The Other Texts

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EACH OF THE WORLD’S major religions have sacred texts that form the cornerstone of their belief. These tomes typically instill laws, morals, character, and spirituality in its followers. As with the Bible, a religious text might be considered the inerrant Word of God. Texts can be literal, metaphorical, or both. Christianity has combined the Jewish Old Testament with the New Testament, which Christians refer to collectively as the Holy Scriptures. These words are regarded by Christians as sacred.

SACRED TEXTS OF THE FIVE MAJOR RELIGIONS

  • Christianity. The Holy Bible.
  • Judaism. The Talmud, Tanach, Mishnah, and Midrash.
  • Islam. The Qur’an and the Hadith.
  • Buddhism. The Sutras.
  • Hinduism. The Vedas.

THE CANONIZED JUDEO-CHRISTIAN TEXTS

The Old Testament

Old Testament Scroll

The Old Testament was fixed by a synod of rabbis held at Yavneh, Palestine about 90 A.D. The “other” semi-sacred texts were labeled the Apocrypha (“hidden away”). There are, however, many non-canonical texts relative to Christianity. Where no religious body has provided sanction or authorization, sacred writings have had to stand on their own authority. This is the case with Islam. Muslims believe the Qur’an does this easily. The Qur’an is said to authenticate itself by its internal self-evidencing power—just what that means I have no idea. Muslims base this claim on their contention that the Qur’an is composed of the very words of Allah communicated to Muhammad and recited by him without addition or subtraction.

Biblical accuracy has repeatedly been confirmed by subsequent physical findings to be razor-sharp. The first two chapters of Genesis contain the divine record of how the universe and life began. Though it was written as 66 separate books over thirty-five centuries ago, there is not a syllable in the biblical account of creation that is at variance with any demonstrable fact of science. Here is something interesting to contemplate. The Genesis account affirms that all creation activity was concluded by the end of the sixth day (2:1-3). On this issue, science agrees. According to the First Law of Thermodynamics, nothing new is being created today. Additionally, Genesis 1 affirms that biological organisms replicate “after [their] kind.” It is noteworthy that modern pseudo-science (i.e., the theory of evolution) is dependent upon the notion that in the past organisms have reproduced after their non-kind. The biblical account, however, is in perfect harmony with the known laws of genetics.

The New Testament

The New Testament Cover Page

There are several ways we can demonstrate the reliability of the New Testament and the four Gospels. First, we can look at the number of manuscripts or fragments of manuscripts available around the globe for comparison. Second, we can examine existing manuscripts and fragments to see if they stand the test of time. Evaluation would include looking for serious contradictions, omissions, additions, errors, and the like. Third, we can compare original or older copies of manuscripts and fragments with copies we have today to determine if there have been recent archeological findings that challenge or change what has been told in the New Testament.

COMPARISON OF CHRISTIAN AND OTHER ANCIENT MANUSCRIPTS

Regarding the New Testament, we literally have thousands of complete manuscripts and multiple thousands more fragments of manuscripts available for comparison. More than 5,000 copies of the entire New Testament or extensive portions exist today. We also have several thousand more fragments or smaller portions of the New Testament. If these numbers don’t impress, consider this: Compared to other works of ancient history, the manuscript evidence and copies for the New Testament far outweigh that of any other ancient works. For instance, there are less than 700 copies of Homer’s Iliad and only a handful of copies of any one work of Aristotle.

As a comparison, let’s visualize how the number of available classic manuscripts and biblical manuscripts stack up against a New York City icon:

  1. Average Classic Writing. 4 feet.
  2. One World Trade Center. 1,776 feet.
  3. New Testament Copies and Fragments. 1 mile.
  4. Old Testament Copies and Fragments. 1.5 miles.
  5. The Bible. 2.5 miles.

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CHRISTIANITY AND HISTORY

In addition, Christianity and history get along well. McDowell and McDowell (2017), in Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth For a Skeptical World, note that the facts backing Christianity are not part of a special “religious truth.” They are the cognitive, informational facts upon which all historical, legal, and ordinary decisions are based. Luke, the Bible’s first-century historian, demonstrates the historical nature of Christianity in his introduction:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainly concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4, ESV).

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a bona fide historical event. Luke says the resurrection was validated by Jesus Himself through “many proofs” over a forty-day period before numerous documented witnesses (see Acts 1:3). Certainly, the Book of Acts records much church history as well. New Testament scholar Craig Keener says, “Acts is history, probably apologetic history in the form of a historical discourse, with a narrow focus on the expansion of the Gospel message from Jerusalem to Rome. Luke’s approach focuses on primary characters and their words and deeds, as was common in the history of his day.

LUTHER AND THE WORD OF GOD

Martin Luther sought to make the Word of God the starting point and final authority for his theology. A professor of Scripture, Luther felt the Bible was of paramount importance, and it was there that he found the answer to his anguished quest for righteousness and salvation. (See “Martin Luther and the Righteousness of God.”)

In its primary sense, the Word of God is literally God Himself. We see this in John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (NIV). The Bible declares that, strictly speaking, the Word of God is none other than God the Son, the Second Person in the Holy Trinity, the Word who was made flesh and dwelt among us. Accordingly, when God speaks, it is not simply about imparting information; also, and above all, God acts through His very words. This is what is represented in Genesis, where we see the spoken word of God as a creating force: “God said…” and it was so.

THE BIBLE IS ALIVE!

What’s unique to the Bible is that in addition to telling us information we need to know about our religious doctrine, it also creates. This is true in the lives of believers and in all of Creation.

The Word of God is living and active because God is still moving through it today to speak to us, direct us, challenge us, inspire us. The Bible tells us that Jesus, the Word in the Flesh, came to dwell among us. To me, if anyone reads the Bible and somehow does not find Jesus in it, they have not truly encountered the Word of God. This notion of Jesus being the living Word allowed Luther to further counter objections raised by the Catholic church to his proposed doctrinal authority of Scripture above the church. Popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests argued that, since the church herself decided which books should be included in the canon of Scripture, the church had authority over the Bible. Luther said, “No way!” He believed it was neither the church that made the Bible, nor the Bible that made the church; rather, the Gospel—that is, Jesus Christ—made both the Bible and the church.

Hebrews 4:12a says, “For the Word of God is alive and active…” (NIV).

THE “OTHER” BIBLE

The word Bible ( from the Latin biblia) simply means “the books.” It appears to be from the root biblos, which is another word for papyrus or scroll. Because the Scriptures are believed to be inspired by God, the ancient Bible was considered to be a sacred tome. After completion of the Old Testament, and during the first centuries of the Common Era (C.E., also known as A.D., or “in the year of our Lord”), inspired authors continued to write sacred “scriptures.” These texts were written by Jews, Christians, Gnostics, and Pagans. Most are from the third century B.C. to the fourth and fifth centuries A.D.

The Jewish texts are in large part called pseudepigrapha, which includes the Dead Sea Scrolls; the Christian texts are called the Christian apocrypha; the Gnostic scriptures were considered by their orthodox rivals to be heretical. The phrase “The Other Bible” refers to holy texts that were not included in the official version of the Holy Bible. Of course, many people—believers and atheists alike—have wondered why certain Jewish and Christian texts failed to find a place in the Bible. Was it a question of divine authority or doctrine? Who made the decision to exclude these so-called “other” texts? God or man? Some have mistakenly concluded that Constantine simply made the decision of what to include when he commissioned 50 copies of the Bible for churches in his capitol city, Constantinople.

Because Judaism and Christianity canonized or authoritatively affirmed the Scriptures, the first Christians included seven books in the Old Testament that were not in the Jewish canon. The Old Testament and the Jewish scriptures were different until the Protestant Reformation, when reformers revised the Old Testament canon to agree with the Jewish canon. The Catholic Bible now refers to these seven books as deuterocanonical (as noted above, this translates to “belonging to the second canon”), while the Protestant Bible refers to them as apocryphal (or “outside the canon”). Some Protestants do not recognize them as having any kind of canonical status.

The canon wasn’t a quick decision by one man, but the product of centuries of reflection by the Church. 

Here is a listing of “other” texts that did not make it into the canonical text of today:

  • The Apocrypha. These are biblical writings that did not become part of the accepted canon of Scripture. Moreover, they are believed to not be inspired by God and only added by the Church. The apocryphal books include the following: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, I and II Maccabees and sections of Esther and Daniel.
  • Deuterocanonical Apocrypha. These are books which are included in some version of the canonical Bible, but which have been excluded at one time or another, for t0extual or doctrinal issues. These are called Deuterocanonical, which literally means the secondary canon.
  • The Forgotten Books of Eden. This is a collection of Old Testament pseudepigrapha. The list included such books as The First and Second Books of Adam and Eve, The Book of the Secrets of Enoch, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, The Testament of Joseph, The Odes of Solomon, and others.
  • The Lost Books of the Bible. A collection of New Testament apocrypha and pseudepigrapha.
  • The Biblical Antiquities of Philo. An alternative pseudepigraphal narrative of the Hebrew Bible from Genesis through 1 Samuel, written in the first century A.D.
  • The Gospel of Thomas. This is reportedly the writings of Thomas, the “doubting apostle.” This text contains a collection of the sayings of Jesus. Thomas was, of course, the twin brother of Jesus.
  • The Didache. A very early Christian apocryphal text.
  • The Sibylline Oracles. The Sibylline books were oracular Roman scrolls; these are the pseudo-Sibylline Oracles. There many similarities to early Christian writings, and they were quoted by the Church Fathers.
  • The Book of Enoch. This is one of the more critical and notable books of the apocrypha. Enoch introduced such concepts as fallen angels, the Messiah, the Resurrection, and others.
  • The Book of Enoch the Prophet. An earlier and very influential 19th century translation of Enoch 1.
  • The Book of Jubilees. A text from the 2nd century B.C. It covers much of the same ground as Genesis, with some interesting additional details. It may have been an intermediate form of Genesis which was incorporated into later versions.
  • The (Slavonic) Life of Adam and Eve. This apocryphal book (also known in its Greek version as the Apocalypse of Moses, is a Jewish apocryphal group of writings. It recounts the lives of Adam and Eve from after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden to their deaths. It provides more detail about the Fall, including Eve’s version of the story. Satan explains that he rebelled when God commanded him to bow down to Adam. After Adam dies, he and all his descendants are promised a resurrection.
  • The Books of Adam and Eve. This is the translation of the Books of Adam and Eve from the Oxford University Press Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha.
  • The Book of Jasher. The title of this book translates to The Book of the Upright One. It is included in the Latin Vulgate. It was likely a collection or compilation of ancient Hebrew songs and poems praising the heroes of Israel and their exploits during battle. Interestingly, the Book of Jasher is mentioned in Joshua 10:13: “So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.”
  • Excerpts From the Gospel of Mary. This fragment, of disputed authenticity, puts the relationship between Mary Magdalen, Jesus and the Apostles in a radically different perspective than traditional beliefs.

IS THE APOCRYPHA WORTH STUDYING?

Early Christians of the second and third century found the apocryphal books to be helpful resources for studying alongside the books of the Jewish canon. It helped them with articulating their faith and for determining questions of ethics. The general attitude, however, was that these so-called apocryphal books should not be read in public worship as Scripture; rather, they should be “tucked away” for private use only. Jewish scribes did not believe the apocryphal books of the Old Testament were divinely inspired. This was a critical factor in evaluating these extra texts for inclusion in the canon.

According to an article by Don Stewart on blueletterbible.org, the Apocrypha contains different doctrines and practices than the Holy Scriptures. For example, these texts teach the doctrine of salvation through works and purgatory. However, the Bible says, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3, NKJV).

The Apocrypha is not a well-defined unit. These books were rejected by a large number of biblical scholars up to the time of the Reformation. Protestants have always rejected the divine authority of the Apocrpyha, citing demonstrable historical errors. This hesitation is sometimes based on the presupposition that the church has weighed these books and found them to be without value, and therefore justifiably discarded and forgotten. This is often based on a belief that the writings included in this collection are full of false teachings that will jeopardize a reader’s grasp of sound truth.

When Martin Luther set about translating the Bible into German, he also translated the books of the Apocrypha. Although he took care to separate them out from the books of the Old Testament and to print them in a separate section—indicating they were not on a level equal to that of canonical Scripture—he still recommended in his preface to the translation that they’re “useful and good for reading.” The degree to which Luther valued these writings is reflected above all in the fact that he took the time and the trouble to produce a German translation of the Apocrypha. 

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Although most Christians agree that only those books included in the original Hebrew canon have “canonical” authority, here’s my takeaway. These books help us understand the Hebrew Bible. They give us insight into how the Old Testament may have been interpreted by first-century readers. These volumes provide many details pertaining to roughly four hundred years of history that transpired from the date when the last book of the Old Testament—the Book of Malachi—was written until the time of Christ. In addition, they help explain the cultural, political, and ideological milieu during the time just before Christ was born, which can only help aid our understanding of the Scriptures and the Christian doctrine.

It is important to note that the Roman Catholic Church has often stood on the deuterocanonical books to support certain doctrinal and theological points, including purgatory and praying for the dead, that are found nowhere in canonical Scripture. In short, during the Reformation, debates over doctrine were integrally tied to debates about which books were authoritative. Not only did the Protestants affirm that Scripture alone is the ultimate authority in faith and practice, but they were zealous to preserve the integrity of the canon, only recognizing the authority of those books affirmed throughout the history of the Christian church.

 

 

 

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Unveiling Islam and Muhammad

For nearly 95 percent of the world’s population, conversion to Christianity often means disowning, disinheritance, expulsion, arrest, and even death. At this moment, for the sake of the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:16-20), men and women are being whipped into submission, tortured, imprisoned, beaten, and banned from their families. Homes are being torched, entire families executed, so-called apostates stoned to death. This, of course, is nothing new. Christians have been persecuted and tortured since the first century because of their belief in Jesus. If you believe that these events are rare, or in the past, then you are sadly misinformed.

Despite the horrors of such persecution, Christianity cannot be snuffed out. Why? Because it is more than a religion. It is not merely a set of beliefs; a certain “sect” or denomination; it is not merely one of the many ways of “getting to God.” In this case, all roads do not lead to Rome! Christianity is about a relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior. He is the only means by which mankind can be saved and restored to a relationship with God the Father. Biblical Christianity assumes the very essence of truth. Truth implies the existence of error, and mutually exclusive claims of truth cannot both be correct.

Such is the case with Islam and Christianity. They cannot both be correct.

THE BASIS OF A RELATIONSHIP WITH ALLAH

A Muslim’s devotion is not an act of love, but of fear. I’ve learned this from talking to those who have come out from the darkness of Islam into the light of Christianity, as well as a missionary stationed in Northern Africa. I see this in biographies of men and women who were once Muslims but are now Christians. Every Muslim fears the scales of justice, which weigh his or her good deeds against their bad deeds. There is no grace; no forgiveness; no unconditional love. Moreover, there is no freedom to reject Allah. According to Hadith 9.57, those who leave the faith are to be killed.

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To the devout Muslim, “God loves you” is the brash claim of Christianity. No such statement can be found in the Qur’an. Whereas the Bible teaches that God hates sin but loves the sinner, Islamic scripture affirms that Allah hates sinners. Allah thinks even less of apostates—those who have abandoned their faith. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (NIV). The Qur’an says, “For Allah loves not transgressors” (Surah 2:190). Even if we take Islam at face value—as a religion that speaks of God—there is a major difference in the personal quality of Allah and God.

Islam teaches that Allah sent prophets and messengers to proclaim the truth. In Christianity, God the Father sent His Son to be Truth. Jesus came to teach the Good News, to die for our sins, and to reconcile men and women to God. In Islam, it is hoped that salvation is earned through one’s good works (Surah 3:31). One must love Allah in order for Allah to love that person in return. In Christianity, God loved us first (Romans 5:8).

Quran day of judgment

There is no security for the believer of Islam. The follower of Allah is left wondering if it’s Allah’s will that they make it to Paradise. Good works can only give the hope of heaven, but never the guarantee. The question will not be answered until the Day of Judgment. For the Christian, judgment was satisfied at the cross. Of course, this is an event rejected by Muhammad and Allah. In fact, Surah 14:4 paints quite a dismal picture: “We sent not a messenger except [to teach] in the language of his people, that he may enlighten them. Then Allah leads astray whom He wills and guides whom He wills. He is Almighty, All-Wise.” I’m shocked at the predetermination of this verse. Allah will decide who will enter Paradise. Faith has nothing to do with it.

In Islam, salvation is “awarded” by Allah arbitrarily to those he deems worthy. In fact, Muhammad questioned his own salvation, even though he was the greatest of prophets, supposedly appointed by Allah to “set the record straight.” According to Hadith 5.266, “Muhammad said: ‘By Allah, though I am the Apostle of Allah, yet I do not know what Allah will do to me.'” Allah will send to heaven whomever he pleases, and send to hell whomever he pleases.

Christian sects often argue over the validity and meaning of Romans 8:29-30: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (NIV). We’re told in Ephesians 1:4-5, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (NIV). In stark contrast to Allah, God had a plan for man’s salvation before He spoke the universe into existence. There are no works, special skills, incantations, indulgences, absolution, or actions to be undertaken in order to earn God’s love or to be forgiven and redeemed from our sins.

ISLAM AND POLITICS

Any religion built upon a foundation of salvation by personal righteousness—i.e., by works alone—is based on the individual loving and pleasing God before God will love them. Allah must be coaxed into loving the individual. In Chapter 4: The Daily Life of a Muslim Woman, it is stated, “Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) was called on to furnish an example through following which mankind’s love for their Maker could find full expression and its highest fulfillment by enabling them to win the love of Allah” [Italics mine]. This is quite the opposite of unconditional love. It is, in fact, nothing resembling God’s agape love.

Here is the curious “other side of the coin” in this exchange of affection and devotion for Muslims. In return for showing love to Allah, Muslims expect reciprocity. Their obedience earns prosperity. Surah 24:54-56 says, “Allah has promised those who have believed among you and done righteous deeds that He will surely grant them succession [to authority] upon the earth just as He granted it to those before them, and that He will surely establish for them [therein] their religion which He has preferred for them and that He will surely substitute for them, after their fear, security, [for] they worship Me, not associating anything with Me. But whoever disbelieves after that—then those are the defiantly disobedient.”

To the Muslim, the key is that prosperity is understood as integrating politics and religion. The Islamic theology of “prosperity for devotion to Allah” shows that religion and politics are inextricably connected. This is true solely for the purpose of hijrah. Islam intends to conquer and dominate all of mankind, thus forming a worldwide caliphate. How does this differ from the Great Commission of spreading the Gospel to all corners of the world? The most vital difference is Christianity does not intend to infiltrate politics in the same manner as Islam. Christianity is a religion that focuses on mankind’s relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Islam is a theocracy that intends to force everyone, everywhere, to believe and act in exactly the same manner. It’s akin to fascism; the individual does not matter. Only the state matters.

MUHAMMAD’S MILITARY CAMPAIGN

Muhammad intended to conquer all of Northern Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Europe. He is known to have wiped out entire caravans of his own people in order to steal their gold, cash, and other property to fund his campaign. His prosperity depended upon the extent to which he and his fellow Muslims showed hatred toward the enemies of Allah. Interestingly, Muslims may not secretly or inwardly love the enemies of Allah even if they seemingly shun them or hate them outwardly. Surah 14:38 says, “Oh our Sustainer! Thou truly knowest all that we may hide [in our hearts] as well as all that we bring into the open: for nothing whatever, be it on earth or in heaven, remains hidden from God.”

Islam has insurmountable objections to Western civilization in general, and the United States in particular. This seems to be a fusion of their views of liberalism as the ultimate evil with medieval Islamic theories that divided the world into two hostile factions: the House of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the House of War (dar al-harb). The House of Islam included all territory under the rule of Islam, while the House of War was the rest of the world that refused to recognize the authority of Islam. The House of War is open to warfare or jihad. Thankfully, most Muslims today do not hold this view.

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This is why it upsets me to hear someone completely disparage and dismiss all Muslims in reaction to 9/11, the U.S.S. Cole, and many other violent and cowardly attacks of militant extremists. To do so is to decide to hate those we should instead want to reach with the love and grace of Jesus Christ. It amounts to choosing resentment of an entire culture of God’s children for the heinous acts of some. Remember, no one will go out of their way to help or witness to those they despise. It is only jihadis  who accept this dichotomous view of the world. They have a hatred (directed by Muhammad as outlined in the Qur’an) of anyone who is not Muslim. This hatred is the very cornerstone of their foreign policies.

For some jihadis it is not enough to assert that the conflict is a natural part of God’s order. To satisfy their reading of Islamic law, they must find some way to show that the current enemies of Islam are the aggressors. In fact, these jihadis claim it is the enemies of Islam—the infidels, specifically America and Israel—that started this war. They believe Christians and Jews are entirely responsible for the struggle between Islam and the unbelievers. In addition, these Islamic extremists identify leaders of the “liberal” West—men like George W. Bush, Tony Blair, or Donald Trump—as tyrants. The jihadis claim these men share the characteristics of the tyrants mentioned in the Qur’an. In an ironic twist, they accuse such leaders of wanting to take over the world.

Islamic extremists argue that the first representatives of unbelief were, of course, the Jews and the early Christians. They note that the Byzantine Empire took to the battlefield to destroy the Muslims, but they don’t admit that the Byzantines were merely attempting to stop Muhammad’s conquests. The Byzantine Army was not lying in wait, nor did they pursue the Arab Muslims.  Muhammad received intelligence that a Byzantine army was in North Saudi Arabia, so he called a jihad against the Byzantines. This was the first battle of Mu’tah in 629 A.D. The Islamic military then pushed in to Byzantine Syria and eventually destroyed the Empire. The Crusades were actually a plea for help from the Byzantine Emperor. Of course, the Islamic extremists see the Crusades as an attempt to wipe Islam off the face of the earth. In fact, they believe the Crusades never really ended. All interactions between European governments and America and the Muslim nations today are seen as a continuation of the “crusading spirit” of the Middle Ages.

Islam and Byzantine Empire Clashes

A CLOSER LOOK AT MUHAMMAD

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

Prophet-Muhammad

Muhammad was born in 571 A.D. and experienced a very difficult childhood. His father died before he was born, and his grandfather passed away when he was young. In his young adulthood he became a merchant and was known for his integrity, wisdom, and skill. At the age of forty, Muhammad alleges to have received his call to become the prophet of Islam while meditating in a cave near Mecca. He said the angle Gabriel appeared to him in a revelation. Islam claims Allah sent his chief messenger, Muhammad, to guide people as the perfect exemplar. Unparalleled in wisdom, character, and spiritual devotion, Muhammad led the new Muslim community from ignorance, through oppression, and into glorious victory for the sake of Allah. These revelations resulted in the Qur’an. Muhammad claimed that he was not preaching a new religion, but simply the culmination of what God had revealed in the Hebrew prophets and in Jesus, whom Muhammad considered to be a great prophet, but not divine.

Although some traditional Muslims claim Islam has always existed, and was the first true religion—claiming as some of its prophets Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus—Muhammad introduced Islam in 610 A.D. His first thirteen years as the prophet of Islam were spent proclaiming these Qur’anic revelations to the polytheists of Mecca. The Islamic teachings proclaimed, “There is no god but God [Allah], and Muhammad is his Prophet.” The mercantile economy of Mecca was bolstered by a steady pilgrimage of polytheists to their city, which was home to 360 idols. These businessmen opposed the preaching of Muhammad, which insisted there was only one God. Muhammad essentially founded the first Muslim community, in which worship, as well as civil and political life, followed the guidelines set out by him. Muslims considered him to be flawless despite being human. Islamic theology has accorded him the title al-Insan al-Kamil, “the man who has attained perfection.”

Far from perfection, Ibn Hisham states in the introduction of his translation of Ibn Ishaq’s biography of Muhammad, Sirat Rasul Allah, that he altered the story of Muhammad’s life. “Things which it is disgraceful to discuss, matters which would distress certain people, and such reports as [my teacher] told me he could not accept as trustworthy—all these things I have omitted.” You can read the biography at archive.org, but it is a tedious process given the site has photographed the book two pages at a time and posted it for our purview. Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, writes, “I do not doubt that Ibn Hisham had noble intentions, but it does not change the fact that he altered Muhammad’s story to make it more palatable…”

MUHAMMAD’S MILITARY AND POLITICAL CAMPAIGN

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Muhammad and his followers set out on a military and political campaign that eventually gave them control over Mecca. Part of his campaign included the destruction of all idols. Muhammad escaped Mecca on the night of an assassination attempt. Historians refer to these early years of Muhammad’s ministry as his Meccan years, and they are the only years Muhammad didn’t engage in raids or battles.

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,” which is an appropriate description. At the end of his first year in Medina, Muhammad started launching raids.  From the time Muhammad first obtained a following, he launched raids and battles every year until he died. 

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 the holy month of Ramadan, 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 Muhammad’s men 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 rather “convenient” 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 slaughter” (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 Ramadan, not at all defensive but entirely offensive, was vindicated by the Qur’an.

hadith

While the primary source of Islamic doctrine is the Qur’an, the Qur’an is not biographical in nature, and it tells us practically nothing about Muhammad. Much of his life and sayings are contained in the Hadith. Muslims tend to focus solely on the good characteristics of their prophet, and to completely ignore less admirable qualities. We have already seen that Muhammad began robbing caravans after leaving Mecca. As a result, greed soon became one of the primary factors in people’s rapid conversion to Islam. Indeed, Muhammad deliberately used the spoils of war to lure people to Islam. When he was criticized for the way he distributed his newfound wealth, he replied, “Are you disturbed in mind because of the good things of this life by which I win over a people that they may become Muslims while I entrust you to your Islam?”

Although Muhammad patiently endured persecution in Mecca, his attitude quickly changed when his numbers grew in Medina. Soon he would tolerate no criticism whatsoever. According to our earliest biographical source, a man named Abu Afak—who was more than a hundred years old—wrote a poem criticizing people for converting to Islam. Muhammad demanded he be killed, and Abu Afak was murdered in his sleep.

Muhammad’s violence was directed toward groups as well. Muhammad once said to his followers, “I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslims.” The Jews of Qurayza resisted Muhammad and attempted to form an alliance against him. When the alliance faltered, Muhammad acted quickly. His armies surrounded them and besieged them for twenty-five nights until they were sore pressed and God cast terror into their hearts. Then they surrendered, and the apostle confined them in Medina. Muhammad had trenches dug near the market in Medina, then sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches. There were 600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900. Every male who had reached puberty was killed. Muhammad divided the women, children, and property among his men, taking a fifth of the spoils for himself.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Muslims believe that Muhammad was morally perfect, and that an examination of his life proves he was a prophet. The evidence, however, shows that Muhammad was far from morally perfect, and that there’s no good reason to believe that he was sent by God. There is a world of difference between the Muhammad of history and the Muhammad of faith. In contrast, Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, who performed miracles, died on the cross, and rose from the dead. A careful historical investigation confirms all of these beliefs. Apologetics has done a fine job of linking incontrovertible evidence from theological and secular sources to the truth of Jesus. Thus, while Christians have absolutely nothing to fear from an examination of early historical sources, history is a huge problem for Islam.

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #12 – Are Muslims Trying to Take Over the West With Sharia?

answering jihad

This is the twelfth 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 # 12 – ARE MUSLIMS TRYING TO TAKE OVER THE WEST WITH SHARIA?

sharia law

IN A SPEECH THAT AIRED ON Al-Jazeera in April 2006, Muammar Gaddafi said, “We have 50 million Muslims in Europe. There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe—without swords, without guns, without conquests… [they will] turn it into a Muslim continent within a few decades… Europe is in a predicament, and so is America. They should agree to become Islamic in the course of time, or else declare war on  the Muslims.”

This statement affirmed the concern of many conservatives in the West that Muslims had launched a demographic and ideological war, seeking to subvert Western law and culture to Islam. It sparked a conversation that has scarcely subsided since, primarily focused on two matters: Sharia and Muslim demographics.

SHARIA AND WESTERN LAW

There is more than one way that people envision Sharia being imposed on the West. A caricature view is that Sharia will be systematically implemented in the United States such that it wholly supplants the Constitution. This, of course, is virtually impossible, and there is no explication of Sharia law that would allow it to be applied as the entire code of law for a nation. Sharia is not a document or a set of documents that can govern a nation. Even in Muslim countries, the endeavor to apply Sharia consistently and comprehensively, like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, there are always supporting charters or constitutions that outline the details of governance.

sharia versus constitution

A more realistic concern of conservatives is that principles or precedents of Islamic law might become implemented in Western society. In November 2010, over 70 percent of voters in Oklahoma approved the Oklahoma International and Sharia Law Amendment, requiring courts to rely only upon federal or state precedents in their legislation and not upon international or Sharia law. The proximate cause of this bill’s popularity appears to have been the fact that Sharia already had impacted American court decisions, even excusing rape.

In 2009, a seventeen-year-old girl in New Jersey filed for a restraining order against her Muslim ex-husband who had forced her to have intercourse with him despite her tears and pleading. Her marriage had been arranged in Morocco just before moving to the United States. The judge refused the restraining order because the husband had not been acting with “criminal desire or intent” according to Sharia. The judge ruled that the teenager’s husband “was operating under his belief that… as the husband, his desire to have sex when and whether he wanted to, was something that was consistent with his practices, and it was something that was not prohibited.” Though the judge admitted that the action effectively constituted rape in American law, he denied the man was guilty.

The amendment for banning Sharia in Oklahoma was fueled in part by the example of this court case in New Jersey. Despite obtaining a 70 percent vote in favor of banning foreign precedents, the law never took effect. Muslim interest groups successfully challenged it for being anti-Islamic and unconstitutional. The United States District Court deemed that the amendment was not “narrowly tailored” and not “justified by any compelling interest.”

SHARIA, ISLAMOPHOBIA, AND FREE SPEECH

Less pronounced among conservatives than the two concerns above, though perhaps more widespread, is the fear that Islamic culture will indirectly influence Western law. For example, Sharia effectively bans any and all criticism of Muhammad and Islam. The biographic traditions of Muhammad indicate that he ordered assassinations of people who composed poems against him or his teachings, such as Abu Afak, an elderly man who took issue with Sharia and its apparently arbitrary commands. After he was assassinated, a breastfeeding mother of five, Asma bint Marwan, lamented the murder, and Muhammad ordered her to be assassinated as well. These are but two examples of how the traditional foundations of Islam disavow free speech, and they shed light on why the international Muslim community is outraged by criticism of Muhammad. Such outrage is the appropriate response according to Muhammad’s example. The same reaction extends to drawings of Muhammad and criticisms of Islam as a system.

Under-Sharia-Law-1The Organization of Islamic Cooperation is an international coalition of fifty-seven member countries that works to “safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world.” It publishes annual reports of Islamophobia in the West. Islamophobia is a poorly circumscribed concept, ostensibly used to describe bigotry toward Muslims, but many times simply an umbrella term to refer to any and all criticism of Islam, or Muslims, real or imagined.

Member Countries of OIC

Through its annual publication, the OIC unabashedly lobbies against free speech, hoping to silence criticism of Islam. According to the OIC, free speech protects people who “have time and again aroused unwarranted tension, suspicion, and unrest in societies by slandering the Islamic faith through gross distortions and misrepresentations, and by encroaching on and denigrating the religious sentiments of Muslims.” In other words, people who criticize Islam are to blame for the unrest in Muslim societies. The OIC’s proclamation is directly antithetical to one of the premises of free speech, which is that people must be responsible for their own reactions in the face of ideas or beliefs that anger them. The OIC’s proclamation is entirely aligned with Sharia, however.

Partially in response to the OIC’s lobbying, many Western governments are considering laws that might limit free speech. In 2008, in direct response to pressure applied by Muslim constituencies, the European Union mandated that its nations combat “xenophobia” by making it illegal to incite hatred against a person based on religion. Although the mandate seems noble in intent, it does not clearly delineate where “criticism of ideas” ends and “hatred against a person on account of religion” begins.

european union

Qureshi’s own concerns about Sharia in the West lie in this third area, particularly concerning possible governmental restrictions on free speech. Qureshi said, “I believe ideas can be dangerous, even popular ideas held by millions, and I furthermore believe we ought to be able to discuss such ideas freely. Unfortunately, there is a growing mob mentality even in the United States that allows unpopular ideas to be shouted down and the people voicing them to be accused of closed-mindedness and bigotry. I would not be surprised if, in the next generation, certain unpopular ideas were made illegal through restrictions on free speech.”

The OIC is not the only influential and wealthy organization trying to limit the free speech of Westerners; there are similar efforts far closer to home. CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations, presents itself as a moderate Muslim organization aimed at protecting the liberties and interests of Muslims in the United States. However, the United Arab Emirates has labeled CAIR a terrorist organization, and the United States Department of Justice has judged them to be the American arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. CAIR actively engages in restricting free speech on American soil under accusations of “Islamophobia.”

islamophobia

CAIR’s use of the term Islamophobia is even more concerning than the OIC’s, as they are willing to accuse Muslims who disagree with them of being Islamophobic. When Raheel Raza, president of Muslims Facing Tomorrow, attempted to speak out “against barbaric treatment of women by radical Islamists” by a screening of her film Honor Diaries, CAIR intervened and shut down the screening. The treatment that Raza wished to criticize was, by and large, an implementation of Sharia, so CAIR accused her of Islamophobia even though she is a Muslim.

MUSLIM DEMOGRAPHICS AND RADICAL ISLAM BY THE NUMBERS

Raza released another video at the end of 2015 in tandem with the Clarion Project. Called By the Numbers, it focused on exploring Muslim opinions and demographic trends. In the video, Raza explains that the world of radical Islam can be understood through three “spheres of radicalization,” each successive circle growing larger but less overtly radical. The first and smallest circle she calls “violent jihadists.” This is the group Qureshi calls mujahideen, Muslims who themselves perpetrate violence and warfare. The total number of mujahideen fighting for ISIS, combined with those fighting for al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, and others, ranges from 160,000 to 450,000 worldwide, 0.01 to 0.03 percent of the global Muslim population.

mujahideen

The next sphere she calls “Islamists,” Muslims who actively impose Islamic dominance by working within Western political and cultural systems. Examples include Hamas in Palestine, CAIR in the United States, and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The Brotherhood has an explicit goal of establishing an Islamic state with a global caliphate, yet it is given the freedom to pursue its aims of Islamic dominance because it employs non-violent methods.

The largest and broadest sphere of radicalization Raza calls “fundamentalists.” These are Muslims who neither pick up arms nor attempt to overthrow governments, but simply “hold beliefs and practices that no doubt seem radical.” Citing a 2013 Pew Forum survey of thousands of Muslims in thirty-nine countries, Raza reported that 237 million Muslims are in favor of capital punishment for apostasy, 345 million are in favor of honor killings as a punishment for illicit sexual relations, and 469 million want to be governed by Sharia law, approximately half of whom explicitly supports whippings and stoning. These numbers reflect only Muslims in the countries surveyed. Adding the opinions of Muslims in other countries, such as India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and China, would increase these numbers.

muslim support for sharia

Laws regarding stoning, whippings, amputations, and the like are found in the traditional texts of Islam, many in the Qur’an. These are the punishments associated with hudud laws, those crimes committed against God himself. Raza implies that support for these laws constitutes radical Islam.

Thus, according to Raza’s categories, radicalism is prevalent in the Muslim world, depending on how it is understood. If we consider only mujahideen to be radical Muslims, then the number of radical Muslims might be as low as 0.01 percent. But if we consider those who desire Sharia governance to be radical, then at least 29.3 percent of the Muslim world is radical. Raza seems to suggest we should consider the latter number as more reflective of Muslim radicalism in the world today.

It may go without saying, but Qureshi thinks the situation is slightly more complicated than that. He said, “In my experience, many who say they support Sharia only do so because it is the right answer for a Muslim to give. They have romantic notions of what Sharia is, and they do not realize exactly what they are supporting. This is reflected in the survey itself, as 469 million expressed a desire for Sharia law, only half supported the specific laws that would come with Sharia.”

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The same may have been the case when the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power in the Arab Spring. It was the summer of 2012, and Qureshi was enrolled in an immersion Arabic program. His professor was a young, politically oriented Egyptian Muslim. Qureshi asked her what she thought of the Brotherhood, and she said, “We will see. They seem like good people who want to do the right thing, but we will find out.” Egypt did find out the hard way. When the nation realized the reality of the Brotherhood’s Islamic aims, including its dictatorial means, the nation turned on them. The crackdown on the Brotherhood was brutal. Voters in Egypt didn’t know what they had asked for.

CONCLUSION

So, are Muslims seeking to take over the West with Sharia? Qureshi would be quick to answer, “No, but…”

No …because the question implies a conspiracy among the average Muslim immigrant, as if all Muslims are part of a ploy to take over the West. Qureshi says that idea is “…untrue and ludicrous. In my experience, Muslim immigrants are simply trying to live life as best as they know how, as are all of us. For the vast majority, imposing Sharia does not even enter their minds.”

Butbecause many Muslims do entertain romantic notions of Sharia and Islamic dominance. The Golden Age of Islam appeals to many hearts, and in the minds of most Muslims it is nebulously connected to Sharia. Yet as Muslims in Egypt loudly declared through the swift ousting of their elected Muslim Brotherhood president, the average Muslim might not know what Sharia really looks like. Overarching all of this is the undeniable demographic shift: Muslims are coming to the West, and they are bringing their culture and values with them.

Qurehsi concludes, “My encouragement to those who fear Muslim immigration is that we should engage immigrants with love and friendship, sharing our views and our lives with one another. Part of the reason why Muslim immigrants in the West can become radicalized, as with Sayyid Qutb, is that Westerners do not help them to understand our culture and do not provide them with appealing ways of navigating it. Segregating ourselves from those immigrants with whom we disagree only encourages further disagreements and misunderstandings. Instead of fearing Muslim immigrants, we should embrace them and be the element of change we wish to see. Had someone done that with Sayyid Qutb, the world might be a different place today. I suggest friendship rather than fear as a better way forward.”

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #13 –Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.

 

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #11 – Why Are Muslims Being Radicalized?

answering jihad

This is the eleventh 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 #11 – WHY ARE MUSLIMS BEING RADICALIZED?

SOME REPORTS ESTIMATE THAT 5,000 Europeans are fighting for ISIS, and more are being recruited every day. There is no specific mold for those who leave home to join ISIS, as the three teenagers from Bethnal Green demonstrated. They were among the top in their class, they were popular, they enjoyed pop culture, their parents loved them, and they were girls. While there are no clear indications of who will be radicalized or when, certain trends can be discerned.

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In February 2015, the US State Department Acting Spokesperson Marie Harf suggested that a “lack of opportunity for jobs” might be a significant factor in radicalization and terrorism. If anything, the opposite seems to be the case. Many Islamic extremists are wealthy or have well-paying jobs. Princeton-trained economist Claude Berrebi published a detailed study in 2007 (“Evidence about the Link between Education, Poverty, and Terrorism among Palestinians”) that concluded “both higher education and standard of living are positively associated with participation in [radical Muslim groups] and with becoming a suicide bomber.” It appears that resources and education are factors that assist in moving young Muslims toward radicalization. This follows the pattern of Sayyid Qutb and Osama bin Laden.

Suraj Lakhani, a scholar of radicalization in Wales, suggests that the process is driven by religious concerns and a drive to bolster one’s personal identity. In addition, he believes that radical groups such as ISIS are able to radicalize young Muslims directly through the Internet, and he cautions that young Muslims ought not be allowed to hear ISIS messages or interact with their recruiters. Qureshi said, “Naturally, I agree that interacting with ISIS recruiters is a bad idea, but what the recruiters say may shed the most insight on the radicalization process. Although ISIS lures potential recruits with a variety of hooks, its strongest emphasis, drawing on the Qur’an and hadith, is that it is the duty of good Muslims to fight against the enemies of Islam, and to emigrate to the Islamic State once it has been established.

ISIS’S METHOD OF RADICALIZING YOUNG MUSLIMS

ISIS’s message is not an enigma, as the group has been publishing a professional-looking, glossy periodical. The Clarion Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to exposing the dangers of Islamic extremism, has been posting each issue of this magazine online (http://clarionproject.org), where you can read ISIS propaganda for yourself. The publication is titled, “Dabiq,” an eschatological reference to the location of the final battle between Muslims and the West that will usher in the end of the world.

The third issue of the magazine represents a prime example of ISIS’s recruiting techniques. Although it glorifies violence in a manner that could appeal to a young man’s curiosity, and although it appeals to the duty of Muslims to take a stand for the rest of the ummah, it does both by frequently and consistently referring to the Qur’an and hadith. Here are some examples: The magazine appeals to the prospective recruit to leave his homeland and emigrate to the Islamic State by quoting a hadith from the canonical collections; it urges him to realize that he is living in times that reflect those of the earliest Muslims by referring to Muhammad’s life; it encourages him to take a step of faith by quoting the Qur’an; and it praises him for his obedience by quoting yet another hadith. All four references to the Qur’an, hadith, and sunnah are on the same two-page spread. Such is the frequency and intensity with which ISIS uses foundational texts to appeal to potential recruits.

The magazine even defends its use of severe, barbaric punishments by referring to a punishment meted out by Muhammad, as recorded in both Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih al-Muslim. Muhammad ordered of captives that “their hands and their feet be cut off, their eyes be put out with hot iron, and they be thrown out onto (black stones) so they would ask for water to drink but not be given any water, until they died.” ISIS used this hadith to justify their execution of prisoners, an execution that they documented with multiple pictures on the same page. It is worth mentioning that the magazine explicitly enjoins potential recruits to undertake jihad by quoting multiple hadith, and it also quotes Surah 9 of the Qur’an. Although ISIS lures youth through a variety of methods, it radicalizes them primarily by urging them to follow the literal teachings of the Qur’an and the hadith.

THE INTERNET AND THE ACCESSIBILITY OF ISLAMIC TRADITIONS

Qureshis said as a young Muslim boy growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, it was impossible for him to look up a hadith unless he traveled to an Islamic library, something he would never have thought to do. Even then, the hadith would have been in Arabic, which Qureshi did not know how to translate. If Qureshi wanted to know about the traditions of Muhammad, he had to ask imams or elders in his tradition of Islam.

That is no longer the case today. The Internet has made the traditions of Muhammad readily available for whoever wishes to look them up, even in English. Some publications include the grading of various hadith, so that the average Muslim can know right away how authoritative a tradition is. The Internet is thus bringing average Muslims closer to the canonical texts of Islam than ever before, allowing them to bypass their elders and the centuries of interpretive tradition they may be passing down. It is greatly facilitating the reformation of Islam and the radicalization of Muslim youth, not just by functioning as a medium for propaganda, but also by allowing Muslims to see the foundational texts of Islam for themselves.

THE RADICALIZATION OF WOMEN

Women constitute one out of every seven members of ISIS. Their basic profile appears to indicate that they are more educated than the men and more reflective before joining the Islamic State. They are generally single women who travel to Syria and marry shortly thereafter. Some of the factors that radicalize young women are the same as those that radicalize their male counterparts: faith, identity, and curiosity. For them, however, there may be another factor: freedom.

coexist slashed by radical islam

Young Muslim women who feel stifled at home, often sequestered by strict parents or threatened with marriage to men not of their choosing, are promised the opportunity of choosing their own husbands if they run away to Syria. That promise has been fulfilled for some, such as the Bethnal Green girls who received marriage offers from a variety of men and were able to choose whom they would marry. The UK media reported old “Ginder Jihadi” from Australia, who was later killed in an airstrike at the end of 2015.

Regardless of these young women’s desires, according to a reporter from the Washington Post who visited a refugee camp and spoke to women who had escaped the Islamic State, the end result was often less than they had hoped for. “Those women, usually drawn by romantic notions of supporting revolutionaries and living in a state that exalts their religion, can quickly find themselves part of an institutionalized, near-assembly-line system to provide system to provide fighters with wives, sex, and children… Many local women find the restrictions extreme, backward, and terrifying.”

CONCLUSION

The factors for radicalization include matters of identity, curiosity, and freedom, but these drives are all promised fulfillment through the performance of one’s Muslim duty. The former might be lures for radicalization, but the foundational teachings of Islam are the means. In addition, many young Muslims are driven purely by a desire to be good Muslims and to see Islam restored to its former glory, motives that investigations often ignore. The common denominator of all radicalized Muslims is their ultimate choice to adhere more strictly and more literally to the foundations of Islam than most other Muslims.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #12 –Are Muslims Trying to Take Over the West With 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.

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #10 – Who Are the True Muslims? Violent or Peaceful?

answering jihad

This is the tenth 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 #10 – WHO ARE THE TRUE MUSLIMS? VIOLENT OR PEACEFUL?

QURESHI HAS INDIRECTLY ADDRESSED this in last week’s question, but he said, “It merits a direct response.” A month after September 11, when President George W. Bush asserted that Islam was a religion of peace, the Washington Post reported Jordanian cleric Abu-Qatada al-Filistini acerbically responded, “Is he some kind of Islamic scholar?” Although he asked the question rhetorically, it is relevant to point out that most of the people who repeat such statements about Islam are not Muslims, let alone scholars of Islam.

A survey of Islamic scholars clarifies the matter. Muslims are torn about whether Islam is a religion of peace, mostly along lines of geography and culture. Islam is proclaimed to be a religion of peace almost entirely by modern Muslims in conversation with Westerners. Yet from the very earliest era of Islam until at least the nineteenth century. Muslim theologians were largely comfortable with violence, even systematizing and codifying it.

Islamic Cleric

ARE TERRORISTS MUSLIM?

Qureshi said, “I have heard quite a few Western Muslims say that terrorists are not really Muslim, but such comments are tragically ironic. Western Muslims who say this are engaging in the Islamic doctrine of excommunication, takfir, pronouncing Muslims to actually be non-Muslim. They usually make no reference in the doctrine of takfir itself, and may have no idea what the word takfir means, yet they are claiming to be the true Muslims. When radical Muslims engage in takfir and pronounce Western Muslims to be non-Muslim, they do so in light of Islamic doctrine.

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By denouncing their radical Muslim counterparts, these Western Muslims are attempting to be the new Muslim hegemony, and to silence the voices of Muslims who disagree with them. It is a peaceful version of what radical Muslims are also attempting, declaring theirs to be the one true form of Islam. On one hand, this is little more than propaganda, while on the other it can represent an unfortunate Muslim tendency to see one’s own practice of Islam as the only legitimate version.

A 2011 Pew Forum survey titled, “The World’s Muslims Unity and Diversity” asked Muslims in thirty-nine countries whether there is only one correct way to understand Islam or if there are multiple possible interpretations. According to the survey report, in an astounding thirty-two of those countries, “half or more Muslims say there is only one correct way to understand the teachings of Islam.” In the remaining seven countries, no more than 58 percent of respondents said Islam is open to multiple interpretations. This strong tendency toward intolerance of internal disagreement is, perhaps, reflective of why many Western Muslims are so ready to declare terrorists as non-Muslim.

apostacy in islam

Of course, radical Muslims often see Western Muslims as apostates as well, but their disavowals are more systematic and, arguably, more Islamic. Whereas Western Muslims denounce violent Muslims based on a perceived majority commitment to peacefulness, radical Muslims usually disavow Western Muslims on the basis of the latter not strictly adhering to Islamic law. Once again, the interplay is ironic. Western Muslims appeal to democracy to excommunicate radical Muslims who appeal to Sharia.

There can be no doubt by any useful definition of Muslims that Islamic terrorists are Muslim. They worship Allah, they strive to follow Muhammad, they perform their Islamic duties, and they have great concern for the international Muslim community. Relatively speaking, they tend to place more emphasis on the foundations of Islam than do average Muslims in the West who proclaim that Islam is a religion of peace.

SO ARE PEACEFUL MUSLIMS “GOOD MUSLIMS?”

The radical Muslim emphasis on foundational texts and their disregard for centuries of Islamic tradition tend to resonate with Protestant sensibilities. In fact, Protestants often ask Qureshi if peaceful Muslims are “good Muslims” in light of the violent trajectory of the Qur’an and Muhammad’s life. If radical Muslims are placing a strong emphasis on following the Qur’an and the example of Muhammad, does that mean peaceful Muslims who largely ignore violence in Islamic foundations are not being loyal to “true Islam?” Muslims can legitimately practice peaceful forms of Islam. Outside of the Protestant “Scripture alone” perspective, most religions impute some authority to persons, and obedience to those authorities is a pare of the faith. Just as a “good Catholic” is one who obeys the Pope and adheres to the traditions of the Catholic Church, so a “good Muslim” is one who obeys his or her teacher and adheres to the traditions handed down in the practice of Islam. For this reason, those Muslims who practice the peaceful Islam that their tradition teaches are being “good Muslims.”

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Perhaps the question Protestants intend to ask is whether an insistence upon peace is consistent with the foundation and origins of the Islamic faith. Qureshi states, “I have attempted to address that question head on in [my] book. No, it is not. Muhammad engaged in many battles, both offensive and defensive, both provoked and unprovoked, leading the Muslim community in eighty-six raids and battles during the last nine years of his life. The Qur’an’s final commands are found in Surah 9, chronologically the last major chapter of the Qur’an, and they are the most violent commands of all. The name of the chapter, “al-Baras,” means “the Disavowal.” Not only was the Surah a disavowal of peace treaties, but in many classical interpretations of Islam it was also a disavowal of other peaceful verses in the Qur’an through abrogation.

Surah 9 commanded Muslims to fight their enemies, even family members, even if they did not want to , even against those who had not fought Muslims, even in the face of death, and even if martyrdom was the result, as that would lead to their salvation. This was to establish Islam as the religion that would prevail over all others.

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The Qur’anic teachings launched Muslims into world conquest and domination, and Muslims insistent on peace today must either ignore or reinvent whole swaths of Islamic history and thirteen centuries of Islamic tradition to dissociate themselves from violent Islam. Many peaceful Muslims do not do so consistently, instead simply ignoring some traditions as if they did not exist. In that case, though they may still be “good Muslims,” they are not being consistent thinkers.

CONCLUSION

Islam is a diverse religion with many expressions, though unfortunately there is a demonstrable tendency among Muslims to assume only one legitimate interpretation of Islam. On account of this, many Muslims accuse one another of apostasy, whether peaceful Muslims disavowing radical Muslims or vice versa. The reality is that Islam can be formulated either peacefully or violently, but violent expressions of Islam adhere more consistently and more literally to the foundational texts of the Islamic faith, the Qur’an and the hadith. Peaceful versions of Islam must reinvent traditions from Muhammad’s life in order to be internally consistent, or they must ignore them outright. Regardless of which of these two options peaceful Muslims choose, the common assertion that violent Muslims are not truly Muslim is uniformed or even disingenuous.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #11 –Why Are Muslims Being Radicalized? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #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.”

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

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

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

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Osama bin Laden

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

ISIS

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ISIS Soldiers

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

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

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Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

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

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

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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.

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

answering jihad

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

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION #7 – WHAT IS RADICAL ISLAM?

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

THE BIRTH OF RADICAL ISLAM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TAKFIR AND MUSLIM-ON-MUSLIM VIOLENCE

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

Thanks for reading.

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

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

answering jihad

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

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION #6 – WAS ISLAM SPREAD BY THE SWORD?

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

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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.

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.

 

 

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.