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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
The language of conflict
American Muslim demonstrators.
Muslims in the US fear they are targets of the "crusade"
By BBC Middle East and Islamic affairs analyst Roger Hardy

To many in the West, "jihad" is the Muslim word for war.

It is not. Jihad means struggle - for example the struggle for self-improvement - and only occasionally in Muslim history has it meant doing battle with non-believers.

Radical Muslim groups have politicised the word in order to legitimise their actions.

Muslims in several American cities have protested at President Bush's - apparently unthinking - use of the word crusade.

Many of these groups are seeking to overthrow the government of one or another Muslim country - and by using the language of jihad, they brand their rulers as non-believers.

Jihad is not the only word being used and misused in the emotionally charged atmosphere created by the attacks against the United States last week.

Muslims in several American cities have protested at President Bush's - apparently unthinking - use of the word "crusade" on Sunday.

He seems to have used the word in its everyday sense of a campaign - without intending to conjure up the Crusades fought between Christians and Muslims in the Middle Ages.


Also troublesome is the word "fatwa" - which many in the West think means a death sentence.

It does not. It is simply a religious ruling - and in order to be binding, a fatwa must be issued by a Muslim who is qualified to do so.

Pro-Taleban militants waving placards
Militants have hijacked the language of Islam
Some thoughtful Muslims believe part of the problem is that in the world of Islam there is no single unchallenged source of authority.

Even Al Azhar in Cairo, the revered centre of Muslim learning for many Sunni Muslims, does not have the same authority that the Vatican has for Catholics.

This means individual Muslims with their own agendas can stand up to issue a fatwa - or declare a jihad - even when they lack the standing to do so.

See also:

18 Sep 01 | South Asia
Profile: Mullah Mohammed Omar
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan - a tough military option
18 Sep 01 | South Asia
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
20 Sep 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Afghan ruling on Bin Laden
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