Yasmina Reality

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My response to Huffington Post religion blogger, Amitai Etzioni.

My response to Huffington Post religion blogger, Amitai Etzioni.

By on April 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

Since when are non-Muslims the scholarly experts on Islam? A scholarly person who sincerely studies and truly understands Islam … becomes Muslim.

I implore all seekers of truth to scrutinize what you read. Packaging doesn’t matter. It’s the content that counts. (Special thanks to Justin Parrott and Angie Emara for your inspirations, as always.)

You can read Mr. Etzioni’s critique of the #MyJihad campaign here:  Huffington Post Religion Blog: MyJihad: Just a Spiritual Journey? by Amitai Etzioni

(The following response was sent to Huffington Post and to Mr. Etzioni at Washington University.)

I acknowledge and respect Mr. Etzioni’s background in international studies and his government and academic work. Being a scholarly individual however, does not automatically make one a Muslim scholar or an Islamic authority figure.   As a Muslim woman, I have a spiritual leader, my Imam, who has studied Islam his entire life and holds a doctorate in Islamic studies and oversees the work of other Imams in North America.  My Imam has a spiritual leader, etc.  Those of us who practice the faith are always careful in our interpretations of things- and we turn to our scholars who turn to their scholars.  Non-Muslims critiquing the #MyJihad campaign are often not at a level to be offering scholarly opinion on Islamic matters.  I want to call this out because I am offended by non-Muslims who are trying to tell me or the world what Islam is- particularly when they are missing the mark.

As an activist for the #MyJihad Public Education Campaign, I welcome analysis and criticisms- particularly when they come with solutions.  Etzioni’s views in his article, though mostly general about the component of violence among followers of the major world religions: Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam, were critiquing the #MyJihad campaign specifically and I would like to address a few of his conclusions:

JIHAD IS HOLY WAR AGAINST THE INFIDELS NOTION Etzioni states, “ … an intensive study of Muslim texts and preaching that we conducted leaves little doubt that Jihad can be understood in two different ways. For some, jihad is a holy war waged against the infidels while others see it as a spiritual struggle for moral self-improvement.”

The 18 page thesis mentioned, analyzes Christianity, Judaism, Islam. Buddhism and Hinduism and overall concludes that the majority of followers of these faiths condemn violence as a means of coercion based on cited studies such as Pew research primarily.  This supports the #MyJihad campaign as a majority voice of reason.  There is no scholarly evidence in this thesis, however, that supports jihad being defined in Islam as “holy war.” The only two references used in the Muslim portion of the thesis are Salman Rushdie, author of the Satanic Verses (not exactly a doctrine followed by Muslims) and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an anti-Muslim atheist whose rant on “Islamism” as a totalitarian threat is cited.  Stating the thesis is “an extensive study of Muslim texts and preaching” is certainly a reach.

QUR’ANIC SUPPORT NOTION Etzioni further states, “ … textual support can be found in Quranic verses urging Muslims to “Slay the idolaters wheresoever you find them,” (9:5) or the Hadith’s statement that “the Messenger of Allah declared: I have been directed to fight against people so long as they do not say: There is no god but Allah.””

Muslims consider the Qur’an God’s word and it’s true understanding takes place only when read in it’s original Arabic language.  In any other language, translation is easily lost; Cherry picking verses to prove a self-serving point is common in Islamophobia circles.  The verses cited in this article are completely taken out of context which is insulting to faithful Muslims.

Etzioni cites Qur’an, verse 9:5 – (a verse specific to a specific time in Arab history,) but fails to follow up with a very important verse 9:6. And verses 8:61 and 60:8 as well that, according to Ibn Taymiyya in Majmu Fatawa, the tradition only means those who war against Muslims.  They should also read what the Prophet said in Sahih Muslim immediately after this statement, “So remind them, for you are only a reminder. You are not over them a controller.” (88:21-22) So the tradition does not mean fight all people until they become Muslims, but rather fight those specific idolatrous Arab tribes until they stop persecuting Muslims, as per 9:12. There is no compulsion in religion, as per 2:256.

OVERALL CONCLUSIONS Finally, Etzioni states, “I realize that there is not much room on the side of the bus. However, those who seek for us to better understand Islam would do better if they acknowledged that it is open to both kinds of interpretations — both those that legitimize violence and those that abhor it. And that in this matter Islam is not different from other major religions. MyJihad is to embrace the spiritual journey and reject the use of force — despite the fact that Islam can be read to embrace both.”

I not only challenge Mr. Etzioni’s generalization in the previous paragraph, but I reject it.  Simply because extremists claim to interpret Islam as violent, does not mean their interpretation is valid. Certainly, we do not say the KKK’s understanding of Christianity is valid or in accordance with Jesus’ intention.  The tag line on the MyJihad.org website specifically states: “taking back Islam from Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists alike.”  We consider both extremes as seeing eye-to-eye and insisting on creating a violent narrative that is simply not part of Qur’anic teachings and completely in contrast to the teachings of the Islamic faith.

It must be acknowledged that the #MyJihad campaign has always made clear that jihad can take the form of a physical struggle, as in cases of self-defense or oppression.  There is a moral code of conduct that strictly governs the behavior in such cases.  Once the struggle becomes transgressive or oppressive, it is no longer classified as jihad.  Reaching beyond these boundaries is un-Islamic.  The minority, extremist viewpoints are sung from the rooftops while admittedly, the majority, moderate voices have allowed it- until now.  The #MyJihad campaign is highlighting the greater and lesser known / lesser talked about jihad of personal struggle.

I thank the author for his extensive work and for largely acknowledging that the majority of Muslims (and majority of all the aforementioned faiths) do not subscribe to violence generally speaking- however, I am disappointed that his overall conclusions and tone of his article insists that Islam has two interpretations of jihad- one being violent.  This is simply wrong.

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About the Author

About the Author: I'm a Writer and Muslim Activist. I'm also a Board Member of the #MyJihad Public Education Campaign. Follow my blog at yasminareality.com or follow me on Twitter: @yasmina_reality. I'm also now on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/YasminaReality Peace! .

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