Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward: Conclusion

answering jihad

This is the final installment in a 19-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through eighteen covered eighteen questions people have most commonly asked 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.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

CONCLUSION—ANSWERING JIHAD

HOW SHOULD WE ANSWER JIHAD? This question is proving to be one of the more pressing and problematic of our time. If we avoid the truth about jihad, we leave the door open for innocent people to be killed in attacks like Paris and San Bernardino. If we lack compassion, we close the door to innocent people who need refuge from places like Syria and Somalia.

Responses to jihad recently have been far too polarized. Some leaders have asserted that radical Islam has nothing to do with Islam, while others have seemed to assume that radical Islam is the only form of Islam. Both are dangerous responses. Qureshi writes, “As I have made clear from the beginning of this book, I am not a policy expert and I do not know how to end our struggles with jihad. But I believe I do know where we should begin, with the truth about Islam and with compassion for Muslims.”

The Truth About Islam

Islam is a complex religion composed of many facets and layers. The expression of Islam that shaped Qureshi’s young life taught him to love his family, serve his country, pursue a relationship with his God, repent of his sins, and strive for a moral life. In addition, he was dogmatically taught that Islam is a religion of peace. He said, “But despite the many positive teachings and qualities, the reality is that Islam’s foundations contain a tremendous amount of violence. The life of Muhammad and the text of the Qur’an are the two pillars of the Islamic worldview, and the traditions of each progress from peaceful beginnings to a crescendo of violent jihad.”

Muslims are justified in moving away from the foundations of their faith either through centuries of accreted tradition or through an intentional re-imagining of the religion. If they do so, they may be able to express Islam both peaceably and with internal consistency. However, as long as Islam continues to place primary emphasis on emulating the person of Muhammad and following the teachings of the Qur’an, without successfully supplanting the canonical texts and traditions, the end result will be the same. Islam will direct its adherents to its violent foundations with violent results.

Qureshi says, “Therein lies the problem, as almost all Muslims, whether violent or peaceful, believe they are following the original form of Islam. Muslims who study the canonical texts carefully will ultimately be faced with the inescapable conclusion that their foundations are quite violent, which is exactly what happened to me. I fought the conclusion for years, but when the reality became unavoidable, I was faced with a three-pronged fork in the road and had to choose apostasy, apathy, or radicalization.”

The Accelerated Polarization of Muslims

This problem did not pose as much of a problem in past centuries or even decades. For the average Muslim it would have been a herculean effort to find and study these traditions, and most were shielded by received traditions. But the Internet has changed that, and any who wish to study the traditions of Islam can do so easily now with the click of a button. That is the major reason why Muslim polarization has been accelerating: We have been seeing more apostates, more nominal Muslims, and more radical Muslims than ever before.

And with the click of a button, radical elements and recruiters can also present the violent traditions of Islam to zealous or curious young Muslims, compelling them to follow. When perusing the propaganda of ISIS, one can see that they lure Muslims through many avenues, but the means of radicalizing them is nothing other than encouraging them to fulfill their Islamic duty by following the teachings of Muhammad and the Qur’an. Radical Islam’s interpretations of these traditions are the most straightforward, with the most consistent use of the original texts and the most coherent perspectives in light of early Islamic conquests and formulations of doctrinal jihad.

Even though Muslims are often raised with the teaching that “Islam is the religion of peace,” when they study the texts for themselves [as Qureshi has done], they are faced with the reality that Muhammad and the Qur’an continually call for jihad. They will stand at the crossroads for only so long before they choose what path they will take—apostasy, apathy, or radicalization.

Compassion for Muslims

As Muslims make that choice, it would benefit the whole world if they did not make it alone, or worse, with radical recruiters. We need to show compassion for Muslims and befriend them, not only because they are people who are inherently worthy of love and respect, but also because we can only speak into their lives and decisions if we have earned the right. Qureshi is not sure there is any way to intercept a Muslim at the three-pronged fork in the road, as there appear to be no markers or signs revealing the stage of a radicalized Muslim’s journey until after he or she has made their choice. We have to be walking with them before they arrive at the crossroads.

This means being proactive, not reactive. It means living life with people who might be different from us. It means integrating communities and social circles. It means stepping out of our comfort zone and loving people unconditionally, perhaps even loving our enemies. And it means doing all this from a place of genuine love, not ulterior motives. Only then can we stop fearing those who are our neighbors, and conversely, only then can we identify those who actually do pose a threat. Otherwise, we will remain behind a veil of suspicion and fear.

Fear is not a solution, as it will only alienate those we hope to deter from violence and serve as positive reinforcement to those who want to use terror. Fighting will not work, as it will only further convince those at the crossroads that the radicals’ cause is just. Also, some specific radicals, such as ISIS, actually want us to fight back. Their hope is that they will sufficiently anger the world such that we fight them on the field of Dabiq, ushering in the end of the world, as the tradition of Muhammad foretells.

Fear and fighting fuel the radical fires. We need something that breaks the cycle—and that something might be love. Not love as wistfully envisioned by teenagers and songwriters, but love as envisioned by Jesus [see 1 Corinthians 13], a decision to engage others as image-bearers of God, to put their needs and concerns above our own, even at the cost of our own.

Qureshi writes, “I am not advocating naïve pacifism in the face of genocide and murder. Many Christians believe it is the duty of the state to fight for and protect its people, as defending the oppressed is an expression of loving one’s neighbor. They often refer to passages such as Romans 13:1-5 and 1 Peter 2:13-14 to suggest that Christians should play active roles in such state-led efforts.” Qureshi adds, “I am not promoting pacifism, but neither am I advocating a violent response. I am, in fact, not advocating any particular course of action, but rather a frame of heart and mind that will, in turn, shape the way we respond.”

That frame of mind is truth and love, and both elements are essential. Without truth we will not be able to identify the real problem, and without love we will not be able to formulate an enduring answer. Regarding the latter, the Apostle Paul was correct: Even if we can fathom all mysteries and have all knowledge, it will not ultimately work without love. Qureshi notes, “Yes, I do suggest we share alternative worldviews with Muslims as one of our methods to address radicalization, especially the Gospel. The Gospel does not succumb to the pitfalls of fear or fighting, which only fuel radicalization, and it gives Muslims an appealing direction at the three-pronged fork in the road.”

Qureshi  said, “That is what happened to me. As I faced the reality of the violent traditions of Islam, I had a Christian friend who suggested that Islam did not have to be my only choice, that there was excellent reason to accept the Gospel. Apart from the appeal of the foundations of Christianity, I can say from my own experience that atheism and secularism offered little draw as an alternative to Islam as they were not spiritually robust, a reality to which many Muslims are finally attuned.”

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward

The Muslim world today has, by and large, rejected violent jihad in modern contexts. Expansive jihad, as it was envisioned in the foundations of Islam and practiced in the early centuries of the Islamic Empire, is a relic of the past. But radical Muslim groups such as al-Qaeda, ISIS and Boko Haram, will continue using jihad because of its expediency and the explicit mandates in the foundations of Islam.

Muslims today have unprecedented accessibility to the foundational texts of their faith, the life of Muhammad and the teachings of the Qur’an. Within those texts, they encounter a call to violent jihad. Unless Islam is re-imagined and emphasis is drawn away from these traditional foundations, Paris and San Bernardino might be our new normal. Sadly, it is not likely that Islam will be re-imagined soon, so we have to answer jihad as best we can.

Qureshi concludes, “My suggestion is that we engage Muslims proactively with love and friendship while simultaneously acknowledging the truth about Islam. This is not the final step in answering jihad, but it is the correct first step, and it offers a better way forward.”

Selective Timeline of Jihad in Islam

THE DATES LISTED BELOW are extrapolated from either Islamic traditions or from modern historical sources.

570: Birth of Muhammad
610: Inception of Islam
622: Flight to Medina/ Starting Point of the Islamic Calendar
623: Muslims Begin Raiding Meccan Caravans
624: Nakhla Raid
624: Battle of Badr
625: Battle of Uhud
627: Battle of Khandaq
629: Battle of Muta
629: Conquest of Medina
630: Battle of Hunayn
630: Battle of Tabuk
632: Death of Muhammad
632: Apostate Wars
633: Invasion of Persia
637: Conquest of Syria-Palestine
639: Invasion of Egypt
643: Incursions into India
670: Incursions into Cyrenaica
711: Conquest of Spain
732: Muslims Defeated in the West by Charles Martel Attempting to Conquer France
1099: First Crusade
1187: Salah al-Din Defeats the Crusaders
1258: Mongols Sack Baghdad
1453: Byzantine Empire Falls to Ottoman Empire
1492: Spanish Inquisition and Beginning of the Colonial Era
1683: Ottomans Defeated at Vienna
1918: End of World War I and the Colonial Era
1922: Dissolution of the Ottoman Empire
1928: Establishment of Muslim Brotherhood
1945: End of World War II
1948: Establishment of Israeli State
1966: Execution of Sayyid Qutb
1967: Six-Day War
1979: Egyptian-Israeli Peace Accords
1988: Establishment of Al-Qaida
1993: Bombing of World Trade Center
2001: September 11 Attacks Against the United States
2005: July 7 Bombings in London
2014: ISIS Establishes Caliphate
2015: Boko Haram Pledges Allegiance to ISIS
2015: November 13 Attacks on Paris
2015: December 2 Shooting in San Bernardino

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

answering jihad

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

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

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

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

AL-QAEDA

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Al-Qaeda Soldiers

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

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

mujahideen

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

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

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

Osama-bin-Laden-Found-Alive-In-Pennsylvanian-Amish-Community

Osama bin Laden

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

ISIS

isis soldiers

ISIS Soldiers

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

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

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Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

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

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

caliphate 21st century

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

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

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

BOKO HARAM

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Boko Haram Soldiers

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

Thanks for reading.

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