Critics of the speaker claimed that such a speech should not be given, since the Sept. 11 terrorists justified their act of mass murder as a "jihad." Thankfully, although the title was changed, the speech was delivered unchanged. This incident painfully illustrated how little fellow Americans know about the emotionally-charged word "jihad."
Most commonly translated as "holy war," jihad has traditionally connoted a particularly negative image of wild-eyed fanatics wanting to kill all "infidels." This notion of jihad is a false distortion of the true, broader meaning of jihad and has come about partly because of the disproportionate media coverage of fanatics such as Osama bin Laden, who calls on all Muslims to wage a "jihad" against all "infidels."
Some "terrorism experts" want us to believe that this is the only definition of jihad, and that all the Muslims in the world who insist otherwise are fooling you. Hogwash. Literally, jihad means "struggle," not "holy war." In fact, there is no such term in the Islamic lexicon, and it perplexes me why it continues to be translated as "holy war." It is not, as some would have you believe, the "sixth pillar" of Islam.
In the Quran, the Muslim scripture, jihad is almost always distinguished from armed conflict, which is termed "qital." Jihad, a very broad concept in Islam, is the struggle to obey God's commandments. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), upon returning from a battle, remarked to his companions that they were returning from the "lesser jihad" of fighting to the "greater jihad" of struggling against the evil temptations of the soul. As a last resort, jihad may encompass armed conflict. However, there are strict rules that govern fighting in Islam, and if the enemy even slightly hints toward peace, Muslims are commanded to make peace.
Every day in America, Muslims undergo jihad, but this is a good thing that should not be feared.
Sometimes, I buy coffee from coffee houses such as Starbucks. If I am ever undercharged for a $4 cup of espresso, my jihad is to alert the employee of their mistake, even though I may believe the company deserves to be underpaid for that expensive cup of coffee. Similarly, when I buy groceries and am undercharged, my jihad is to alert the cashier of this mistake, even if it is worth a mere 10 cents.
Five times daily, Muslims must pray to God. This ritual prayer helps focus the believer on the purpose of life, and helps remind him or her who the ultimate ruler in this universe is. Before praying, Muslims must make a ritual ablution, washing themselves in preparation for their "meeting" with God during the prayer. Praying on time becomes particularly difficult as I see patients in the office or hospital. My jihad is to do my utmost to pray these prayers on time, even if it means quickly praying in an empty examination room in between patients or waking up at 5 a.m. to pray, despite being exhausted.
As a father, my jihad is to get up early each morning and go to work, even on days when I really do not want to, so that I can support my family. As a husband, my jihad is to admit to my wife that I am wrong and say I am sorry, even if it is difficult to do so. As a son, my jihad is to obey my mother's commands, even if doing so imposes a burden on me. As a physician, my jihad is to be as excellent a doctor as possible, even if it means staying late at work to spend a little extra time with a patient.
As a citizen, my jihad is to do whatever I can to make America a better place to live. This includes even simply removing a nail from the sidewalk, so that others do not step on it and get hurt. Yes, every day I engage in jihad, and I am all the better because of it.