Friday, February 13, 2009

Jihad - Installment III


1: a holy war waged on behalf of Islam as a religious duty ;

also : a personal struggle in devotion to Islam especially involving spiritual discipline

2: a crusade for a principle or belief

My experience with Majid and his friend wasn't my first experience with Arab hospitality, nor would it be my last. Throughout my time in the Middle East, I'd been invited for tea on several occasions. Taxis were paid for by locals whom I'd asked for directions. Sodas and teas were bought for me. In fact, anytime I asked for help, I found this bend-over-backwards hospitality to be second nature. If you asked for directions, people didn't just point and explain, but they detoured their course and walked with you to get there. If you asked where you could buy a soda, they'd sit you down and rush to the store to buy one for you.

After my experience in Saudi Arabia, I asked a Jordanian why two complete strangers would be so kind. The answer I received was this: "Muslims believe that a traveller might actually be an angel from heaven. It is their duty to be generous to all strangers, thus it reflect positively on their chances of entering heaven."

In a sense, that fits with the non-violent definition of Jihad. Through generosity, kindness and hospitality, a good Muslim hopes to show behaviour that reflects well on their internal struggle, that being to appear worthy of the ultimate goal, which is going to heaven. Therefore the deeper meaning behind Jihad can be defined as the struggle to appear worthy in the eyes of Allah.

In this sense, such an act, falls under one of the five pillars of Islam, Zakat.

Definition zakat (zə-kät`)

Islamic religious tax, one of the five basic requirements (arkan or "pillars") of Islam. All adult Muslims of sound mind and body with a set level of income and assets are expected to pay zakat. Zakat is due yearly on certain types of property and is distributed to eight categories of individuals specified by the Qur'an. These categories are usually defined to include orphans, the poor, travelers, beggars, debtors, slaves, and the efforts to propagate Islam. Zakat is payable, at different rates, on crops, harvests, herds, gold and silver, and merchandise. For gold and silver, which is understood to include all liquid assets, the rate is 2.5%. Being religiously prescribed, zakat is distinct from charity (sadaqa) which is voluntary. Zakat is essentially a personal exercise with no intermediary control, and could be given directly to its recipients, although a central treasury often collects it. In recent times, Pakistan, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia have enacted legislation to enforce the zakat.

This helps explain why the hospitality or assistance often results in a gift or monetary help, paying for a taxi, a soda, etc. Particularly in the Zakat categories of travellers and the efforts to propagate Islam.

So when I asked the Jordanian about why someone would be so kind to a traveller, perhaps hidden in his answer about angels was also the effort to propoage Islam.

So where does violence fit into Jihad?

A more apt definition of Jihadist might be hero, in the sense that it is someone that stands up to an aggressor for principles they believe in. I like to think they are willing to fight and die for a just cause. In ancient times, a band of ragtag desert tribesmen wielding swords and facing down an army was a more realistic interpretation. In modern times, a bomb is dropped on the Jihadi, or a shot fired from an impregnable tank, etc.

Every religion has its heroes. Often the most revered are those who refused to renounce their faith in the face of death or disfigurement. That is perhaps the true Jihadist. Not someone who perceives an injustice and mass murders indiscriminately. In their anger and blame, such a reaction means they are losing the inner struggle for goodness. IMHO, it is retroactive to the deeper Zakat meaning of propagating their faith.

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