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Western definition of "jihad" must be corrected -- Italian expert

Italian professor of Islamic culture Valeria Paicentini
Italian professor of Islamic culture Valeria Paicentini
Western definition of "jihad" must be corrected -- Italian expert By Eman Al-Awadhi (with photos) KUWAIT, March 29 (KUNA) -- The definitions of "jihad" and "holy war" as presented by Western media need to be corrected if a true and undistorted image of Islam is be presented to the world, said Italian professor of Islamic culture Valeria Paicentini on Thursday.
Speaking to Kuwait News Agency (KUNA), the visiting professor said, "Our media is distorting a lot Islam's aspects and features ... and this misunderstanding media has created can only be countered by looking closely at the true meanings of such terms as 'jihad' and 'holy war' in Islam." It is a common misconception that "jihad" means "military action", when in fact it translates to "effort" of which just one aspect is to do with taking action to defend oneself, she said.
Ironically, she said, "holy war" was a term introduced by the Vatican to "counter the Islamic wave" it feared would spread throughout Europe.
Paicentini had given a lecture on "Arab Islamic Presence in Sicily" at the Grand Mosque on Tuesday, and described the experience as "very interesting" and engaged the public positively as it was accompanied by an "open-air" photography exhibition of Sicily that depicted the "living culture of our country." She explained the Mediterranean island of Sicily had always been "unique" with its own culture, as it was repeatedly conquered by "outsiders that never conquered Sicily's culture, but added fresh blood to it." She said because of its proximity to Africa, the island had always been influenced by Islam, noting that it was the "good and tolerant" Arab rulers that came to rebuild the island after the military conquest of the Greeks during the late Byzantium era left it in ruins.
"Arabs were guardians of order and stability under which life flourished again: agriculture, urban life, trade, craftsmanship, and science," she said.
The professor pointed out the historic significance of trade, saying, "Trade, in a big way, unifies people and builds relationships and friendship. Through these we inter-relate ... at war we do not inter-relate." She said her people, the Italians, did not have a great colonial past, and were traders for whom "security is a multi-dimensional good related to economic, cultural, and human security ... we are traders of good and traders of culture." Paicentini said Sicily was, in a way, "a symbol for bringing cultures together" and that people there survived the many conquests "by carrying out a very pragmatic and realistic policy; not coming to a sharp confrontations but to forge agreements." These concepts are true today, she said, and reiterated the key words to global coexistence were "respect, mutual understanding, and mutual respect".
To today's younger generation of Italians, the need to understand Islam rose from the need to accomodate the many Muslim communities that had immigrated to the country.
Muslim communities in Italy do not represent a "monolithic" Islam as each group comes a different country and brings a different cultural heritage, hence the increasing interest in Middle Eastern studies in Italy and in Europe in general, she said.
Paicentini is a professor of history and institutions of the Muslim countries at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, Italy, and has carried out field work in many countries including Iran, Afghanistan, Tanzania, Oman, Egypt, and the UAE. She has over 85 publications, including "Italian Historical Studies on Islamic Civilizations in the Last Twenty Years". (end) ema KUNA 291235 Mar 07NNNN