Muslim leader aims to dispel Western myth of jihad

Kristina Francisco

Renowned Muslim leader Imam Zaid Shakir says the Islamic term “jihad” is widely misunderstood in the West as a justification for terrorism.

Shakir spoke to an audience of about 110 people Monday night in Ryan Auditorium during a lecture titled “Jihad: A Just Struggle or Unjust Violence?”

Many Muslims look up to Shakir as a teacher and an unofficial leader of Islam. Members of an Muslim-cultural Students Association and Northwestern’s Islamic Society, co-sponsors of the event, said they were grateful and privileged to have Shakir speak.

“Imam Zaid Shakir is a very knowledgeable and exciting speaker,” said Juveria Mozaffar, a Weinberg sophomore and the event’s emcee. “It was the perfect occasion for him to come.”

In Arabic, jihad literally means “struggle.” Shakir, who converted to Islam in 1977, gave three definitions of jihad: the physical and spiritual struggles of Muslims and the struggle against non-Muslims.

He explained that a critical aspect of jihad is physical battles in the name of Islam.

“There are circumstances that justify us to fight,” Shakir said. “When those circumstances end, our fighting ends.”

Shakir said Americans often identify Muslims as terrorists because of how they are portrayed in the media.

He said his “textbook definition” of terrorism is “random violence against civilians to effect a political outcome.”

Instead, Muslims fight against their oppressors, not random civilians, he said. The tenets of Islam dictate that the only “just” war is one fought against those who try to suppress the religion.

He urged the audience to “fight in the way of Allah those who fight you.”

McSA President Jawad Hussain said, “Often times, jihad is synonymous with terrorism in the media and it’s a misrepresentation.”

Shakir tried to dispel those Western myths.

“How we perceive things and how it is presented to us (by the media) goes a long way in how we view jihad,” Shakir said.

The spiritual aspect of jihad requires Muslims to fight against their temptations and purify the soul.

“There are four foods to help feed our soul and win this battle,” Shakir said.

According to Shakir, the four “soul foods” are silence, because it is easy to say something wrong; isolation, because there is no one to express negativity to; hunger, because it gives time for more spiritual food to nourish the soul; and night prayer, because it provides stillness for the soul.

Finally, Shakir said Muslims must remember that Islam depends on believers spreading the religion to others.

“We exist in a covenant of protection,” he said.

During the question-and-answer period, an audience member asked how Shakir would respond to pacifists who say that violence breeds violence. Citing Hitler and World War II, Shakir said that violence doesn’t necessarily beget violence. If people hadn’t fought Hitler, he asked, what would the world be like today?

Weinberg junior Farheen Mirza said the lecture was interesting.

“A lot of people stress the physical aspect of jihad,” Mirza said. “I’m glad he stressed the spiritual aspect – the higher form of jihad.”