Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #9 – Who Are al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Boko Haram?

answering jihad

This is the ninth in a 17-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through sixteen will cover sixteen questions people most commonly ask Qureshi about jihad and Islam. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, Qureshi will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in his view the best way forward. His concluding remarks will be presented in week seventeen.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION #9 – WHO ARE AL-QAEDA, ISIS, AND BOKO HARAM?

JIHAD HAS EXISTED FOR 1,400 years, and is probably here to stay. That said, al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Boko Haram have been highly successful in their murderous aims, and their motives give us insight into their relationship with Islam.

AL-QAEDA

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Al-Qaeda Soldiers

Translated “the base,” al-Qaeda has its roots in the Afghan anti-Soviet efforts of the 1980s. Near the end of the 1970s, the political atmosphere of Afghanistan was tumultuous, with Marxist leanings gaining strength and ultimately leading to the coup of 1978. The country’s new president, Nur Muhammad Taraki, bolstered ties with the Soviet Union and initiated a series of modernizing reforms that actively suppressed traditionalists. Conservative Muslim leaders were arrested by the thousands and executed.

Had Western leaders been paying close attention to the development of radical Islam’s ideology, they might have seen these circumstances as a pressurized incubator for growing radical Islam. Instead, after the Soviet Union deployed troops to Afghanistan and staged another coup, the United States and various other nations financed the training and equipping of Afghan insurgent groups. These insurgents called themselves mujahideen, which means “the fighters of jihad.”

mujahideen

The United States allied itself with a man who seemed perfect for their needs; a mild-mannered and educated Saudi millionaire who was using his ties to the Saudi royal family and his own wealth to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan – his name was Osama bin Laden. The United States and allied Arab countries funneled tens of billions of dollars in funds and weapons through Pakistan, into the hands of Osama bin Laden and other mujahideen. Bin Laden was even given clearance to establish recruiting offices in the US and other nations in order to recruit mujahideen in his fight against the communists. By the time the Soviets began withdrawing from Afghanistan in 1988, a faction of mujahideen under the leadership of bin Laden had split away from the rest because their goals were less political and more religious, and Al-Qaeda was born.

Only hindsight is 20/20, but this development should probably have been more foreseeable by those who worked with bin Laden. Shortly before being recruited by the US, Osama bin Laden had been studying the Qur’an and jihad at his university. The work of Sayyid Qutb had directly impacted bin Laden. In fact, Sayyid Qutb’s brother and sympathizer, Muhammad Qutb, was on of bin Laden’s professors.

It was understood that bin Laden engaged in charitable efforts, and perhaps that made people think his general outlook on life was loving and peaceful. But love for Islam is also what drove bin Laden to perpetrate acts of terror, and what fueled his desire to liberate Muslim people from Western superpowers he viewed as enemies of Islam. It was his sincere religious motivations that were expressed upon the theater of world politics.

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Osama bin Laden

In response to questions of his followers and of ABC reporter John Miller in 1998, bin Laden said, “The call to wage war against America was made because America has spearheaded the crusade against the Islamic nation, sending tens of thousands of its troops to the land of the two Holy Mosques.” A desire to defend Muslim lands, combined with a mistrust of the Jewish people that is widespread and latent in Muslim cultures, is what drove bin Laden to target America. That bin Laden’s motivations were ultimately religious and not political is his own assertion, as he stated with great clarity in the same interview: “I am one of the servants of Allah. We do our duty of fighting for the sake of the religion of Allah. It is also our duty to send a call to all the people of the world to enjoy this great light and to embrace Islam and experience the happiness in Islam. Our primary mission is nothing but the furthering of this religion.”

ISIS

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ISIS Soldiers

The United States responded to the September 11, 2001 attacks by spending the next decade systematically dismantling al-Qaeda, an effort that was largely successful. The initial incursion into Afghanistan was hardly unwarranted, and America enjoyed widespread support from both non-Muslims and Muslims around the world as they attacked al-Qaeda targets.

The same was not the case for America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction. Among radical Islamic groups, the invasion was touted as obvious Western aggression, and their ranks swelled with sympathizers and supporters. Many Iraqi jihadist groups at this time consolidated under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was given seed money by Osama bin Laden, and who labeled his organization al-Qaeda in Iraq (“AQI”), as an homage or a sign of loyalty to al-Qaeda. Zarqawi’s aims were different from bin Laden’s, though, as Zarqawi was more interested in regional concerns than global politics. He focused on sectarian matters, mostly attacking Muslim leaders in Iraq that he considered apostates; even those Sunni leaders who collaborated with Shia. This cost him a great deal of support among Muslims, and it kept Zarqawi’s AQI a lesser threat to the United States than bin Laden’s al-Qaeda.

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Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

By the time of the Syrian civil war in 2011, the personalities had changed. US forces had killed both Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had taken over AQI, and Ayman Zawahiri had ascended al-Qaeda in place of bin Laden. Baghdadi capitalized on the chaos in Syria by sending Iraqi fighters to take part in the conflict, ultimately establishing an al-Qaeda presence in Syria. For a variety of reasons, Zawahiri ordered Baghdadi to release the new Syrian division from AQI, but Baghdadi refused. This led to the split between al-Qaeda and AQI in February of 2014, the latter now preferring to call itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.

Four months later, Baghdadi’s forces swept through Iraq and expanded further into Syria. They gained control of several important resources such as the city of Mosul, with its 1,500 Humvees and fifty heavy artillery howitzers that had been supplied by the US. It was rumored that ISIS even gained control of $430 million by taking over the banks of Mosul, though ISIS never confirmed this report. In the wake of this tremendous success, ISIS realized the dream of Abd al-Salam Faraj and radical Muslims around the world: They announced a caliphate, with Baghdadi the obvious occupant of the ruling seat. This move, considered symbolic by some pundits and moot by many Muslim scholars, nonetheless garnered tremendous support within the radical Muslim community.

caliphate 21st century

Thousands of sympathetic Muslims flocked to Iraq and Syria to join the idealistic cause. In the middle of 2015 it was estimated that 20,000 foreigners were fighting for ISIS, including 5,000 Europeans. Although official counts of ISIS fighters range between 30,000 and 80,000, the former number seems less likely, as official body counts of deceased ISIS fighters released by the US have now exceeded 20,000. The latter number of 80,000 fighters, released by the Russian government, is still conservative compared to Kurdish reports of 200,000 ISIS fighters.

The war against ISIS has moved into the realm of propaganda, as some governments are moving to call the organization Daesh. France and Russia began using the term as far back as 2014, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron suggested the change at the end of 2015. Part of the reason for this move is an insistence by some to ignore the relationship of ISIS to Islam. As Obama averred in a 2014 memorandum released from the White House, ISIS “is not Islamic… [and] certainly not a state.” A more legitimate reason to cease referring to ISIS as “the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” is that its influence has moved beyond Iraq and Syria. The group openly conducted beheadings of twenty-one Christians in Lybia. Even though ISIS currently controls one-third of Syria and one-third of Iraq [at the time of Qureshi’s writing of Answering Jihad], referring to the group by the lands it controls is problematic, and might be a good reason to change how we refer to them.

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“Daesh” is the acronym for ISIS as it is rendered in Arabic, “al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Iraq wa ash-Sham,” but since such acronyms are hardly ever used in Arabic, the term comes across as satirical. Although the word itself has no meaning, it is a pun, with the word daes meaning “those who trample.” The term also sounds barbarous to some Arabs, vaguely suggestive of jahiliyya illiteracy and superstition. No surprise that the term Daesh appears to anger ISIS, which has threatened to cut out the tongues of those who use it. Regardless of how we refer to the entity, ISIS is the realized dream of many radical Muslims to reestablish an Islamic state with a caliphate. It certainly is Islamic. Any avoidance of the group’s theological motivations can only harm us in the long run.

BOKO HARAM

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Boko Haram Soldiers

Nigeria is by far the most populous African nation, with nearly twice as many people as the next closest nation, Ethiopia. Throughout the 2000s, it was home to dozens of radical Muslim movements, including Boko Haram. The movement, along with ISIS, has a longer, official Arabic name. Roughly translated, that name means “People Committed to Muhammad’s Teachings for the Propagation of Islam and Jihad.” However, the group’s more common name reflects one of its founding principles, which is “secular education is forbidden.” The founder of Boko Haram, Muhammad Yusuf, was a high school dropout who enrolled instead in Islamic schooling. Although he was quite articulate and learned, he believed that the earth was flat and denied the water cycle.

Yusuf preached largely to university students and disaffected youth, asserting that there were four true Muslims they should follow, among whom were Osama bin Laden and Sayyid Qutb. It is widely believed in Nigeria that the government did not interfere with Yusuf’s teaching because many members of Boko Haram came from wealthy and influential families. Although there were long-standing tensions between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram, until 2009 the overall approach of the movement was innocuous enough to be described as quietist, and uninvolved in political affairs. But the short fuse was lit when, on an otherwise normal day, police ordered some young men from Boko Haram to wear motorcycle helmets. The young men’s refusal led to a confrontation during which several young members of Boko Haram were shot and wounded. Conflicting reports make it unclear what happened next, but members of Boko Haram clashed with police in pockets around the nation, leaving a thousand of their members dead. Nigerian military captured Muhammad Yusuf and executed him.

Boko Haram, now led by Abudakr Shekau, was spurred into wide-scale action and declared an official jihad against the Nigerian government and against the United States, the latter an apparent influence of al-Qaeda. Boko Haram began targeting politicians and clerics for assassination, holding true to their founder’s principles by also focusing on symbols of Western advancement, such as schools, hospitals, and churches. Their methods have evolved from terror attacks implemented by individuals, such as suicide attacks and drive-by shootings, to massive onslaughts against against whole villages.

The West has only intermittently noticed the death and devastation leveled by the group. The world reacted in horror in April 2014 when approximately 300 teenage students were captured from their Christian girls’ school in Chibok. First Lady Michelle Obama delivered the weekly presidential address on her husband’s behalf, assuring Americans and Nigerians that the White House would do everything it could to “bring back our girls.” She held up a sheet of paper which read “#BringBackOurGirls” for social media purposes, though it is unclear what she hoped this would accomplish.

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In contrast to to this outpouring of support, the West virtually ignored Boko Haram’s coordinated massacres in January 2015. Boko Haram is alleged to have assaulted sixteen Christian-majority villages resulting in 2,000 casualties and 30,000 displaced residents. The lack of response from the West may have made little difference, however, as the earlier show of support for the kidnapped Nigerian girls has resulted in no tangible benefit thus far. In late 2015, one of the girls escaped Boko Haram and informed the world of the girls’ fates: forced conversions, beheadings, point-blank executions, rapes, and sexually transmitted diseases, but no rescue.

Because of their brutal efficiency, whether heeded or unheeded by the West at large, Boko Haram has been dubbed the world’s deadliest militant group. In its Global Terrorism Index 2015, the Institute of Economics and Peace at the University of Maryland concluded that Boko Haram had killed 6,664 victims in 2014, 600 more than ISIS. For a time Boko Haram functioned as a counter to ISIS, even announcing its own caliphate less than two months after Baghdadi claimed the seat. What caught many analysts by surprise, though, was Shekau’s pledge of allegiance to Baghdadi and the Islamic State in March 2015. Boko Haram now refers to itself as the “West African Province of the Islamic State.” Judging by the improvement of the group’s videos and speeches, the ISIS’s propaganda machinery is at the service of its African sibling.

CONCLUSION

Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and Boko Haram are interconnected, and they all interpret and conduct their politics through the lens of their religious beliefs. There is no denying that each group has political aims, but these aims are grounded in a religious worldview, and their actions are driven by religious principles and motives. Each group sees themselves as champions of true Islam, applying their views on the canvas of global politics for the sake of Muslim societies. Their practice of Islam places relatively greater emphasis on the foundational texts of the faith than does the practice of more moderate Muslims. Their methods are based on the writings of Sayyid Qutb, whose teachings were almost entirely derived from the Qur’an, and Abd al-Salam Faraj, who focused on the life of Muhammad in addition to the Qur’an.

When leaders and media members insist that these groups are not Islamic, they are either speaking out of ignorance or intentionally engaging in propaganda. These three groups are dynamic expressions of the modern Islamic reformation, and their interpretations of the Qur’an and hadith, in terms of being devoid of accreted tradition, are among the most pure in the Islamic world.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #10 –Who Are the True Muslims: Violent Muslims or Peaceful Muslims? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.

It’s Christmastime!

Wow, only two days til Christmas Day. The year went so fast I almost forgot there were twelve months. Sometimes the days seem to run together. Partly because of the limited daylight. It’s typical for office workers this time of year to go to work in the dark in the morning and come home after work in the dark. Add to that all the rushing around as Christmastime draws near. Time slips without seeming to move the hands on the clock.

When I was young, time seemed to stand still on Christmas Eve. About six o’clock on WNEP 16 out of Scranton, PA, up-to-the-minute tracking of Santa Claus on radar would begin. It always felt like bedtime would never get here. And when it did, I would never be able to get to sleep. It’s Christmastime, I would think. Santa’s coming. If I go to bed. If I close my eyes and give in to slumber. Impossible, is what I used to think as I looked at the clock again and again, hoping it was time. Everything moves like a snail. Funny, but none of the adults seemed to notice this time problem. They would eat and drink and sing and dance around the living room, smiling and toasting one another. They were oblivious. But how is this possible, I would wonder? How can they be so calm?

Santa’s coming. Quick, everyone. Finish your merriment and put the dishes in the dishwasher. Clean up. Get a plate of cookies and a glass of milk ready for Santa. He’s coming! Straighten up the living room. Move those extra chairs out of the way. Santa needs to put my new bike there. Oh wow, this is taking so long. I can’t stand this. I really can’t. The excitement is causing me to nearly tremble. I have to pee, but I’m afraid to tell anyone. Maybe I can wait til I go upstairs to brush my teeth. It’s as though I think time will slow down even more than it has already. Oh, I have to go now! No waiting til bedtime. Well, what can I do? Nothing. I look at the clock. I don’t believe the hour hand has moved more than a half inch. You’ve got to be kidding me!

After what feels like half a week, it’s finally time to go to bed. I run up the staircase, nearly slipping and planting my face in the carpet at the top of the steps. I dash into the bathroom and head straight to the toilet bowl. I barely get my snaps open before the water works begin. Without having to be told, I grab my toothbrush and get brushing. I know Santa’s watching. I’ve known that for a long time. Have to listen. Have to be good. He is always checking. Sometimes twice. I’ve been nice. I’ve not been naughty. I finish up and sprint to my room to climb in my bed. I am thinking that maybe I should skip my prayers tonight and go straight to sleep. But wait, Santa will know if I don’t say my prayers. So I fold my hands and I get started. Short, but sweet. Done in ten seconds. I reach up and kiss my mom goodnight. She tucks me in and I squeeze my eyes shut real tight, hoping that will cause me to go right to sleep. It doesn’t. My heart is pounding. I can feel it in my ears and in the ends of my fingers. I can’t help but thinking, This is going to be a long night.

Believe it or not, before I know it I am opening my eyes. I look at my clock. It’s six o’clock. At first, I’m thinking the clock never even moved. That it’s still the same time it was when I looked at the living room clock. Then it comes to me. It’s morning. I can’t imagine what might be waiting for me downstairs. I scream out loud. I can’t help myself. I just can’t. Mom shows up at my door grinning from ear to ear. Dad is standing behind her. Good. It’s time. No more waiting.

I nearly tumble down the steps as dad calls out, Take it easy Sport. I am not even all the way down the steps when I see the handle bars. Yep! Handle bars atop a brand new shiny bike. The bike is surrounded by dozens of presents. I am speechless. I took at mom and dad, and then I go sit on my new bike. Mom already has her Instamatic up to her eye, taking my picture. Dad says, Well, what do you think? I just grin and lean in to the handle bars, pretending I’m flying down Race Street hill, leaving a trail of flames behind me. Then I remember, there are presents to open. Man, this is just fantastic. I dive in, ripping at the wrapping paper. Present after present, I am blown away. I stop for a brief moment and think, This was well worth the wait.

Merry Christmas to everyone. Stay safe. Be healthy. Be thankful. And above all else, be patient. Because sometimes the clock just doesn’t seem to move at all.

Ho! Ho! Ho!

© Steven Barto 2014

Have They Gone a Bit Too Far?

The University of Minnesota has distributed guidelines on how to celebrate the holidays in the most inclusive, bias-free way possible. They’ve gone a bit overboard in the process, unless you think there’s something innately Christian about bells or the color red. The guidelines – composed by the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences’ Diversity and Inclusion Office – ask that students and faculty respect the diversity of the University community by hosting neutral-themed parties such as a Winter Celebration. Lest there be any confusion over which decorations are sufficiently generic, the document includes a list of items and images that are not appropriate because they represent specific religious iconography.

That includes the obvious, such nativity scenes, menorahs, and angels. It includes semi-secular symbols, such as Santa Claus. It also includes some items whose religious content is hard to discern at all, such as red and green decorations (representative of the Christian tradition), blue and silver decorations (too Jewish), bows, bells, or wrapped gifts. The university said if students encounter one of these examples of religious iconography, they are encouraged to reach out to the University of Minnesota’s Bias Incident Website or contact its office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action.

Karl Lorenz, director of diversity programs at the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, stresses that the guidelines are strictly voluntary. “The bullet points are offered for consideration,” says Lorenz. “They are not mandates.” However, because of the voluntary nature, most of the guidelines do not raise constitutional issues, according Ari Cohn of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The university, he says, can argue convincingly that parties put on by their units are university speech and it has the right to control the message. He does find it troubling that the guideline instructions indicate individuals should restrict expressions of their religious faith to their own personal space, a measure he says is overly broad. But while Cohn thinks the guidelines are largely legal, they also strike him as “rather ham-fisted and overly cautious.” Indeed. Rather persecutory as well! Perhaps you’d be interested in reading David Limbaugh’s Persecution: How Liberals are Waging War Against Christians. You can check the book out at Amazon. Here’s the direct link: Persecution by David Limbaugh

Indeed, while I have no doubt that the university is sincere about wanting to encourage diversity and inclusion – which is a great endeavor, and even somewhat Christ-like, in that Jesus met, dined with, and healed, literally everyone – this push for bland and generic events could have the opposite effect. The university is encouraging faculty and students not to celebrate campus diversity but to suppress any sign of it. Clearly, this should be an indication to Christians who are in a position of authority at the school that the guidelines have gone a bit too far.

HAVE A MERRY CHRISTMAS! HAPPY BIRTHDAY JESUS!

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Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #8 – Does Islam Need a Reformation?

answering jihad

This is the eighth in a 17-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through sixteen will cover sixteen questions people most commonly ask Qureshi about jihad and Islam. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, Qureshi will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in his view the best way forward. His concluding remarks will be presented in week seventeen.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION #8 – DOES ISLAM NEED A REFORMATION?

QURESHI HAS HEARD MANY PEOPLE, frustrated by the increasing frequency and scale of Islamic terrorism, suggest that Islam needs a reformation. What they may not realize is that radical Islam is the Islamic reformation.

This might sound shocking, but consider: Just as the Protestant Reformation was an attempt to raze centuries of Catholic tradition and return to the canonical texts, so radical Islam is an attempt to raze centuries of traditions of various schools of Islamic thought and return to the canonical texts of the Qur’an and Muhammad’s life. This desire to return to the original form of Islam can be seen not only in the words of Sayyid Qutb, but also in his method. He focused almost entirely on references to the Qur’an. It is true also of the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS today, whose publications and proclamations are punctuated by references to the Qur’an and hadith literature. Radical Muslim organizations are explicit in their aim to reform Islam.

MODERATE MUSLIM SCHOLARS VERSUS ISIS

This reality hit Qureshi when he read an open letter written by 120 Muslim scholars rebuking ISIS for their version of Islam (see http://lettertobaghdai.com). The letter starts with twenty-four points of “Executive Summary,” the very first point of which emphasizes that “fatwas must follow Islamic legal theory as defined in the Classical texts.” But ISIS does not grant authority to the legal theory of classical texts, the thoughts of the great Islamic jurists. They are returning to the foundational texts, the Qur’an, and the hadith. The same is true for virtually all radical Muslim groups. This letter was therefore impotent in bringing about any change within ISIS, as Qureshi was inclined to think its writers must have known before issuing it.

Yet one of the points of the letter shot so wide of the mark that Qureshi was surprised it was included. In the writers’ condemnation of sex slavery, unable to provide a single reference that Islam forbade the practice, they instead appealed to a modern consensus: “After a century of Muslim consensus on the prohibition of slavery, you have violated this; you have taken women as concubines and thus revived strife and sedition (fitnah), and corruption and lewdness on the earth. You have resuscitated something that the Shari’ah has worked tirelessly to undo and has been considered forbidden by consensus for over a century.” Imagine ISIS leaders laughing as they read this. Their whole purpose is to work against any consensus of modern Muslim scholars, especially if it contravenes the Qur’an and the example of Muhammad.

The Qur’an and hadith  contain many references to sex slavery. The Qur’an explicitly allows Muslim men to use their captive women for sex (23:6; 33:50; 70.30). The canonical hadith collections corroborate the practice, going so far as allowing it even if captive women are already married and their husbands remain alive, or if the women are about to be sold and could be impregnated (Sadith Bukhari 4138; Sahih Muslim 3371 and 3384; Sunan Abu Daud 2150). The Qur’an also explicitly confirms the former practice, teaching that captive women can be used as sex slaves even if they are married (4:24). The “century of Muslim consensus on the prohibition of slavery” is a departure from the foundations of Islam, and radical Islam is against such bidah, innovations in Islam.

Qureshi said, “To be clear, I am not arguing here against the legitimacy of an Islam that departs from its roots, but as long as Muslims try to return to the foundations of Islam, such modern consensuses will hold little authority over the teachings of the Qur’an and the example of Muhammad’s life. It is clear why ISIS does what it is doing; they are a part of the Islamic reformation.”

PROGRESSIVE ISLAM

The notion that reformation should lead to peaceful expressions of a religion is predicated on the assumption that the origins of that religion are peaceful. As Qureshi has demonstrated, that is not the case with Islam. Since violence is built into the very origins of Islam, the religion would need to be re-envisioned in order to produce a peaceful religion that is internally consistent. Emphasis would have to be drawn away from the Qur’an and Muhammad’s life, or the records of their contexts would need to be disavowed. This would not be a reformation but a progression of Islam.

Some Muslim thinkers have aimed to do just this. Fazlur Rahman, a Pakistani theologian of the mid-twentieth century, tried to impose humanist thought upon an Islamic framework, focusing on ethics and freedom. His method was to reconsider the historical authenticity of hadith, an essential component of the traditional foundations of Islam. He argued that hadith were formalized in the context of a living oral tradition; therefore, behavioral norms of Muslims of the time were formulated into the words and teachings of Muhammad. In other words, according to Rahman what we know as hadith are often simply the practices of ninth-century Muslims that have been petrified into an unchanging set of rules for all Muslims. Dispensing with the traditional foundations of Islam, Rahman offers novel understandings of the Qur’anic text, attempting to revolutionize the application of Islam.

Although this method might work in theory, Muslim culture tends to be too loyal to its heritage to allow for such a radical departure from tradition. Rahman was effectively exiled from Pakistan as an enemy of Islam. He continued his work in a context more amenable to progressive Islam, the United States. Rahman has passed away, and other Muslim scholars have taken up his mantle. One of his champions is Professor Ebrahim Moosa at Duke University, under whom Qureshi had the privilege to study Sharia for a short time. He and other Muslim scholars like him do not hesitate to denounce Islamic terrorism and to explore how Islam can be shaped to speak to our twenty-first-century context.

In Islam and the Modern World, coedited with Jeffrey Kenney, Moosa asks questions like, “What happens when the sacred book and the world seem to contradict one another?” He proposed an answer to this question in one of his lectures. Even early authorities of Sunni Islam altered the practice of Islam to fit their contexts. Umar, the companion of Muhammad and the second caliph of Islam, did not apply the Qur’anic mandate of giving his soldiers a percentage of the spoils of war booty. He decided to give them a salary instead, reshaping the practice of Islam to fit the needs of his context. If Umar was appointed by Allah, as Sunnis believe, and he could reframe a direct injunction of the Qur’an to fit his context, can we not do the same today as responsible Muslims.

In like manner, some Muslim thought leaders are attempting to progress Islam beyond its origins. Yet the fact remains unfortunately true that they are working against the current Muslim zeitgeist, which is focused on the vindication of Islam by return to its roots. Progressive Muslims have yet to obtain much of a foothold even in the West, let alone in Muslim-majority nations.

Qureshi said, “I hope I am wrong, but I doubt progressive Islam will ever have much sway among Muslims. Islam has always been grounded on obedience to Muhammad; that is the crux of the religion. Its cultural identity and religions practices are subsidiary to the commands of Muhammad, so the accounts of his life and teachings will always be foremost. Past successes of various schools of thought in progressing Islam away from Muhammad’s example were partly indebted to the inaccessibility of Islamic traditions to the average Muslims. On account of the Internet, that can no longer be the case, as the traditions are a click away (see, for example, http://sunnah.com). Progressive Muslim scholars aim to redefine Islam in its essence, to redirect its focus from the example of Muhammad to religious principles. Such a redefinition is far more difficult to accomplish than a reformation, which is why it is the latter that currently dominates the global scene.

CONCLUSION

As we reviewed in Question #5, the reason Muslims can be both devout and peaceful in spite of violent teachings in the Qur’an and hadith is that Muslim authorities have interpreted Islam in this manner for them, often in accordance with various schools of thought and centuries of accreted Islamic tradition. When Muslims wish to circumvent these authorities and return to the roots of their faith, whether due to disillusionment with current expressions of Islam or a desire to please Allah and win his favor, violent expressions of Islam are often the result.

It was this line of reasoning that let Sayyid Qutb to lay the foundations for radical Islam, and it was the same line of reasoning that led Abd al-Salam Faraj to intensify his view of jihad such that it became the cure for the ails of the Islamic world. The common denominator between these two founders of radical Islam was their zeal to follow Islam to their utmost, not as it was being practiced in the twentieth century but as it was established in the seventh century. Radical Islam is the Islamic reformation.

The endeavor to modernize Islam and make it relevant to the twenty-first century is called progressive Islam. Progressive Muslim thought leaders, thought few in number and limited in influence, are present and are working to recreate Islam’s religious framework from within. Indeed, that is what it would take for Islam to become devoted to peace – not a reformation but a re-imagination.

Thanks for reading.

Sorry this got posted after midnight, making it a day late. Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #9 –Who Are Al-Qaida, ISIS, and Boko Haram? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.

 

Morning Breaks

Morning breaks, tugging at me,
seeking me out, inviting me
into the light.
Groggy but aware,
I sit up and run my hand through my hair.
The sun is dazzling,
Slicing through the curtains and
Warming a patch of carpet
Next to the bed.

I look at the clock on the nightstand and grin.
I see I’ve beaten the alarm again;
Five minutes to spare. Good deal!
No squawking buzzer; instead a
Slow gentle return to awareness,
The last dreamy thoughts receding into
Their hiding place,
Content to wait patiently for me
Until I come back for them again,
Later tonight.
Every day should begin this way.

©2016 Steven Barto

Logan’s Outlook

The following poem is one I wrote as an homage to my nephew, Logan, who was stricken with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) in the first few months of his life. SMA is a type of muscular dystrophy. He interacts with the world from atop his power chair. Very smart and observant. Loves sports, especially football. Favorite team: The Steelers. I truly love and admire Logan and wanted to write something that would at least hint at the great young man he is despite his situation.

He towers tall over his tiny kitten, sitting in his power chair,
Simply smiling, sentient, all but savvy,
Knowing how happy and blessed is he;
Bound to his chair, yet free; intelligent enough to win a spelling bee.

Packed to the top of his brain with stats,
Possessing the soul of a global travel brat;
He sails around the world without leaving his home,
Able to rant and roam.

Reading the riot act to his opponent in
Call of Duty: Black Ops, not focusing on what he can’t do;
Applying aptitude and attitude to a challenging life of
Adversity and affliction, admonishing God just won’t do.

Admiring the capable child or athlete with an appreciation
For the frolic and revelry they show and tell,
Thrilled with the entertainment they present,
And the wonderful competition they wage.

Logan’s outlook obviously embodies an ostensible
Conclusion that, regardless of what he bears,
He will always be thrilled with being alive,
Content to learn and thrive.

©2016 Steven Barto

Jesus Calling

EXCERPT FROM JESUS CALLING: ENJOYING PEACE IN HIS PRESENCE
©2014 Sarah Young
December 16

I AM SPEAKING IN the depths of your being. Be still so that you can hear My voice. I speak in the language of Love; My words fill you with life and peace, joy and hope. I desire to talk with all of My children, but many are too busy to listen. The “work ethic” has them tied up in knots. They submit wholeheartedly to this taskmaster, wondering why they feel so distant from Me.

Living close to Me requires making Me your First Love – your highest priority. As you seek My presence above all else, you experience peace and joy in full measure. I also am blessed when you make Me first in your life. While you journey through life in My presence, My glory brightens the world around you.

The earth is filled with Your love, O LORD; teach me your decrees.

PSALM 119:64

The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.

ISAIAH 50:4

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.

–REVELATION 2:4

See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the people, but the LORD rises upon you and His glory appears over you.

–ISAIAH 60:2

 

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #7 – What is Radical Islam?

answering jihad

This is the seventh in a 17-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through sixteen will cover sixteen questions people most commonly ask Qureshi about jihad and Islam. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, Qureshi will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in his view the best way forward. His concluding remarks will be presented in week seventeen.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION #7 – WHAT IS RADICAL ISLAM?

IN 1950 AN EGYPTIAN literary critic with refined sensibilities and a toothbrush moustache moved into a sleepy town in northern Colorado. The America he encountered, seen through the lens of post-colonial tumult and his devout Islamic upbringing, ultimately transformed Sayyid Quth into the father of radical Islam.

THE BIRTH OF RADICAL ISLAM

As Qureshi covered in his answers to Questions 4 and 6, the first Muslims were launched into a trajectory of global warfare with no clearly delineated endpoint. There was an expectation of Muslim domination that would be the result of faithful practice of Islam, including endeavors of jihad, which the Qur’an enjoins upon all good Muslims. The salaf exemplified obedience with their devotion and their conquests. In return, Allah blessed them with the Golden Age of Islam. At the risk of overgeneralizing, this common understanding of Islam boils down to this: True obedience to Allah will result in Muslim dominance.

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The first cracks in Muslim dominance appeared in the mid-1700s, when Muslims like Ibn al-Wahhab and Shah Waliullah noticed that Christian lands were progressing into what would become the Industrial Revolution. They began to ask themselves how it could be that Muslims might lose dominance, given the promises of the Qur’an. Hundreds of years later, these questions would drive the development of radical Islam. For the time begin, though, the Muslims remained dominant over the vast territories that they had colonized.

The irony is that colonizing imperatives of Islam were put to an end by European colonialism. By 1920, every region of the Muslim world that Europeans desired was either directly or indirectly under European control. The foundational doctrines of Islam predicated upon Muslim superiority were not moot, and it became necessary to redefine jihad in the guise of anti-colonialist angst.

Abu al-Ala al-Maududi, a highly acclaimed Muslim scholar from the Indian subcontinent, attempted to redefine jihad in his 1930 work Jihad in Islam. As he was eager to denounce European colonialists for their rule over his homeland, he was obligated to explain how jihad was not a colonialist endeavor. Against the consensus of early Muslim jurists, he argued that jihad was not an effort to conquer lands, but rather a sincere desire of Muslims that they had loved. It was through jihad that non-Muslims were able to encounter Islam. In other words mujahideen were not colonialists, but liberators and freedom fighters.

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One of the men Maududi influenced was Sayyid Quth. Unlike Maududi, Qutb was not an apologist, and his writings are devoid of guile. Having spent a few years as a student in the United States, Qutb was repelled by Western society. Even though he had lived in a sleepy town in northern Colorado that was prudish by most American standards, he was horrified by American culture. He saw Americans as ill-bred, brutish and savage. Their music was little short of screaming, their art was unsophisticated, and they were altogether numb to spiritual values. By contrast, he viewed the Arab world as brimming with Old World refinement and grace, especially when it came to higher matters of morality and spirituality. This enlightened condition he attributed to the blessings of Islam. America, by contrast, existed in a state of ignorance.

As the tendrils of the West were beginning to influence Arab politics, especially after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of Israel, the expansive resources of America and its influence in world politics concerned Qutb tremendously. He saw Egypt falling to the barbarous power of the West.

Upon returning to Egypt, Qutb joined the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that had recently been developed with the intent of starting an Islamic revival and returning to the study of the Qur’an and hadith. He quickly became the Brotherhood’s most dominant intellectual figure, infusing it with his thoughts and perspectives, until Gamal Abd al-Nasir’s regime arrested him along with most of the Brotherhood’s leadership. Qutb was humiliated, tortured, and ultimately executed under false charges by a government that was, indeed, increasingly coming under the influence of the West. Because of the way the government treated him, many Muslims hailed him as a hero and a martyr for his message.

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What was that message? Qutb believed Islam was the answer the world needed, but nowhere was it being practiced according to the principles of the Qur’an and Muhammad’s life. The world was in disarray because democracy reigned in the West and communism in East. Muslim rulers were courting these foreign governments and modern principles, abandoning Sharia and making themselves apostates. This is important to grasp: Qutb saw the leaders of Muslim countries as hypocrites and apostates, no longer following Islam. They were a large part of the problem. If Muslims would follow the original, pure Islam, Allah would bless all the Muslims, the ummah, and return them to dominance. Muslims must thus raze centuries of compiled Islamic tradition and return to the teachings of Muhammad and the Qur’an.

Qutb maintained a consistent approach to jihad, returning to the foundations of Islam for guidance. Jihad ought to progress in stages, just as it did in Muhammad’s life. One should start by peacefully proclaiming Islam, then engaging in limited warfare, then exacting retribution for injustices against the Islamic community, and finally launching in warfare without end against the non-Muslim world. However, under the influence of Maududi, Qutb envisioned jihad as a liberation of the non-Muslim’s mind, ensuring that the non-Muslim is able to hear and consider the message of Islam, something that may not happen unless jihad is waged.

Qutb’s martyrdom fanned his popularity among Egyptians, even though many Arabs also maintained hopes that modernization would benefit their nations as it had the Soviet Union and the West. When Israel decimated the Arab coalition of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria during the Six Days War of 1967, these hopes were dashed, and many more Arabs began to sympathize with Qutb’s view. President Anwar al-Sadat’s negotiations with Israel a decade later added fuel to this fire, confirming in the minds of many Arabs that their leaders had betrayed Muslims and become apostates.

In light of this background, it becomes more understandable why Sadat was murdered in 1981. After his assassination, investigators recovered a document authored by Abd al-Salam Faraj. Faraj built on the foundation laid by Qutb by saying that Muslim leaders had become apostates, and Muslims needed to return to a pure form of Islam, but he espoused a more historically accurate notion of jihad: When Muslims fight non-Muslims, Allah will bless them and given them territory where they will be able to establish an Islamic state and reintroduce the caliphate. There, Islam could be practiced in the pure form that apostate Muslim governments were neglecting. Faraj went so far in denouncing Muslim governments as apostate that he equated them with Israel. Their proclaimed allegiance to Islam was just a veneer, in his view, designed to gain the support of Muslims and actualize their un-Islamic aims. According to Faraj, Muslim leaders were actually rebels against Sharia.

TAKFIR AND MUSLIM-ON-MUSLIM VIOLENCE

Faraj treaded a dangerous road, one that alienated him from many would-be sympathizers. Historically, Muslims had maintained a generous approach to takfir, the practice of proclaiming someone an infidel. According to tradition, Muhammad declared that reciting the shahada was enough to consider someone Muslim; whether they were lying or not would be decided by God on judgment day. Qutb’s declaration of leaders’ apostasy, amplified significantly by Faraj, swung the door open wide for internecine hostilities among Muslims. But where was the line to be drawn? At what point could someone be declared non-Muslim?

This was new ground, and Faraj and his ilk ultimately settled on three nebulous criteria: an open manifestation of unbelief; ignoring the implementation of Sharia; and, a refusal to engage in jihad for the defense of the ummah. When all three of these criteria were fulfilled, a leader or a regime could be considered non-Muslim. Fighting against them for the sake of Islam would then be a legitimate jihad, and the aid of Allah could be expected. Qureshi said, “I have frequently encountered the misconception that if Muslims are fighting other Muslims, their grievances must not be religious. After all, they are fighting others ‘on the same side.'” Understanding Faraj’s and others’ radical approach to takfir should clarify this misconception. Muslim-on-Muslim violence can have everything to do with religion.

Surprisingly, the archetype of takfir is found in the Qur’an. The Qur’an regularly accuses Muslims of being hypocrites if they are less than zealous in their obedience. Although the Qur’an usually suggests that Allah will be the one to punish hypocrites on the day of judgment, one verse is frankly contrary, correlating hypocrites to non-Muslims: “O Prophet, strive against the disbelievers and hypocrites, and be harsh with them. Their abode is hell” (9:73). The word for strive is jihad, and here we find a potential Qur’anic basis for Muslim-on-Muslim violence.

CONCLUSION

If we consider the words of the founders of the movement, radical Islam was born out of a frustration with the political inferiority of modern Muslim nations to Western and Eastern superpowers, especially in light of the Qur’anic promise that Allah will grant victory to those who strive for him. Radical Muslims believe another Golden Age awaits Muslims who are devoted to following the true teachings of Islam, and they are zealous to bring this about and see the glory of Islam restored.

Radical Islam, then, grows out of an understanding that the average expression of Islam today is too far removed from the teachings of Muhammad and the Qur’an. Adherents often consider moderate Muslims to be apostates because of their lack of zeal for the original teachings of Islam, and the Qur’an lays the foundation for undertaking jihad against these hypocritical Muslims. But to fully grasp what radical Islam is, we need to answer another common question: Does Islam need a reformation?

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #8 – Does Islam need a Reformation? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #6 – Was Islam Spread by the Sword?

answering jihad

This is the sixth in a 17-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through sixteen will cover sixteen questions people most commonly ask Qureshi about jihad and Islam. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, Qureshi will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in his view the best way forward. His concluding remarks will be presented in week seventeen.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION #6 – WAS ISLAM SPREAD BY THE SWORD?

THE SHORT ANSWER: technically no, but indirectly yes. As Qureshi mentioned before, different jurists began to develop codes of conduct with myriads of rules, but an overarching understanding of jihad came to be shared in broad strokes. First, the world was to be seen as divided into two sections, one including those lands that were part of the Islamic empire and one that included everywhere else. The former is called Dar al-Islam, the “house of Islam,” and the latter is called Dar al-Harb, the “house of war.” A third division is also discussed at times, Dar al-Sulh, the house of treaty, where a treaty prohibited Muslims from conquering a land.

31 Islamic Scimitar

Second, in Dar al-Harb, fighting was not incumbent upon Muslims but it was permissible should they want the land for themselves. If they wished to conquer it, they were to first invite its people to Islam. If the people agreed, they were safe and the house of Islam was spread without the sword.

Third, if people refused to convert to Islam, they were then offered the option of paying jizya, the ransom tax. If they agreed, they were considered a conquered people whose lands now belonged to Muslims and they received the rights of second-class citizens, dhimmis. This option was given even to polytheists despite Surah 9 of the Qur’an.

maxresdefault.jpgFourth, if the people refused to accept Islam or pay the jizya, then Muslims could fight them. If the Muslims won, it was because they either killed their enemies in battle or because their enemies surrendered. In the case of victory through surrender, Muslims could do whatever they wished with their vanquished foes (Sunan Abu Daub 2612).

There may have been occasions in history when Muslims gave an ultimatum of conversion under the threat of death, but that was not the norm. A much more common outcome, for example, was the systematized enslavement of captives that Muslims then trained and enlisted as slave soldiers, or mamluks. Given this process of waging jihad, it can be seen that the primary goal of jihad was not to convert people at the point of the sword but rather to expand Muslim territory. Conversion was one of the outcomes of jihad, but not its main purpose.

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Yet if it had not been for campaigns of the sword, Islam would not have spread as widely as it did. As David Cook summarizes in Understanding Jihad, “Islam was not in fact ‘spread by the sword’ – conversion was not forced on the occupants of conquered territories – but the conquests created the necessary preconditions for the spread of Islam. With only a few exceptions… Islam has become the majority faith only in territories that were conquered by force. Thus, the conquests and the doctrine that motivated these conquests – jihad – were crucial to the development of Islam.

Although the object of jihad was not conversion, once lands had been conquered, people were more prone to converting. This is unsurprising, as second-class dhimmi status was at times harsh. Also, the jizya was not a set amount, and records indicate that it was prone to change over time. Conquered Christians record that Amr Ibn al-As, one of Muhammad’s companions, is recorded to have tripled their taxes, and elsewhere he raised the jizya until the conquered Christians were unable to pay.

THE GOLDEN AGE OF ISLAM

It was through the injunctions toward Dar al-Harb that the Islamic empire expanded rapidly. Whatever the reality of that era and its warfare, many modern Muslims remember it with nostalgia as the Golden Age of Islam. Nostalgia is perhaps too mild a term; “longing” or “yearning” may more accurately convey the wistful sentiments of many Muslims. In their eyes, Allah rained his blessings upon the land because of the devotion of early Muslims, teaching them insights through the Qur’an that advanced them scientifically and intellectually beyond the rest of mankind. The world was as Allah intended it to be during this era when Muslims obeyed Allah and Islam reigned supreme.

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This basic notion of supremacy through the practice of Islam appears in the Qur’anic concept of jahiliyya. The Qur’an teaches that, before the advent of Islam, mankind was in a state of ignorance and barbarism, jahiliyya. Obedience to Allah results in lifting mankind out of their base condition and into “enlightenment.” The hadith build on this framework, coupling the proper practice of Islam with the generation of Islamic conquests.

In a well-known hadith from Sahih al-Bukhari, Muhammad says, “The best of you are my generation, and the second best will be those who will follow them, and then those who will follow the second generation… Then will come some people who will make vows but will not fulfill them; and they will be dishonest and will not be trustworthy, and they will give their witness without being asked to give their witness, and fatness will appear among them. (Sahih al-Bukhari 8.78.686)

The premise of this hadith undergirds the common Muslim conception of the Islamic Golden Age: after Muhammad will come the best era of Islamic history, and gradually through selfishness and lack of integrity, Muslims will fall away from the proper practice of Islam. Classically, Muslims and scholars have considered the Golden Age to span 500 years, starting at about the middle of the eighth century, but radical Muslims today are given to envisioning the era of the Golden Age as far back as the first generations of Muslims.

CONCLUSION

It is easy to see why people would think Islam was spread by the sword. Muhammad said, “I have been ordered to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah. [O]nly then will they save their lives and property from me” (Sahih Bukhari 1.2.25). Though this may sound like Muhammad wanted to convert non-Muslims at sword-point, early Muslims did not interpret it that way. Rather, it was understood that Islamic territory was to expand, but the fighting would desist if the vanquished converted to Islam.

This distinction between conquering for conversion or conquering them for their territory unless they convert is a subtle one, and in the long run the outcome was the same. With a few exceptions, Islam is the majority religion only in those lands that were captured through jihad. Muslims believe that because of the obedience of early Muslims, the Islamic empire expanded beyond all estimation. The obedience of the earliest Muslims laid the foundation for the Golden Era of Islam, and it is remembered with yearning in the Muslim heart as a time when people obeyed Allah and Allah blessed the land. Mankind was at its pinnacle. Political, intellectual, scientific, and moral progress has never been sustained in such purity since that time. Muslims can thank the earliest Muslims, the salaf, for their devotion, and if they model their example in obeying Allah and following Muhammad with integrity, Allah will bless mankind again.

With these final pieces of the puzzle, the expectation of Islamic dominance and the nostalgic notion of an Islamic Golden Age, the foundations of radical Islam were laid.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #7 – What is Radical Islam? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.

Jesus Calling

EXCERPT FROM JESUS CALLING: ENJOYING PEACE IN HIS PRESENCE
©2014 Sarah Young
December 2

I AM THE PRINCE OF PEACE. As I said to my disciples, I say also to you: Peace be with you. Since I am your constant Companion, My Peace is steadfastly with you. When you keep your focus on Me, you experience both My Presence and My Peace. Worship Me as King of kings, Lord of lords, and Prince of Peace.

You need My Peace each moment to accomplish My purposes in your life. Sometimes you are tempted to take shortcuts in order to reach your goal as quickly as possible. But if the shortcut requires turning your back on My peaceful Presence, you must choose the longer route. Walk with Me along paths of Peace; enjoy the journey in My Presence.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when the saw the Lord. Again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” – John 20″:19-21

Show me Your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. – Psalm 25:4