In his recent commencement speech at Harvard University, Muslim-American graduate Zayed Yasin explained the true Qur’anic meaning of “jihad.” Correctly, he described it as “an individual struggle for moral behavior” and as “the determination to do right, to do justice even against your own interests.”
But in his sincere search for truth-in-language, Mr. Yasin failed to suggest what other Arabic and Islamic word should be substituted as an accurate label for al Qaeda’s terroristic, hate-filled warfare against America.
That urgently needed term is Hirabah—an ancient Islamic word perhaps not even known to this young man but clearly identified by several Islamic scholars as the proper antonym for so-called “jihad” of the suicidal, killing-of-innocents variety. Among these are Prof. Roy Mottahedeh of Harvard, Prof. Abou El Fadl of UCLA, Prof. Muqtedar Khan of Adrian College and Prof. Sherman Jackson of the University of Michigan. In the Fall 2001 issue of Muslim World, Dr. Jackson concludes: “Hirabah, as it turns out, is the most severely punished crime in Islam, carrying mandatory criminal sanctions.”
Historically, the word was used to describe the ruthless transgressions of marauders who would race in on horses and camels to pillage, slaughter and terrorize. The only distinction, without a difference, is that today’s terrorists conduct their own “war against society” with explosives strapped to their bodies or at the controls of truck bombs or speeding jet liners, instead.
In further search for rhetorical truth, we must reject outright al Qaeda’s deceitful use of such other self-congratulatory words as mujaheddin (holy warriors) and martyrs for Allah?—and to substitute the harsh Qur’anic word mufsidoon (evildoers). Note that “evildoers” is the word President Bush has been using throughout, rather than “Muslim extremists” or “Islamic radicals.”
Completing this anti-Islamic picture of unholy Hirabah waged by evil mufsidoon, the broader truth is revealed in the answers to just three more questions:
?Are such evildoers most likely destined for maiden-filled Paradise or for demon-filled jahannam (eternal hellfire)?
? Is their suicide bombing true to Shari’ah (Islamic Law), or is it sinful tajdeef (blasphemy)?
? Is their violence reflective of a peaceful and compassionate Allah as He is proclaimed by the Qur’an, or is it inherently shaitaniyah (satanic)?
Clearly, the only effective response to al Qaeda’s false mantra of “Jihad by mujaheddin destined for Paradise” will be traditional Islam’s admonition of Do not wage Hirabah. Do not become mufsidoon. Do not engage in tajdeef shaitaniyah. Do not be cast into jahannam.?
This article originally published in Muslim Democrat, (July 2002), a quarterly publication of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy and is reprinted in The American Muslim with the permission of the author.