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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 #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).

disavowal

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.