In a day when most works written (and consequently consumed) in the West about Islam are penned by Western Evangelicals consumed with the eschatological implications of modern events, Nabeel Qureshi’s new work Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward (2016, Zondervan), is uniquely informed and on-topic.
Qureshi, a US born, former Shia Muslim, undertakes 18 commonly asked questions about jihad, Islam, and the phenomenon of jihad in the Judeo-Christian context. Refreshingly however, the author also proposes an authentically Christian response to jihad, a challenge often lacking in today’s politically charged and polemic critiques of Islam and the Middle East.
Qureshi urges readers to not conflate Islam and Muslims. “It is wrong to paint all Muslims with the same brush; we need to see them as individuals, the vast majority of whom just wish to live life, take care of their families and peacefully honor God.”
As a former Muslim, Qureshi himself was committed to peace, the fruit of parental teaching and guidance in morality, citizenship and piety. (Qureshi’s NYT best selling book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus explains more in detail) But as Qureshi began to critically read the Quran and Hadith for himself, he was “surprised to find violent, offensive jihad shot through the foundations of Islam.”
This was a shock to his peaceful worldview, but Qureshi is careful to define his analysis of jihad in Islam as a study of the foundational teachings of Muhammad… not the practice of all Muslims. This fine point is a source of tension and explains the peacefulness of many Muslims vs. the reality of violent jihad in the world today that is replete in the foundations of Islam. He notes importantly that:
most of the people who assert that true Muslims are peaceful are not Muslims, let alone scholars of Islam. In fact, interestingly, they tend to be Western politicians.
Most Muslims today (thankfully) do not live their lives based on Surah 9 of the Quran or in accordance with the various books on jihad in the Hadith. But, in the author’s overview of Islam’s foundational texts on jihad, and analysis of final orders given, he notes that Muslims were encouraged to conquer much of the world, with no clear limits on violence, and subjugate Jews and Christians so that ‘Islam may prevail over every faith.’ He warns that:
those calling for a reformation in Islam need to recognize that radical Islam and ISIS are part of that reformation.
“I simply aim to uncover the violence that suffuses the foundations of Islam… and to demonstrate that a return to these foundations can yield violent results.”
Qureshi bravely takes on the ‘same God’ and ‘Allah’ debates, encouraging gestures of solidarity with Muslims as long as they are clearly out of love, and not submission or agreement with Islamic teachings. He reasons that we must not be quick to criticize… though Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God, “we ought to stop demonizing those who disagree with us.” He charges the reader: “one can both love Muslims and insist that the God they worship is not the same…” and “our conversations would be far better served by focusing on meaningful matters” rather than ‘terminology’ and ‘murky theology’.
In the climax of the book (ironically in the introduction) he says
I ask your pardon, but I really do feel that the Christian teaching of loving one’s enemies, even in the face of death, might perhaps be the most powerful answer to jihad at our disposal today. Not only does it allow us to counter jihad, it also enables us to treat Muslims with the utmost dignity: as image bearers of God.” (emphasis mine)
This main point here is hopefully not lost on the reader. My only criticism of this otherwise timely and fascinating read is that these prescient callings to the church to love their Muslim neighbors are limited to the introduction, one short chapter on Jesus’ teachings on peace, and a too-brief conclusion at the end! In vast majority, the book analyzes jihad, the theological and historical foundations of Islam, Mohammed’s life, modern terror organizations, the Crusades and war in the Old Testament.
The final challenge, short, but not lacking for power, admonishes Christians to face the truth about jihad, but with compassion for Muslims. “We can only speak into their lives and decisions if we have earned the right” He suggests:
Muslims today face a 3 fold fork in the road: to take up Jihad, remain nominal, or be considered apostate…
and pleads Christians to not leave Muslims on their own in this storm.
Quereshi is clear that Christians are not called to fear, or worry about their own lives… even unto death. Jesus’ example was one of overwhelming peace. Practically this means engaging with Muslims, even those we may perceive to be our enemies. Those readers who wade through the overwhelming evidence presented about jihad in foundational Islamic theology without giving in to their worst fears will be challenged with a passionately Biblical call to proactively respond to jihad with the sacrificial love of Jesus.