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Six fascinating talks on better understanding Islam

To many, the word ‘Jihad’ conjures up images of anger, machine guns and Osama bin Laden. But as Bobby Ghosh, editor-at-large of TIME magazine, shares in today’s talk — this actually demonstrates a misappropriation of a word with deep religious significance.
“To the vast majority of practicing Muslims, Jihad is an internal struggle for the faith. It is a struggle within — a struggle against vice, sin, temptation, lust, greed. It is a struggle to try and live a life that is set by the moral code written in the Koran,” says Ghosh. “It is a very powerful word, and there’s a certain almost mystic resonance to it.”
In this talk, given at TEDxGeorgetown, Ghosh shares that — just as Christian families name their daughters Grace — Muslim families often name their daughters Jihad. So why is the global understanding of the word ‘Jihad’ so different?
“There have always been in Islam a small minority who believe that Jihad is not only an internal struggle but an external struggle against forces that would threaten the faith or the faithful,” says Ghosh. “Some of these people believe that in that struggle it is sometimes okay to take up arms.”
As Ghosh shares, bin Laden is the latest to espouse this view and, because of his heinous acts, his extremist definition — to wage a global war of terrorism on the West — has stuck both in the West and in the Muslim world. Quoting an Imam in Tunis who not only named his granddaughter Jihad but also preaches on the true meaning of the word, Ghosh says, “Of bin Laden’s many crimes, this was in his mind one that didn’t get enough attention. He took this word, this beautiful idea — he didn’t so much appropriate it as kidnap it, debase it. He corrupted it and turned it into something it was never meant to be and then persuaded us that it always was.”
To hear why Ghosh believes that bin Laden’s idea of a global holy war is losing, listen to this eye-opening talk. And after the jump, watch five more talks that give subtle understandings of Islam.
Mustafa Akyol: Faith versus tradition in IslamWhen journalist Mustafa Akyol traveled to Mecca, he made an interesting observation — that men and women prayed together at the Kaaba but were separated in a nearby Burger King. In this talk from TEDxWarwick, Akyol reveals how many things thought to be core to Islam — like the separation of the genders and the wearing of headscarfs for women — are actually long-held local traditions as opposed to religious doctrine.
Lesley Hazleton: On reading the KoranLesley Hazleton describes herself as an “accidental theologist.” One day, she decided to sit down and read to Koran. In this talk from TEDxRainier, she shares why it is easy for both Muslim extremists and “Islamaphobes” to take out-of-context Cliffs Notes from the holy book. After studying it in great detail, she shares the insights and complexities found within.
Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf: Lose your ego, find your compassionThe Koran is filled with messages of compassion, says Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf in this talk from TEDSalon 2009. Here, he shares how we must follow the teaching of compassion — and why it is so hard.
Naif Al-Mutawa: Superheroes inspired by IslamIn 2010, Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman teamed up with The 99, a band of superheroes who derive their powers from the 99 attributes of Allah. In this talk from TEDGlobal 2010, Al-Mutawa explains why he created these superheroes in his comics — to break stereotypes and reinforce positive images of Islam, minus extremism.
Maajid Nawaz: A global culture to fight extremismMaajid Nawaz is a former Islamic extremist. In this powerful talk from TEDGlobal 2011, he shares his story of how he joined this cause and how he even became a recruiter at Cambridge University. His insight? That extremist groups are good at communicating across borders. And that those wishing to spread democracy have a lot to learn from them.
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