What Jihad really means. Key quotation by Douglas E. Streusan at the Middle East Quarterly:
Muslims today can mean many things by jihad-the jurists’ warfare bounded by specific conditions, Ibn Taymiya’s revolt against an impious ruler, the Sufi’s moral self-improvement, or the modernist’s notion of political and social reform. The disagreement among Muslims over the interpretation of jihad is genuine and deeply rooted in the diversity of Islamic thought. The unmistakable predominance of jihad as warfare in Shari’a writing does not mean that Muslims today must view jihad as the jurists did a millenium ago. Classical texts speak only to, not for, contemporary Muslims. A non-Muslim cannot assert that jihad always means violence or that all Muslims believe in jihad as warfare.
Conversely, the discord over the meaning of jihad permits deliberate deception, such as the CAIR statement cited above. A Muslim can honestly dismiss jihad as warfare, but he cannot deny the existence of this concept. As the editor of the “Diary of a Mujahid” writes, “some deny it, while others explain it away, yet others frown on it to hide their own weakness.”
The term jihad should cause little confusion, for context almost always indicates what a speaker intends. The variant interpretations are so deeply embedded in Islamic intellectual traditions that the usage of jihad is unlikely to be ambiguous. An advocate of jihad as warfare indicates so through his goals. A Sufi uses the term mujahada or specifies the greater jihad. Bourguiba clearly did not advocate violence to improve education and development in Tunisia. When ambiguity does exist, it may well be deliberate. In the case of Arafat’s statement about a “jihad for Jerusalem,” he intended his Muslim audience to hear a call to arms while falling back on the peaceful definition to allay concerns in Israel and the West. Only his later actions reveal whether he was co-opting Islamists by adopting their rhetoric or duping Israelis by hiding his violent intentions. [Tip: LGF]