to Quran, that where ever a Muslim person travels, or moves to live, he/she is supposed to (at least to try) convert all the infidels she/he meets, and to try to make the world Islamic? This is what many of my friends (Muslims) have told me. And they are not even really religious ones, normal people. They say for them it's very clear, that all the World is supposed to be living according to Islam. I live in a muslim country, but I am from European country myself.

And one more thing, when ever I have had these kinds of conversations with my friends, the conversation has never been hateful, it has always been a normal conversation, where both sides (me and the other) have discussed openly on this issue. And this is what I hope now, also. Thank you.


Anonymous said...

And I would like to add, that they also told me, that there will be no peace before all the people follow Islam. I asked them, that this is not even true in Islamic countries at the moment, how can they say it would happen if all the World was Islamic? I never got the answer, only that these Muslims are not true Muslims, and if they were, there would be peace. But my point is, how would this change in the future?


Pásik Kroch said...

hmm, sorry. there is no discussion about greater and lesser jihad. there is nothing like jihad of heart in hadeeths. so called "lesser" jihad is only jihad that exists. so if you want to write something really qualified, why you never mention any sahih hadeeth supporting your greater jihad idea? - can you disprove this? come on. waiting for your sahih hadeeths supporting your hypothesis. until you wont find any sahih hadeeth supporting it, it is just a nice exercice of propaganda. nothing less, nothing more for stupid westerners, buying the meme islam aka religion of peace.

Blue said...

Hoping to hear replies from the author soon, I'm sure she will get back to you shortly!

Alex bint Eisa said...

@BB: the reference to the christians is used to put the term "holy war" into context.

@"M": Christians and Muslims alike are actually required to spread the "truth" however Muslims have very clear guidelines as to how this should be done, and that is not through the use of force. Of the three Abrahamic religions, Jews alone are not required to proselytize because they believe they are the "chosen" and therefore not required to convert others.

@M2: Muslims believe that discord and strife is caused by the deviation of muslims and non-muslims alike from the path of Islam. If true Islam was adhered to therefore the world would be in peace and harmony.

Alex bint Eisa said...

@Jerry & @unknown thanks for the comment and support!

Alex bint Eisa said...

@Pásik Kroch: I did not use religious sources when writing this article, instead I used academic sources so I cannot just quote you hadiths. it is easy to just find random online forums to support any argument you want to make, and considering how in their "about us" section islamic awakening declares their goals to be anti-secular and anti-democratic i don't think it's hard to say that they do not speak for all muslims, and probably not even for most muslims. don't go searching for fundamentalist ideology and then get upset when you find it.

Pásik Kroch said...

aha, so you quoted "academic" sources just founded on what? on your good feeling? so hadiths are "fundamentalistic"? when I read discussions about female circumcision in islam, almost all muslims said, that it is un-islamic because no true islamic sources supports female circumcision, because there are no sahih hadiths to support it. jihad is same - but you have hadiths supportin only the nasty version of jihad and no nice version. so, how to get out of this tricky situation? traditionally dishonest muslim approach - if hadiths are against you, then say they are not true, they are manipulated or only fanatics use them. but, every stick has second end - you use hadiths to know how to pray, how to make wudhu, even how to cover your head. therefore, you are fundamentalist as well.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations for the great text!!!

a kiss for you from Rio,
Denise Bomfim