Both individually and collectively, we are struggling over our values and the extent to which we are willing to engage our “world,” however large or small that might be. This goes on throughout our lives. The “Jihad” dominating headlines today, the “Holy War” version, has immersed us in a painfully slow “crash course” to understand Islam vs. Islamism, the religion vs. the radicalized ideology being exercised by extremists. Similarly, we often confuse culture and religion, needing to recognize that much of what we are seeing as oppressive and sometimes barbaric practices started well before the Prophet Mohammed and Islam came along circa 650 AD.
In short, just as non-Muslims struggle to understand Islam or, for that matter, their own religion or belief system, so do the majority of the approximately 1.6 billion Muslims struggle around the globe.
To most Muslims, “Jihad” has three meanings, or levels: First, there is “Jihad e Akbar,” or the “Greatest Jihad,” which is the lifelong struggle with self to resist temptation and, essentially, to always “Do the Right Thing;” Second is “Jihad e Kabeer,” which is to extend those values to family, neighbors and community, essentially live by “The Golden Rule;” Third, “Jihad e Asghar” is emphatically the last resort – to physically defend yourself/family/community, but only to the extent of neutralizing the threat(s). In other words, there is no terrorism or “Holy War” version of “Jihad” among the genuinely moderate, peaceful and inclusive Muslims who abide by the Holy Quran’s edict, “there is no compulsion of religion in Islam.”
Our point here is that until the major religions of the world can unite around their commonalities, which far exceed their differences, the peaceful moderates of the world, essentially a “silent majority,” will never turn the tide on the aggressive radicals of the world, virtually all of whom have hijacked a religion or ideology to further their personal and political agendas to gain power, wealth and dominance over others. Fortunately, the fundamentalists and extremists of the world are much smaller in number, but their numbers are growing through an aggressive propaganda and indoctrination system that resonates with far too many people who are struggling to survive, have little to live for, and no hopes or even dreams of a better future here on earth. Until the basic essentials of potable water and at least minimal sanitation and nutritional needs can be met, there are millions of people around the world susceptible to focused radicalism and exploitation.
Ultimately, this project is about recognizing and discussing Americans’ individual and collective struggle over our values, our future and our relationship with the rest of the world – An effort to achieve higher levels of mutual understanding and respect across ethnic, gender, cultural, religious and, especially, political divides. After all, if everyone is SCREAMING, nobody’s listening. Overcoming this obstacle to communications is an essential first step to constructive dialogue and negotiations.
Let the respectful conversations, the sharing of ideas and resources, and global collaborations begin.