As a prominent leader within America’s roughly 5 million-strong Muslim community, Linda Sarsour has shown that she doesn’t shy away from controversies, such as the most recent incident where she called for a jihad against the Trump Administration.
But did she mean what some people think she meant?
Sarsour, a member of the Democratic Party and leader of the Women’s March on Washington, was speaking at an Islamic Society of North America event in Chicago when she talked about jihad.
She rhetorically asked the predominantly Muslim audience, “What is the best form of jihad, or struggle?” Sarsour then answered the question herself by telling a short story and quoting the words of Islam’s founder, the Prophet Muhammad.
“And our beloved Prophet said to him, ‘A word of truth in front of a tyrant ruler or leader, that is the best form of jihad.'”
Sarsour then went on to say, “I hope that when we stand up to those who oppress our communities, that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad, that we are struggling against tyrants and rulers not only abroad in the Middle East or on 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.”
Following the event, a video of Linda Sarsour’s impassioned speech was posted on Facebook. It didn’t take long before her call for jihad was blasted by a torrential backlash from conservative voters and media organizations.
Commentators condemned what they interpreted as an undertaking to wage a violent holy war against Trump’s administration.
Conservative Twitter users labeled Sarsour as a “terrorist sympathizer,” calling for her to be placed on a terrorist watch list. Some even pushed for an investigation by the Secret Service. Despite Sarsour having been born in Brooklyn, New York, certain critics demanded that she be deported.
— J Owen Shroyer (@allidoisowen) July 6, 2017
I just had to do a double take. Linda Sarsour just invoked 'Allah' and called for a JIHAD AGAINST PRESIDENT TRUMP?!? pic.twitter.com/a8LRtrHn5Z
— Drew Liquerman (@DrewLiquerman) July 6, 2017
The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., also weighed in on the backlash while retweeting a Fox News story.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 6, 2017
The Conservative Review, who referred to Sarsour as an “Islamic supremacist, ran with a headline that read: “Linda Sarsour calls for Muslims to wage ‘jihad’ against Trump.” The article alluded to sinister intentions on the part of Sarsour by labeling her references to jihad as “a particularly vague, yet terrifying, segment of her speech.”
A journalist for Breitbart News chose a more diplomatic tone while reporting on Sarsour’s speech, writing that although “the term has also been used to describe violent struggle,” the “context of Sarsour’s remarks indicate that she meant a jihad using words.”
During an interview with The Washington Post, Linda Sarsour confirmed Breitbart’s interpretation of her rhetoric, clarifying that she only supports non-violent, peaceful resistance.
“For people out of nowhere to claim that I would be calling for some sort of violence against the president is absolutely ludicrous. That’s just not who I am. That’s never been who I am.”
Some members of the Muslim community took to Twitter to add their voices to the dismay by opining that the word “jihad” is too loaded to be openly used in American society.
WATCH: Linda Sarsour, last week, calls for Jihad against Trump administration. A word with a loose definition…but she should know better. pic.twitter.com/eUzIqXS6Nu
— Yashar Ali (@yashar) July 6, 2017
Alexandra Halaby disagreed with Yashar Ali, claiming that “haters always hate” regardless of the shape and form political rhetoric takes.
Linda does more in one afternoon to organize people's anger into productivity than many of us ever do. Haters always hate, Yashar!!!
— alexandra halaby (@iskandrah) July 6, 2017
Ali simply replied by stating that “you can’t use the word jihad anymore. You just can’t. Not in the US.”
Despite the backlash, many Muslims and non-Muslims alike created the hashtags “#IStandWithLinda” and “#MyJihad” to show their support for Sarsour.
If you're a journalist shaming @lsarsour's choice of words instead of helping readers better understand them, you're bad at your job.
— Matt Duss (@mattduss) July 7, 2017
Chris Geidner, a legal editor and Supreme Court correspondent for BuzzFeed News, tweeted a transcript of a portion of Sarsour’s speech, adding that “you all are trash misquoting her.”
Hey you people scare-sharing Linda Sarsour's speech, read this transcription, which I just made because you all are trash misquoting her. pic.twitter.com/mzBWN6mhl9
— Chris Geidner (@chrisgeidner) July 6, 2017
Linda Sarsour later told The Washington Post she had anticipated that her statements would receive an aggressive response from some areas of the general public. Nevertheless, she maintains that her goal was to speak directly to the Muslim community in an attempt motivate them.
Sarsour believes that Muslim leaders should not have to “police the ways in which they worship in this country.” According to Sarsour, the problem does not lie with her words, but rather with “ignorant and racist” Americans who cannot fathom that there are many ways to interpret the word jihad.
[Featured Image by Drew Angerer/Getty Images]