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State Reverses Recall of ‘Jihad’ License Plate

February 21, 1991

HEMET, Calif. (AP) _ A state agency Wednesday reversed its suspension of license plates that read ″4 JIHAD″ after verifying that the owner’s name was Jihad and that the plate was not meant to be offensive to Americans.

After a motorist wrote to the Department of Motor Vehicles in January complaining that the plate was offensive in light of the Gulf War, the department investigated, said spokesman Bill Gengler.

The DMV determined that ″jihad″ means holy war, or war against infidels, so it sent Arab-American Jihad Jaffer, 16, a form letter saying that the plates were offensive and would have to be returned, Gengler said.

But his father protested, saying the plates have nothing to do with the war. Kareem Jaffer said he ordered them a year ago to accompany the 1979 BMW he purchased for his son’s birthday.

Gengler said the agency reversed itself after checking driver’s license records and determining that the younger Jaffer’s name was indeed Jihad.

″Initial review showed no indication that it was a name in the Arab culture,″ Gengler said. ″It’s unfortunate that an issue had to be made of this.″

Islamic scholars define jihad as the struggle for Islam and can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Depending on the context, it can mean literal war, but also can be interpreted as the personal struggle of an individual Muslim to follow his or her religion, or to spread Islam through peaceful means.

Neither the teen-ager, who has kept his car covered in his yard since receiving the Jan. 22 letter, nor his father could be reached for comment after Wednesday’s reversal. Calls to their home went unanswered.

Gengler said someone from the agency had called the Jaffers that morning to inform them that the plates were legal again, but could not provide details of the conversation. Jihad Jaffer was born and raised in the United States and has lived in Hemet, 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles, for 12 years.

The Jaffers said earlier they were offend by the DMV’s initial communication.

″I thought, ’What’s next? Are they going to tell me I can’t go by my name?‴ said Jihad Jaffer. ″If they say my name is an offense to good taste and decency, that means that I am an offense to good taste and decency.″

Gengler said no offense to Arabs was intended by the letter, which he said was a standard form letter sent to anyone whose license plate has been reviewed and found offensive.

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