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.

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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

What Stops You?

FEAR. Now there’s a terrible four-letter word. Some will tell you that fear is necessary for survival. How else will you know if something is harmful or fatal to you? I propose the correct word here is caution. Not fear. You see, fear will stop you dead in your tracks. Fear will lie to you. Fear is an emotion. It will make you question your next move, and every move after that. It will create doubt in your plan of attack. It will convince you that you are going to experience nothing but rejection and ridicule. Fear will make you give up. Quit going in to avoid failure.

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This applies to many things in life. Some typical events that are interrupted by fear include proposing to a woman. Yes, asking her to marry you. What if she says no? Then what? I’ve already asked her dad for her hand in marriage. I’ve told my mom, who cried, then dabbed her tears and said with a gleam in her eyes, “When’s the wedding?” I’ve told my best friends. I told my brother and my pastor. Good gracious, I’ve told everyone. What am I going to do? See how our protagonist is ready to quit just so he doesn’t hear the word “no?”

Now what about writing? How many times have you bragged to teachers that you’re going to be a published author one day? How often have you told your mother or your father. I think it was well past five years since I first told my dad I was going to be a writer. I mentioned it once again, at a family picnic. Maybe one time too many. He said in response, “A wise man once said if you have nothing good to say, maybe you shouldn’t say anything at all.” You could hear a pin drop. No one knew what to say. My face turned beet red. I fought back a tear, and decided such comments don’t create fact. Action does.

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Why do writers write? What makes them see beyond all the negative prognostications and decrees? How are they able to see something on the other side of the blinking cursor on the laptop? When it’s all going so well, and I am cranking out word after word that somehow seem interrelated, I am convinced I’m well on my way. This is it. I’m writing. Where did all this talent come from? Dad was a woodworker and a painter on canvass, so I must have his creative genes.

Then I hit a wall. A dead end. And I do mean dead. Like my fingers won’t even move. No thoughts come to mind. The characters are trapped, never to go anywhere again. This can go on for days, weeks, months. I hate to say it, but it can even go on for years. I had a wonderful idea for a screenplay. It had everything. Teenagers, music, a snowstorm, a party gone horribly wrong. Great opening act. Act One was a joy to write. I even had a good idea how the story would end. But I am stuck at page 57. Dead in the water. I’ve tried altering the ending. I even changed the moral of the story, and looked at various character arcs. Nothing.

So what stops you from moving forward? Julia Cameron, in her great book The Artist’s Way, takes her reader through a series of exercises and workshops and lists in order to get at the bad guy inside you that’s telling you what you’re doing is no good. The internal editor. This evil force is ultimately based upon someone in your life that told you there was no way you’d ever make it. You’re too old. You’re not clever enough. You’re not creative. Your idea is not original enough. I highly recommend if you are seriously stuck as an artist — songwriter, sculptor, painter, writer, poet — that you get this book. Follow her instructions. She will help you get unstuck and find out what’s stopping you from moving forward in your work.

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Click here to visit Julia Cameron Live.

To the writers everywhere, just stay plugged in to the spirit that moves you. Julia Cameron talks about God being the Great Creator. She said God has instilled creativity in all of us. Our job is to get in touch with our Inner Artist. Why do we write? Because creativity is living deep down inside of us. What stops us? It’s a whole number of things, most of which are not even rooted in reality. No one knows where their writing will take them. I am grateful for the renewing of my spirit and my drive to create. It has put me back on my intended path, and that’s worth every word I struggle to put down on paper.

So write, my friend. Start with free association. Try writing the minute you wake up. Write anything that comes to mind. Your internal editor is still sleeping. He won’t see what you’re writing. Don’t worry about punctuation or spelling or word usage. That can all be fixed in your rewrite. Just write. You will be so amazed at what comes out of end of your fingertips at six in the morning.

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #5 – What is Sharia?

 

answering jihad

This is the fifth 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 #5 – WHAT IS SHARIA?

WITHIN 150 YEARS OF the advent of Islam, Muslims had expanded an empire from the Atlantic Ocean to India. Significant changes had transpired in their leadership and governance, as Muslims had also fought multiple civil wars and the seat of the caliphate had moved to Syria. It was at this time that Muslims began to record in writing the life and sayings of Muhammad.

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Why had they waited so many years before doing so? The answer is not entirely clear, but it may have to do with the novelty of writing long works in Arabic at that time. The Qur’an was the first Arabic book ever put into writing, and the Arabic script of the seventh century remained too deficient to capture the richness and complexities of its text. Muslims’ desire to write the Qur’an drove the development of the Arabic script. This is the charitable answer to the question of why Muhammad’s life and sayings were recorded so long after his death; a growing opinion in scholarship is that the traditions were being fabricated, but Qureshi leaves that discussion alone.

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Whatever the reason, Muslim biographers began to write about Muhammad’s life around 797 AD, the warrior ascetic Abdallah bin al-Mubarak had compiled his text, The Book of Jihad, specifically documenting the development of Islamic warfare between Muhammad’s day and his own. It was a precursor to similar books that would be found in the canonical hadith collections.

THE HADITH COLLECTIONS

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By the middle of the ninth century, there were more than 500,000 traditions of Muhammad’s life in written and oral circulation, and Muslim scholars decided to undertake the effort of sifting through them and distilling the most authentic accounts. Since the teachings of Muhammad are essential to Islam, it was necessary to distinguish accurate teachings from pretenders. Among Sunni Muslims, who today make up approximately 80 percent of all Muslims in the world, six collections of hadith are considered more reliable than any others: Those of Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Daud, Ibn Majah, al-Nasai, and al-Tirmidhi. These are not the only collections used by Muslim scholars, but these collections are considered the most reliable, especially the collections of Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim. The titles of these two collections reflect this, as they are called the “Sahih” – “authentic” collections.

Each of these collections contains at least one book on jihad, collecting Muhammad’s purported statements about strife and warfare. These teachings are not presented systematically, however, but as collections of individual sayings or accounts of Muhammad’s deeds. The systematization of these teachings ultimately came with the great Muslim jurists, and the formalization of Sharia was the result.

WHAT IS SHARIA?

As Qureshi explained in Week #4, it is necessary to know the context of the Qur’an in order to understand its teachings. Islamic jurisprudence is the effort to understand all the teachings of Muhammad systematically, so that Muslims can know how to live. The end product, or the point of discovery, is Sharia. The word sharia literally means “path” or “path to water.” This imagery is strong, especially for a desert people. Following Sharia is what preserves the life of the believer as water preserves the life of the thirsty.

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Not just anyone can engage in Islamic jurisprudence, called ijtihad. Since there are thousands of verses in the Qur’an and hundreds of thousands of hadith, it is expected that only trained Muslim jurists can engage in determining what Sharia teaches. The jurist must give primacy to the Qur’an, then consider the actions (sunnah) and sayings (hadith) of Muhammad, followed by reviewing the consensus of Islamic scholars, or ijma, before using his own reasoning (qiyas). By following these four steps, a Muslim jurist can make a decision, or fatwa, about what Sharia teaches on a given matter. The ultimate goal is to apply the teachings of Sharia to Muslim life, and that is called fiqh. This process may seem straightforward, but there are many complicating factors that give rise to significant disagreements among Muslims. One such important factor is abrogation.

ABROGATION

According to Islamic tradition, as the Qur’an was being revealed during Muhammad’s life, certain teachings and passages cancelled previous revelations. For example, most classical Muslim jurists were convinced that the verse of the sword (Surah 9:5) cancelled peaceful passages of the Qur’an such as chapter 109. This process of cancelling teachings is called abrogation, and classical Muslim scholars believed there were multiple kinds of abrogation, wherein either the text or the application of a Qur’anic verse has been cancelled.

Perhaps the most problematic category of abrogation comprises those Qur’anic commands that still apply to Muslims even though the text itself has been abrogated. In other words, the Qur’an is believed to contain teachings that are not found in its pages any longer. To find these teachings, one must know the appropriate hadith traditions. A famous example that hadith traditions record is the verse of rajm, stoning. Although the Qur’an appears to teach that lashing is the appropriate punishment for adultery (24:2), hadith indicate that a text of the Qur’an has been abrogated, but that the punishment of stoning still applies (Sahih al-Bkhari 8.82.816).

This feature of abrogation in the Qur’an, called al-masikh wal mansukh in Arabic, is the great complicating factor in Sharia. How is one to know whether a command has been abrogated? Is there agreement on when a command is to be followed even though its text has been abrogated?

SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT AND THE AVERAGE MUSLIM

Historically, not all jurists agreed with one another on matters of Sharia, and they began to pronounce differing fatwas. Throughout the expanse of the Islamic empire, pockets of Muslims followed various schools of thought: Shafi, Maliki, Hanbali, Hanafi, or Shii. The last school was so different from the rest that it is now considered its own branch of Islam, the Shia branch, which leaves the other four as the major schools of Sunni thought. The scholars in each school developed complex legal decisions and precedents, all building upon one another over the centuries. Until the twentieth century, Muslims often found themselves in one or another school of thought and had to take their civil or criminal matters to their respective courts for judgment. For example, the decision of whether a woman would be allowed to divorce her husband had to be made by a jurist in her school, and the different schools had different rules.

As is probably clear by now, at no point was the average Muslim expected to read the Qur’an to decide upon correct Islamic practices by himself or herself. Not only is Islam not a faith that upholds the sufficiency of scripture alone, the complexity of its foundations virtually necessitates a reliance on jurists and scholars for proper practice.

SHARIA AND THE APPLICATION OF SURAH 9

Sharia is not a book, and its laws are unclear until we reach the level of individual schools of thought. Even then, specific decisions need to be regularly explicated by Muslim jurists to this day. Traditionally, therefore, Muslims have received their religion from their leaders and scholars. To assume that Muslims must live a certain way because the Qur’an or hadith command it misses a crucial step in the Islamic worldview, the distillation of Sharia through Muslim authorities. If jurists and imams say that Surah 9 does not apply with their Jewish, Christian, and polytheist neighbors, then it is entirely appropriate for a Muslim to follow his imam and live peacefully. Whether the imam is making the decision honestly or consistently is another matter.

CONCLUSION

Even though Surah 9 of the Qur’an is very clear in what it teaches, and even though it is the final marching orders that Muhammad left for his people, and even though it strongly accords with the hadith on jihad, Muslim leaders in various schools of thought do not teach their followers to act upon its teachings today. Because of the expansive number of Islam’s foundational teachings, and because of complication factors such as abrogation, Muslims do not determine fiqh for themselves but receive it from their imams. So they ought not be faulted for believing Islam is a religion of peace, especially if they have never confronted the violent verses of the Qur’an and the hadith. Yet the legitimacy of their personal, peaceful practice does not mean Islam itself is a religion of peace. We must remember that we are not defining Islam as the practice of Muslims, but rather as the teachings of Muhammad. There is a tension between the reality of violent jihad pervading Qur’anic sources and the peacefulness of many lay Muslims on account of Sharia, which Qureshi will return to at a later date.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #6 – Was Islam Spread by the Sword? 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.

 

 

Teenagers, Monkeys, and Mirrors – Developing Self-Image in a Cyber-Addicted Society

Inside her classroom at Coral Springs Charter High School, Susana H. was in distress. The Florida teacher, seven months pregnant, was suddenly experiencing labor contractions. She sat down in a desk chair and struggled to endure the pain – her mouth open, her eyes wide, one hand on her brow. That’s when one of her students, junior Malik W., pulled out his mobile phone. It was time for a selfie. In dreads, cap, and big sunglasses, he flashed a big happy-go-lucky grin for his camera while angling the lens to show his grimacing, pain-stricken teacher in the background. “Selfie with my teacher while she is having contractions,” he tweeted.

Selfies. They bring new meaning to the word self-conscious. These quick, seemingly innocent self-portraits – typically taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media – serve many functions. They can be a preened vision of a public self, a bragging moment of accomplishment, a display of humor, or a declared irony to the world, almost a performance. The ubiquitous mobile phone with its mirror-image camera technology, makes self-portraits easy to take, delete, filter, or fix, and even easier to share.

Some kids would call what Malik in our example did, taking his own picture with a featured but unsuspecting person in the background, a kind of photobomb selfie. It’s a prank or joke. Photobomb moments are something like a tourist’s snapshot souvenirs. I was there. But this time, the background wasn’t Mount Rushmore or Niagara Falls. It was Malik’s teacher’s suffering. Whatever you call it, in the time it took for the teacher to reach the hospital to be examined by doctors, Malik’s pic was making the rounds on social media, first to other high school students at Coral Springs, and then quickly beyond. By evening, it was viral and had been retweeted by thousands. When asked later by local TV news reporters what possessed him, Malik said he was just hoping to record the unexpected event for himself and “for her.”

It went viral mainly because people found it funny. BuzzFeed raved: “Behold! The greatest selfie of all time.” Was it funny? Sure, if you don’t take a moment to consider this act in a deeper way – and what it means to use a human being in distress as a visual joke in the background of a curated self-portrait shared on a public social network. There are more troubling trends to notice here – invasion of privacy, breach of good manners, absence of empathy, not to mention a demonstrated lack of respect for pregnancy, motherhood, and classroom setting, and a teacher’s authority. Let’s be honest: Nobody looks to teenagers as role models of civility and decorum. They can be jokesters, disrupters, provocateurs. Pushing the limits is what they do best. Why? In psychological terms, they are said to be forming self-concept, or identity, and enjoy experimenting with boundaries and taking risks.

They also crave feedback, which helps them figure out, eventually, who they are – and what the world expects of them. So when teenagers take selfies and share them, what are they hoping to discover? Probably themselves. Prior to the Internet, this crucial time of identity formation was spent in the real world – a more intimate greenhouse where feedback, both positive and negative, was received from a real-world audience of friends, family, and figures of authority. The social norms and what was expected of these developing human beings was fairly consistent. Twenty or thirty years ago, would a teenager have been allowed to take a photograph of a distressed teacher in a classroom and, without permission, been allowed to publish it in a magazine?

The Internet is now a primary adventure zone where teenagers interact, play, socialize, learn, experiment, take risks – and eventually figure out who they are. This blog post will try to grapple with this shift, and look at the impact of this new environment on youthful identity formation. Could growing up in cyberspace change a teenager’s sense of self? Why not?

WHY SO HEARTLESS, SELFIE?

The same year as Malik’s cyber-celebrity moment, another controversial selfie was seen by millions. A lovely young woman with long blond hair, aviator sunglasses, white knit scarf, and matching hat was caught in the act of posing for her own selfie while, behind her, a suicidal man was hanging on the rails of the Brooklyn Bridge. What, aside from basic psychopathic tendencies, would cause a person to be so cold and unfeeling about another human being’s emotional crisis? Let’s stop and contemplate this. Just as Malik made a joke of his teacher’s  moment of physical crisis, the young blond (she would remain anonymous), whether she planned to share her selfie with a wide audience or not, was apparently making fun of a stranger who was so emotionally troubled and confused that he wanted to end his life. Yes, her selfie seems more heartless than Malik’s selfie, but aren’t the sense of disengagement and lack of empathy eerily similar? The day after the Brooklyn Bridge incident, an observer’s photograph of the anonymous young woman took over the entire front page of the New York Post with the apt headline “SELFIE-ISH!”

This slap of disapproval only encouraged a new trend. In 2014, when traffic was stopped on a Los Angeles freeway due to a man threatening to jump from an overpass, a group of drivers left their cars to pose – big smiles – for group shots and selfies with the suicidal man in the distance behind them. The same year, a policeman in Istanbul was called to the scene of the Bosporus Bridge, where a desperate individual was clinging to the rails. The suicidal man jumped three hours later, but before he went, the officer took a selfie. The bridge and the jumper were in the background. More recently, in March 2016 – in perhaps the ultimate example of this trend – a hostage on an EgyptAir flight posed for a bizarre smiling selfie next to a hijacker in his suicide vest.

Let’s try to consider the mind-set of these people – not the distressed suicidal individuals, but the selfie-takers. Were they conscious of what they were doing? Or were they so lost, so separated from ethics and empathy, that they weren’t able to clearly consider their actions? Are they emotionally impaired, or has cyberspace impacted their judgment? A condition that results in lack of empathy toward another person’s distress is narcissism. This is a personality trait that exists to varying degrees in almost all human beings and can be facilitated by cyberspace. A little narcissism can be a good thing. Actors are famously perceived as the ultimate narcissists, and the psychologically healthier ones even crack jokes about it. They aren’t necessarily heartless people. But a narcissist’s desire to be noticed and become a focus of attention can override a concern for other people – and result in callousness about their suffering.

As with so many personality traits, psychologists have defined a spectrum of narcissism – generally assessed by the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI). Individuals with high scores demonstrate an inflated sense of their own importance, grandiosity, extreme selfishness, enormous self-regard, and a deep need for admiration. Behind the mask of ultraconfidence, their self-esteem is very fragile and vulnerable to criticism. Why get into all of this? Because teenagers (as well as children) can display narcissistic-type traits due to the simple fact that their sense of self, or “self-concept,” is still being formed. They can seem to be uncaring about others because they are distracted by the work of creating an identity. Teenagers will try on new selves and new clothes and new hairstyles to the point of total disengagement with anything else going on in their family life or home. For a teenager, this sort of experimentation, along with risk-taking, is one way that identity is formed. Going too far is part of the process – almost a requirement.

Who am I today? Who do I want to be tomorrow morning? They look for answers in the feedback they receive from their peers. And today, to a greater and greater degree, this feedback happens online, not just from their friends but in free online astrological profiles, personality questionnaires, and a plethora of phone apps that will analyze their handwriting, music tastes, food preferences, and even bathing styles. Teenagers are consumed by their own reflections, in other words, hoping to figure out who they are. What happens when the bathroom mirror, where teens used to state at themselves, is replaced with a virtual mirror – a selfie that they just took with their phones?

MONKEYS AND MIRRORS

In a famous study done forty years ago, great apes – chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas – born in the wild were placed before a full-length mirror on a wall. At first, the wild chimps reacted as if another chimp had appeared in the room; they vocalized and made other threatening gestures at the mirror. After two or three days, they began to understand the image in the mirror as a reflection of themselves in some way. Interestingly, they began exploring their own bodies before the mirror – studying parts of themselves they hadn’t seen before, or couldn’t see without use of a mirror.

In psychology, one way to describe what happens in front of a mirror is called mirror-image stimulation, referring specifically to “a situation in which an organism is confronted with its own reflection in a mirror.” An animal that shows signs of recognizing the image in the mirror as it own is said to have “passed the mirror test,” which is strong evidence of having developed self-concept. This is not innate, but learned. Self-concept is used in human social psychology to describe how people think about, evaluate, or perceive themselves. The actual definition is “the individual’s belief about himself or herself, including the person’s attributes and who and what the self is.” A monkey that has self-concept demonstrates an awareness of a self that is separate and distinct from others, as well as constant.

What are teenagers learning about themselves by looking at their own selfies? Could this impact the development of self-concept? The study also raises this question: Could young people who have grown up with too much technology and not enough face-to-face interaction with peers remain more isolated, retreating to the comfort of their own digital reflection rather than turning to their friends or family for comfort and physical interaction? Could this cyber effect encourage children or young teenagers to lose interest in others – or never develop it in the first place? Since there hasn’t been time for proper developmental studies in this area, we just don’t know.

Humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers’s work is valuable in terms of illustrating how a young person develops identity. He described self-concept as having three components: (1) the view you have of yourself – or “self-image,” (2) how much value you place on your worth – or “self-esteem,” and (3) what you wish you were like – or “the ideal self.” Given the advent of social media, perhaps we need to add a fourth aspect of “self” Rogers didn’t consider. In today’s technology, identity appears to be increasingly developed through the gateway of a different self, a less tangible one, a digital creation.

Let’s call this “the cyber self” – or who you are in a digital context. This is the idealized self, the person you wish to be, and therefore an important aspect of self-concept. It is a potential new you that now manifests in a new environment, cyberspace. To an increasing extent, it is the virtual self that today’s teenager is busy assembling, creating, and experimenting with. Each year, as technology becomes a more dominant factor in the lives of teens, the cyber self is what interacts with others, needs a bigger time investment, and has the promise of becoming an overnight viral celebrity. The selfie is the frontline self, a highly manipulated artifact that has been created and curated for public consumption.

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF FEEDBACK

To understand feedback more deeply, we need to go way back to the work of sociologist Charles Horton Cooley in 1900, decades before the advent of the Internet or when monkeys were stuck in front of mirrors. Cooley came up with what he called the looking-glass theory. Cooley used the concept of a person studying his or her own reflection as a way to describe how individuals come to see or know themselves. In the case of Cooley’s looking glass, the information that we use to learn about ourselves isn’t provided in a mirror’s reflection. It is provided by others – their comments about us, the way they treat us, and things they say. In the looking-glass self, a person views himself or herself through others’ eyes and in turn gains identity. In other words, the human self-concept was dependent upon social feedback. Philosopher William James, the so-called father of psychology, expanded this idea by pointing out that individuals become different people, and express their identity in different ways, depending on whom they are with.

Now let’s fast-forward to the next century and do the math – and consider the psychology of this effect in cyberspace. If you have a repertoire of many selves – potentially as many as people who know you – social media could exponentially expand the number of selves you create. Is your “self” environmental-specific? Are you the same person on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, SnapChat, and LinkedIn? Does this new explosion of selves cause a splintering of identity or, particularly for teenagers, who are going through critical stages of identity formation, cause developmental problems? And what about critical feedback? Presenting yourself to the whole world is a risky business. It’s hart to imagine an individual alive who hasn’t experienced some form of rejection, subtle or strong, embarrassing or humiliating. But you can also be accepted for the self you present – and feel rewarded by pleasant feelings of pride and affection.

Let’s imagine you have just turned thirteen. The five years ahead of you are a natural time for questioning and seeking. You’ll be trying new clothes, mannerisms, friends, interests, and pastimes. You’ll probably begin experimenting with what you think of as adult behavior. This helps you make sense of the self within, as you unconsciously piece together an identity, like a collage. You are working to create a constant, steady, reliable, knowable, and familiar self. What kind of information – or feedback – is the virtual mirror going to give you? In this regard, the cyber environment may be much more overwhelming than the real world. To begin with, the sheer number of “friends” has grown, and therefore the volume of feedback will be far greater. Prior to the Internet, a teenager would have a limited number of social groups to juggle – family and extended family, schoolmates, maybe neighbors. Now the number of social groups is potentially limitless.

The cyber self is always under construction, psychologically and digitally. Even while the real you is sleeping, the cyber you continues to exist. It is “always on” – evolving, updating, making friends, making connections, gaining followers, getting “likes,” and being tagged. I started this blog in December 2014. To date, I have 181 regular followers; however, 9,840 people from 93 countries have visited my blog since its inception. The constant source of feedback we receive today can create a sense of urgency, a continuous feedback loop, a sense of needing to invest more and more time in order to keep the virtual self current, relevant, and popular. This is especially true of a blog.

This may explain the obsessive interest among teens in curating their selfies. When the process of identity formation in real life becomes confusing and difficult to control, as it is for most teenagers at some point, what could be more satisfying than being able to perfectly calibrate and manage the portrait that the online world sees? To some extent, we all engage in image management, but it now begins at an earlier age, and in some cases before identity has been properly formed. This may lead to identity confusion. After all, which matters the most: Your real-world self or the one you’ve created online? Probably the one with the greater visibility.

CYBER MIGRATION

Amazingly, plastic surgery among teenagers is another area that has been impacted by the norms online. The easy curating of selfies may be linked to a rise in plastic surgery. According to a 2014 study by the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS), more than half of the facial surgeons polled reported an increase in cosmetic surgery for people under thirty. There is also a rise in children and teenagers requesting teeth whitening and veneers reported at dental clinics. “Social platforms like Instagram, SnapChat and the iPhone app Selfie.im force patients to hold a digital microscope up to their own image and often look at it with a more self-critical eye than ever before,” explains Dr. Edward Farrior, president of AAFPRS. “These images are often the first impressions young people put out there to prospective friends, romantic interests, and employers, and our patients want to put their best face forward.” Sadly, surgeons have reported that bullying is also a cause of children and teens asking for plastic surgery, usually as a result of being bullied rather than a way to prevent it.

Okay, so let’s put all these trends and technological developments together – from teenagers using apps to filter and “improve” the appearance of their selfies, to the  rise of plastic surgery among young people, the escalation in provocative self-presentation, and the quest for the perfect body. What do these developments tell us, given that we know human beings look to feedback in order to develop identity? Imagine for a moment the shy thirteen-year-old who feels uncomfortable speaking to others. For this child, posting a selfie will be easier and more rewarding – no actual contact! Now imagine that child progressing through the stages of identity formation and never having to practice being a human being on the stage of real life. This is what causes isolation in adulthood.

SELF-ACTUALIZATION

The cyber self, while it offers glimpses into who you are, is a literally detached self. This cyber self is like a hand puppet that is speaking for you but isn’t really you – and can actually be quite different from the authentic real-world you. In other words, the real you has turned the cyber you into an object: The selfie is proof of this objectification. By posting a selfie, you are required to experience yourself as an object that is presentable or not. You judge your selfie from a detached distance, even if it is posted impulsively. This self-objectification, and the sense of detachment from true self, could explain many of the negative behaviors seen online. It feeds disassociation. Detached from your cyber self, you can feel detached from your actions – and come to believe you aren’t truly accountable. Now let’s think about a teenager in the process of identity formation from the age of ten, eleven, twelve to late teens, a crucial window of time to create a strong foundation and sense of self. This process is critical to development, and can have an enormous impact on the rest of an individual’s life and sense of self-esteem.

Carl Rogers described “self-actualization” as an ongoing process of always striving to be one’s ideal self. A “self-actualized” person is one whose “ideal self” is congruent, or the same as, his or her perceived actual self or self-image. Rogers believed that this sense of being, or having become, the person you want to be is a good marker for happiness, and a sign of a fully functioning individual. If you accept his description of happiness, then it’s troubling to see the results of a survey of children and teens, ages eleven to sixteen, in which half agreed with this statement: “I find it easier to be myself on the Internet than when I am with people face-to-face.”

The transition from childhood to adulthood is a critical developmental phase, what psychologist Erik Erikson described as a “psychosocial stage.” For an awkward adolescent or teen, it may be a lot easier to avoid painful experiences performed on the stage of real life, but these are often important developmental milestones and come with consequences if missed. Identity may not be fully developed – and what one wants to do or “be,” in terms of a future adult role, may not be fully explored. Social coping skills may not be acquired. Learning to navigate the tension or lack of comfort that the real world sometimes brings is necessary for the developmental process, as youth explore  possibilities and begin to form their own identity based on their explorations.

Failure to successfully complete a psychosocial stage can also result in a reduced ability to complete further stages. For Erikson, the next stage is intimacy versus isolation, occurring between ages eighteen and forty, when individuals learn how to share more intimately with others and explore relationships that lead toward long-term commitments with someone other than a family member. Avoiding intimacy for fearing relationships or commitment can lead to isolation, loneliness, and often depression. This is why we need to talk more about the repercussions of teenagers failing to establish a sense of identity in real life as well as cyber life. The result of such a failure can be what Erikson calls “role confusion,” when young people become unsure about themselves or their place in society. Some experts believe contemporary boys are in crisis due to excessive use of technology. The digital self tends to become less and less like the real-life operator.

The cyber self is a masterful creation – funnier, wittier, better looking than the real self. But the problem lies with the vulnerability of this split-self existence. And it’s a serious problem. If you look at all the studies done over the past ten years on cyberbullying, you’ll see that few of the solutions and awareness campaigns have worked effectively. Each year, more teenagers are devastated, even destroyed, by experiencing bullying online. Why? Think of the time and energy that teenagers put into their cyber selves – the self-portraits they’ve painted. When the cyber self is attacked – called “stupid,” “ugly,” “a loner,” “a loser” – then this could cause a catastrophic inter-psychic conflict, an emotional clash of opposing impulses within oneself. Look at it this way: If the best version of you that technology can produce is rejected, how does that make you feel about the only self that’s left, your real one?

THE PRIVACY PARADOX

In real life, would a teenager girl walk around with a photograph of herself naked – and show everybody at school? Would she undress in class and pose suggestively? That’s what happens, potentially, every time a sext is sent. Besides impulsivity and narcissism, what are the other possible explanations for this disinhibited behavioral shift online? Teenagers exhibit a lack of concern about their privacy online. It’s an interesting shift because so often in the real world, many teens are self-conscious and tend to seek privacy. But online, something happens. Even teenagers who are well-versed in the dangers and have read stories of identity theft, sextortion, cyberbullying, cybercrimes, and worse, continue to share as though there is no risk.

I read an article in my hometown newspaper, The Daily Item, published online on May 7, 2017 regarding the Netflix mini-series Thirteen Reasons Why, based on Jay Asher’s book of the same name. I watched the show, which follows the final weeks of a high school girl who commits suicide. The writer of the Daily Item article interviewed local educators regarding Thirteen Reasons Why, specifically focusing on whether the young girl in the show justified her suicide and blame others, and whether the final scene was an unnecessarily graphic depiction of the act. The topic of teen suicide is one that is emotionally volatile, and is currently of much concern to educators.

Olivia Masser, director of the Milton Public Library, believes Asher’s story Thirteen Reasons Why unwisely portrays Hanna Baker as a martyr. Masser admits that the story raises awareness of the serious issues of sexual assault, cyberbullying and teen suicide. As Phillips, Brown and Stonestreet (2008) indicate, “…there exists a ‘quiet desperation’ that drives humanity to think about the question, ‘Does life have meaning?’” This question is faced by every teenager growing up in America. Certainly, when Hanna is sexually assaulted and bullied, and photographs are posted online that make her look “easy,” she is already struggling to find her way at a young age. She asks the ultimate question, “Why am I here?” What meaning was left in her otherwise meaningless life now that she’d been raped, bullied (including online), and labeled a “slut?”

According to Danah Boyd, the TED Talk celebrity and visiting professor at New York University, most teenagers scrutinize what they post online very carefully. In her book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, Boyd argues that teens adjust what they present online depending on the audience they want to impress Everything is calibrated for a specific purpose – to look cool, or tough, or hot. When it suits them, teenagers can be enormously savvy about how to protect the things they want kept private, mostly from their parents. For example, they might not care if Facebook knows their religion, but they do care if their parents find out about their sex life.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

We just might owe teenagers an apology. We are failing to protect and defend them in cyberspace. Period. We are failing to understand and therefore protect their developing selves. Tech companies have made billions of dollars while looking the other way. Opportunistically, they have jumped in to offer solutions to emerging obstacles, creating social platforms such as SnapChat, Wickr, Confide, and the German-based Sicher, where risqué images can be sent and viewed. While they supposedly can disappear almost as soon as they are posted, in fact there are many ways they can be saved. Do teenagers need to explore and have adventures? Yes. And we should let them. But the risks in the cyber environment are real.

And what about the more nuanced and much-harder-to-study risk of harm to a developing identity? Juggling two selves, the real one and the cyber one, is a lot to expect of young individuals who are still figuring things out, about themselves and the world. We are likely a decade away from seeing the cyber effect on psychological and emotional well-being and the formation of a sturdy and sustainable self. We can see signs and clues coming already in the new norms of sexting, the obsession with the cyber self, premature sexualization, the plastic surgery among younger people, the escalation of body and eating disorders, and the rise of narcissistic behavior (if not true narcissistic personality disorder). These trends should be cause for alarm. Narcissism and excessive self-involvement are both known attributes of those who suffer chronic unhappiness.

A teenager may think he or she is creating a better “self,” a better object with each selfie. Every selfie taken, and improved upon, causes an erosion or dismissal of the true self. With each selfie taken, and invested in, the true self is diminished. In a way, it’s similar to the phobia in Amish tradition that each portrait photograph robs the soul. Adolescents are naturally prone to “storm and stress,” during which kids will often experience mood swings, fight with parents, and engage in risky or dangerous behavior. We can’t blame the Internet for that. But we can wake up and see that it’s even more important to protect them there.

And, parents of teenagers, if you find a sext, sit down and talk about it. Resist the urge to shut down or confiscate all your son’s or daughter’s devices. The point at which you banish your teenager to his or her bedroom – hating themselves, hating you, and hating their lives – and take away their phone and computer, you are depriving them of their entire support system. That can be too hard. They need to vent. They need to reach out to friends. Let them. And finally, if anything goes wrong in their cyber life, tell them not to try to handle it on their own. That’s what parents of teenagers are for.

References

Aiken, M., PhD. (2016). The cyber effect: A pioneering cyberpsychologist explains how human behavior changes online. New York, NY: Random House

Asher, J. (2007). Thirteen reasons why. New York, NY: Razorbill

Phillips, W., Brown, W., and Stonestreet, J. (2008) Making sense of your world: A biblical worldview, second edition. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing.

 

Mobilizing Citizen Science to Address the Overdose Epidemic

From the blog of Dr. Lora Volkow, National Institute of Drug Abuse, posted November 16, 2017.

In the terrorist attack in New York City on October 31, citizens on the scene shared information and pictures in real time via their smartphones, using social media apps like SnapChat. index.png  The social media site recently introduced a location-sharing feature called Snap Maps, which was also used during the Las Vegas shooting, the Mexico City earthquake, and the hurricanes that devastated the Caribbean and some US cities. Could existing social media or new, built-for-purpose apps, be used to attack the opioid problem? It is an area where additional research and partnerships with technology startups could potentially make a big impact.

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Social media and crowd-sourcing apps could be particularly useful for gathering and sharing information in real time about overdoses and using that information to prevent overdose deaths, thereby translating “citizen science” into “citizen prevention.” In October, 2016, NIDA partnered with the FDA and SAMHSA in a competition to develop an app that would use a crowd-sourcing approach to facilitate access to naloxone during opioid overdoses. The winning entry (out of 45 submissions) was an app called “OD Help” that will be developed by a Venice, California startup called Team Pwrdby. OD Help will link potential opioid overdose victims with a network of naloxone carriers; it will give instruction in administering the medication; and it can optionally be interfaced with a breathing monitor to detect signs of an opioid overdose and automatically alert the network.

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Crowd-sourcing apps could potentially be used to facilitate access to evidence based care in specific regions of the country by sharing information about treatment capacity, waiting lists, and available beds in treatment centers. They could also help opioid-addicted patients in treatment, by enabling them to share their withdrawal experiences, ease fears, and offer suggestions. Families could also share ideas for encouraging loved ones to seek treatment. Crowd-sourcing capabilities like this might also augment mobile health (or mHealth) tools being developed as treatment and recovery aids. One mobile app, the Addiction Comprehensive Health Enhancement Support System (ACHESS) tool, developed with NIH support, utilizes GPS to warn users recovering from alcohol addiction when they are near locations that may be personal triggers for alcohol use; but it can also link users to other ACHESS users via text messaging or to pre-approved family members, friends, or peers for help, thereby bringing the power of crowd-sourcing to recovery support.

Crowd-sourcing is already beginning to change the face of public health. Since 2011 a participatory disease surveillance system called Flue Near You has collected reports of flu-like symptoms encountered by volunteer users via its Website, Facebook, or a mobile app. Similar tools are being used to crowd-source information on food-borne illnesses, toxic waste hazards, and other health threats. They could readily be applied to monitor drug overdoses. [Crowd-sourcing is featured in the new Jeremy Piven crime drama Wisdom of the Crowd. Piven’s software company created a program called “SOPHE,” which is basically Twittr for crime solving, where people can post any evidence or information they have related to a crime.]

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The NIDA-funded National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS) already crowd-sources emerging drug trends from its nationwide network of researchers, such as regional spikes in overdose deaths or emergency department admissions caused by particularly dangerous batches of heroin or counterfeit pills. If augmented with smartphone technology, this information could be more readily used to warn the public and share with public health authorities so that resources could be quickly mobilized to prevent further deaths in an area where a pocket is detected.  Such information could be a boon to implementation research by allowing researchers to determine if a prevention or treatment intervention or a new model for delivery of care was successful in achieving its goals.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) funded the Baltimore/Washington High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) to develop an app for first responders and emergency personnel called the Overdose Detection Mapping Application Program (ODMAP). Data gathered through this system can be used to identify localized spikes in overdoses over a 24-hour period, enabling a public health and safety response to be swiftly mobilized. Additionally, the app enables users to enter how many administrations of naloxone were used (if any) and whether the overdose proved fatal, which in turn can help identify areas where more potent opioids or mixed drugs might be responsible for the naloxone failure.

There are obvious issues of privacy protection and bystander legal protection, among others, that will need to be addressed in developing crowd-sourcing apps. But we should not allow the inevitable challenges in this relatively unexplored domain dissuade us from studying the possibilities. If we are going to end the opioid overdose epidemic we need “out of the box” thinking, and must avail ourselves of the new crowd-sourcing possibilities smartphones and social media apps are making possible.

 

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #4 – Is Jihad in the Qur’an and the Life of Muhammad?

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This is the fourth 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 # 4 – IS JIHAD IN THE QUR’AN AND THE LIFE OF MUHAMMAD?

IT IS HELPFUL TO provide some context about the average Muslim’s encounter with the Qur’an and hadith before diving into this week’s question. Even though the Qur’an and the hadith are the foundations of Islam, Muslim’s do not usually engage in systematically studying their teachings. This is true even of those Muslims who have memorized the entire Qur’an; though they may have memorized the Arabic recitation of the text, they often do not know how to determine or analyze its meaning.

This begins to make more sense when we remember that most Muslims are not Arabs, and they do not natively speak Arabic. In fact, nobody natively speaks the Arabic in the Qur’an, as classical Arabic has given way to colloquial forms of Arabic that differ significantly throughout the Arab world, and the only people who speak a form of Arabic that approximates the Qur’an are those who have studied it in schools.

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It is for this reason that, even though Qureshi had recited the entire Qur’an in Arabic by the age of five and memorized the last fifteen chapters by his teen years, his understanding of the Qur’an was limited to what he had been taught by the elders in his community. Similarly, though he had memorized the Arabic of shorter hadith traditions, he never even touched the canonical collections of hadith. The hadith Qureshi knew were those that had been selected by his elders. Often, during Friday sermons, weekend religious classes, or the like, hadith were recounted without any reference whatsoever. Qureshi said, “I do not doubt the good intentions of our teachers.”

Qureshi said none of this is to point the finger at Muslims, because only a small percentage of people in any religious community endeavor to critically engage their canonical texts. The time, education, and financial resources required for such efforts are luxuries not afforded to many. Yet the net effect of all this is that the vast majority of Muslims inherit their understanding of Islam and have not investigated the foundations of Islam for themselves. If they were raised in the West and taught that Islam is a religion of peace, as was Qureshi, then their first foray into the foundations might be somewhat of a shock, and they will probably soon find themselves either in a defensive positions or grappling with significant cognitive dissonance.

MUHAMMAD’S LIFE AND ITS REFLECTION IN THE QUR’AN

Let’s first consider the life of Muhammad as recounted in Islamic tradition and as reflected in the Qur’an, with a focus on peace and violence. Although there are many intractable problems that arise when studying Muhammad’s life, including questions about the historical reliability of the sources, discrepant archaeological findings, the ages of Qur’anic manuscripts, inconsistencies in geographic reports, foreign accounts of early Islam, and problematic merchant records, none of these detract from Qureshi’s aim to simply understand Muhammad according to Muslim tradition.

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Muhammad was born in 750 AD and experienced a very difficult childhood. His father died before he was born, and his grandfather also died. In his young adulthood he became a merchant and was known for his integrity, wisdom, and skill. At the age of forty, Muhammad received his call to become the prophet of Islam while meditating in a cave near Mecca. It came in the form of a revelation given to him by the angel Gabriel. These revelations were ultimately called Qur’an, and they gradually increased in frequency. His first thirteen years as the prophet of Islam were spent proclaiming these Qur’anic revelations to the polytheists of Mecca, primarily proclamations of monothesim. The mercantile economy of Mecca was bolstered by the pilgrimage of other polytheists to their city, which was home to 360 idols, so the polytheists of Mecca did not take kindly to Muhammad’s insistence the there was only one God.

During that time, Qur’anic proclamations also focused on welfare for orphans and widows and fellowship with other monotheists, such as Jews and Christians. Over the course of some years, many of the humble and weak became Muslims despite the threat of persecution. Some Muslims were indeed persecuted, and a few were even martyred before Muhammad escaped Mecca on the night of an assassination attempt. These early years of Muhammad’s ministry are known as his Meccan years, and they are the only years Muhammad did not deputize or personally engage in raids or battles. The Qur’an reflects this era of teaching in the Meccan surahs, or chapters, though the Qur’an is not neatly categorized. Meccan passages and later passages, usually referred to as “Medinan,” are frequently found side by side in the same surahs.

The next ten years were the last of Muhammad’s life. These were his emblematic years, often called the maghazi years by classical Muslim commentators. Maghazi means “raids,” and it is an appropriate description. At the end of his first year in Medina, Muhammad started launching raids and continued launching skirmishes or battles until he died. The first six such raids, however, were failures.

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The first successful raid that Muhammad ordered, the Nakhla raid, was controversial and remains so 1,400 years later. On Muhammad’s orders, raiders were sent to intercept a Meccan caravan quite some distance from the Muslim base of Medina. Whether by Muhammad’s intention or not, the interception occurred during a holy month, a time of truce between all Arabs. The Muslim raiders shaved their heads, making it appear that they were on a pilgrimage. Upon seeing that the Muslims were observing the holy month, the Meccans let down their guard and began setting up camp. That is when the Muslims attacked, killing and capturing undefended Meccans during a sacred time of truce, a great sin in the eyes of most Arabs.

When news of this treacherous act reached Medina, even many Muslims were understandably indignant. But then came a revelation from the Qur’an, defending Muhammad’s raiders against the inquiries of the dismayed: “They ask you about fighting in the holy months. Tell them, ‘Fighting in the holy months is a great sin, but a greater sin is to prevent mankind from following the way of Allah, to disbelieve in him’… [O]pression is worse than slaugher” (Surah 2:217). According to the Qur’an, the Meccan oppression of keeping people from Islam was worse than slaughtering them during a time of truce. This attack by the Muslims during the holy month, not at all defensive but entirely offensive, was vindicated by the Qur’an.

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Until this time, Muslims had only been victims, but now Allah was blessing their efforts with spoils. Understandably, Muhammad commissioned many more raids, and one of them inadvertently launched the first major battle in Islamic history. As Muhammad ordered a raid against a passing Meccan caravan, the caravan commander perceived his danger and sent to Mecca for reinforcements. The Battle of Badr was the result, and the odds were against the Muslims. Despite the odds, Muslims won the battle, and this victory has been forever etched in the spirit of Muslims and memorialized in the Qur’an.

As mentioned previously, the Qur’an discusses the battle in its eighth Surah, the chapter of the “spoils of war.” 8:42-43 describes the scene of the battle, and that Muhammad had brought the Muslims to attack a caravan based on a dream that it would be lightly defended. Upon arriving, they found a large Meccan army defending the caravan, and they fought an unexpected battle. Surah 8:7 describes the Muslims, upon seeing the Meccan army guarding the caravan, desiring to fight the lesser of the two forces, but Allah intended them to fight the stronger for the sake of “the truth.” This truth, of course, is that Allah is with the Muslims who struggle for him. The Muslims gained the upper hand and killed the Meccans, though it was not the Muslims who killed, but it was Allah who killed. The chapter ends by extolling those who emigrated from Mecca and carried out jihad against the Meccans (Surah 8:72-75).

On account of this victory, the Muslims were emboldened to fight even more, and the Qur’an explicitly told them to be so emboldened: “O Prophet, rouse the believers to fight. If there are twenty patient men among you, they will overcome two hundred. And if there are one hundred with you, they will overcome a thousand disbelievers because they are a people who do not understand” (Surah 8:65) Muslims increased the scope of their battles from raids to larger campaigns. In addition to raids against the Bedouins, Muslims attacked agricultural Jewish tribes to secure their fertile lands, including the Jews of Khybar, who, much like the Meccans during the Nakhla raid, were unarmed and unaware when the Muslims attacked. Muslims also fought campaigns for dominance over the Hijaz, a western region of Saudi Arabia. After Badr came the battles of Uhud, Khandaq, Mecca, and Hunain. In addition to these battles for land, Muhammad led Muslims on attacks against the Christian Byzantines at al-Muta and Tabuk, the former battle a result of Muhammad’s demand that the Emperor submit to Islam, the latter a battle for plunder.

THE MIXED NATURE OF QUR’ANIC VERSES

Most of these battles were offensive campaigns against mutual enemies. Such battles at times resulted in the complete decimation of the Muslims’ enemies, such as the defeat of the Jews at Khybar, who as a result had to pay half of their agricultural produce every year as a jizya, or ransom tax, before being expelled from the land regardless. Some of the battles were defensive, such as the battle of Khandaq, which was a Meccan siege of Medina. That particular battle involved new strategies of fighting, including digging trenches, that resulted in the Meccans leaving Medina after a bitter stalemate. Muhammad recouped some of his losses by decimating a tribe of Medinan Jews whom he accused of supporting the Meccans. He executed all pubescent boys and adult men, took their women and children for slaves, and divided their possessions among the Muslims, including lands the Jews owned that Muhammad had not been to before. This is recorded in the Qur’an (Surah 33:25-27), but with much more detail in the traditions.

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Some battles were complete losses, such as the Battle of Uhud wherein Muhammad was struck down and feared dead for a time. Other battles, though not as bitter, were fruitless, such as the ill-fated Battle of Tabuk where the Muslims were unable to even find their enemies. But the victory that is sweetest among all the eighty-six battles that Muhammad launched was the conquering of Mecca. Almost a decade after fleeing for his life and fighting repeatedly among the Meccans, Muhammad returned triumphantly with 10,000 warriors and conquered his homeland. What is most notable about this account is that even though these were the Muslims’ most inveterate enemies, great mercy was extended as most people who did not fight the Muslim conquerors were allowed to live. Only a handful of those who surrendered were executed.

The greatly varied experiences of the early Muslims are reflected in the Qur’an, and not in chronological order. Therefore, we can find verses commanding great peace and great violence interspersed throughout the text. There are verses that prohibit Muslims from fighting, verses that allow Muslims to fight defensively, and verses that command Muslims to fight even when they don’t want to. There are verses that designate Jews and Christians as friends of Muslims and verses that call them the worst of creatures. There are verses that tell Muslims to desist from fighting those who are peaceful, and verses that command Muslims to fight those with whom they have treaties; verses that say all who believe in God and do good works will receive his mercy, and verses that say anyone who follows a religion other than Islam will not be saved. There are verses that say Allah will certainly grant victory to Muslims if they fight, and verses that say Allay was testing Muslims by allowing them to be defeated.

This is why, according to basic principles of Islamic hermeneutics, it is problematic to single out verses of the Qur’an and draw conclusions without considering the historical context. Sine the Qur’anic text is not presented in chronological order, the endeavor is made more difficult. Especially when it comes to jihad, polemics are plentiful, but we ought to carefully consider assertions in light of the complex reality of Islamic traditions.

THE VIOLENT CULMINATION OF THE FOUNDATIONS OF ISLAM

Through the chronology of Muhammad’s life and the Qur’an, there is one clear trend: The proclivity toward violence in the early Muslim community continued to increase from the moment they could fight, through Muhammad’s death, and beyond. Muhammad’s leadership began peacefully for thirteen years, then ventured into small raids involving only tens of fighters, then engaged in significant battles with hundreds of fighters, and finally Muhammad conquered Mecca with 10,000 soldiers and secured the lands of the Hijaz with 30,000 soldiers. By the time of his death, Muhammad had conquered the Arabian Peninsula and most likely succeeded in his goal of cleansing it of all non-Muslims.

An increasing proclivity towards warfare is reflected in the Qur’an itself. The oft-cited peaceful passages, such as 2.256 and Surah 109, are among the earliest passages of the Qur’an. After them chronologically come statements such as 2.216, which says, “You are required to fight, even if it is hard for you.” Dozens, if not hundreds, of verses that suggest or command violence can be brought forth from the Qur’an, but the example of one particular Surah will suffice. Surah 9 of the Qur’an, called “the Disavowal,” is the last major chapter of the Qur’an to be revealed, according to Islamic tradition, and it is by far the most violent chapter. Because of it sweeping commands and finality, classical Muslim theologians understood it to function as the final orders from Allah to Muhammad, nullifying the earlier, peaceful passages of the Qur’an. (Nullification of former Qur’an passages is normative and called abrogation, as Qureshi will discuss in Question #5).

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The chapter begins with a disavowal. Now that the Muslims had conquered Mecca, all treaties they had made with the polytheists were to be nullified, though time would be allowed for the polytheists to decide whether they would convert to Islam, leave Arabia, or fight the Muslims. At the end of those months, the Muslims were commanded to “kill the polytheists wherever you find them, lay siege to them, take them captive and sit in ambush for them everywhere. If they (covert to Islam) leave their way.” (Surah 9:5) Of course, some of these polytheists were family members of recent converts to Islam. 9:23 says, “O believers, do not take your fathers and your brothers as family if they prefer disbelief over faith. Those of you who have friendship with them are doing wrong.” This was to be the categorical end of all relationships, the disavowal, between Muslims and polytheists.

The problem with this was that polytheists who came to Mecca brought trade to the city and income to Meccan Muslims. The next section of the Qur’an answers those who fear the economic repercussions of killing the polytheists of Arabia: “O you who believe, surely the polytheists are impure, so do not allow them to approach the sacred mosque after this time. If you fear poverty, Allah will provide for you from His grace, if He wills.” (Surah 9:28) How exactly will Allah provide? The next verse explains: “Fight those who do not believe [in Islam]… from among the people of the book [the Jews and Christians] until they pay the jizya and feel their subrogation” (9:29) In other words, Jews and Christians will be made to pay a ransom tax, helping to ameliorate the financial loss of expelling the polytheists.

A justification must be provided for unprovoked attacks on Jews and Christians, so the next verse (9:30) provides the reasoning. “The Jews say ‘Ezra is the Son of God’ and the Christians say ‘Christ is the Son of God.’ These are the very words of their mouths, they imitate what disbelievers said before them. May Allah destroy them!” It is not the actions of the Jews and Christians but their beliefs that have earned them their doom.

The following verses continue to make it clear that Jews and Christians, according to their beliefs, have set up partners with Allah, the unforgivable sin of “shirk” in Islam, and they will receive their just punishment. “They have made their rabbis and their monks into gods other than Allah: (9:31). This makes Jews and Christians like the polytheists, and thus Muslims ought to conquer them. According to Surah 9:33, “He [Allah] is the one who sent the messenger [Muhammad] with the guidance [the Qur’an] and the true religion [Islam] in order to prevail over every faith.” Note these last words. Islam is now to be dominant over every other faith. For this reason, Jews and Christians will be subjugated and made to pay tribute. Verses 34-35 clarify that these proclamations are still ultimately related to the financial concerns of Muslims, because they point out that the Jewish and Christian leaders have great wealth. These verses also taunt Christians, saying their “good news” is actually that they are going to hell.

So chapter 9 expands the scope of Islamic warfare tremendously. It begins as a command to disavow all treaties with polytheists and to kill them wherever they may be found unless they convert. It continues by telling Muslims not to worry about the financial impact of this policy, as Jews and Christians deserve to be conquered for being like polytheists themselves. Out of their great wealth they ought to pay Muslims, as Islam is the best religion and will “prevail over every faith.” This is the command of the last major chapter of the Qur’an, the final marching orders of Muhammad to his men.

JIHAD AND THEN NEW BARGAIN WITH MUSLIMS

Within this chapter, we see that an incredibly expansive scope of war is the new norm for jihad. In Surah 9:38-39, the Qur’an warns Muslims that if they do not fight they will be punished. “O you who believe, what is wrong with you? Have you become happy with the worldly life instead of the afterlife? If you do not march forth, He will punish you with a great punishment…” They are then literally commanded to fight jihad. “March, whether heavy or light, and carry out jihad with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah. That is good for you, if you only knew” (9:41). Turning to Muhammad, the Qur’an tells him that no true Muslim would avoid jihad. “Those who believe in Allah and in the last day do not ask you to excuse them from jihad” (9:41). 9:49 goes even farther, saying that such people are already encircled by hell.

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The words of the Qur’an here are important to grasp. A Muslim’s willingness to engage in jihad is an indicator of whether he or she really believes in Islam. This is because the outcomes of jihad are only good. Either one receives spoils, which are good, or one receives martyrdom, which secures eternal bliss (9:52). Those who do not engage in jihad are revealed to be hypocrites. Hypocrites are a category of people often discussed in the Qur’an, which portrays them as people who outwardly display belief in Islam but are actually liars. This is an important category which Qureshi will explore in more detail in Question #7.

As for those who do fight, 9:111 is axiomatic and essential for understanding the future development of jihad. “Surely Allah has bought from the believers their lives and their properties in order that paradise be theirs. They fight in the way of Allah, so they kill and are killed, on which there is a true promise… Rejoice in the bargain you have made!” Those who fight and die in the way of Allah have made a bargain. If they die, they are guaranteed paradise. A true Muslim ought to rejoice at this, according to the Qur’an.

This is the salvific contract that paved the way for the zeal of early Muslim conquests. On account of this verse, later Muslims would say that “the sword wipes away sins” (Ibn Mubarak, Kitah al-Jihad). It is no wonder that early Muslim warriors famously said they desired death more than their enemies desired life. They believed the promise of the Qur’an. The final major chapter of the Qur’an launched Muslims into warfare with no clear endpoint and a desire to fight to the death. This was the ethos that led to Muslims conquering fully one-third of the known world within 150 years of the advent of Islam.

OFFENSIVE VERSUS DEFENSIVE JIHAD

While many Muslims are aware of the battles in Muhammad’s life, they often believe the battles were all defensive. As we have seen, that is not true, not even of the very first battles that Muslims fought. Both Nakhla and Badr were offensive endeavors. The Qur’an attests of the Battle of Badr that Muhammad led Muslims out to battle expecting to find a lightly guarded caravan. After Muhammad had fled Mecca and had the ability to live peacefully, it was his command that let to the first blood spilled.

The Qur’an in 9:29 also gives Muslims the command to fight Jews and Christians because of their beliefs, not because of any aggression on their part. This understanding is verified by Muhammad’s launching of his fighters against the Byzantine Christians who had never even threatened Muslims. When Qureshi first discovered these facts, his response was to try and find a way to say they were, despite appearances, defensive battles. The raids Qureshi dismissed as historically uncertain, the Battle of Badr an attempt to reclaim what Meccans had stolen, the Battle of Tabuk a preemptive strike under threat of Roman attack. But these were Qureshi’s knee-jerk responses to defend the teachings he had inherited, and they were implausible at best. When considering the big picture, such explanations are wholly indefensible.

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The early Muslim community certainly had nothing against offensive attacks, as its conquests demonstrate. Common sense precludes them from believing that the vast conquests of the early Muslims all came from defensive campaigns, but the records of the conquered remove all doubt. One such record, The Chronicles of John, Bishop Nikie, reveals what happened during the Muslim conquests of northern Egypt in 640 AD. One of Muhammad’s companions, Amr ibn al-As, came with his army to an undefended city whose soldiers had run away in fear.

“Amr and the Muslim army… made their entry into Nakius [Nikiu] and took possession. Finding no soldiers, they proceeded to put to the sword all whom they found in the streets and in the churches, men, women, and infants. They showed mercy to none. After they had captured this city, they marched against other localities and sacked them and put all they found to the sword… Let us now cease, for it is impossible to recount the iniquities perpetrated by the Muslims after their capture of the island of Nakius.”

This is how history recounts one of Muhammad’s companions enacting jihad. Even though the record contains the slaughter of non-combatants, it appears to be more consistent with a plain reading of Surah 9 than do views of peaceful or defensive jihad.

THE HADITH AND JIHAD

What ultimately convinced Qureshi that jihad was primarily violent and often offensive was reading the hadith collections. For example, in Sahih Bukhari, the collection of hadith that Sunni Muslims consider most trustworthy, we find an entire book dedicated to Muhammad’s teachings on jihad. There Qureshi found a tradition in which Muhammad says, “I have been ordered to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped by Allah, and that Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger… [O]nly then will they save their lives and property from me” (Sahih Bukhari 1.2.25). Similarly, in the next most reliable collection of hadith, Sahih Muslim, there is also a book on jihad, and in it Muhammad says, “I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslims” (Sahih Muslim 1767a).

These traditions in hadith collections that Muslims consider most authentic seem to go even further than Surah 9 of the Qur’an. They imply that Jews and Christians will not be allowed to live in Arabia. While Surah 9 does not command this of Muslims, it does not prohibit it either. Consider another hadith that says fighting in jihad is better than praying and fasting ceaselessly.

“A man came to Allah’s Messenger and said, ‘Instruct me as to such a deed as equal Jihad [in reward].’ He replied, ‘I do not find such a deed.’ Then he added,’Can you, while the Muslim fighter is in the battle-field, enter your mosque to perform prayers without cease and fast and never break your fast?’ The man said, ‘But who can do that?’ Abu-Huraira added, ‘The Mujahid [Muslim fighter] is rewarded even for the footsteps of his horse while it wanders about tied in a long rope.” (Sahid al-Bukhari 4.52.44)

Another hadith from the same book bolsters an understanding of Surah 9, focusing on the good outcomes of jihad and Allah’s bargain with Muslims.

“I heard Allah’s Messenger saying, ‘The example of a Mujahid in Allah’s Cause… is like a person who fasts and prays continuously. Allah guarantees that He will admit the Mujahid in His Cause into Paradise if he is killed, otherwise He will return him to his home safely with rewards and war booty.'” (Sahih al-Bukhari 4.52.46)

A pithy hadith tells Muslims that jihad is the best thing in the world.

“The Prophet said, ‘A single endeavor [of fighting] in Allah’s Cause in the forenoon or in the afternoon is better than the world and whatever is in it.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 4.52.50)

These are but five of hundreds of hadith in the canonical collections that clarify the nature of jihad in the foundations of Islam. Islam is built on Muhammad’s teachings, and these teachings are contained within the canonical traditions. Simply reading the books on jihad found in these collections clarifies much.

CONCLUSION

Although the average American Muslim agrees that the Qur’an and hadith are the ultimate basis of their faith, many have not critically read the traditions. They would be surprised to find violent, offensive jihad shot through the foundations of Islam. The Qur’anic revelations reflect the development in Muhammad’s life as he moved from a peaceful trajectory to a violent one, culminating in Surah 9 of the Qur’an, chronologically the last major chapter of the Qur’an and its most expansively violent teaching.

Surah 9 is a command to disavow all treaties with polytheists and to subjugate Jews and Christians so that Islam may “prevail over every faith.” The scope of violence has no clear limits; it’s fair to wonder whether any non-Muslims in the world are immune from being attacked, subdued, or assimilated under this command. Muslims must fight, according to this final Surah of the Qur’an, and if they do not, then their faith is called into question and they are counted among the hypocrites. If they do fight, they are promised one of two rewards, either spoils of war or heaven through martyrdom. Allah has made a bargain with the mujahid who obeys: Kill or be killed in battle, and paradise awaits.

Qureshi says the summary in this week’s Question #4 is not an alarmist attack against Islam or intended in any way to be polemical. It is simply an overview of Islam’s foundational teachings on jihad with a focus on final orders. These teachings propelled a people to conquer much of the world at a speed and with a lasting impact arguably unparalleled in human history, save Alexander the Great. Yet most Muslims today do not live their lives based on chapter 9 of the Qur’an or on the books on jihad in the hadith, and there are good reasons for this. Qureshi will show us why in the answer to the next question, “What is Sharia?”

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #5 – What is Sharia? 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.

The Cross

In today’s advanced aged of technology, terrorism, and the search for peace, there seems to be no concrete answer. People look for an outcome that will satisfy their needs, but forget to look in the Bible for answers from God. Even though the manuscripts are over 2,000 years old, they remain relevant for many generations, to include the present and future populations seeking peace within their hearts.

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The only man-made things in heaven are the scars on Jesus Christ. He was wounded and killed so that we could spend eternity with Him and our Father God. Because of our belief in the sacrifice Jesus endured, we can be saved and forgiven for our sins. It takes faith to believe in something we cannot see. In fact, Hebrews 11: 1 tells us that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Most people only rely on tangible assets which they can touch, feel, and see.

We are to lead a Christian life, which includes love and sacrifice for the less fortunate. Eternity is forever, and where we choose to spend it is a personal choice that each person has to make on his or her own. The mistakes or confrontations we encounter daily in life bring us closer to God and His Son Jesus. Upon our request, the Holy Spirit will come along side us and provide a spiritual solution.

Water Color of Crucifixion

The Cross is symbolic because it provides us with the solution of forgiveness for our sins, and empowers us to forgive those who have hurt us by their actions or words. Jesus died on the cross even though he healed the sick and taught His disciples how to lead a Christian life filled with love, kindness, forgiveness, and honoring God by being an example to unbelievers. Words certainly can hurt when the tongue speaks in anger, hatred, envy, or jealousy. The cross gives us the ability to lead a godly life.

C=-Christian, R=Redemption, O=Optimism, S=Salvation, and S=Solution.

Without the Holy Spirit to guide us daily, we will be searching for answers we cannot find on our own. There is only one way to the cross; faith and belief that eternity has no end, and that we will be at peace, shalom, living with God forever. When we spend time in the Word daily, we find answers to life’s questions and how it all relates to God’s unconditional, everlasting love. The price for being forgiven of our sins has been paid in full by Jesus as He hung on the cross. God sent him to teach us how to live, and, ultimately, He showed us the unfathomable love of God, who sent His only begotten Son to hang on a cross in our place. Our transgressions have been forgiven, allowing us to spend eternity with our Creator.

Sunset on green Field Landscape

For since the creation of the world God’s visible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

The only way we can begin to thank God for this unbelievable sacrifice is to praise Him, allow Him into our hearts and lives, guiding us in this earthly world. We are to be a beacon. We are salt and light to the world. This is actually not an option. Jesus said that we are “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” He did not say, “You can be” or “You have the potential to be.” He said, “You are the salt and the light.” Everyone who is born again is the salt and the light of the world. (See Matthew 15:13-16.) We are salt and light to the world, not the church. Not to our family members or co-workers or classmates.  We are to go beyond the church  and share the Good News. We were saved to shine! We cannot hide our testimony. We have a story to tell. Jesus said we are to let our light shine before men in so they will see our good works and glorify God.

salt and light

Actually, as salt we Christians are to counteract the power of sin. As light we are to illuminate or make things obvious. Matters that need to be settled. Sin that needs to be exposed. We are to show others (believers and non-believers alike) that they should lay their burdens, their sin, their strongholds, their fears, their resentments at the foot of the cross. They have been crucified with Christ. Our lives are to be an ongoing witness to the reality of Christ’s presence in our lives. When we worship God with a pure heart, when we love others as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31), and when we do good without expectation of reward, we are shining lights. It is actually not our light, but a reflection of the Light of the Word, Jesus Christ.

We stand forgiven at the cross. We stand healed at the cross. We stand set free at the cross. The cross is the place where all the wounds of sin are healed. If you suffer from emotional problems – guilt, anxiety, depression, anger, resentment – there is healing through the cross of Christ. He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree. Clearly, God demands a penalty be paid for sin. Christ took that penalty upon Himself on the cross. The power of sin is too great. We cannot be delivered from it by turning over a new leaf. We can’t behave our way into heaven. Thankfully, we have a substitute, Jesus, who was a propitiation for our sins. When Christ died, those who believe on Him died too. We were identified with him in His death. When He rose from the dead, we were raised with Him into newness of life.

What happened at the cross shows us that God loves all people equally. He has a special place in His heart for those who are hurting – those who are under the penalty and power of sin. Simply put, the meaning of the cross is death. In was, after all, a means of execution for centuries. In Christianity the cross is the intersection of God’s exacting judgment and his unparalleled love. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Because of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice of the cross, those who put their trust and faith in Him have everlasting love. The cross, and the horrendous death endured by Christ, we are guaranteed eternal life.

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #3 – What is Jihad?

answering jihad

This is the third 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. 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 #3 – WHAT IS JIHAD?

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THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ISLAM defines jihad in this way: “In law, according to general doctrine and in historical tradition, the jihad consists of military action with the object of the expansion of Islam and, if need be, of its defense.” This is a fairly standard definition of jihad among scholars of Islam in the West.

In broader Muslim literature there appears to be no such widely accepted definition, but that makes sense given the various kinds of jihad and the myriad application of the term found in classical and modern Islamic literature. The primary meaning of jihad as used by pre-modern Muslim jurists is “warfare with spiritual significance.” This definition appeals more to Qureshi than the standard scholarly definition, because it reflects the reality of a less than rigid use of the term.

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The popular definition of jihad as “Islamic holy war” is misleading. The words holy war are charged with connotations of the Christian Crusades, but the impetus and theological justification of the Crusades were markedly different from jihad, as Qureshi will explore in Question 17.

THE DEVELOPING DOCTRINE OF JIHAD

Part of the reason why jihad is so difficult to define is that the Arabic word itself means “strife” or “struggle,” and it is not always used in a doctrinal sense. The Qur’an appears to use the term to mean a “struggle for spiritual purposes,” at times remaining ambiguous about whether a violent or non-violent struggle is in view. In fact, some verses do use the word jihad as a purely spiritual struggle, such as Surah 22:78.

The Qur’an frequently uses the word in reference to a violent struggle for spiritual purposes. A clear example of this is a discussion of warfare in Surah 2:216-218, which culminates in Allah’s approval of those who undertake this jihad: “Warfare is prescribed for you, though you dislike it… Behold, those who believe, emigrate, and undertake jihad, these have hope of the mercy of Allah.” It is incorrect to argue, as do some apologists for Islam in the West, that the word can only refer to a spiritual struggle. Even in the Qur’an that is demonstrably false, let alone in the tradition of Muhammad’s life.

In fact, when it comes to the hadith, far and away the most frequent context of jihad is violent physical struggle. Qureshi will explore this issue further in Question 4, which will be published here next Friday. But for now, we will merely note that this meaning makes sense when we consider the time during which the canonical hadith collections were compiled, which was at the pinnacle of Islamic conquests. The Muslim community then preserved those traditions that were most relevant to them. In so doing, they solidified the term jihad in the direction of a violent spiritual struggle.

By the time of the great Muslim jurists, the generations that founded various schools of Islamic thought and enumerated codes of Sharia, jihad had developed into a fairly systematized doctrine of warfare. Conditions and rules of jihad conduct had been developed based on the relevant verses of the Qur’an and hadith traditions of Muhammad. For example, jihad could not be the endeavor of a rogue Muslim, but had to be formally declared by a legitimate authority among the Muslim people, most likely the caliph, the leader of the Muslims. [So much for validation of the “lone wolf” ISIS sympathizers.] The impetus for jihad must be of critical importance for the religion of Islam itself, or at least for a great number of Muslims. The causes ought to be specified prior to engaging in warfare, as well as the terms for resolution. These rules of conduct explain why al-Qaeda regularly broadcasted proclamations of jihad with Usama Bin Laden prominently displayed as an authority, airing lists of grievances against the West and demands for the cessation of hostilities. The endeavor was not simply for dramatic purposes, but also to fulfill the classical conditions for appropriately launching jihad.

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There are other requirements of jihad that classical jurists upheld, conditions that were grounded in Muhammad’s teachings for the sake of humane warfare. These included refraining from killing non-combatants or looting their property, restraint from disfiguring the corpses of fallen enemies, prohibitions against scorched-earth policies, and more. Depending on the jurist, treatments of jihad differed in exact rules and emphases. Although many jurists appeared concerned with combatant conduct for legalistic purposes, by the classical era of Islam there was a definite concern for moral warfare and attempts to limit collateral damage by some jurists.

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Of course, the mere enumeration of rules of jihad did not necessitate their enforcement, and it is clear that Muslims did not always follow them. For example, non-combatants were frequently slaughtered in eighth- and ninth-century Islamic conquests. In addition, Muslim-on-Muslim jihad was proclaimed at times during the classical era, even though these pronouncements should have been categorized as non-jihad hostilities. To be clear, examples of Muslim-on-Muslim violence in the past were not the same as contemporary Muslim-on-Muslim jihad, which is often rationalized by accusing enemies of being apostates. This is a modern development, though with ancient roots, as Qureshi will demonstrate in Question 7.

Although the concept of jihad continues to develop to this day, one theme remains consistent. Because jihad is a struggle for spiritual purposes, a mujahid enjoys the benefit of Allah’s blessing. This promise is in the Qur’an itself, and it partially explains the prevalence of jihad throughout Islamic history, especially among those most zealous for Allah’s approval.

THE USE OF TERROR

Although the Qur’an probably does not envision something similar to twenty-first century terrorism, it does command Muslims to use terror and spread fear: “Prepare against them all the strength and war horses that you can to strike terror into the enemies of Allah and your enemies.” This teaching of the Qur’an is corroborated through the hadith, as Muhammad said, “I have been made victorious with terror.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 4.52.220). Casting fear into the heart of Allah’s enemies is thus enjoined in the Qur’an and has a precedent in Muhammad’s life.

THE GREATER JIHAD AND THE LESSER JIHAD

A regular feature in Western scholarly discussions about jihad is the distinction between the greater jihad and the lesser jihad. The account reads: “A number of fighters came to the Messenger of Allah, and he said: ‘You have done well in coming from the lesser jihad to the greater jihad.’ They said: ‘What is the greater jihad?’ He said: ‘For the servant [of God] to fight his passions.'” (Al-Bayhaqi, Al-Zuhd al-Kabir). From this tradition, a number of scholars and apologists defend the notion that jihad ought to be primarily understood as a spiritual struggle and secondarily understood as a physical one.

Although Sufi Muslims did develop the notion of “greater jihad” beginning in the twelfth century, there are significant problems with using the quotation above as a proof text for the primacy of peaceful jihad. Perhaps the most significant problem is that the Qur’an teaches the exact opposite. In Surah 4:95, the Qur’an says, “Not equal are those believers who are sedentary, other than the disabled, and those who undertake jihad in the cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives. Allah has granted a grade higher to those who strive with their wealth and lives than to those who sit.” The exemption for the disabled makes the verse particularly clear. Physical fighting is more virtuous than not, according to the Qur’an.

This may be why none of the canonical collections of hadith include the tradition of the greater jihad; those compilers either did not know the hadith or considered it too dubious for inclusion in their collections. As Muslim scholars assert, and as Western scholars ought to agree, it is inappropriate to look at an entire doctrine through the lens of a single hadith, especially if that tradition is not in any of the canonical collections. The fact that the tradition directly contravenes a Qur’anic teaching should put the matter out of dispute: The notion that spiritual jihad is greater than physical jihad has no place in the foundations of Islam.

THE “SIXTH PILLAR” OF ISLAM

On the contrary, physical jihad was given such a place of prominence in the foundations of Islam that it has been honorifically referred to by some Muslim scholars as “the sixth pillar.” The Five Pillars of Islam are the minimum practices incumbent on all Muslims: proclaiming the shahada, reciting daily prayers, paying alms, fasting during Ramadan, and performing the pilgrimage to Mecca. However, in the canonical hadith collections, a great emphasis is also placed on the Muslim’s duty to participate in jihad. Perhaps this is why, even in the earliest categorized hadith collections, the sections on jihad usually followed immediately after the sections on the Five Pillars. These traditions, as we shall see ahead, seem to imply that fighting is a requisite duty of all who are able.

CONCLUSION

Though the word jihad literally means “struggle,” and the Qur’an at times uses it in a spiritual context, the primary use of the word has always implied a physical struggle for spiritual purposes. The doctrine of jihad has been developing from the time of the Qur’an until today, in the classical era being expounded to include a code of conduct with injunctions designed to preserve innocent lives and lesson collateral damage. These rules, however, have not always been enforced.

The portrayal of jihad as primarily a spiritual endeavor, often by referring to the tradition of the “greater jihad,” is inconsistent with the Qur’an, the canonical hadith collections, Islamic history, and classical Islamic hermeneutics. It is an argument that has little grounding in reality. On the contrary, the foundations of Islam consistently portray jihad as primarily a physical struggle, as will be explored in Question 4 next Friday.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #4 – Is Jihad in the Qur’an and the Life of Muhammad? 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.

10 Ways to Write a Poem

I found the following post on Poetry Breakfast, a WordPress blog I subscribe to. Please stop by: https://poetrybreakfast.com/

  1. Reassemble the torn bits of the poem
    he left on your desk in 1989
  2. Listen to the waves wash around
    sanded jellyfish and mermaids
  3. Retrace the steps he took
    to give you a birthday kiss
  4. Dance with her in post-stroke
    and wedding dresses
    and a virtual audience
  5. Feather the skinned knees of every
    smooth-cheeked kiss
  6. Drink down wine
    turned to water
    turned to winter
  7. Stretch the length of your spine
    along his hand and the lined page
  8. Taste the fat of coffee cream lyrics
    sung by a burning boy
  9. Lock eyes with clasped hands
    across happy hour smiles
    and congenital heart defects
  10. Commit it all to paper
    commit to no one
    commit soul to holy hands
    commit the rest to memory

By Annmarie Lockhart

About the Poet:  Annmarie Lockhart is the founding editor of vox poetica, an online literary salon dedicated to poetry, and Unbound Content, an independent poetry press. A lifelong Bergen County, New Jersey resident, she lives, writes, and works two miles from the hospital where she was born. You can read her words at fine journals online and in print.