Islamic Terminology: The Misuse of Words

The media has taken Islamic terminology and has gone beyond merely using words out of context. Instead, it has completely distorted the meaning of various words, giving a translation that is not even close to the original. As it turns out, this inaccuracy of translation also contributes significantly to Islamophobia. One such word that is inaccurately translated is the word “Jihad.” Dina Ibrahim notes “one of the ongoing problems with western coverage of Islam is that Jihad is always translated as holy war.” He goes on to say that “Jihad is not a holy war. It is a struggle to overcome the forces of evil.” Finally, he stresses that “the concept of Jihad has been abused by Bin Laden and his followers, as well as network news.”7 The literal meaning of Jihad is indeed “struggle”; however, this term is used in many different contexts in Islam. The word Jihad can be used in a military context, but not in the way that the media portrays it-as a term being used to wage war against all other religions. In truth, it can only be used in a military context if one is oppressed and needs to resort to militant means to overcome oppression, or if one needs to resort to militant needs to defend land. The type of Jihad that is actually stressed more in Islam is the internal Jihad, or the struggle within oneself to resist temptation to commit sin. Arguably, this type of struggle is much more difficult to overcome. Finally, an example of Jihad that people are not even aware they are familiar with is the Jihad of Martin Luther King Jr. to fight for civil rights.

Another term that has been incorrectly used is the term “madrasa,” which has been defined in the media as an Islamic school where young Muslim men go to learn how to perform terrorist attacks on nations such as the U.S. In fact, in an ABC News report Bob Woodruff described madrasas in Islamabad by saying, “This is where the recruits begin their education, a collection of religious schools known as madrasas along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.” He later states, “[T]hey study the Koran and they learn about jihad, or holy war.”8 This interpretation of a madrasa is false. A madrasa is an Islamic school. It is not a place where young adults learn about holy war, but instead madrasas are where children learn morality, good behavior, and acts of worship consistent with the teachings of Islam. In the US for example, madrasas can be equivocated to Sunday school for many Christians. As a result of the media, many madrasas that now exist are incorrectly interpreted as types of terrorist recruitment centers.

Media Portrayal of Women in Islam

The portrayal of Muslim women has also contributed significantly to Islamophobia. “One common perception about Islam through the media remains that women are treated as second-rate citizens.”9 This perception arises when many news channels show images of women wearing the burqa and discuss political systems, such as that of Saudi Arabia, where women are treated as second-class citizens. When Americans view this coverage, they not only condemn such a system, but they view Islam as something completely foreign to the ideals of American society. What needs to be understood is that the Arab culture in Saudi Arabia predominates social and political atmospheres. The problem is that when there is a conflict with Islamic principles, the inequalities and social injustices are made to look like they are part of the religion. Furthermore, since the two holiest sites of Islam are found in Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi government claims to rule under Islamic law, it is not surprising that the outside world associates everything the country
does with Islam. However, Divya Sharma stresses that it is “important to note that a majority of Muslim population in the U.S. is not the same as the Muslim population in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, or elsewhere. Religion is largely interpreted within the larger socio-cultural context.”10 Culture and religion must be distinguished as well as apparent oppression verses actual oppression. In more democratic political systems, Muslim women wear their scarves and observe the “hijab” by their own choice.

“In the final part, we shall look into Religious Illiteracy and The Conclusion.”

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