The Jihad Struggle: #MyJihad Campaign

A recent anti-Muslim ad campaign by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (ADFI) in New York called Muslims “savages” and proclaimed “defeat Jihad.” The ads appeared in New York underground stations and where quickly defaced. For many Muslims however Jihad is an Islamic spiritual concept that is simply means “struggle”:

a struggle against odds, difficulty, and barriers — a struggle to a better place.

This video is the making of the first photo shoot for the newly minted MyJihad ad campaign, a national public educational campaign, starting in Chicago, in which American Muslims showcase how everyday Muslims define, practice, and live Jihad.

MyJihad is an American campaign sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). ‘MyJihad’ ads will appear on public buses featuring Muslims’ interpretations of the term ‘jihad’ often erroneously defined as ‘holy war’. This of course does not mean that no Muslim understand jihad as a violent struggle against oppression, imperialism and humiliation (as they probably see it). But what this campaign shows are the multitude of meanings connected to jihad. The campaign has its own website MyJihad and released two Youtube videos (above you already saw the first):
According to Ahmed Rehab of CAIR (on OnIslam):

The MyJihad campaign is about reclaiming Jihad from the Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists who, ironically but not surprisingly, see eye to eye on Jihad. Jihad is a term that has unfortunately been widely misrepresented by the actions of Muslim extremists first and foremost, and by attempts at public indoctrination coming from Islamophobes who claim that the minority extremists are right and the majority of Muslims are wrong.
It is also about pushing for an intelligent and informed understanding of Islam and its concepts and practices in the media, the educational circles, and the public,

According to campaign volunteer Angie Emara:

We have been overwhelmed with the participation of people of other faiths tweeting their struggles. People of different backgrounds are finding a common language, they’re learning to see themselves in one another as they share similar expressions of their daily Jihad.

The ads on the buses range from personal struggles to religious interpretations to wanting to share a positive image on Islam and the world and fighting Islamophobia in positive novel ways.
American Muslims launch campaign to reclaim ‘jihad’ | The Raw Story

“#MyJihad is to build friendships across the aisle,” says one ad showing an African American man leaning on the shoulder of a Jewish friend.

“#MyJihad is to march on despite losing my son,” says another ad, featuring a portrait of a mother with her three remaining children.

“#MyJihad is to not judge people by their cover,” says a third, framed by two women in headscarves.

Although there are some sceptical voices among Muslims as well and also a few denouncing the use of women’s portraits in the campaign, most seem positive. The strongest criticism on the part of Muslims comes from some Salafi networks and organizations like Hizb ut Tahrir who criticize the outlook of the campaign as well as the content. As they see it the people from MyJihad want to make jihad compatible to American national identity by stripping it from its warrior content and de-politicizing it. Pamela Geller who co-founded ADFI called the MyJihad campaign a ‘contemptuous propaganda campaign‘. The ADFI will launch a new campaign in January 2013.

Besides the bus ads MyJihad makes extensive use of social media through a Facebook page and a Twitter stream:

[View the story “The #MyJihad Campaign” on Storify]All of this shows an interesting struggle (pun intended)of identity politics over the meaning of the word jihad with Muslims indeed trying to make it more compatible with secular notions of individual struggle and the common good and with both anti-islam activists and so-called radical Muslim groups trying to oppose such an attempt. But perhaps the secular-religious binary is a little to easy or even misleading here. It is not that the MyJihad campaign is fully detached from Muslim traditions; Jihad as a personal struggle has always existed but so does Jihad as an armed struggle (albeit with different definitions than for example the one of HuT). The whole issue here goes beyond Islam as a religion; it is also about trying to gain acceptance and recognition of Muslims as Americans and making a strong statement against anti-Islam campaigners and the definitions of Islam they try to impose on Muslims and wider society. Furthermore such a strong display of ‘Muslimness’ does that fit into American definitions of the secular? Maybe, I don’t know to be honest, but I expect it would be more problematic in some European countries such as France. There are also many non-Muslims supportive of this campaign equally dismayed by the anti-Islam rhetoric of Geller cs. The secular here is as much diversified as the religious when it comes to the question of Islam in American society.

I think we need to analyse the whole spectacle of the campaign, its supporters and opponents by going beyond the binary religious-secular; showing how they are blurred but perhaps also look for the a-secular/a-religious aspects of it. How do we that? Do we have meta-secular tools available for such an analysis? Or are we inevitably reproducing the binary and thereby perhaps privileging one perspective in the controversy over the other?

One thought on “The Jihad Struggle: #MyJihad Campaign

  1. Indeed it has to seem a fascinating matter that a North-American Muslim community is vindicating its “muslimness” in a publicly displayed campaign at what the West would understand as the heart of Modernity (The United States of America). Although this of course can lead to a heated debate on the relation secular/religious public space on North-American soil, it seems in my point of view more interesting to modestly seek to explain what it could mean that what seems like a young, vibrant Muslim community well connected with modern day technologies as would any young generation in the western world (examples given are twitter or facebook, youtube, etc.) engages in a campaign to clean the word “Jihad” (as a way of cleaning up Islam in general terms) from the systematic abuse it has received from western culture leading to a much more profound debate: if a person can simultaneously be modern and Muslim.

    The article presented here by Martijn points very interestingly to the way the #MyJihad campaign seeks to redefine the concept of Jihad (struggle) normally interpreted as “holy war” and legitimizing terrorist acts around the world as if the violence of the few represented the peaceful religiosity of the greater Muslim majority. The campaign thus gives the term a twist, making it something personal and not even necessarily religious (each individuals’ struggle in everyday life). With this not only is there an attempt to “de-taboo” the word Jihad so that it has a personal meaning for the user but also to eliminate the collective denotation that the Western world (especially the United States) has placed on the word and its relation to Islamist terrorism.

    It has greatly been speculated, inclusive in the academic world, as to whether it is possible to be Muslim and modern at the same time emphasizing a very violent perception from its detractors: that Islam will always attempt to fight modernism because of its “inherent” traditional nature. It is, in fact, western ethnocentric blindness that seeks to understand modernity as encompassing all values and structures born-and-raised in the western hemisphere so as to be able to classify Islamic discourse, values and structures as anti-modern and, thus, reaffirm this western binary relationship. The idea that is behind Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations.

    With this said the #MyJihad campaign vindicates something more important than just a readjustment of the term “Jihad” but what seems like the correct possibility that Islam and Modernity are indeed compatible, as the campaign proves by itself (the incorporation of all kinds of media technology to spread its message); even the possibility that the concept of modernity might need to redefine itself to allow for new ideas and values (or religious creeds for that matter) that globalization entails. And globalization is inherent in Modernity.

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