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The Free Congress © Commentary:

Jihad for Kids
By Robert Spencer
June 11, 2002


It contains no foul language or sexual innuendo. In fact, it aims to instill reverence for God and obedience to His commands. Nevertheless, one educational CD-ROM marketed to children aged five and up is one of the most disquieting products ever aimed at pre-teens.

The Islamic Fun! CD-ROM teaches Muslim children about a smorgasbord of Islamic topics. On the surface it's bright and breezy. The graphics are skillfully executed and appealing to children. Its games have names such as "Fishing Bear," "Tree Hop," and "Two Bunny Race." In "Tree Hop," a tiger bounds atop a series of trees in pursuit of a beach ball. "Fishing Bear" features a bear sporting green pajamas (complete with nightcap) and a wide grin. If players correctly answer questions such as "Where did the Prophet Muhammad receive the first revelation of the Holy Qur'an?" they can advance the causes of these friendly animals.

But nestled among the happy tigers, bears, and kitty cats is a game called "The Resistance." This game's object: "You are a farmer in South Lebanon who has joined the Islamic Resistance to defend your land and family from the invading zionists." Players do so by blowing up Israeli tanks.

Zionists aren't the only target. A principal aim of Islamic Fun! seems to be to instill ancient Islamic resentments in today's youth. As the tiger cavorts among the trees in "Tree Hop," the game asks its players to identify the Mosque of Cordoba from among three inset photos. The accompanying question: "Ignoring the hand over agreement, the Christians turned the beautiful Mosque of Cordoba, in Muslim Spain, into a Cathedral (1238). Which one is it?"

As one might expect, the creators of Islamic Fun! are also zealous for the purity of their religion. Another question takes aim at Turkey, the lodestar of moderate Islam. Picturing three mosques, it asks: "Mustafa Kemal, the hater of Islam, forbade the use of Arabic in Turkey, banned the hijab [head scarf] and closed down the Aya Sofya Mosque in Istanbul. Which is it?"

Of course, Islamic Fun! is not necessarily the last word in the struggle for the Muslim soul. Zayed Yasin, an American Muslim student at Harvard University, was compelled under pressure to drop the word jihad from his commencement speech (originally called "Of Faith and Citizenship: My American Jihad").

Yasin agreed to change the title, but not the substance of his address, and used his time in the national spotlight as a teaching moment: "Most literally, 'jihad' means struggle, and it's a struggle to do the right thing. It's a struggle for the refinement of self, for perfecting one's own inner morality. There's a sense of it also as a struggle for social justice."

Yasin is right. Islamic thought has for centuries distinguished between the greater jihad, which does indeed refer to the individual's spiritual battle to bring his life into conformity with Allah's commands, from the lesser jihad, which Yasin refers to as the "struggle for social justice." In published reports about his speech, it's not clear whether he mentions that Islam has always allowed for this struggle to take a violent turn. Islamic Fun! is an indication of this violent element at Islam's heart.

Indeed, non-Muslims have come to associate the word jihad with violence for good reasons. Muslims themselves have, in Yasin's view, "abused" the word for centuries. Osama bin Laden, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the rest are by no means innovators in this "abuse." Islamic warriors, struggling against Christendom for ten centuries, fought under the banner of jihad. Today, the word has been trumpeted by radical Islamic terror groups from Spain to Indonesia - and from within the United States itself. One of the most notorious Palestinian terrorist groups calls itself Islamic Jihad. Its Indonesian counterpart is Laskar Jihad. The extremist Muslim Brotherhood group, which operates clandestinely in Egypt, recently held a demonstration at Cairo's venerable Al-Azhar University in which eight masked men showed off martial arts techniques while wearing headbands proclaiming, "Jihad is our way."

In contrast to all this, Harvard's dean of continuing education, Michael Shinagel, characterized Yasin's message as a "light of hope and reason in a world often darkened by distrust and conflict." God willing, Yasin's moderate and nuanced approach will ultimately win out in the Islamic world. But with Muslims producing games like Islamic Fun! to indoctrinate even the smallest children in the rage and fury of Islamic radicalism, he faces a hard struggle - or, in Arabic, jihad.

Robert Spencer is an adjunct fellow with the Free Congress Foundation. He is the author of Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World's Fastest Growing Faith, coming this summer from Encounter Books.

This column is the property of the Free Congress Foundation and may not be reproduced without their permission. For comments and inquiries, contact Angie Wheeler at awheeler@freecongress.org. Visit our website at www.FreeCongress.org