The concept of jihad is often misinterpreted, with both cable-news pundits and terrorists using it to further their political and spiritual goals, said Omer Bajwa, coordinator of Muslim life for the Chaplain's Office, as he introduced Sheikh Yasir Qadhi's lecture entitled "Jihad: Between Fact and Fiction" Wednesday.
During the talk, Qadhi, a Yale doctoral student and Muslim cleric, outlined several instances of jihad in the foundational Islamic texts such as the Qur'an and the Sunna, historical and classical uses of jihad, and modern interpretations. In contrast with mainstream perceptions of jihad as a foundation of terrorism, he said, the word "jihad" simply means physical and spiritual struggle.
"The more admirable struggle is a personal one, against your desires and temptations," Qadhi said. "The lower struggle is the physical one."
About 60 people attended the lecture, which was part of Islamic Awareness Month, a series of events sponsored by the Muslim Students Association.
In the modern world, especially after the attacks of Sept. 11, there are two schools of thought about jihad and terrorism, Qadhi said. One says that Islam is at the root of the world's political problem and terrorists have a fringe interpretation of jihad, he explained. The other believes that terrorism is the result of political grievances stemming from Western foreign policies, which they perceive as supporting oppressive regimes.
This perception differs sharply from older ideas about jihad, Qadhi said, explaining that during the 1980s, when [Afghan] rebels were fighting the Soviets, jihad and mujahideen used to have positive connotations in the American media. But the term has now been co-opted, he said.
"We Muslims have a jihad against this militant jihad," he said, "and non-Muslims also have a jihad of their own to educate themselves about Islam."
Jihad did not begin to mean a physical struggle until the prophet Muhammad's flight to Medina in the year 622, Qadhi said. Muhammad and the nascent community of Muslims faced heavy persecution in Mecca, where they sought to spread Islam, he said.
"Allah says 'permission has been granted to you to fight because you have been wronged, expelled from your homes unjustly and denied the freedom to worship your god,' " Qadhi quoted.
Muslims in the Middle Ages also employed jihad to justify war against the Mongols and Crusaders. In the world today, no existing Muslim nation was established via jihad or capture, but rather by treaties and outside entities, he said.
MSA president Tariq Mahmoud '11, who helped organize it, said the event was meant to address Western misconceptions about jihad.
"It has become a really hot-topic issue that we wanted to address," Mahmoud said.
Rakibul Mazunder '13 said he wishes more people understood Islam and what jihad means in the context of Islamic texts and doctrine.