The Huffington Post invited five Muslim Americans to talk about what it feels like to be Muslim in America today. In this first video of our series, they share their thoughts on the often misunderstood word "jihad."
As the world reels from the terrorist attacks in Brussels, here's an important reminder about the meaning of "jihad."
For the majority of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims, jihad is a word that literally means "to struggle." It's a concept within Islam that represents a commitment to serve God, to be good to yourself and to your neighbors. It can mean something as personal as struggling to get through a rough workday or striving to seek justice for all people. However, the word continues to be misused and misunderstood by both Muslim extremists and people seeking to fuel hatred against Muslims.
This discussion around jihad is not a new conversation. In fact, it's one that Muslim activists and organizations have been having since the September 11 attacks in 2001. There have been bus advertisements, videos, blogs and social media campaigns aimed at better educating the public about the word's proper meaning.
Rowaida Abdelaziz, a social media editor at The Huffington Post, said that she rarely heard the word jihad being heavily discussed at the Islamic school that she attended as a child. The focus at the school was more on teaching the essentials of her faith -- establishing prayer five times a day, fasting during the month of Ramadan and feeling empathy for the less fortunate. She started hearing about jihad when it showed up on television, where it was often used in connection with violent images.
Abdelaziz said the word has now become so politicized for her that it no longer holds the spiritual meaning it is supposed to have. This politicization has real consequences for the larger American Muslim community and for her personally, as violence and aggressive acts against Muslims continue to occur across the country.
"When words like [jihad] ... are constantly being portrayed, whether its on subway ads ... newspapers or on TV or billboards, people are going to be afraid, people are going to continue to see us as the other," Abdelaziz said in an interview with HuffPost Rise. "When that happens, it alienates the Muslim community. And when the Muslim community is alienated, they feel like they're less American than their neighbors. And so they begin questioning their day-to-day lives, and some people just want to hide the fact that they're Muslim because of this fear."
"I think these are a lot of the negative effects that happen when Muslims are politicized and are not seen as just regular humans like everybody else," she added.