It’s a Matter of Intent

At the National Prayer Breakfast on February 5, 2015, President Barack Obama brazenly criticized the “terrible deeds” committed in the name of Christ. “Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history,” Obama said, hinting that individuals often hijack religion for their own murderous ends. He continued: “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Obama’s right. Terrible things have been done in the name of Christianity. Very few Christians who know church history will deny this. However, the Inquisition and the Crusades are not the indictment of Christianity Obama thinks they are. For starters, the Crusades—despite their terrible organized cruelties—were a defensive war.

We typically consider intent when evaluating behavior. The Crusades were a series of military campaigns coordinated by those in power in Christianity in order to retake Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims. They had desecrated and destroyed the holiest of Christian sites, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of the Nativity. They harassed, robbed, kidnapped, or killed Christian pilgrims visiting such holy places.

There would be eight official Crusades between 1095 A.D. and 1270 A.D., and many more unofficial battles. Contrary to common belief, people didn’t join the Crusades for plunder or financial gain. Most nobles who went on crusade lost their fortunes and many were killed.

THE MUSLIM WARS

No other major faith has combined religion with politics—church and state—as Islam has done during the last 1,500 years. Moreover, no other religion has been promoted and spread primarily through the sword as Islam has been. Frankly, Muslims glorify their early futuhat (or conquests), claiming that they were accomplished with the approval of Allah, who gave them the right to bring mankind under their rule.

Imperialistic

Muslim wars of imperialist conquest have been waged against non-Muslim nations for nearly 1,500 years, over millions of square miles (significantly larger than the British Empire at its peak). The lust for Muslim imperialist conquest stretched from southern France to the Philippines, from Austria to Nigeria, and from central Asia to New Guinea. This is the classic definition of imperialism—”the policy and practice of seeking to dominate the economic and political affairs of weaker countries.”

Colonialist

Muslims were intent on establishing a central government (a caliphate), first at Damascus, and then at Baghdad—later at Cairo, and Istanbul. The local governors, judges, and other rulers were appointed by central imperial authorities for far off colonies. Sharia law was introduced as the supreme law, whether or not it was wanted by the indigenous people. Arabic was introduced as the official language, often wiping out the local language. Two classes of citizens were established: the native residents and the colonialist rulers.

WHERE JIHAD AND THE CRUSADES DIFFER

Comparing the Crusades with Islamic jihad can be somewhat tricky, mainly because of the historic context. Whereas the purpose of the Crusades was to regain and secure the Holy Land of Jerusalem—indeed, most activity took place in Jerusalem and the Levant—Islam has been waging jihad for over 1,500 years. Modern jihadists have adopted a policy of blind terror, striking indiscriminately at Western populations with a violence that is motivated by hatred, the need for retribution, and establishment of a worldwide Islamic caliphate. By contrast, the Crusades—no matter how terrible and regrettable they were—had as their objective the recovery and defense of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, the most important holy place of Christianity, which had fallen into the hands of the Muslims in 637 A.D.

Here are several other notable differences between the Crusades and jihad.

  • jihad has been routinely practiced since the beginning of Islam
  • Jesus rejected—in word and in actions—all use of violence
  • jihad predates the so-called Christian Holy Wars
  • jihad was a matter of conquest
  • the Crusades were a matter of recovery and defense
  • jihad is intent on establishing Sharia in every territory it conquers
  • Christianity is predicated upon free will

Islamic atrocities were not provoked by the Crusaders’ own reprehensible acts, but preceded them. Islamic jihad was not triggered by the Crusades; it preceded them. Domination is written into Islamic scripture. Surah 9:29 says, “Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allah, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”

Subdued. That is the proper state, according to the Qur’an, for anyone who does not believe in Allah. Over the course of history, this process of “subduing” unbelievers has taken on a number of forms. Muslim armies were not above killing those they conquered who refused to “submit” to Islam. For example, Muhammad led his armies to slaughter hundreds of males of the Jewish Banu Qurayzah tribe in Medina. The men were beheaded and the women and children were taken into slavery. Millions of Hindus were massacred on the Indian subcontinent in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Muslims murdered 1.5 million Christian Armenians in 1915. According to Open Doors, USA, Muslims continue to murder Christians throughout the Middle East and North Africa today. Here is a link.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

The extremist beliefs we’re seeing play out on the international stage today did not spring forth from a void, nor are these ideas merely the marginal opinions of a few fanatics. The principle dogma that they espouse—that Islam is the one true faith that will dominate the world; that Muslim rulers need to govern by Sharia law alone; that the Qur’an and Hadith contain the whole truth for determining the righteous life; that there is no separation between religion and the rest of life; and that Muslims are in a state of conflict with the unbelievers—have roots in discussions about Islamic law and theology that began soon after the death of Muhammad and that are supported by important segments of the clergy today.

Jihad is derived from the Arabic root for “struggle” and not from the usual word for war. This gives a clue to the significance that the Qur’an and the Hadith assign to it, for jihad was never meant to be warfare for the sake of national or personal gain, but rather struggle for the sake of God and on His path alone. Jihad thus has two basic meanings: the first deals with the internal struggle to follow God and do all that He has commanded. The second is to engage in an external struggle (fighting) with others to bring “the Truth” (Islam) to mankind. Jihad was never supposed to be about the forcible conversion of others to Islam—even though it came to that under some Islamic rulers—but rather about opening the doors to countries so that the oppressed people therein would be able to hear the Truth. Some scholars have said jihad is best translated “just war” rather than “holy war.”

The message of Islam is intricately intertwined with its messenger, Muhammad. Allegiance to one necessarily implies allegiance to the other. In fact, it is defined by it. According to Nabeel Qureshi, Muslims who question Allah—who might, for example, wonder about the interpretation of something said in the Qur’an in a study group—are usually tolerated by other Muslims, but questioning Muhammad is grounds for excommunication, or worse. Even though every Muslim would quickly admit that Muhammad is human, in theory fallible like any other man, they often revere him as flawless. Islam has accorded him the title al-Insan al-Kamil, “the man who has attained perfection.”

UNLIKE CHRISTIANITY, ISLAM DECLARED WAR ON SOCIETY AND CULTURE

Michael Youssef, in The Third Jihad, recounts growing up in a Christian home, third generation Protestant. His ancestors were Coptic (which means Egyptian) Christians who endured persecution and held on to their Christian beliefs despite the onslaught of Islam in the seventh century. Youssef said before the Muslim invasion, Christians accounted for nearly 85 percent of Egypt’s population. Today, there are only 10 million Christians in Egypt. The reason Coptic Christians went from being the dominant majority to an oppressed minority in Egypt is that the Muslim invaders from Arabia were Islamists.

Youssef noted, “They came to the people of Egypt and offered them a choice: either convert to Islam or be executed. Christians and Jews (whom the Koran [sic] calls People of the Book) were given a third option: They could choose to keep their original faith by paying the jizya tax—which is really a form of punishment for being a non-Muslim.” Paying the tax put such people under the protection of the Muslim state, but reduced them to second-class citizens in a condition of servitude.

As difficult as it may be for us to grasp, an Islamist envisions the perfect utopian society as a world ruled by a theocratic totalitarian state governed by the principles of the Qur’an. Of course, this would be a society so tightly controlled, so lacking in free will, that sin and vice would theoretically be impossible. This is why the Western concept of human freedom is so despised and considered decadent by Islamists. To provide some perspective, Youssef notes that CBS reporter Lara Logan, who has reported extensively from war zones in the Islamic world since 2002, once told an interviewer, “Islamic terrorists and jihadists that I have met over the years have all corrected me when I have said that Islam is a religion. They all tell me that Islam is a civilization. It’s not a religion.”

A HORRIFIC EXAMPLE

Few illustrations of Islamic jihad are more disturbing than the letters left by the leader of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. On September 28, 2001, the Washington Post published excerpts of a letter found in the luggage of Mohamed Atta, who was alleged to be the leader of the suicide bombers on 9/11.  Copies of the five-page handwritten letter, released by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, also were found in luggage of other members of the terrorist team.

Even if Islamic scholars and media consultants do not agree with the doctrine of jihad or would change its definition, they cannot argue that the attackers and their leaders were unequivocal about what jihad involves. Their actions were jihad, based on the fatwa put out by five Islamic caliphates on February 23, 1998 against the United States.

The letters found in the suitcases included the following wording:

Read the Chapter of Tobah from the Qur’an. Think about what God has promised the good believers and the martyrs. Remember the battle of the prophet… against the infidels, as he went on building the Islamic state. You should engage in such things, you should pray, you should fast. You should ask God for guidance, you should ask God for help… Continue to pray throughout this night. Continue to recite the Qur’an. Purify your heart and clean it from all earthly matters. The time of fin and waste has gone. The time of judgment has arrived. Hence we need to utilize those few hours to ask God for forgiveness. You have to be convinced that those few hours that are left you in your life are very few. From there you will begin to live the happy life, the infinite paradise. Be optimistic. The prophet was always optimistic. Say your rakats and blow your breath on yourself and on your belongings. Always remember the verses that you would wish  for death before you meet it if you only know what the reward after death will be. Everybody hates death, fears death. But only those, the believers who know the life after death and the reward after death, would be the ones who will be seeking death. Keep a very open mind, keep a very open heart of what you are to face. You will be entering paradise. You will be entering the happiest life, everlasting life. Keep in your mind that if you are plagued with a problem and how [you are] to get out of it. A believer is always plagued with problems… You will never enter paradise if you have not had a major problem. But only those who stood fast through it are the ones who will overcome it.

CHRISTIANITY VERSUS ISLAM

Some followers of Islam claim that the word Islam is Arabic for “peace.” How should we assess such a claim? Does Islam advocate world peace? Does it speak of unconditional love, inclusion, acceptance? Was its founder, Muhammad, a man of peace? Further, does Islam boast a history of peace, or is it riddled with a violent past? Admittedly, Christianity does not have a spotless past. What is important, however, is the Christian church has learned from its past. Additionally, Jesus condemned church-sponsored violence, admonishing Christians to love their enemies. There is no sermon in the Qur’an that compares to the words Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount.

In Christianity, we speak of surrendering our lives (our will and our hearts) to Jesus Christ. But there is a huge difference between the surrender that Christ calls us to and the surrender that Islam demands. When we surrender to Christ, He sets us free. We’re told in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (NIV). However, when a person converts—surrenders—to Islam, he becomes a slave to a vast array of rules, regulations, and religious laws, which must be kept to the letter. Amazingly, even absolute compliance with every single edict, which we know is humanly impossible, does not guarantee a Muslim will enter Paradise.

Islam actually means submission. Islam demands unconditional surrender and obedience. In addition, fundamentalist Islam demands that its followers bring the entire world into submission and surrender to Islam.

Christians who surrender their heart and their will to Jesus are eternally secure and free.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

We cannot give in to the temptation to lump all religious violence together. Certainly, there are many incidents throughout the history of the Christian church that include war and violence. I do take issue, however, with Obama’s comment that situations in our country such as slavery and Jim Crow were often justified “in the name of Christ” was given out of context.

The Crusades were a series of military campaigns designed to retake Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims. These were defensive actions. To the contrary, jihadists have adopted a policy of blind terror, striking violently at Western civilizations with hatred, intent on establishing a worldwide Islamic caliphate. It has been the intent if Islam since Muhammad first left Mecca for Medina.

 

 

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.

Understanding Islam and Jihad

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Nabeel Qureshi, author of the New York Times bestseller Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, has written an engaging and revealing new book called Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward. Qureshi was raised Muslim. He was an eighteen-year-old American Muslim on September 11, 2001, proud of being both American and Muslim. His family taught him to love his country (America), and not just by their words. His father lived this teaching by serving in the U.S. Navy throughout Qureshi’s childhood, starting as a seaman and retiring as a lieutenant commander. Qureshi also has an uncle who served in the U.S. Army and another uncle who served in the U.S. Air Force. Growing up, Qureshi was surrounded by Muslims who loved and served America.

Interestingly, he indicates that it was Islam that commanded him to love and serve his country. Islam taught him to defend the oppressed, to stand up for the rights of women and children, to shun the desires of the flesh, to seek the pleasure of God, and to enjoin the good and forbid the evil. By his teenage years, he proclaimed Islam to all who would listen, and he usually started by informing them of a teaching that was knit into the fabric of his beliefs: Islam is a religion of peace. On September 11, he was confronted for the first time with the stark reality of jihad. It was not as if he had never heard of jihad before; he certainly had, but he knew it as a defensive effort buried deep in the pages of Islamic history. That is how the American imams alluded to jihad, and Qureshi said he and his fellow American Muslims never questioned it. In fact, they rarely, if ever, thought about jihad.

When the twin towers fell, the eyes of the nation turned to American Muslims for an explanation. Qureshi sincerely believed September 11 was a greater shock for American Muslims than for the average American. Not only did they newly perceive their own insecurity from militant jihadists, as did everyone else, they also faced a latent threat of retaliation from would-be vigilantes. In the midst of this, while mourning their fallen compatriots and considering their own security, they had to defend the faith they knew and loved. They had to assure everyone that Islam was a religion of peace, just as they had always known. Qureshi remembers hearing a slogan at his mosque that he shared with many: “The terrorists who hijacked the planes on September 11 also hijacked Islam.”

Qureshi began to investigate the Qur’an and the traditions of Muhammad’s life, and to his genuine surprise, he found the pages of Islamic history dripping with violence. How could he possibly reconcile this with what he had always been taught about Islam? When he asked teachers in the Muslim community for help, they usually rationalized the violence as necessary or dismissed the historicity of the accounts. At first, Qureshi followed their reasoning, but after hearing the same explanations for dozens if not hundreds of accounts, he began to realize that these were facile responses to non-Muslims who questioned Islam. Of course, Qureshi understood why they were doing it. American Muslims truly believed Islam was a religion of peace, and they were interpreting the data to fit what they knew to be true.

But was it true? After years of investigation, Qureshi had to face the reality. There is a great deal of violence in Islam, even in the very foundation of the faith, and it is not all defensive. Quite to the contrary, if the traditions about the prophet of Islam are in any way reliable, then Islam glorifies violent jihad arguably more than any other action a Muslim can take.

FROM QURESHI’S STORY TO MUSLIMS TODAY

Qureshi’s experience of Islam is, of course, his own, but his continued interactions with hundreds of Muslims confirmed for him that his experience as an American Muslim was not far from the norm. Perhaps his parents were more devout than most, his family more patriotic, his sect more explicitly peaceful, but by and large he saw his own former thoughts and convictions in the devout American Muslims he encounters today. In addition, the present climate in America is more than ever reminiscent of the days and months following September 11. The public at large is questioning whether Islam is a religion of peace, just like before, and Qureshi encounters Muslims who are providing the same defenses and explanations that he provided after September 11, before he knew better.

He said he does not doubt that Muslims who investigate the history of Islam from the primary sources are concluding, as he did, that the foundations of Islam are violent. Such Muslims are faced with the same choices he faced: apostacy, apathy, or radicalization. That is, turn from the faith completely, decide the truth doesn’t matter, or join the jihadists. For them, radicalization is not just a paranoid hypothetical, but a potential reality. Thousands of Muslims raised in the West have become mujahideen, fighters with various jihad groups, even though the battles are often centered in Middle Eastern countries. Presently, twice as many British Muslims fight for ISIS than for Britan’s armed forces, leaving their peaceful Muslim families grieving. This includes young women, such as the tragic case of the three girls from Bethnal Green in London.

The radicalized Muslims were explicitly introduced to violent traditions of early Islam, they became convinced of their authenticity, and they intentionally chose to follow them. Whether or not this is always the defining factor for radicalization should not cloud the fact that it is a universal factor. There is no need to remain bewildered any longer. When mujahideen themselves tell us their reasons for becoming radicalized, if we would simply listen carefully to what they say, we would find the foregoing to be true without exception.

There is a reason why both Muslims and non-Muslims might want to avoid the elephant in the room. Acknowledging violence built into the foundation of Islam could lead people to see Islam as a necessarily violent religion, and by uncritical extension, it might lead people to see all Muslims as inherently or latently violent people. Qureshi says we must boldly assert that these are false and dangerous conclusions, but that does not mean we ought to close our eyes to a common impetus for radicalization. Until we diagnose and respond to the actual causes for radicalization, we will continue to lose the sons and daughters of peaceful Muslim parents to terrorism.

EIGHTEEN QUESTIONS

Qureshi indicates that September 11 was a pivotal juncture in his life that ultimately led him to study the primary sources of Islamic history. This, he says, is often a watershed moment for many Muslims who are presently wrestling with the path they will take. Some may very well choose jihad. If we care about these young men and women, and the peaceful Muslim families they come from, to say nothing of the countless innocent lives they may take in the name of jihad, Qureshi believes it is critical that we carefully and thoughtfully engage the study of jihad with both truth and compassion. We cannot close our eyes or indulge in wishful thinking. It would seem the matter is not going away.

He also believes we must, at the same time, be careful not to slide down the slippery slope of assuming every Muslim is a threat. Of the thousands of Muslims he has encountered, only one has become radicalized to the point of explicitly supporting violence, and none have actually undertaken violent jihad. It is wrong, he says, to paint all Muslims with the same brush; we need to see them as individuals, the vast majority of whom just wish to live life, take care of their families, and peacefully honor God.

In his own words, Qureshi says, “I do not claim to have all the answers, especially answers regarding public policy, but there is certainly a first step in responding well to radical Islam, whether individually or collectively. We must understand it for what it is. To that end, I will respond in the pages ahead to eighteen questions people most commonly ask me about jihad. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, I will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in my view the best way forward.”

Qureshi is quick to remind us that, contrary to what a lot of frightened Americans believe lately, most Muslims in the world are not violent people, despite their desire to intentionally and genuinely follow Islam. That is why he hopes to also explain their perspectives, so we can understand our Muslim neighbors and show them the love and compassion that all people deserve, devoid of fear and mistrust.

Qureshi says, “Finally, it behooves me to mention that I am a Christian who left Islam after investigating the foundations of Islam and Christianity. This subject matter is deeply personal to me, and I do not pretend to be unbiased, especially since all people are biased to varying degrees. That said, in this book, I am trying to be as objective as I can be in presenting the information about jihad without judgment. I try to keep explicit Christian views out of the discussion, although a few certainly come through in the eighteenth Question and in the conclusion. I ask your pardon, but I really do feel that the Christian teaching of loving one’s enemies, even in the face of death, might perhaps be the most powerful answer to jihad at our disposal today. Not only does it allow us to counter jihad, it also enables us to treat Muslims with the utmost dignity: as image bearers of God.”

As the writer/publisher of The Accidental Poet blog, it is my intention to present each of Nabeel Qureshi’s Sixteen Questions  – which appear in separate chapters in his book – weekly, one each Friday, beginning tomorrow, for the next sixteen weeks. In the seventeenth week I will present Qureshi’s concluding remarks. Qureshi is affiliated with the ministry of Ravi Zacharias, a former Buddhist from India who converted to Christianity and is one of today’s leading apologists. I highly recommend Zacharias’s book The End of Reason.

Please take a few minutes to hear about this challenging and frequently polarizing subject from Nabeel Qureshi as he gives a glimpse into his book by clicking on the link below. May God bless us all.