This is the eighteenth in a 19-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through eighteen will cover eighteen 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 nineteen.
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QUESTION # 18 – What Does Jesus Have to Do With Jihad?
JESUS IS SURPRISINGLY PROMINENT in Islamic eschatology. Not only do Muslims believe Jesus is a miracle-working prophet, he is also the Messiah who will return from heaven at the end of days.
THE MUSLIM JESUS AND JIHAD
The Qur’an underlies these beliefs in two passages. First and foremost in the mind of many Muslims is the understanding that Jesus did not die on a cross. 4:157-158 states, “[Jesus] was not killed, nor was he crucified, but so it was made to appear… Allah took him up to Himself.” Yet the Qur’an also shows Jesus asserting his own death. In 19:33, Jesus says, “Peace is on me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I rise alive.” If Jesus did not die on the cross and was instead raised directly to heaven, how can he say “peace is on me the day I die?” Only if he will return to earth once more and die that time.
On account of these verses, the Qur’an is understood to teach that Jesus is currently in heaven, awaiting his return to earth, after which he will initiate the latter days and then die before the final day of resurrection. This belief is nearly universal among Muslims.
Furthermore, in the hadith Muhammad says:
[S]urely Jesus the son of Mary will soon descend amongst you and will judge mankind justly; he will break the Cross and kill the pigs and there will be no Jizya (Sahih al-Bukhari 4.55.657).
Also prominent in Muslims’ view of the end times is a battle between Jesus and the anti-Christ, the Dajjal. According to Sahih al-Muslim, “The Last Hour would not come until the Romans would land at al-Amaq or in Dabiq.” After this battle with the Romans, the anti-Christ will challenge Muslims and even have the upper hand against them until Allah sends Jesus back from heaven. Then, “Allah would kill them by his hand and he would show them their blood on his lance [the lance of Jesus Christ]” (Sahih al-Muslim 2897).
Beyond this point, Islamic eschatology begins to vary widely, depending upon one’s denomination of Islam. Many Muslims believe Jesus will fight alongside Muslims, who will be fighting Jews, and even the stones will cry out against Jews on that day. Muhammad said, “The Hour will not be established until you fight the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say, ‘O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him'” (Sahih al-Bukhari 4.52.177).
Some believe Jesus will appear with another apocalyptic figure, the Mahdi, either equal to or superior to Jesus, but details vary among Muslims on these matters, and apart from these two figures are many other signs of the end of days. You might consider reading David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature, for more information. Regardless of the specifics, however, it is a common Muslim view that Jesus will engage in jihad at the end of the world.
THE CHRISTIAN JESUS AND JIHAD
The Christian message, called the Gospel, is this: God entered the world out of love for us, paid the penalty of our sins by dying on our behalf, and then rose from the dead as proof that he had defeated death. The word gospel means, “good news,” and it is the message that, on account of what God has done, we will live forever with him.
Since Christians will live forever, they are told not to fear in the face of death. Paul says, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). Since we know we will be with God forever, there is no more fear of death for the Christian of true faith. In fact, death is even beneficial to a Christian, because it sends him to God, with whom he is longing to be. Paul writes, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). The security of salvation is what liberates Christians to follow difficult teachings of Jesus and to self-sacrificially love one’s enemies, even being ready to die for them.
That is why some Christians have been willing to go to tumultuous Muslim contexts and serve those who could do nothing for them, even in the face of death. Ronnie Smith was a Texan science teacher who decided to move his family to Benghazi when the Libyan revolution was under way. For a few years, he taught chemistry to high school students in the war-torn country, bringing them hope when they had little. He wanted to serve people just as Jesus had, and just as people killed Jesus, so a group of radical Muslims killed Ronnie Smith.
A short time before his death, Ronnie Smith answered a survey indicating that the Gospel is what encouraged him to serve people despite the risk of death. He knew his life was in danger before moving to Libya, but Jesus enabled him to answer jihad with compassion. Through the message of the Gospel, Jesus made Ronnie Smith invincible. He was able to love without fear.
Japanese journalist Kenji Goto went to syria to rescue a new friend, Haruna Yukawa. Goto had met Yukawa six months prior, when Yukawa was trying to turn his life around after a failed suicide attempt following the death of his wife. When ISIS captured Yukawa, Gogo believed there was a chance he could help rescue him. In an interview he said it was “necessary” for him to try and rescue Yukawa, and that his faith gave him the courage to go. Goto had accepted the Gospel in 1997, enabling him to answer jihad with compassion. Jesus made Kenji Goto invincible. He was able to live without fear.
In February 2015, ISIS beheaded twenty-one Christians on a beach in Libya. In a video the men are seen moments before their execution, calling out to Jesus and mouthing prayers. Most of them were migrant laborers working in Libya to provide for their families in Egypt. Although ISIS slaughtered the men to shock the world with terror, the response of their families sent an altogether different message. In an interview with VICE News, the mother of twenty-four-year-old Abanoud Ayiad said, “May God forgive ISIS… [but because of them] I gave the best gift to God: my son.” The mother of twenty-five-year-old Malak Ibrahim said, “I’m proud of my son. He did not change his faith till the last moment of death. I thank God… He is taking care of him.” The mother of twenty-nine-year-old Samuel Abraham said, “We thank ISIS. Now more people believe in Christianity because of them. ISIS showed what Christianity is.” The wife of twenty-six-year-old Malid Makin said, “ISIS thought they would break our hearts. They did not. Milad is a hero now and an inspiration for the whole world.”
As with Ronnie Smith and Kenji Goto, these twenty-one men had been transformed by the Gospel, as had their families. They were able to live and die with confidence, and their families were able to rejoice in their deaths because they are now truly alive. Bishop Felobous, himself related to five of the slain men, even expressed sadness upon hearing that the Egyptian military was retaliating against ISIS. “I was very sad when I heard the news of the air strikes led by the Egyptian military against ISIS. God asked us to even love our enemies.” Even after they had slaughtered five of his relatives, Bishop Felobous was able to answer jihad with compassion.
According to numerous reports, one of the men on the beach in Libya was not an Egyptian Christian, but a citizen of Chad. It was not until he saw the faith of the men around him that he was moved to trust in Christ. When the time came to make his decision, asked whether he would denounce Christianity and live or proclaim the Gospel and die, he said, “Their God is my God.” He chose to live for one minute as a Christian rather than for the rest of his life after having denied Jesus.
Jesus has much to do with jihad, both in Islam and Christianity. In common Islamic eschatology, he personally wages war on behalf of Muslims, breaking all the crosses and killing all the swine. In this war Muslims will kill Jews and defeat them, and Jesus will destroy the anti-Christ for their sake.
In Christianity, Jesus shows Christians how to answer persecution with love. Although this suggestion might seem impossible to some and ridiculous to others, Jesus’ teachings were always radical, and they are only possible to follow if the Gospel message is true. If we will live eternally with God in bliss, then we can lay down this life to love even our enemies. In the face of jihad, the Christian Jesus teaches his followers to respond with love.