This week a group of American Muslims has launched a campaign called “My Jihad.” They are asking, “My Jihad Is…What’s Yours?” Their mission is “taking back Islam from Muslim and anti-Muslim extremists alike.” They are placing their ads on buses, starting in a few major American cities, and spreading their message through social media.
Their campaign “seeks to share the proper meaning of Jihad as believed and practiced by the majority of Muslims.” They define jihad as: “An Islamic concept that means to struggle against barriers and odds in search of a better place. Jihad requires faith, courage, and perseverance.” In the About section of their website they further explain, “Jihad is a personal commitment to service, patience, determination, and taking the higher road, as such, it tasks us with confronting our own weaknesses, vices, and shortcomings; it is about taking personal responsibility.”
They launched the campaign this week in Chicago, where the side of a bus now proclaims, My jihad is making friends across the aisle, what’s yours? featuring warm pictures of very different individuals, presumably Muslims and non-Muslims, as friends.
Yesterday the My Jihad Public Education Campaign on Facebook page posted advice, “soul food,” for pursuing “jihad al-nafs,” a spiritual jihad or jihad of the soul. They recommended it should include six components: “1) silence, 2) isolation, 3) fasting, 4) night prayer, 5) thikr, 6) undo the defects of our soul (anger, envy, arrogance),” with “thikr,” or “dhikr,” being the act of remembrance of God.
In an ad on their website a young woman in a cheerful long-sleeved pink shirt wearing a headscarf and lifting a barbell announces, My Jihad: “Modesty is not a weakness.” –What’s yours?
These American Muslims are living out the best of religious freedom. Practicing their faith, engaging in the public square, and freely voicing their perspectives in intra-faith debates. Religious freedom allows space and Constitutional protections for mainstream believers to counter violent extremists.
And along the way they are reminding me of some things I myself might do well to devote some effort to: fasting, night prayer, and working on the defects of my own soul . . . plus some well-dressed weightlifting might help provide a boost in these dark days of winter and counter the calories of Christmas parties.
Jennifer S. Bryson, Ph.D., is currently a Visiting Research Professor at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA.