Violence in the name of Islam is a topic of every commercial news outlet. Furthermore, groups like ISIS feed the idea that Islam supports violence through the last 90 terrorist attacks in 21 countries over the last year that have resulted in nearly 1,400 people killed.
Although the talk of terrorism is a very touchy subject, it is important that we begin to ask the important questions like whether it is Islam preaching violence, or simply radical groups taking Islam out of context. If we don’t separate the difference between the teachings from Islam and the misuse of religion by fanatics, all Muslims will be falsely stigmatized as fanatical terrorists.
One of the top reasons why many people misunderstand Islam is through the word “jihad” which many people assume means “holy war.” Because this term is often used as a reference for Islam preaching violence through a “holy war,” it is important that we look further into this term in order to provide more insight into how Islam doesn’t preach violence.
Generally speaking, there are two different types of jihad. According to the teachings of Muhammad, the first type is the greater jihad, which refers to the struggle against one’s ego, selfishness, greed and evil. The second type is known as the lesser jihad, which means fighting injustice and oppression, spreading and defending Islam and creating a just society through preaching, teaching and, if necessary, war.
However, what is very important to mention that the use of violence is only to defend oneself, their family and their community. According to the Quran and the teachings of Muhammad, the meaning of jihad isn’t an excuse to create a holy war for your family. Essentially, unless someone broke into your house and has a gun in your family’s face, you can’t use jihad as an excuse.
On the other side of this debate, someone might wonder how Islamic radicalism uses jihad as an excuse for violence if Islam itself doesn’t promote violence. The answer to this is a little bit more complicated than the simple explanation of the term jihad.
Through the advancement of globalization, the meaning of jihad has been taken out of its original context in order to fit the belief system of organizations such as Al Qaeda. Recently, the meaning of jihad has been warped in order to rationalize the violence by terrorist organizations. Unfortunately, due to the warped use of the word jihad, many people have begun to believe that it is Islam, through the teachings of jihad, that promotes violence as opposed to the terrorist organizations themselves.
Another contributing factor that leads to the unfounded idea that Islam preaches violence through jihad are the ways that many news outlets report on the issue. Particularly in the west, the term “jihad” coincides with the term “terrorist” in many commercial media and blogs. For example, CNN consistently tags jihad to articles and people to describe fundamentalists—an example would be the name “Jihadi John”. The inadvertent tagging of religious terms—like jihad—with crazy terrorists, who don’t actually follow the religion, leads to (drum roll please) the misconception that Islam preaches violence.
Due to the constant correlation between jihad and Muslim extremists, there is a growing conception throughout the West that insinuates jihad supports extreme violence. What is not understood is that jihad is used out of its original meaning by terrorist organizations.
Hopefully as we understand what Islam really stands for—like jihad— we can begin to separate the differences between the ways Islam preaches peace, and the ways groups like ISIS manipulate the teachings to fit their own self-interests.