Conservative news sites are targeting activist Linda Sarsour again, this time for using the word “jihad” in a speech to a mainly Muslim audience.
Speaking in Chicago at the annual Islamic Society of North America convention over the weekend, Sarsour, an organizer of January’s Women’s March, discussed what it means to be a patriot in the United States.
In her speech, which was posted online Monday, Sarsour discussed leaders like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali who helped shift culture by being unapologetically themselves.
“These are people who dissented against our government and against the very policies that oppress the community that they came from,” she said.
The word “jihad” has long been misused and misunderstood by both Muslim extremists and people seeking to spread hatred against Muslims. But 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, and to be good to yourself and your neighbors. It can be personal, like struggling to get through a rough workday, or overarching, like striving to seek justice for all people.
As Sarsour recounted in her speech, the Prophet Muhammad is said to have described the best form of jihad as “a word of truth in front of a tyrant, ruler or leader.”
“I hope that we when we stand up to those who oppress our communities, that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad,” she went on. “That we are struggling against tyrants and rulers not only abroad in the Middle East or in the other side of the world, but here in these United States of America, where you have fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House.”
In an article that emphasized Sarsour’s relationships with the Democratic Party, MSNBC, Rachel Maddow and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the conservative site RealClearPolitics accused the activist of calling on Muslims “to form ‘jihad’” against President Donald Trump.
Sarsour said such framing of her speech aims to “play off the lack of knowledge that ordinary Americans have of Islam.”
“They are targeting me because I am an unapologetic Muslim American and because I am an effective leader,” she said in an email to HuffPost.
Muslim activists and organizations have worked to educate the public about the true meaning of “jihad” since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the term entered mainstream awareness in the U.S. There have been bus advertisements, videos, blogs and social media campaigns aimed at educating people about the word’s proper meaning.
The response to Sarsour’s comments this week, however, shows that the misunderstanding persists.
The Muslim journalist Ismat Sarah Mangla tweeted:
Sarsour’s address was mainly concerned with urging the Muslim community to stand united in the face of injustice against themselves and other marginalized groups, and encouraging Muslims to invest in local organizing efforts.
That conservative sites singled out Sarsour’s comments on “jihad” isn’t surprising. Since emerging as a highly visible organizer and activist in the wake of Trump’s election last year, Sarsour has been targeted by right-wing and anti-Muslim sites baselessly accusing her of supporting terrorism. She also routinely encounters hateful messages and has received death threats.
Watch Sarsour’s full speech below: