The truth is, fanaticism can spring from misguided excess in any religion."
- Muslim Egyptian-American Nada El Sawy, (Newsweek, Oct. 15)
Islam, jihad - whats it all about? Or does anybody care?
Ive asked myself that second question ever since I combed five local bookstores the other night without bringing home anything I went there to buy.
I was looking for the book The Rumbling Volcano, by former Muslim Nabeel Jabbour.
But when no one had the book, and only one of the five stores could find the title in its catalog, I was willing to settle for anything that would explain the conflict gripping the world today, the one I call horrific and the other side calls holy. I wanted someone to explain in terms I could understand why their view of God is so different from mine.
I decided against the small booklet available at one of the Christian stores. I also declined the pricey encyclopedia with one chapter on Islam at one of the larger chains. Instead, with Volcano on order, Ill work with the material I have on hand, including parts of an interview with Dr. Jabbour that aired recently on local radio station WLPE.
I keep hearing the same things: Islam is synonymous with peace, and a jihad is the struggle to find or maintain it. A few, like historian Paul Johnson, argue that Islam is an intolerant and violent religion. Others, however, compare the different facets of Islam to the multiple denominations of Christianity. Simply put, in neither religion does everyone think alike.
For example, according to Beliefnet.coms Yonat Shimron, although jihad is one of the basic beliefs of Islam, there are at least four ways this struggle is applied.
First, there is the jihad of the hand: putting faith into action by doing good deeds. The jihad of the heart is the inner struggle to turn faith into a spiritual force, and the jihad of the tongue is the effort to speak about that faith to others.
Finally, there is the jihad of the sword, which is the struggle to defend the faith when it is under attack. This fourth jihad is also called holy war.
For me, the best explanation for the different jihads or stages of Islam comes from Dr. Jabbour, who uses three levels instead of four, and speaks in terms his normally Christian audiences can understand.
The first jihad is one of personal (heart) repentance, cleaning up ones own life and drawing closer to God.
Next comes a witnessing (tongue) jihad, or a desire to encourage others to begin a personal jihad.
Last comes the militant (sword) jihad, a recourse allowed if people either impede or do not accept ones first or second jihad.
For example, Dr. Jabbour adds: If your friend owns a pornographic bookstore and you are on a personal jihad, you will determine not to buy any of his products. Secondly, you could talk to him, explain the evils of the business he is in, and encourage him to find a more wholesome line of work. If he refuses, you might jump to the third level of jihad and burn down his store.
At this point, the person conducting the interview asked, Dr. Jabbour, do Christians ever operate on these levels, too?
I could imagine a pained expression darkening the speakers face as he replied: Yes, Im afraid they do. Take the issue of abortion, for instance. On one level you could determine that neither you nor any member of your family will have an abortion. Next, if you had a burning desire to tell others abortion is wrong, you might carry a protest sign outside an abortion clinic. If, however, you bomb the building or kill the doctor, you have moved up to the "jihad of the sword.
Some sobering thoughts as we wonder whats wrong with them, and a caution, lest in the urgency of practicing our own faith, we fail to heed St. Pauls words to the early church: Dont let your good be evil spoken of (Romans 14:16).
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to seabara@aol. com.)
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