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The Real ‘Jihad’

Published: March 15, 2017

To the Editor:

Dale Walter raised important concerns in his letter about Islam and the al-Hedaya Islamic Center in Newtown. To those concerns I offer the following.

Mr Walter asks, “Why haven’t mainstream Muslims declared Jihad against the murderous Jihadis?” He then gives his understanding of the term, “jihad.” To clarify, “jihad” means “to struggle.” To Muslims, jihad is the struggle against one’s baser impulses like fear, anger, revenge, and hatred. This struggle is the “major jihad.” In very rare occasions and only under very specific circumstances does the word relate to the use of military means to protect the innocent, the “minor jihad.” Mr Walter is rightly appalled by the use of the term by criminals who hide behind religion to murder and destroy. He is joined by the vast majority of Muslims who are equally appalled. Just as we do not judge Christianity by the acts of the KKK, or people like Timothy McVeigh, we can’t judge Islam by the acts of extremists who call themselves Muslims.

Mr Walter is right to be concerned about the destruction of holy places of Jews, Christian, Yazidis, and I would add, Baha’is, in Mid-Eastern countries. This barbarism is, however, a gross violation of Islamic tenets. With my own eyes I have also seen the real Islamic standard. When I ran a program for USAID in the Balkans after the war there, we saw town after town where the local mosque had been destroyed by Croatian or Serb soldiers. Whenever we entered a town controlled by Bosnian Muslims, the churches were all preserved.

In that war, Bosnian Muslims had been systematically raped, murdered, and had their homes stolen in a genocidal war designed to rid the country of them. The Dayton Peace Accords sought to return them to their homes. But, how could this be done without rekindling the war? I worked directly with the Bosnian Muslim refugee community in Croatia that was preparing to return to their occupied homes. I heard their leader instruct his community for the return, “What is the first obligation of a Muslim when we return to our homes in Bosnia?” The community replied, “Our first obligation is to forgive the people living in our houses.” Then, he said, “What is the second obligation of a Muslim when we return to our homes?” They replied, “Our second obligation as Muslims is to ask the people living in our houses if we can help them.”

There was no rekindling of the war in Bosnia due, I think, to this “major Jihad” waged by these Muslims to forgive their oppressors and find ways to rebuild a community together. As we see Muslim families in Newtown remove their children from local schools because of a climate of intolerance and bullying against them, we have to ask ourselves what the effect will be if, through blind fear and intolerance, we alienate those who have so much to offer us and have fled oppression for a better life in the land of the free.

John Woodall, MD
152 West Street, Danbury         March 15, 2017

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