At Harvard, Controversy Over "American Jihad" Speech

May 31, 2002

Source: The Washington Post

On May 31, 2002, The Washington Post featured an article on the controversial commencement speech by Harvard Univeristy student Zayed M. Yasin. The "Muslim American student said today that he intended [his speech] to inspire and unite his fellow Harvard University graduates... His speech focuses on the shared values of the Islamic and Western cultures. It calls for graduates to undertake personal moral struggles and make their imprint on the world - and makes prominent use of the word 'jihad'... It is that word that has unleashed an angry response from some students. They contend that Yasin's speech features an Arabic term whose modern-day meaning has been equated with 'holy war' and is used by Islamic fundamentalists to justify terrorism." Students opposing the use of the word collected more than 1,600 signatures on a petition, the article reported. Yasin agreed to change the title of his speech to "Of Faith and Citizenship" and "said he is collaborating with classmate Benjamin Galper, 22, the former president of Harvard Hillel, a Jewish campus organization, on a common statement opposing violence, condemning last fall's attacks and characterizing his speech as nonpolitical."