MENTION THE WORD jihad, and some people think mistakenly of terrorist bombings justified as Islamic holy war. Yet in Yemen, an in-depth look at the Koran inspired defiant Al Qaeda prisoners to renounce violence. As reported in The Christian Science Monitor on February 4, Judge Hamoud al-Hitar challenged these men, "If you can convince us that your ideas are justifiable by the Koran, then we will join you in your struggle." If not, they'd join him. It's been two years. And no longer militant, these men work for peace in Yemen.
Several years ago, during a remembrance for those lost on 9/11, my own understanding of jihad took on fresh meaning. I attended a mosque, where one of the speakers, a Christian minister, spoke of how the word jihad actually has two meanings. The one that has perhaps become most familiar means holy war. The second deeper meaning of jihad refers to striving, and necessarily includes the inner struggle to surrender completely to God—a struggle of the heart. This reminds me of the Apostle Paul's words: "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds . . . and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (II Cor. 10:4, 5).
That was my first visit to a mosque. Like everyone, as I entered I took my shoes off. And along with the other women, I covered my head with a scarf. Doing so was not a usual practice for me, yet it seemed to symbolize the spirit of humility that brought so many together to seek God—for answers, healing, restoration. And the mosque filled to overflowing with the spirit of generosity and love.
I thought about how the idea of yielding to God—of loving God—is central to my own life. How learning more about His goodness and power has brought me peace and healing. As we gathered in remembrance, in prayer—and with hearts committed to progress—I glimpsed God's infinite, borderless being. I felt the possibility of God bringing "sons from far, and . . . daughters from the ends of the earth" (Isa. 43:6).
I continue to think about what it means to be daughters and sons of God. The idea gives me a tangible realization that peace and unity are within reach. "God is universal," wrote Mary Baker Eddy, "confined to no spot, defined by no dogma, appropriated by no sect. Not more to one than to all, is God demonstrable as divine Life, Truth, and Love; and His people are they that reflect Him—that reflect Love" (Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896, p. 150). To grasp this truth takes a great deal of jihad — an inner striving to yield to the constant, impartial, tender omnipotence of God.
SEVERAL YEARS AGO MY OWN UNDERSTANDING OF JIHAD TOOK ON FRESH MEANING.
I'm sure that when we surrender to Him, letting go of denominationalism or territorialism, selfishness or fear, we are in no danger of losing ourselves. Rather, we enter a holy, fundamental space of Love. We become conscious of what it means to be an indispensable child of the Infinite. Adored. Chosen. Unable to escape that holy presence.
The Hebrew Bible tells how Moses took his 70 chosen elders away from camp to the tabernacle where the spirit of God rested on them—and they prophesied there. As the story continues, Eldad and Medad (not of the chosen) felt God's power where they were, and prophesied in the camp. But Joshua objected, "Moses, my lord, stop them!" Moses replied, "I wish that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!" (New International Version, Num. 11:24—29).
What would our lives be like if we knew, in fact, that we are all children of one Parent? How would things change if we treated everyone with the respect that comes of knowing that he or she is made in God's likeness? What if we truly expected to experience the powerful presence of the Most High in our day-to-day lives—the Presence resting on each of us, regardless of position? Shouldn't it begin in those "camps"—the trenches, the traffic jams, the moments? And in the depths of our own hearts? I often ponder this idea: "We have nothing to fear when Love is at the helm of thought, but everything to enjoy on earth and in heaven" (Miscellaneous Writings 1883—1896, p.113).
So this has become my jihad: to allow divine Love to lead my life—to love extravagantly, relentlessly. Humbly and joyfully. To know that I can, that we all can, do this, and that as we do, we will transform our lives and the world from the inside out.
Joni Overton-Jung is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher living in Toronto, Canada.