Students embrace #MyJihad campaign

News Staff
Courtesy of Muslim Students Association

Junior Ishaq Winters stands by his #MyJihad mission. The #MyJihad campaign aims to foster discussion about the true meaning of Jihad and is led by the Muslim Students Association.

New York City subway-riders were shocked to read blogger Pamela Geller’s advertisement as they made their daily commutes.

The ad read, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad.”

In response to what it perceives as an unfair attack on Islamic ideas, Washington University’s Muslim Students Association (MSA) has joined a national outcry prompted by the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center to call out the ad’s creator, conservative blogger Geller, for hateful speech against Muslims.

“[Jihad] comes from the Arabic word which means to struggle or to strive,” junior and event organizer Ayah Abo-basha said. “It’s something that’s very personal and it’s different from one person to the next.”

The MSA has planned a number of events to address the widespread conflation of jihad and terrorism. Joining the social media movement #MyJihad, the group has been holding photo shoots where students express what “jihad” means to them.

Abo-basha and junior Ishaq Winters organized the event to capitalize on the publicity of the advertisement campaign to promote awareness of the true meaning of jihad.

“Overall, we just wanted this event to promote more dialogue and tolerance on campus. It was really well-received by students,” Abo-basha said.

Abo-basha said that after its event Wednesday, the group has had about 45 students pose next to chalkboard statements of their personal goals.

Personal statements included senior Taka Yamaguchi’s “#MyJihad is challenging people to question their assumptions” and sophomore Madhana Pandian’s “#MyJihad is to find my place in the world and make a difference.”

Abo-basha said about 30 of the participating students were not Muslim.

“That was really exciting to see,” Abo-basha said. “We’re hoping that we get similarly diverse representation at the follow-up discussion.”

All of the photo shoots, publicized via Facebook, lead up to a discussion on Nov. 2 where the MSA hopes to bring students together to talk about jihad and its portrayal in the media and popular culture.

“I think this method of educating people about jihad is a great idea,” sophomore Max Fleisher said. “I think it should help contribute to our student population’s image as a group that is cognizant of a greater diversity of cultures.”

“I think it’s interesting that they’re working to turn over stereotypes by reaching out to the student body,” sophomore Sophia Brown said. “They’re shedding some light onto a topic that you rarely hear about in the media from a positive perspective, which I think is really important.”

The discussion on Nov. 2 will be held at 4 p.m. in the Mallinckrodt Multipurpose Room.

  • Robert Brooks, LAS ’59

    WUSTL, as so many first-rank American universities, has a substantial Jewish student body, as well as an administration that makes league with Israeli academic institutions, and a faculty that, as far as I can tell, is non-commital with regard to the international campaign to boycott Israeli institutions, events, and personalities. Thus it is with some surprise and great pride that I have read this piece and a related SL article (My Jihad). They reflect WUSTL’S core value: an openness to ideas and a premium on rational debate.

  • Arafat

    Isn’t that nice. The problem is that for all the people killed, tortured, gang-raped and mutilated on a daily basis by Muslims who practice Jihad as anything but an “internal struggle” all this is moot.

    Ishaq, your words offer little consolation to the millions killed and/or made refugees in Sudan, the Coptic Christians being killed and tortured in Alexandria, the Buddhists killed almost daily in Thailand, the Hindus being ethnically cleansed in Pakistan…

  • Arafat

    The Myth:

    Islam’s Western apologists sometimes claim that since the Arabic word, Jihad, literally means “fight” or “struggle,” it refers to an “inner struggle” rather than holy war.

    The Truth:

    In Arabic, “jihad” means struggle. In Islam, it means holy war.

    The Quran specifically exempts the disabled and elderly from Jihad (4:95), which would make no sense if the word is being used merely within the context of spiritual struggle. It is also unclear why Muhammad and his Quran would use graphic language, such as smiting fingers and heads from the hands and necks of unbelievers if he were speaking merely of character development.

    With this in mind, Muslim apologists generally admit that there are two meanings to the word, but insist that “inner struggle” is the “greater Jihad,” whereas “holy war” is the “lesser.” In fact, this misconception is based only on an a single hadith that Islamic scholars generally agreed was fabricated.

    By contrast, the most reliable of all Hadith collections is that of Bukhari. Jihad is mentioned over 200 times in reference to the words of Muhammad and each one carries a clear connotation to holy war, with only a handful of possible exceptions (dealing with a woman’s supporting role during a time of holy war).

  • r

    I think you’re getting caught up on a semantic issue; regardless of its religion connotation it has a meaning existing beyond faith. It means “struggle” in Arabic whether religious or secular.

    While I’m empathetic to what you mean, if the purpose of the campaign is to raise awareness that it does not mean “Holy War” (as waged by savages, thanks Ms. Geller), it suits its purpose. Abstractly in the Islamic context it means to fight against injustice whether committed by you against yourself and others or by others. The message in the pictures taken by the campaign (available here: ) more or less reinforces the Islamic definition, anyway. It may be over-specific but it’s obviously people’s personal struggles that they work on personally.

    As another point, I hate to defer to authority but if this campaign is being ran nationally by CAIR, one would imagine they have considered the sensitivity of the subject Islamically and culturally.

    Finally, it’s clear that these pictures are the beginning of the conversation to provoke dissonance with Jihad as defined but Islamophobes – it is not the answer itself. To that end, there’s the event going on next Friday where I think it would be very valuable to expound on what Jihad means to you as you make a fair point. But strictly as a matter of language, no one person “owns” a definition of a word and it’s precisely because of that that this event is being held.

  • Anonymous

    The #myjihad program is a misrepresentation of what it truly means in the Islamic sense. Sure, it means struggle, but it’s specifically Islamic. As a Muslim who has studied the Quran in depth, I see jihad as a personal, holy struggle. Yes, it can have different manifestations, but it doesn’t mean “insert any cliche statement you want here.” Furthermore, it cannot and should not refer to people who are not Muslim. Only Muslims can have a jihad; it is a concept meant to apply to Muslims and Muslims alone. Some may even go so far as to consider the use of jihad in a non-Islamic sense blasphemy. I completely agree with the thought that Islamic Militarists and Terrorists misuse and misrepresent the word. However, I was hoping that in an effort to bring the word back to what it really means, they would have actually done so. The WashU #mijihad campaign oversimplified the essence of the world and made it about people’s ambitions and not about jihad in any way. I personally consider the campaign a failure. They had a true opportunity to inform people about jihad and failed to do so.