Speaking in Chicago in the annual Islamic Society of North America conference over the weekend, Sarsour, an organizer of January’s Women’s March, discussed what it means to be a patriot from the United States.
In her speech, which was posted online Monday, Sarsour discussed leaders such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali who helped shift culture by being unapologetically themselves.
“These are individuals who dissented from our government and against the very policies that oppress the community that they came out,” she explained.
A amountof allconservativeoutlets zeroed in on a specific section of Sarsour’s speech, where she used the word “jihad” to describe attempts to resist unfair policies.
The word “jihad” has beenabused and misunderstood by both Muslim extremists and individuals trying to spread hatred against Muslims. But for the vast majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, “jihad” is a phrase that actually means “to fight.” It’s a theory within Islam that represents a commitment to serve God, and to be good to your self and your neighbors. It may be personal, like fighting to get through a demanding workday, or overarching, such as attempting to seek out justice for all people.
As Sarsour recounted in her speech, the Prophet Muhammad is said to have describedthe best type of jihad as “a word of truth in front of a tyrant, ruler or leader .”
“I hope that we when we stand up to people who oppress our communities, that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad,” she went on. “That we are fighting against tyrants and rulers not just abroad in the Middle East or in the other side of the world, but in these United States of America, in which you’ve fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House.”
Sarsour said such framing of her speech aims to “play the absence of understanding that normal Americans have of Islam.”
“They are targeting me since I’m an unapologetic Muslim American and since I’m an effective leader,” she explained in an email to HuffPost.
Muslim activists and organizations have worked to educate the general public regarding the real meaning of “jihad” since the attacks of Sept. 11,2001, when the expression entered mainstream awareness from the U.S.. There have beenbus commercials,videos, blogsand social networking campaignstargeted at educating people about the term’s proper significance.
The response to Sarsour’s remarks this week, however, shows that the misunderstanding persists.
The Muslim journalist Ismat Sarah Mangla tweeted:
Sarsour’s address was mostly worried about urging the Muslim community to stand united in the face of injustice against themselves and other marginalized groups, and encouraging Muslims to invest in local organizing efforts.