How we use our words- jihad or struggle?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

It bothers me when people use words incorrectly, especially when it has major social conflict implications. One example is an issue central to my research- that the English word "struggle" (or "wrestle") is the best translation of jihad, yet in the West we continue to not-translate it, which keeps the word as a symbol of the alien "other" of Islam. This "othering" has consequences. "We" have our struggles for "freedom" but "they" have their nasty jihad! It is so hypocritical. And I've noticed this in all European languages. The French and Spanish have their lutte and lucha, and the Germans their kampf, but they refuse to translate jihad too.
This results in increased levels of inter-communal violence and allows extremist "white" groups to perpetuate hate. It's time for people in the West to be honest about translating jihad, especially when the Arabic Bible has Jesus undergoing a jihad in the Garden of Gethsamene! English texts and articles and blog entries etc should no longer use "jihad" but instead "struggle" or "wrestle", and the equivalent applies in all European languages.
This post is part of an Orthodox synchroblog, that is, a number of Orthodox Christian bloggers have written blog posts on the same general topic on the same day, with links to the other posts on the same topic, so it should be possible to surf from one post to the other, and read them all if one wants to.
The theme of this month’s synchroblog is “The words we use”.

+ Annalisa Boyd (Orthodox) of The Ascetic Lives of Mothers on Let the Words of My Mouth
+ Cristina Perdomo (Orthodox Christian — Orthodox Church in America (OCA)) of Reachingfromadistance on Cement
+ Dn Stephen Hayes (Orthodox Christian) of Khanya on What’s that you were saying?
+ Elizabeth Perdomo (Orthodox Christian) of Living a Liturgical Life on What About Words?
+ Katherine Bolger Hyde (Orthodox Christian) of God-Haunted Fiction on Eat Your Words
+ Susan Cushman (Orthodox Christian) of Pen & Palette on How We Use Our Words: “Christian” is Not an Adjective
If you are a blogger and would like to take part in future Orthodox synchroblogs, there is a mailing list for participants at YahooGroups, where you can get more information, and where we will discuss future topics, etc.


Macrina Walker said...

I once knew a Syrian (Catholic) monk who had taken (or been given) Jihad as his monastic name. Hardly inappropriate for anyone who knows its meaning, but it would probably shock some ignorant westerners.

Anonymous said...

Good point. And it is pretty nasty when words are incorrectly used.

Thanks Macrina for that example!

Steve Hayes said...

I have assumed that "jihad" is that Arabic for the Russian "podvig" and the Greek "ascesis".

neonsignal said...

The problem is that the word 'jihad' is now an English word in its own right, and has been for a long time. In the English context it means something like "religious (Muslim) vendetta". It is common for borrowed words to shift from their original meaning. As you say, when actually quoting an Arabic source, it is far better to use a translation such as 'struggle' (which encompasses both physical struggle and metaphorical senses). To substitute the English 'jihad' for the Arabic 'جهاد' is at best lazy and wrong, and at worst deliberately misleading.

Anonymous said...

Very excellent point, Father. I also really like the comparison that Dc. Steven made between "jihad" and "podvig" and "ascesis."

Steve, yes, correct!

Steve Hayes said...

I would be interested in knowing more about the relationship between jihad, podvig and ascesis in Christian contexts. Much is made of jihad as an Islamic concept, but don't Arabic-speaking Christians use it in much the same way as Russian-speaking Christians use "podvig"? If not, then what word do Arabic-speaking Christians use?

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