But struggle against whom? War against what?''There lies the question,'' said Anis Ahmad, dean of social sciences at Islamabad's International Islamic University and a leading religious scholar. ''Probably no other Islamic idea is both so widely misunderstood in the Western world and so regularly abused in the Islamic world,'' he said. ''Jihad lies at the heart of Islam, yet is perverted by Muslims who use teachings of the Prophet to justify monstrous deeds.''But Ahmad added: ''Jihad's meaning is also perverted'' by Westerners ''wanting to portray Islam as a religion of fanatics and suicide bombers. Non-Muslims seem even more obsessed than our own fanatics with this idea of holy war. It is so easy to twist meanings to make Islam seem inherently violent.''In Ahmad's view, jihad is an inspirational idea, a word signifying the struggle of good against evil. Modern Muslims, he said, take it to mean that an individual should constantly strive to be a better person, or struggle to follow the peaceful precepts of Islam, or deeply committing oneself to worthy social causes, campaigning for better schools or immunization programs, for examples.''Jihad is not about blowing up buildings or causing airplanes to crash from the sky. And just because some violent Muslim calls his campaign `jihad,' that does not make it so,'' he said.Still, non-Muslims might be forgiven their confusion.
The Prophet Mohammed himself was as much a warrior as mystic, and in AD 629 his forces conquered the arrogant lords of Mecca, the America of its day. Today, if the cry for jihad is used cynically by propagators of terror, most notoriously in recent years the fugitive militant Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar, the spiritual leader of Afghanistan's Taliban regime, it is also a cry that seems to find resonance across the Muslim world. One hears the word constantly; it seems to spill from every lip, invariably as a sort of combative warning.
For example, a former chief of Pakistan's intelligence service, who although anti-American in his views is hardly an Islamic fundamentalist, suddenly bursts during an interview: ''Truly, when the call for jihad goes out, there will be no safe place on earth for you Americans.''Such bellicose talk is mostly rhetoric, even when delivered by protesters shaking fists, waving photographs of bin Laden, and setting torch to Old Glory. Dangerous as they may look on CNN, such demonstrations are often staged events by political parties rather than spontaneous eruptions of public anger.
But there is no denying that people across the Islamic world feel pushed around by the United States and are at least somewhat sympathetic to Muslim radicals crying jihad. The calls for holy war only became louder when President Bush - in a move barely noticed in the West but causing a huge furor in Muslim lands - called for a ''crusade'' against terrorism, conjuring images of modern-day Christian knights marching unto war against Islam.
''Muslims, like Americans, are not immune to war hysteria,'' said Ahmad. ''There is an emotional response when people are angry, and many Muslims are very angry about US policies, especially support for Israel. So people react to calls for jihad on this emotional level.''As for Islamic teachings on jihad, ''terrorism cannot be justified anywhere in the Koran,'' he said. ''Killing innocent civilians has no place even in a justified war. The holy book is very specific on this. It tells warriors to never harm someone who is not an opposing fighter, do not harm the crops even of an enemy, do not wantonly destroy cities or houses of people.''
According to Ahmad, jihad for the modern Muslim signifies struggle against temptation or evil, the inner quest for spiritual peace, or the battle against social wrongs.''The person who strives to become a better person - honest in daily life, charitable, genuinely striving to be compassionate to all humans - is engaged in jihad, struggling against human imperfection,'' he said. ''The person who goes to Mongolia and spends a lifetime teaching poor people or giving them medicine - that person is engaged in jihad, a struggle against ignorance or suffering. ''And politically, there can also be a true jihad. I would say a Muslim who went to South Africa and took a stand on apartheid, that person participated in a jihad.'' And yet, for all the protestations of Islamic moderates, millions of ordinary Muslims are openly thrilled at bin Laden's bloody exploits, and Muslims seem to believe that if the United States launches military attacks against Afghanistan, it will be tantamount to a declaration of war against their faith.
And if some liberal Islamic thinkers see jihad as a metaphor for spiritual struggle, moral self-improvement, or just energetic participation in do-gooder causes, the more conservative thinkers say it's not that simple.''Ours is a militant faith,'' said Anwar ul-Haque, chief pathologist at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences and a noted Koranic scholar. ''Islam is not a religion that allows passivity. Muslims do not believe in turning the other cheek,'' he said. ''A true Muslim should not be afraid of bloodshed in the cause of good. We believe in the use of force - violence, the hoisted rifle - to correct wrongs and exact punishment on those who harm Islam.'' Although he expressed scorn for the Taliban, with its medieval interpretations of Islamic law and willingness to provide sanctuary to ultra-violent radicals like bin Laden, ul-Haque said that if innocent civilians die in a US attack on Afghanistan ''the cry for jihad will certainly rise from every corner of the Muslim world.''
''There may be a real jihad, not the false jihad of terrorists,'' he said.The peace-loving physician stressed that he was just describing what he believes to be the political reality, not uttering threats. ''My personal jihad is against disease,'' he said. ''But many Muslims will want to turn guns against a superpower. I don't think Americans grasp danger, that by carelessly attacking those engaged in false jihad, they might cast the spark that ignites a true jihad.''