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Speaker addresses jihad

Justin Tardiff | Wednesday, September 6, 2006

While the title of Karim Douglas Crow’s lecture Tuesday afternoon was “Building Muslim Hearts and Minds,” he ended up providing insight into the hearts and minds of people of all spiritual backgrounds.

Crow, an associate professor of Contemporary Islam at the Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies in Singapore, said he believes the problems faced by Muslims are human problems – the unwillingness both to face the truth and to see in terms of complex realities instead of simplified dogmas.

These human problems translate into the Muslim community, according to Crow, in the form of fundamentalists.

Crow said Islamic fundamentalists “do not do critical analysis,” but rather believe fate causes misfortunes when Muslims do not pray enough.

This fundamentalist oversimplification is a result of “the lack of a ‘deformist’ mentality in the Muslim world – an anti-intellectual, anti-rational, and even an anti-spiritual mentality that rejects the most critical part [the spirituality] of the Muslim legacy,” he said.

A similar mentality can be seen in American culture, he said, in the oversimplified depictions of the “good West” battling the “fundamentalist Middle East,” “totalitarianism” or “terrorism.” The use of these broad terms, Crow said, is “unhealthy always, but dangerous when done by leaders.”

The primary oversimplification by Islamic fundamentalists occurs regarding the sacred concept of the jihad, he said.

“[Jihad fills a] legal, cultural, spiritual, political and military role. It is a form of sacrifice and suffering by giving up one’s ‘inner life,'” Crow said. “[Jihad must be] a struggle for the welfare of others, not just for one’s own transformation.”

Crow told the story of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a Pakistani pacifist who worked with Gandhi to non-violently secure Indian independence from Britain, as one of the most successful historical jihads.

“Jihad can be understood peacefully, but it has been submerged in headline-grabbing actions of destruction,” Crow said, using the Khan story.

Crow described himself as on a personal, intellectual jihad, which serves to “expand the mind and thoughts to see a concept.” A peaceful jihad can also take the form of a moral, athletic or philosophical struggle, he said.

Crow was born in Lebanon to American and Lebanese parents. He converted to Islam as an adult. Crow opened the lecture in “traditional Muslim fashion” with a prayer and stressed his own spirituality throughout the afternoon.

“It is painful for a Muslim to talk of our troubles. Some say that we should only talk to other Muslims about the problems,” he said. “But it is too late to criticize ourselves only in private.”

Throughout the lecture, Crow emphasized two divergent paths that those on a jihad can take – the path of bloodshed, symbolized by animal sacrifice and suicide bombers, or the path of spiritual development taken by Abdul Khan.

“I do not think that God wants the spilling of our blood in sacrifice,” he said. “Rather, I think that God wants the sweet smell of our spirit.”

Crow spoke to an audience mostly comprised of faculty, graduate students and members of the South Bend community, as well as undergraduate students. The lecture was held in a Hesburgh Center seminar room with an overflowing crowd.

The attendance pleased Crow, who described his material as “a profoundly important issue that affects each and every one of us.”