Hussam Ayloush, the Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Los Angeles – one of CAIR's largest and most important local chapters -- claims the term "jihad" means something positive and noble. However, the organization he represents, CAIR, and the company he keeps belie the notion that Ayloush is being less than forthright in his interpretation.

On April 8, 2011, Ayloush found himself giving a khutbah [sermon] entitled, "Understanding and Defending 'The Shariah,'" at the Islamic Institute of Orange County (IIOC). Shariah is the set of religion-based legal rulings originally set out in the Koran and the life of Muhammed {Hadith] and interpreted and enforced by Islamic courts. Shariah – meaning "The Path," or "The "Way" -- deals with everything from crime and politics to economics and sexuality. Shariah law includes such acts as the cutting off of limbs, crucifixion, mutilation, the stoning of individuals, and the death sentence for (even alleged) adultery, death for criticizing the Prophet Muhammed, and death for leaving the religion. It also values a woman as worth half a man in court, and advocates wife-beating.

In the speech, Ayloush stated, "The word jihad now is so demonized that even Muslims are afraid to link to such a noble cause. Striving for justice, striving for the goodness of mankind, striving for good – that's what jihad is." Jihad means to struggle, within oneself or against others. Often the term refers to "holy war" against non-believers or non-Muslims.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, however, CAIR has had significant associations with the terrorist group Hamas. Not only was CAIR founded under the leadership of Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzook, it was also found guilty by US Courts of funding Hamas through its U.S. arm, The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development [HLF]. In November 2008, five of HLF's top officials – and HLF, itself – were found guilty of funneling millions of dollars to Hamas.

In December 2001, in one of the earliest recorded documents as a leader of CAIR, and under Ayloush's watch, CAIR-California placed a photo on the homepage of its website of a smiling Ayloush shoulder-to-shoulder with Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood -- two years after Qaradawi had been banned from entering the United States for having incited violence against Jews, endorsing suicide bombings, and calling for homosexuals to be put to death. Qaradawi has also voiced his support for various terrorist organizations, has called for the destruction of the state of Israel, and has sanctioned attacks against U.S. troops abroad.

In November 2002, again after Qaradawi had been banned from the U.S., Ayloush glorified him as a "scholar." "Several people were asking about the eligibility claim for CAIR. And according to many scholars including Yusuf Qaradawi, basically this is one of the venues of zakat (charity) for your money as vis a vis basically educating about Islam in America and the West," Ayloush stated.

One of the issues that Qaradawi sought to educate the public about regards the topic and true meaning of jihad.

In October 2009, in a fatwa (religious ruling) that Qaradawi wrote, he stated, "The meaning of Jihad in our present time particularly refers to striving to liberate Muslim lands from the grip of the disbelievers who usurped them and imposed on them their own laws in lieu of the Divine Law. Those disbelievers may be Jews, Christians or both, or even pagans, who follow no particular religion at all. Disbelievers are all alike."

Nowhere in Qaradawi's explanation about jihad is there anything concerning the "goodness of mankind," as Ayloush stated when defining the term. Instead as is apparent, Qaradawi's explanation is based on hostility toward non-Muslims.

Further, later in Qaradawi's fatwa, he stated that jihad "needs to be financed from the money of zakat" [Islamic tithed charity] – about which Ayloush praised Qaradawi, when he referenced CAIR as a worthy recipient.

There are two possible explanations for Ayloush's warm feelings toward Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Either he is completely ignorant of Qaradawi's violent pronouncements regarding jihad, or he is lying about his own interpretation in an attempt to make jihad acceptable for Western consumption.

Given Ayloush's radical associations, it would seem that the truth resides in the latter: that Ayloush knows exactly who Qaradawi is and what Qaradawi stands for and that Ayloush believes these things himself.

Those who have listened to the khutbah Ayloush made in defense of shariah and jihad -- or any other speech he made -- would do well to remember the real meaning of his words.

Beila Rabinowitz, Director of Militant Islam Monitor, contributed to this report.

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