Have Christians not yet made the connection between “the passion of the Christ” and jihad?
The idea of striving and suffering for the sake of God even unto one’s physical death is the essence of jihad. According to Christian belief, this is the sacrifice that Jesus the Messiah made for humanity. This is what Muslims believe as well, except we do not believe that Jesus was killed. Rather, he was saved by his Lord and raised to heaven so that he may return to be the savior of mankind in the End of Times by killing the anti-Christ and establishing true justice and peace on earth.
Due to sensitive political circumstances and the very real program by Western and some Middle Eastern governments to violently crackdown on any kind of political dissent, many Muslims today tend to minimize or negate the physical aspect of jihad. Obviously, we reject the bastardization of the concept of jihad by terrorist groups who kill innocent people, Muslims and non-Muslims, and cause unrest and confusion in their sick distortion of Islamic tenets. So let there be no doubt that groups like ISIS are to be rejected and it is a terrible crime for anyone to join them. That being said, we should not let terrorists and criminals hijack our faith by losing our willingness to stand up for what is right and true and our desire to fight for the Highest Truth.
And all this might sound crazy or extreme in this secular age. But why? Many Americans across the political spectrum believe it highly noble of a person to be willing to join the military and sacrifice his life for the sake of country. If it’s noble to fight and sacrifice one’s life for something abstract and provincial like one’s nationality, then how much more so if one’s intention is for God?
Furthermore, from a very young age, children around the world are taught the importance of physical struggle against evil for the sake of good and justice. This is the premise of virtually every superhero story. The superheros aren’t fighting evil in the metaphorical sense. Superheros aren’t fighting the bad guys by doing jihad al-nafs (well, maybe some of them do that too). Superheros are engaged in a physical battle and that’s what makes them heroic. And even beyond childhood, how many films and TV shows also promote this idea of physical struggle and self-sacrifice for the sake of a Higher Purpose? The only thing that’s missing is the Godly aspect of it, but the form is still exactly the same. Again, modernity gives us the form but deprives us the essence and deeper significance.
And of course even the Christian understanding of Jesus’ crucifixion is perfectly in line with jihad.
Given all these cultural notions, then, why should Muslims be shy about one of the central tenets of their faith? Again, the fact that terrorists commit acts of terror in the name of jihad is irrelevant. The US military has also committed countless atrocities in the recent and distant past. Just recently, they deliberately bombed a Doctors Without Borders charity hospital in Afghanistan killing 19 patients and staff and 3 children. Crimes like that one, however, don’t turn Americans away from the concept of “sacrifice for one’s country.” If anything, plenty of Americans are even more devoted to militarism and “death for nation” in the face of war crimes committed by US armed forces. And just like I strongly denounce the idea of Muslims joining ISIS and other terrorist groups in the name of jihad, I also strongly denounce the idea of Americans joining the military in the name of “service to country.”
Taking it one step further, we could even argue that the notion of self-sacrifice is really a fundamental aspect of all moral systems. All systems of morality consist of some transcendental truths that go beyond the vicissitudes of our worldly lives. The struggle is for a virtuous person to realize this — that the body is nothing but mortal flesh, whereas truth and goodness are better and everlasting. To be willing to sacrifice the mortal body is the ultimate expression and proof of sincere faith. How can you have a religion or a moral system that does not have this notion of self-sacrifice? Jihad in Islam is the perfect expression of this and, therefore, as Muslims, we should be proud of that and not hide it.