SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)- Jihad.
Of the countless foreign words adopted into English, it is one of the most stigmatized and politically charged terms there is.
Undoubtedly, “Jihad” has become synonymous with violence and ideological war. Ironically though, it has nothing to do with any of that.
It’s this simple: “Jihad” is an Arabic word that means “struggle”; it refers to the spiritual struggle within oneself against sin, on the journey toward spiritual enlightenment. Jihad is prayer; it’s sacrificing to help mankind; it’s making the moral choices.
Unfortunately, young men like John Maguire – the Ottawa university student who recently converted to Islam, moved to Syria, and appears to have embraced ISIS – don’t understand this.
That’s why radicalization is on the rise. In just the past few months, there have been reports that Damian Clairmont and Andre Poulin — both young Canadian Muslim converts — ended up dead in Syria after fighting for ISIS. According to CSIS, more than 120 Canadians have now gone abroad to join various terrorist groups.
Especially alarming, is the growing demographic of Muslim converts turning to radicalization.
So the question becomes, what leads to this radicalization?
Like Poulin and Calgary’s Clairmont, these converts are seeking something more in life; inner happiness and deeper satisfaction of the soul. They, like millions, turn to religion – just not the one most would expect of a caucasian Canadian. Sometimes these converts, finding peace in the emphasis on prayer that Islam offers them, fall prey to being misguided by their newfound friends, who distort concepts like Jihad to appeal to the psyche of these impressionable young men – playing on feelings of brotherhood and vigilante justice.
But for new converts, there’s another critical factor in radicalization – self-perception. A person’s self-image is pivotal in shaping their behaviour, and in determining their path. When we barrage the public with stories that only ever depict the tragic examples of Muslim converts, this negatively impacts other new converts.
Constantly observing high-profile stories like those of Damian Clairmont and Andre Poulin makes it hard for a Muslim convert not to start perhaps seeing some of himself in these “poster boys” for “convert radicalization.”
Ultimately, what the media portrays about Muslim converts shapes how they perceive themselves. This overly emphasized narrative – that converting to Islam means you can no longer be a normal Canadian – has factored into the increase in radicalization.
In a recent ISIS propaganda video, Poulin describes how, “Before Islam, I was like any regular Canadian. I watched hockey, I went to the cottage …”
Widespread coverage of things like this re-enforce the false dichotomy that a Muslim cannot be a normal Canadian or be loyal to Canada. As a devout Ahmadi Muslim, I can tell you that the Prophet himself taught that “loyalty to one’s land of residence is part of faith.” I wonder how many new converts have things like this stressed to them?
We need to proliferate the notion that not all converts end up zealots, and that becoming a Muslim doesn’t mean you have to stop being a Canadian. In North America alone, there are many high-profile converts to Islam who did fine, including Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Ingrid Mattson, Congressman Keith Ellison, commentator Ahmad Rashad, and many more – all wonderfully successful; some even Western cultural icons.
We cannot underestimate the importance of showing the right examples to converts who – in the vacuum of positive role models – become susceptible to going down a dark path.
If radicalization is all they see, that’s all they’ll ever know. But if we show them another path – of positive, accomplished role models worthy of emulation – they will walk it.
Ultimately, it’s all about what possibilities these Muslim converts feel they have. If they can at least see another option, their minds will think beyond the narrow shaft of extremism and their self-worth will blossom, opening the doors to all sorts of positive vistas.
For in the words of the Bible:
“As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is” — (Proverbs, 23:7)