Last week, Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour -- who was one of the organizers of the anti-Trump Women’s March on Washington in January - gave a rousing speech at this year’s convention of the Islamic Society of North America. Already known for her outspoken views about so-called Islamophobia in the US and her opposition to Donald Trump’s presidency, she considerably stirred the pot by calling for “jihad” -- holy war -- on the Trump administration.
In her speech, she said, “I hope that … when we stand up to those who oppress our communities, that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad, that we are struggling against tyrants and rulers not only abroad in the Middle East or on the other side of the world, but here in these United States of America, where you have fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House.”
Her detractors expressed outrage over her call for Muslim opposition to the Republicans in office. Among members of the left, however, there were many who sought to allay concerns, while seeking to re-define jihad as spirituality or mere political defiance. TIME magazine ran an article, for example, titled: “Women's March Organizer Linda Sarsour Spoke of 'Jihad.' But She Wasn't Talking About Violence.” On Huffington Post, an article was titled: “Linda Sarsour Said ‘Jihad’ In A Speech And Conservatives Freaked Out. The term continues to be misunderstood.”
Sarsour herself wrote an article for the Washington Post titled “Islamophobes are attacking me because I’m their worst nightmare.” She wrote: “This week, conservative media outlets took a speech I gave to the largest gathering of Muslims in America out of context and alleged that I had called for a violent “jihad” against the president. I did not. Sadly, this is not a new experience for me...my family and I have received countless threats of physical violence. These ugly threats come from people who also spout anti-Muslim, xenophobic and white-supremacist beliefs...I am their worst nightmare.”
Seeking to define jihad as a peaceful enterprise, she wrote:
“Most disturbing about this recent defamation campaign is how it is focused on demonizing the legitimate yet widely misunderstood Islamic term I used, ‘jihad,’ which to majority of Muslims and according to religious scholars means ‘struggle’ or ‘to strive for.’ This term has been hijacked by Muslim extremists and right-wing extremists alike, leaving ordinary Muslims to defend our faith and in some cases silenced. It sets a dangerous precedent when people of faith are policed and when practicing their religion peacefully comes with consequences.”
In her article, she singled out New York Republican Rep. Peter King for attention because of his allegedly “anti-Muslim hearings” that he held when Muslim groups sought to build a Muslim community center near the former World Trade Center towers that were destroyed during the 9/11 attacks.
Bill Warner, an author of several books about Islam and the treatment of non-Muslims in countries controlled by Muslims, responded in a email to Spero News about the issue of defining jihad. Responding to news of an attack by a Tunisian resident of Canada who cried 'Allahu akbar' recently when he stabbed a police officer at an airport in Michigan, Warner wrote:
“It is not up to Muslims to say whether the action was jihad, but the intention of the person. Since he proclaimed the superiority of Islam while killing a cop, as per Islamic State's proclaimed tactic, he acts like a jihadist. Use the duck theory: if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck and sounds like a duck, let's call it a duck. If he sounds like a jihadist and acts like a jihadist, call him a jihadist.”
Warner travels internationally, delivering lectures and evidence about political Islam.
Sarsour tweeted in 2013, confirming a belligerent definition of “jihad”: Regarding Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act, she tweeted, “Republicans using the word "jihad" in the right context. "Jihad against Obamacare." How ironic? What if a Muslim said that? Shaking my head.”.
Republicans using the word "jihad" in the right context. "Jihad against Obamacare." How ironic? What if a Muslim said that? Smh.— Linda Sarsour (@lsarsour) October 3, 2013