When you hear the word jihad, what comes to mind?
“A lot of Western people focus on terrorism,” said Dr. Matthew Kuiper, assistant professor of religious studies at Missouri State University. “What I try to show is that the vast majority of Muslims worldwide live in peace and are strong critics of violence done in the name of Islam.”
Kuiper explains that Islam is similar to Christianity in that some of its leaders want to “win the world to their message.” For them, jihad has come to mean the peaceful missionary preaching of Islam.
The Arabic word for this preaching is called da’wa, which is the focus of a recently published book by Kuiper, “Da’wa and Other Religions: Indian Muslims and the Modern Resurgence of Global Islamic Activism.”
Kuiper also noted a few Muslim televangelists are establishing a strong presence on Facebook and YouTube. This phenomenon – becoming a global preacher like Billy Graham was in Christianity – shows an understanding of the balance between living in the modern world and staying true to one’s faith.
“I’m looking at how Muslims develop Islamic approaches to modernity. How do you live in the modern world faithful to your traditions? How do you update or rethink traditions in light of modern realities, much as Christians, Buddhists and Hindus have had to do?” he said.
One doesn’t represent the whole
One of the misconceptions Kuiper hopes to dispel is that only one version of Islam exists.
“Christians know that their tradition is internally diverse,” said Kuiper. “There’s a lot of diversity within any religion, but that’s also true within Islam. Muslims come in many theological convictions, and also represent great ethnic and cultural diversity.”