Saturday, August 13, 2005

Wanted: The Right Term for Mooj

We've been debating all the different terms for Augsburg Evangelicals, but there's another term that's become a bee in my bonnet. This isn’t a particularly Lutheran topic, but it’s driving me nuts anyway. In the news and commentary on Iraq and Afghanistan, the word "jihadist" is gaining currency. This term is ridiculous and ignorant! And I don’t mean for any political reason, just from the point of view of language. As in a recent NYTimes report (registration required) in which Carl Levin, Democratic Senator from Michigan is quoted as saying: "An open-ended commitment to the Iraqis that we will be there even if they fail to agree on a constitution would lessen the chances that the Iraqis will make the political compromises necessary to defeat the jihadists and end the insurgency." A google search turned up 229,000 uses of "jihadists."

Now, there is a perfectly fine word for someone who fights in jihad, one already widely used: mujahidin. In Arabic, words are built on a three consonant root. For example SLM is the three consonant root for the idea of peace and submission. Islam is the abstract noun meaning "submission," salaam is that meaning "peace." You form nouns of agent ("one who does X") by adding the prefix mu- and changing the vowels according to a fixed paradigm: thus muslim "one who submits." Plurals are formed by adding the suffix -in: Muslimin. By the same paradigm, JHD is the three consonant root for "struggling, striving." Jihad or "striving" is the abstract noun. Mujahid is "one who struggles" or "one who fights in jihad." The plural is mujahidin (also spelled mujahideen) "fighters in jihad."

There’s a whole cottage industry debating what we have been fighting since September 11: terrorism? Radical (or militant) Islam (or Islamism)? Wahhabis? Occidentalism? I would suggest that the enemy can be defined in one simple word: mujahidin, or in short form, suitable for framing (with expletives), the mooj (or muj). Muslims love to say, we're not against America, we're not against Christians, we're just against the Crusaders. Well, we should respond, we're not against Muslims, we're not against Iraqis, we're just against the muj bastards who do this, and this, and this, and this, and much, much more. One thing the perpetrators of all of these events have in common: all of them proudly call themselves mujahidin: those who engage in jihad, in accordance with the Qur'an and the traditions of the Prophet. And if that’s what they call themselves, let’s show we understand what the struggle is about, and call them the same thing. When Muslim leaders are as afraid of using the word mujahidin and jihad as Christians are of using crusade and crusader, then the war of ideas will have been won.

BTW, if any one has imbibed the meme that "jihad really means peaceful inward struggle against one’s lower nature," you need to read this book. It's a bit technical but quite readable and essential to understand Islamic politics today.

Originally posted at Here We Stand