Saturday, June 24, 2006

The meaning of jihad and a tribute to Dr. Deborah "Misty" Gerner

Hi! My name is Danielle Brunin and I became a Muslim approximately three years ago. My life as an American Muslim can be a little complicated at times. I am American in every since of the word, yet I have adopted a belief system that can be very foreign to the average American. For example, I don't drink and I don't eat pork. Being originally from a small town in the Midwest, to not drink or eat pork (among other things) is to essentially be from another planet. I was actually raised Catholic and attended Loyola University until I was a sophomore in college when I transferred to KU. It was here that I began to study Africa and the Middle East and became interested in Islam.

I decided to call this site "My mid-twenty-something jihad" because my life as an American Muslim can be rather complicated at times. Jihad, contrary to popular belief, doesn't just mean "holy war." Although it has about 150 different meanings in Arabic, the one that is most relevant to me means "personal struggle", a very deep personal struggle. I feel as though I carry on a jihad in my heart every day, trying to discover who I am and what I should be.

The most relevant example I can think of right now is that my brother Derek who is a proud U.S. Marine (and who I am unbelievably proud of), faces the very real possibility of being deployed to Iraq in the next few months. I cry as I write this because the job that he could be doing entails some very serious danger. I struggle every day to deal with the fact that he may be fighting in a war that I have vehemently opposed since the very beginning, and could kill or be killed by the very people that claim to be my brothers and sisters in Islam. I love Islam dearly, but I don't think my faith in any religion could survive if something, God forbid, happened to him. That is part of my jihad and I don't have an answer as to what is right or wrong because it all seems wrong to me. I believe in peace and social justice in a world where it just doesn't exist. That is my jihad everyday.

Similarly, I want to pay tribute to a dear professor of mine at the University of Kansas, Dr. Deborah "Misty" Gerner who died on June 19, 2006 of metastatic breast cancer. Dr. Gerner had such a profound impact on what I want to do with my life. She was an internationally renowned expert on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the peace process. Since I have decided that I want to eventually pursue graduate studies in this area, she was an incredible influence on me. I took her "Politics of the Middle East" class in the spring of 2002 and she taught it brilliantly. She was so objective, I honestly wouldn't have known her opinions on many subjects, except that she attended many of the rallies and protests that I attended. I loved the class where she made the "pro-Israeli" students role play the Palestinians and vice versa with the "pro-Palestinian" students. I loved the fact that she would call on me when I didn't volunteer the answer to a question because somehow she knew that I knew it, and that gave me so much confidence in my ability. I remember that she was so happy that I was studying Arabic and was thrilled that I was going to study abroad in Morocco for the summer. I remember how proudly she wore her black checkered kaffiyeh at a Palestinian protest that I attended, yet she was admired by the counterprotesting pro-Israeli students. I always knew that if I was attending a rally or protest and she was there, that I was undoubtedly doing the right thing. Her commitment to peace and social justice will live on forever.

I sobbed yesterday when I was told that she had stated that she desperately didn't want to die. In fact, I am told she taught her classes even after the cancer had spread to her brain. I am comforted by the fact that she died at home because I can't imagine a free spirit like her being confined to a hospital. I mourn the good that she could have done in another 20, 10, or even 5 years, but the good that she has done will affect the world forevermore. Her death has made me realize my own mortality because even though I know on a conscious level that we will all die, I realized this week that if someone as good and a strong as her can die so young, none of the rest of us have a chance. Dr. Gerner, thank you, and may your memory be eternal.

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