"Jihad" - Harvard Commencement Spee

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Posted by Lilly from ? ( on Wednesday, August 21, 2002 at 3:01PM :

Remember that protesting nonsense about the Harvard commencement speech that was all over the news ("OF FAITH AND CITIZENSHIP: My American Jihad)? Well, here it is, w/ an introductory article about its reception on commencement day.

Friday, June 28, 2002
The Harvard Crimson

Yasin Delivers Heavily Debated 'Jihad' Speech
Handful of students protest with pins, while others bring loud applause

Crimson Staff Writer

After more than a week of controversy about the title and substance of his Senior English Address, Zayed M. Yasin '02 delivered a speech about personal "jihad" uneventfully at Harvard's June 6 Commencement ceremonies.

In his speech, retitled "Of Faith and Citizenship," Yasin spoke about the perceived contradiction between his Muslim faith and his American citizenship.

"I am one of you, but I am also one of them," Yasin said. "When I'm told this is a world at war...I don't know whether to laugh or cry."

But he concluded that his belief in Islam and American patriotism were not incompatible.

He also attempted to redefine the meaning of jihad from a violent struggle to a process of personal growth.

He defined the true meaning of jihad as "the determination to do right and justice even against your personal interests" and urged seniors to look at their lives after graduation as this kind of personal jihad.

"Harvard graduates have a responsibility to leave their mark on the world," Yasin said. "I pray...that we will be the change we seek in this world."

Yasin said that jihad is a broad struggle for control. "On a global scale, [jihad] is a struggle...for control of the Big Decisions: not only who controls what piece of land, but more importantly who gets medicine, who can eat."

A handful of students protested the speech prior to Commencement, handing out hundreds of red, white and blue pins. They also distributed leaflets highlighting the violent associations with jihad and comparing Yasin's public statements in the aftermath of Sept. 11 to patriotic quotations from President Bush.

Zev Frankel, who graduated from Harvard Medical School today and handed out fliers just outside the Yard, said he thought the subject of jihad was an inappropriate topic for Commencement because of its painful association to violence.

"In the current climate where there have been many victims of jihad, I think it's disingenuous to talk about it in this rosy, happy way," Frankel said. Yasin is "only saying half of the story."

In contrast, Harvard Students for Israel released a statement the day before Commencement saying its members did not endorse the protesters' petition, saying they were assured Yasin's speech was of "a personal and spiritual nature, not a political one."

"We have no reason to doubt Mr. Yasin's assurances, and expect his speech to be positive and enlightening," the statement read. "At this point, we are interested in what Mr. Yasin has to say, and we hope that his speech will provide a starting point for open and informed discussions of the issues associated with the word jihad."

Both the introduction of Yasin's speech and its conclusion provoked loud applause in the audience—and even a partial standing ovation.

Some graduating seniors said they felt the speech was much less controversial than they had expected. Alyssa M. Varley '02 said that while she thought the speech's initial title—"American Jihad"—was "unnecessarily controversial," she thought his message was worthwhile.

"After hearing the speech, I think it's awful they protested him," Varley said. "They should have given him the benefit of the doubt, which is what I did."

Today's address followed nearly two weeks of controversy. When the speech was originally announced under the "American Jihad" title, a group of about 15 students met with Michael Shinagel, dean of the Extension School and a member of the committee that chose Commencement Day speakers, arguing that the speech did not explicitly condemn the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as a violent form of jihad.

The Undergraduate English Oration
by Zayed Yasin
Delivered at the 351st Harvard University Commencement
June 6, 2002

My American Jihad
I am one of you. But I am also one of "them." What do I mean? When I am told that this is a world at war, a war between the great civilizations and religions of the earth, I don't know whether to laugh, or cry. "What about me?" I ask. As a practicing Muslim and a registered voter in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, am I, through the combination of my faith and my citizenship, an inherent contradiction?
I think not. Both the Qu'ran and the Constitution, teach ideals of peace, justice and compassion, ideals that command my love, and my belief. Each of these texts, one the heart of my religion, the other that of my country, demand a constant struggle to do what is right.

I choose the word "struggle" very deliberately, for its connotations of turmoil and tribulation, both internal and external. The word for struggle in Arabic, in the language of my faith, is jihad. It is a word that has been corrupted and misinterpreted, both by those who do and do not claim to be Muslims, and we saw last fall, to our great national and personal loss, the results of this corruption. Jihad, in its truest and purest form, the form to which all Muslims aspire, is the determination to do right, to do justice even against your own interests. It is an individual struggle for personal moral behavior. Especially today, it is a struggle that exists on many levels: self-purification and awareness, public service and social justice. On a global scale, it is a struggle involving people of all ages, colors, and creeds, for control of the Big Decisions: not only who controls what piece of land, but more importantly who gets medicine, who can eat.

So where is our jihad, where is our struggle as we move on from Harvard's sheltering walls? Worthy adversaries are innumerable. We can turn our struggle to the war against oppression, poverty, disease… But before looking outward, we must first look inward. Before deciding what we are against, we must decide what we are for. The only way to define the inner moral force that drives our struggle, is to learn through action - to get our hands dirty. To strive to see the world as it sees itself, testing the boundaries of what we think we know, and how we know it. To combine our academic search for truth with a sense of empathy for our fellow humanity- to seek Veritas in Humanitas.

On one level it's simple: everyone wants the same things that we do. The true American Dream, is a universal dream, and it is more than a set of materialistic aspirations. It is the power and opportunity to shape one's own life: to house and feed a family, with security and dignity, and to practice your faith in peace. This is our American Struggle, our American Jihad.

As a Muslim, and as an American, I am commanded to stand up for the protection of life and liberty, to serve the poor and the weak, to celebrate the diversity of humankind. There is no contradiction. Not for me, and not for anyone, of any combination of faith, culture and nationality, who believes in a community of the human spirit.

Some of this is a mantra that has been spoken at myriad graduations. Worth repeating, perhaps, but nothing new. What is new was taught us by last fall's tragedy and carnage. The status quo will not hold, and we have no choice but to engage more closely the troubles of this world. We are in a privileged position to shape a more just, peaceful, and honorable global society.

So I ask again: where is our jihad, our struggle? Whether on our way to an investment bank in New York, or to Sierra Leone to work with orphans, Harvard graduates have a responsibility to leave their mark on the world. So let us struggle, and let us make our mark. And as we do, I hope and pray that for the sake of our children, our grandchildren, and those who take our seats in the years to come, that we will be the change we seek in this world.

-- Lilly
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