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Definition of Islamic Jihad

February 25, 1988

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.

Bentsur complains of Palestinians, hardened by a harsh colonial policy, wishing to rid Palestine of Jews. No doubt some do. He improperly omits that Palestinians are both Muslim and Christian.

But, we should turn the question back to Bentsur. What of the Zionists who cite biblical grounds in order to drive the Palestinians from their home? Shouldn't he also address the issues of Israel's water and tax policies which are structured to force Palestinians to leave the occupied territories?

Do Muslims wish to wage war on Jews and Christians? We are explicitly given two guidances in the Holy Quran.

"Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error; whoever rejects evil and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks. Surely, God hears and knows all things." Sura II, verse 256.

We are also repeatedly encouraged to respect the faith and practices of Christians and Jews. We are told that not all men are meant to be Muslims.

The Muslim does not seek to wage war on Christians and Jews and has no theological grounds on which to support force in religion.


Director, Religious Affairs

Islamic Center of the South Bay


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