What is in the heart of Jihad?

Jihad. As a Christian I used to fear this word for I had grown to associate this with violence and war. But in my striving to understand Muslims and Islam, I found that this word simply means “struggle,” and this struggle may be internal as well as external efforts among the followers of Islam to be good Muslims. I myself have come to appreciate the concept of “jihad al-nafs,” or the struggle with the enemy within oneself, and I see the constant practice of overcoming and befriending our inner demons as the greatest battle that we, human beings, are to fight in our daily lives.

But today, there are those who pervert the real meaning of jihad. They are referred to as Jihadi, or jihadist. They are extremists who claim to be Muslims but are indoctrinated to fight for the creation of an Islamic state and wage war against all who, in their eyes, have corrupted the ideals of Islamic governance. Outbreaks of violent extremism and acts of terrorism are expressions of this contemporary phenomenon that plague our humankind today. They continue to sow terror in the name of Allah despite the fact that Muslim religious leaders and scholars condemn violent jihad as “not sanctioned by Islam.”

As a Catholic Christian struggling to promote peace among religions and build mutually respectful and collaborative relationships with Muslims, I wonder what is in the heart of jihadists. What is it that attracts them to extremist views, and to engage in dehumanizing acts of violence?

I came across this Bafta-nominated film JIHAD by Deeyah Khan, a Norwegian film director and human rights defender of Punjabi descent. She is an Emmy and Peabody award-winning documentary film director and founder of Fuuse, a media and arts company that tells moving stories of women and children from minority communities and cultures of Muslim heritage.

This is worth viewing.