Linda Sarsour speaks onstage during the 30th Anniversary Celebrating Women Breakfast at Marriott Marquis Hotel on May 11, 2017 in New York City.
Monica Schipper—Getty Images for The New York Women's Foundation
By Abigail Abrams
July 7, 2017

Linda Sarsour, an organizer of the Women’s March, drew criticism over a speech she gave at the Islamic Society of North America convention over the weekend after some misunderstood her use of the word “jihad.”

In her speech, Sarsour talked about protecting the Muslim community and the need for Muslims to defend themselves against the Trump administration, which many view as overtly hostile to Muslims and other minority groups.

Some interpreted her used of the “jihad,” which means “to struggle”, as a call for violence. The word has many uses in the Islamic faith, but has been used by terrorists such as ISIS and often is translated as “holy war.”

During her speech, Sarsour told a story about a man who asked the Muslim prophet “What is the best form of jihad or struggle?” The answer from the prophet, according to Sarsour was: “A word of truth in front of a tyrant ruler or leader, that is the best form of jihad.”

“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 the other side of the world, but here in the United States of America, where you have fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House,” Sarsour said.

That struggle, Sarsour said, includes actions the Muslim community can take to push back against policies like the Trump administration’s travel ban on Muslim-majority countries, as well as the rise in anti-Muslim sentiment around the country.

Sarsour’s quote about jihad spread throughout many conservatives corners of the internet and was viewed as a call for attacks on President Donald Trump. This resulted in headlines like “Women’s March Organizer Linda Sarsour Calls For ‘Jihad’ Against Trump” on conservative sites and outrage on Twitter.

Sarsour hit back, saying that critics were taking her words out of context and emphasizing her commitment to nonviolence. “My work is CRYSTAL CLEAR as an activist rooted in Kingian non-violence. This is y my teams r effective cause we r powerful w/o violence,” she wrote on Thursday, referencing Martin Luther King, Jr.

Others came to her defense on social media and tried to provide context for the remarks and the word jihad, with some saying that the controversy underlined the need for more understanding around Islam in America.

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