A jihad to reclaim the word jihad

A profound and inspirational concept has been hijacked by extremists. It’s time to act

Dr. Mounir Tlili, former minister of Religious Affairs of Tunisia, addresses the Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies forum in Abu Dhabi. Mona Al Marzooqi/ The National
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Jihad is actually a pretty straightforward idea. It is about struggle. This could be the daily one within an individual against base temptation. Or it could be a wider, more long-term one to, say, develop one’s country through education or a cultural project. Real jihad is about striving to make the world a better place. It is a concept that can and should appeal to all of humanity. But in recent years, it has been hijacked by extremists hellbent on twisting its meaning to serve their ends.

So how can we promote the inspirational message of jihad while discrediting the rhetoric of extremists? As The National reported yesterday, Islamic scholars participating in the Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies forum in the capital this week are wrestling with this very question. Part of the solution, they say, is more contextual education of the Quran. You can't read a single passage and expect to understand its nuances.

Therefore, we need more and better ways to explain the core messages of Islam, simply, clearly and summarised so that they appeal to young people raised on digital news alerts and the constant babble of social media.

Young European Muslims, for instance, don’t always know the high points of the story of the Prophet’s life; the real meaning of many Quranic terms that are freely bandied about, and the importance of the approved Hadith. But if they were conveyed in a condensed and compelling form, they would do much to raise awareness and discredit extremist attempts to appropriate concepts central to Islam.

Hosting the world's largest gathering of Muslim scholars is just the start. The UAE should play a leading role in this process. After all, as this year's annual Arab youth survey found, a majority want to live here and some even wanted their countries to be more like ours. This is a position of some influence and it can be leveraged into spearheading a campaign that will get the message out – about jihad and other key but misunderstood articles of the Islamic faith.