As noted by a number of observant intellectuals and analysts, negative words such as "terrorism," "extremism," "radicalism" and "fanaticism" have often been used against groups or individuals having or expounding different -- especially fundamentally opposing -- worldviews and positions.
As such, one must always be careful and vigilant not to misappropriate what should otherwise be words or terms that rightfully point to vicious traits or acts. Similarly, positive terms in Islam like jihad have also been confused, wittingly or unwittingly, with such pejorative labels as "suicide bombings," "holy wars," etc.
It is also important for us to be aware that the various negative phenomena indicated via such unfavourable terms are not necessarily religious in nature or by origin. Most of the time, several factors are involved -- each mutually reinforcing the others -- in giving rise to such phenomena.
Furthermore, terrorism, extremism, as well as fanaticism, as Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak correctly pointed out at a meeting organised by the Global Movement of Moderates at Nottingham University Malaysia on April 12, cannot be fought just by using military might but also needs to engage the minds of the people.
As human acts, they all surely begin as a notion in someone's mind which through a number of factors eventually spread to the minds of other people, leading to despicable acts and events. Hence, dealing properly with them as mindsets or mentalities is as important as, if not more important than, dealing with them as acts and events.
Since mindset is about awareness, understanding and attitude, the primary way of dealing with mindsets is proper inculcation and dissemination of right knowledge and attitude at all levels, involving basically continual, if not continuous, education.
Treating such negative trends demands that we be equally concerned with them as misunderstandings, confusion, ignorance, abuse or manipulation of what is initially true or right. Doing so also requires us to provide their antidotes deriving from the very teachings which have been misunderstood, confused, ignored, abused or manipulated.
Insofar as extremism as the anti-thesis of the true teachings of Islam is concerned, its remedy cannot but involve proper inculcation and dissemination of moderation as justice, on the one hand, and jihad, as primary means of enjoining what is good and beneficial as well as forbidding what is evil and harmful, on the other hand.
As we have had the occasion to briefly highlight a few basic points pertaining to the former (see IKIM Views, March 27), we shall focus on the latter.
Jihad basically means serious effort, arduous task, or great struggle. As is clear from that basic meaning, the word jihad focuses on one's act as a means rather than it does one's ultimate purpose which renders the act meaningful. The meaning and context of jihad is actually the objective of enjoining good and forbidding evil, of obtaining what is beneficial and avoiding what is harmful.
Just as Muslims are characterised in the Quran as ummah wasat (verse 143 of al-Baqarah, the second chapter of the Quran, as well as verse 135 of al-Nisa', the fourth chapter of the Quran), they are also described as khayr ummah (the best community) with two defining traits: one being "enjoining good and forbidding evil" and the other being "believing in Allah" (verse 110 of Al Imran, the third chapter of the Quran).
It is also well known among Muslims that the Prophet once reminded that should a Muslim confront something objectionable, he has to object to it first with his hand; if he is unable, then he should do so with his tongue; if he still can't, then he ought to refuse it with his heart, which is the weakest form of faith.
As far as the objective of jihad is concerned, it is hard to imagine that a person with a reasonable mind will reject it outright. Nor shall it be easy to think of the same person instantaneously disapproving of the kind of effort involved in realising such a sublime aim. For both the objective and the sort of effort involved are common sense.
The challenge then is to understand such Quranic verses and Prophetic traditions in a unified and harmonious manner. Among issues that should be considered in so doing are: What way is being moderate (wasat) related to being the best (khayr)? What good or evil is involved? Is there hierarchy of good and bad, as well as of ways of dealing with either?
What is actually meant by the three descending modes of forbidding wrong as reminded by the Prophet? Does the act of forbidding wrong "by hand" apply to any Muslim? Is there only one kind of jihad?
With reference to such issues, one needs to bear in mind verse 122 of Surah Tawbah, from which several lessons can be derived.
First, Islamic teachings and the Muslim community must be guarded not only outwardly but also inwardly, not only with physical might (at crucial and trying times, manifested as qital, the armed jihad) but also with intellectual and spiritual mastery.
Second, each of the two has its due importance in Islam, each complementing and reinforcing the other.
So intimately related are they that both have been consistently referred to by the terms jihad and ijtihad, both being cognates originating from the same verbal root and indicating earnestness.
Lastly, their underlying basis is the jihad against one's lower self, which is the most challenging and difficult struggle. For it is a continuous strife throughout one's life.
Yet, even in this struggle, one shall find knowledge and awareness -- particularly of one's true self and self-control -- being of paramount significance.
The writer is Senior Fellow/Director Centre for Science and Environment Studies, Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (IKIM).
© The Star. All rights reserved. Reprinted by arrangement with Asia News Network.