Twitter is slowly eroding my blog – it has been five days since I last posted and while I could easily attribute this absence to the recent conference and lack of Internet as I moved house, somehow I equally know that Twitter is to blame.
It is so utterly addictive: it is the ready-meal of blogging.
Which is why, though my eyes are heavy and my bed beckons warmly, I shackle myself to the keyboard to convey the past week’s musings.
Edinburgh: Rethinking Jihad, a marvellous conference drawing academics and journalists from around the world to debate and determine the essence, origins and future of that most misunderstood of concepts: jihad.
Jihad does not strictly fall within my area of expertise: while I focus on anthropology, media and feminism with a generous smattering of Middle East and North African politics, Islamic thought is irresistable brain food.
Moreover, the continuous negative evolution of the concept of jihad is an issue that riles me on a regular basis.
The zenith of my rage peaked several months – or was it years? I forget – ago when a family in Belgium was prohibited from naming their newborn ‘Jihad’ as it had negative connotations and was perceived as cruel to the child.
Most likely, the parents were continuing a family tradition of nomenclature; certainly, Jihad is as lovely a name for a boy as any other if we lay our prejudices aside.
For surely there is nothing more beautiful than a name denoting a struggle for good, resistance against evil.
Which is what jihad is.
Forget Osama, forget the War on Terror and erase the gurning menace contorting the faces of al-Qaeda operatives as they spew rhetoric concerning infidels into hand-held cameras in distant caves.
Jihad is a movement towards goodness: it is finding east on your compass in order to pray; it is zakat or alms; it is ensuring we sustain our moral integrity in order to live our lives in the most wholesome and virtuous manner by having respect for God and fellow humankind.
I admit, with a blush, that I registered for the conference as soon as I glimpsed Tariq Ramadan‘s name.
Long aware of his books, it was not until 2006 that I attended a lecture by Ramadan at the University of Mainz in Hamburg, Germany.
I wrote perhaps three words – I’m a compulsive note-taker – before lapsing into slack-jawed awe at his charisma, profundity and general amazingness.
(An inability to express sentiments cogently often occurs when Tariq Ramadan is involved. Woe is me.)
Vowing to take verbatim that could be posted here and not leave with a half-finished sentence again, I sat, pen-poised and resistance ready.
Here’s the result:
Belonging. Taghout (transgressor). It’s less about being a Muslim or a citizen of a certain country […] ‘I am right, you are wrong’ …
And so it tails off.
I suspect it is the Swiss accent that throws me; I could listen to Ramadan for hours, nay, days.
While my pen seized up, thankfully my ears did not: Ramadan’s message was that we should place aside our allegiances to countries and faiths for the greater cause: that of morals, principles and the needs of humankind.
We should oppose the war in Iraq not because we are Arab or Muslim: we should oppose it because it is inhumane, brings death to innocent civilians and soldiers alike.
More interesting was the following:
“The war in Iraq is legitimized when it should be criminalized, while the struggle in Palestine is criminalized when it should be legitimized.”
The conference, hosted at the University of Edinburgh, proceeded for three days.
15 pages of notes barely captured the sheer breadth of the studies conveyed: from the concept of jihad during the Fatimid period to the manifestation of jihad in Hollywood movies and martyrdom in Palestinian poetry of the 1930s, it was utterly comprehensive.
Of course, that it was based in Edinburgh was a bonus: I adore Scotland and each time I visit Edinburgh feels like the first time.
And so I wandered the cobbled streets, loving the Gothic architecture, shuffling through memories good and bad, giggling at the pants-clad Irishman performing street art and mulling over Scottish nationalist graffiti.
The event left me mentally exhausted: already familiar with the notion, there was still so much to learn.
Which is why religion is so fascinating: it is ever changing, open to interpretation (both for good and ill) and we will always be pupils, no matter how long we study the Quran, Bible, and Torah.
But as long as we try to understand and implement, we will all be doing a worthy jihad in our own ways.