Are we Talking about the Same Jihad?

The linguistic adaption of a word from one language to another brings a whole host of inconsistencies and incompatibilities.

I once had a friendly taxi driver who was shy to say his name.  I considered this to be a silly thing to avoid, but he said Americans seem to like him less once they knew. I asked him, “Who cares about being liked by some people who are going to judge you by your name?” He expressed that his main concern was not about finding the right friends, that more importantly, it was about keeping the job he found– and he needs people to want to ride in his taxi.

My taxi driver, Jihad, was probably aware of the automatic associations Americans may have with his name– a name that has significance for Muslims that traces back to the time when the Prophet Muhammad was to have united them under Islam.  Essentially,  what Jihad undoubtedly had perceived was the islamophobia that is perpetuated through media sensationalism in the United States.

This negative runoff comes when millions within a nation hold popular, televised news coverage (particularly CNN, MSNBC and Fox News) to the esteem of being the epicenter of contemporary cultural and political dialogue, even in light of the networks disinterest in honoring the other cultures’ perspectives.
In this popular news sphere there exists terms like “Jihadists”, “Jihadist extremists”, and  “violent Jihadi warefare.”  Essentially it is the hijacking of a word from another language and the additional application of English linguistic rules, as if it was “our own”–just another piece of property that is of course, highly relevant to American culture,  there entirely for the people’s free manipulation.

In fact, English speakers in America, particularly news networks, are using the word for their free manipulation. Below is something linguists analyze but most  native speakers know and do in their heads without much thought. Jihad is the main head of the word with attached affix that does not exist in Arabic, and only exists in English.

Morphological derivation of the word Jihadist in English:


This implies Jihad is something that can be done. Who does it? Jihadist. When is it done?  Jihad-time. Where is it done? Jihadville. Notice I’m using the Arabic word in an English construction and generally understood by those who speak English.

But the meaning of the head noun, Jihad, without affixes, is  not very clear to the English speaker. This makes sense. The most popular religious text in the United States is not the Qu’ran. Thus, the average English speaker is typically exposed to this word media coverage of violent fundamentalist terrorist groups. The interpreter of such newscasts might switch out “Jihad” for “the Islamic justification of terrorism.” However, you can ask the majority of  Muslims, and they would say with conviction that Jihad does not equal terrorism in the slightest.

Finally, the nuanced and almost counter-intuitive point that needs to be made: though the word is being borrowed from another language, the word “jihad” in the United States is not being “misused.” Despite what you heard or ain’t heard, there is no such thing as correct or incorrect grammar, at least from a linguist’s perspective. However, if a person is looking for a way to validate language, that person would investigate whether the word or string of words is mutually intelligible, meaning one party has the verbal ability to send a message that is successfully received by the listener, in its intended form.

The message transferred in English deviates from message in Arabic. Though the word Jihad is originally Arabic and has its beginnings in the Hadith and Qur’an, the way it has circulated in the United States does not qualify as a misusage. Remember, no wordsmith can misuse the tools he or she created for personal use. So who introduced the word Jihad into the English language and what purpose does it serve for the implementer?  Was it the White House that coined it first, and did the news networks complacently buy in to that notion after? More research is needed here about the exact relations between media news networks and motivations of politicians in the United States.

Below is an acceptable definition as publicized by the Library of Congress in American Jihadist Terrorism: Combating a Complex Threat

“The term “jihadist” describes radicalized individuals using Islam as an ideological and/or religious justification for their belief in the establishment of a global caliphate, or jurisdiction governed by a Muslim civil and religious leader known as a caliph. The term “violent jihadist” characterizes jihadists who have made the jump to illegally supporting, plotting, or directly engaging in violent terrorist activity”

 This definition certainly does not reconcile any differences between conceptions of Jihad in the United States with conception of Jihad in the Qu’ran as interpreted in Arabic. It does, however, act as a linguistic tool to furthering the personal agenda of a billion dollar  industry. When the major news networks use hot button words like “Jihadist”  in their headlines, they are profiting. This word is a purposeful abstraction from one culture to another.  Americans watching these reports stare in rapture at the television set. Viewers are unwittingly making frantic connections between their undeveloped conceptions of Islam and extreme violence. Can you fathom why a country would want to scare their nation with vague notions of holy terrorism? I assert that this is language of wartime, and that it is not meant to encourage open dialogue, but instead, total confidence in one’s own national agenda.


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