Jihad: Interpretation is time and place

I remember the first time I ever felt frightened for the world and future generations. It was 11 September 2001.  I thought World War III was imminent. It was a time when I learnt the word Jihad, or ‘holy war’, and to be fearful of Muslims and Islam.

I wasn’t born a xenophobe or a racist. I became one. These fears were created by media and politics surrounding ‘terrorist’ asylum seekers, and I blindly believed. In my mind, I justified my fear of terrorists masquerading as refugees as acceptable and convinced myself I wasn’t a racist, because I would never outwardly say anything racist. But I was. Racism isn’t just spoken, it can reside in your private thoughts and breed fear and hatred, which directly affects every community.

As a child living in a small country town, I didn’t have any Muslim friends, and if I did, maybe they would have been too scared to share their faith with me, and I don’t blame them. As I grew, so did my curiosity surrounding other religions and beliefs and I began to wonder, do we all pray to the same God? If we all believe in one God, why is there so much unrest surrounding religion and extremists wanting to wage war on other religions?

More than 80 people attended the second annual Interfaith Dialogue, held at Bishop Tyrrell College, Fletcher on 31 May. The event provided a forum for the public to hear local Islamic and Christian religious leaders discuss their beliefs and answer questions from the community.

Catholic Bishop of Maitland-Newcastle, Bill Wright, Anglican Bishop of Newcastle, Peter Stuart, Newcastle Muslim Association’s Farooq Ahmed, and Mayfield Mosque Shaikh, Muhammed Thalal, gathered to answer questions of faith as a panel. One of those questions was, “Do we all believe in the same God?” The unanimous answer, “Yes!” Bishop Bill Wright, agreed, “Yes. We all share a humility in the idea of God. Part of each of our religions is to be humble in the idea of God.”

So if we all believe in the same idea of God, what is Jihad? Mayfield Mosque’s Shaikh, Muhammed Thalal, clarifies, “Jihad is the struggle to be a righteous person. There are four kinds of Jihad, Jihad of the heart, to be good of heart, Jihad of the tongue, to speak of good, Jihad of the hand, to do good, and Jihad of the sword, defensive battle. The Koran only permits fighting for self-defence.”

Interpretation is time and place. Extremists and radicals promoted an interpretation that has become mainstream. “The meaning of Islam is more than peace. It is surrender, submission, obedience, sincerity and peace,” said Shaikh Muhammed.

Whatever your faith or background, seeing our religious leaders unite in solidarity sends a strong message of peace and encourages  us, as a community, to recognise the value in understanding different faiths and customs. We all need to educate ourselves and be open to the truth. We are all in this together.

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Geri Williams

Geri Williams is the Online Communications and Brand Officer for the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. She is also a regular writer for Aurora Magazine.