New Taboos and Lost Words

Shaykh Jihad H. Brown ~ 18 September 2010 ~ The National, Abu Dhabi

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a global village. At least not when you’re from the wrong side of the tracks. People are constantly trying to judge you through the lenses of their own glasses. Didn’t their mothers ever tell them that it’s not good to share your prescriptions with others? It will ruin your eyesight and cause myopia.

Myopia, that’s the best way to describe the village when people start forgetting how to be good neighbours, or just become downright ignorant. People need to listen, understand and comprehend before shooting off at the mouth.

Hubris, self-indulgence, and narrow-mindedness have joined forces with irresponsible media and the scholastically impaired to give us all a new catalogue of taboos. As Muslims, we are losing meaningful words from the vocabulary of our worldview as they are being rebranded and re-shuffled by self-appointed pundits who have not thought to make an effort to understand them.

In our effort to join the cosmopolis of the new global village we are losing our words along the way. Words like “jihad”, rebranded by one-eyed “experts” in the valley of the couch potatoes as “holy war”. How do you get holy war from the linguistic root, “j-h-d”? It used to mean, “to make an effort”. Within the classical teachings of Islam it always meant, “to expend every effort to do what is right and preserve what is good”. Now one might say that “good” is a subjective construct. But come on, lying, cheating, and hurting others, other than Wall Street and a few transnational corporations … most normal people the world over are in agreement that those things are not good.

Recently we’ve witnessed anti-Muslim demonstrators holding up placards with the word “sharia” painted to appear like dripping blood. Wow, what’s “sharia”? Is it an evil set of draconion rules and regulations hell-bent on suffocating our happiness? Is it a catch-all for all things we think are mean or clash with our own “me generation” pop culture? Sharia used to mean a pathway that leads to a source of water. The Quran says, “from water We have made every living thing.” It also says: “For everything [in the cosmos] we have made for it its own sharia.” So if your Sharia is not leading you to something life-giving and wholesome, then it is not a Quranic sharia.

Look, I don’t mind if we criticise “the radicals”. Even though “radical” used to be a word held in somewhat high regard in the 1980s. It’s the bending and manipulating of our words and concepts that I have a problem with.

Because words like these are being made into new taboos, and with the help of visual media to be associated with viscerally negative connotations; there is an assumption that it is socially incorrect to use them. Muslims now feel they must adopt these assumptions by jettisoning these words, and unfortunately, the real and correct concepts behind them. In their own minds they are replacing them with the “re-definitions”.

This is very tragic. It’s not the way to rectify extremism or achieve enfranchisement, because where will it end? Even “hijab” has become a taboo concept at every metal detector, randomly, of course. What’s next, “mosque”, the Quran, your name?

The only viable solution is for Muslims to reclaim these words and re-establish the original concepts behind them. To retreat from our identity and the meanings that underpin it will secure complete loss. To move forward will require resolve, courage, intelligence, sensitivity and foresight.

If we retreat, the extremists win. Both the ones that run around with guns in the Ozarks or rant out their latent racial angst at “tea-party” rallies and the ones that run around with guns in caves in Afghanistan or bite and burn flags at pointless demonstrations.

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