We are continuously encountered with issues of violence that claim themselves as the force of religion, Islam in particular. Terrorism especially, as well as a number of cases of mass violence that were organized by Islamist groups. In efforts to comprehend the roots of this problem, there is a crucial factor that repeatedly skipped throughout different analysis given, gender. The fact that the main actors of the aggression and violence in the name of religious truth are men have been taken for granted as something neutral, having men too are the main actors of any other kind of violence. Therefore, it is very important to rise the question “why men?” and approaching the issue not merely as a product of an illegal relationship between religion and violence but also as a dangerous outcome of certain dominant discourse of manhood.
One of the fundamental aspects within which masculinism, the discourse I refer above, embodies itself has been the ideology of jihad, a teaching that becomes central in Islamic based aggression actions. Jihad, like many other teachings in Islam, has never been a neutral doctrine, free from particular socio-politic context within which Islam is practiced. The idea of jihad is always constituted within more specific meanings, functions and practiced in different contexts that are relevant to: certain modes of social-political awareness amongst Muslims, cultural values which are widely accepted by Muslims, and above all, the gender of those who control religious orthodoxy. The doctrine of jihad has different meanings and implications for men and women.
The masculine meaning of jihad
Actors of terrorism and other organized religious based violence adopt a version of jihad discourse which is specifically masculine in its characters. Throughout its history, jihad has been intimately linked with rough maleness categories: wars, weapons, and struggle of power, embodying it more as a masculine verb. The main group of mujahid is adult men. Women and children, while few of them literally possess the opportunity to be the actors, are far away from the real zone where jihad is practiced through ambition of winning battles, contacts of weapons and martyrdom (sahid).
In its modern version, the doctrine of jihad has widely survived in a form of maleness heroism with its latent tendency to aggression. In such version, jihad offers a religious channel for men’s expression of bravery, virility and pride. Jihad requests a claim for the truth, although not necessarily leads to absolutism. The masculine reason operating in the notion of jihad is deeply aggressive in its nature, for even in dealing with human desire Muslims are taught to “fight” against excessive desire (hawa nafsu). It is such tendency to aggression embodied in the meaning of jihad that opens the door for violence which is preserved by a claim for the truth.
The meaning of jihad that we know implies men’s need of counter egos (which is commonly addressed to female ego) to be conquered in struggle aimed at establishing a superior (sacred) identity. Besides a claim for the truth, jihad requires objects to be overcome, to be battled and finally to be conquered. If we can group these objects, at least jihad addresses three groups of object: the non-believers (kafir), women and in its most subtle form, human desire (nafsu).
However, modern jihad ideology involves an idea of counter ideologies which are definitely present and, more than that, ruling the power. Here, the ideology and power of non-believer groups play as the main object of modern jihad doctrine of the jihadists. And here, religion’s command to prevent evil deeds fuses with men’s collective sentiments in ascertaining political identities. The US, Jewish-Israel and capitalism are more than the embodiment of contemporary satanic (thoghut) ideologies to be fought. But they are also accumulation of power of counter identities, egos and more specifically the opposing masculine discourses. Jihad has been practiced not merely as a sacred mission of establishing the religion of Allah, but also as a historical action of power struggle which is religiously valid.
The call for jihad for the jihadists crystallizes into an ideology that represents religion in cold and unfriendly faces. Religious truth is defended within a shared political identity by which jihad channels resistance towards the state of being conquered and exclusion politically and ideologically which seem increasingly un-resolvable. Devotion to religious command is preserved and blended with blind heroism. Spirituality and hope dry out into utopia, aggression and organized violence. Organizing political struggle that involves violence actions then plays as a sign of an advanced religious faith more than performing other worship practices and doing good deed (amal shaleh). Faith and religious loyalty are institutionalized in forms of brotherhood amongst men as the main actors. Women are away behind the lines, regarded as a subordinate but necessary identity, objects of marital system that upholds the hidden established masculine construction.
In attempts to recall Islam’s message in more humanistic, open and progressive voices, what we need to do is to campaign a jihad discourse that is more constructive, tolerant and sensitive to the current social-political change of Muslim societies as well as global society. Such discourse cannot be considered within strong political tendency. Neither it can also be initiated in a perspective that can only be meaningful for those the ruling group and gender of religious discourse.