The Islamic community of Southern California reeled with shock when we read Eytan Bentsur's column about the Palestinian uprising (Op-Ed Page, Feb. 19). As Americans, we appreciate The Times' role as a forum for political, economic and social debate. Yet, The Times bears the great responsibility of screening out falsehoods and misrepresentations. Bentsur's false translation of jihad should never have been printed.
Foremost, the word jihad entails the concept of striving or struggling, making efforts. Theologically, jihad means to make one's best efforts in the service of God. Our God is the God of Abraham and Jesus. We believe in his mercy and compassion for all of mankind. Muhammad, the final Messenger of Islam, is reported to have told people that the best form of jihad is prayer. The Islamic form of prayer is fully symbolic of man's submission to God and does not demonstrate any form of aggressiveness.
How do Westerners come to translate jihad to mean holy war? During the early period of Islamic rule, Byzantium invaded Arabia in order to destroy the Muslims. We were encouraged to make our best efforts to drive them out and defend our faith. Again during the Crusades, the Europeans sought to seize Jerusalem. Again, Muslims made their best efforts to drive out the invaders. Thusly, jihad acquired in the West a martial connotation.