Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #15 – How Does Jihad Compare With Old Testament Warfare?

answering jihad

This is the fifteenth in a 19-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through eighteen will cover eighteen 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 nineteen.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION # 15 – How Does Jihad Compare With Old Testament Warfare?

NO MATTER THE CONTEXT in which jihad is discussed, one question invariably arises: How can one condemn jihad in light of the violence in the Old Testament? It is one of the most common questions Qureshi encountered since jihad was cast into the public limelight. In fact, Qureshi had to address this question the morning he wrote this chapter to the book, during a Q&A session in Atlanta.

Qureshi writes, “I do not wish to argue in this chapter that the God of the Hebrew Bible is better than the God of the Qur’an, even though I am a Christian and will not be able to keep this chapter totally free of bias. Nor will I seek to defend the morality of the violence in the Old Testament per se; others have cultivated that task far more thoroughly and accurately than I could here.” As an example, Qureshi cites the 2014 book by Paul Copan and Matt Flannagan, Did God Really Command Genocide?

Qureshi is attempting merely to compare jihad, the Islamic doctrine of warfare, to incidents of Jewish warfare in the Old Testament. The two religious systems conceive of warfare differently, and only after we have understood the details can we analyze the morality and ethics of either.

APPLES TO APPLES

To begin, we must make sure we are comparing apples to apples. The Qur’an is a very different type of book than the Bible, and it is easy to confuse categories when comparing the two. The Qur’an consists almost entirely of Allah’s words in direct address (with a few notable exceptions, such as the words of worshipers in Surah 1). The Bible, on the other hand, contains many genres, including poetry, apocalyptic literature, wisdom literature, prophecy, and history.

This final genre means that the Bible recounts many events not endorsed by God, but simply recorded in God’s Word. Such events should not be placed in the same category as battles that God Himself commanded. The latter category is the one of interest for our purposes.

Qureshi has seen many polemic discussions focus on Genesis 34. In this account, Jacob’s daughter is raped by a Canaanite, and her brothers seek revenge by lying to the men of the Canaanite city and then killing all the males, looting corpses and houses, seizing flocks and herds, and taking women and children captive. Yet Yahweh never sanctioned this. It is inappropriate to consider this an attack that God had commanded. There are other attacks that Yahweh did endorse, such as the ones commanded in Deuteronomy 20:16-18, but we ought to keep these distinctions clear.

RULE NUMBER 1: WAIT 400 YEARS

A dear friend of Qureshi once said, “If you want to follow the biblical model of attaching a land, the first thing you have to do is wait 400 years.” According to Genesis 15:13-16, Yahweh said to Abraham, ‘Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own… [In] the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Warfare in the Old Testament was designed to purge the Promised Land of the Canaanites (a group of whom are the Amorites), and this was God’s promise to Abraham. That promise was fulfilled 400 years later, affording the Amorites many generations to repent and change their ways before the Hebrews finally attacked.

This is different from jihad in the Qur’an. Although at times there were buffer periods of a few months before Muslims would attack (9:2), that was not always the case, as with the Muslims’ attack on caravans.  Additionally, the warfare the Qur’an commands is not due to any evil action, but rather due to the beliefs of non-Muslims, such as the Christian belief that Jesus is the Son of God (9:29-30).

THE CHOSEN PEOPLE

Another important matter to consider is that warfare in the Old Testament is not about subjugating inferior peoples. Yahweh does not promise the Jews that they are the best of people and that their enemies are less than they are. He makes this quite clear in Deuteronomy 9:4-6:

After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, ‘The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.’ No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations… Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.

In other words, the Hebrews were not inherently better than the Canaanites; they were a stubborn and stiff-necked people. Yahweh was not affirming the superiority of the Hebrews by giving them victory so much as judging the sins of the Canaanites.

The Qur’an, by contrast, envisions Muslims as the best people: “You are the best of all people, evolved for mankind” (3:110). It teaches that Jews and Christians who do not convert to Islam are the worst of all creation: “Those who do not believe [in Islam] from among the Jews and Christians and the idolators will go to hell. They are the worst of creatures” (98:6; see 98:1-5 for context). This is why the Qur’an in 9:33 commands Muslims to fight Jews and Christians, so that Allah may cause Islam “to prevail over all religions.”

Qureshi said, “I must emphasize that I am not cobbling together verses of the Qur’an to make a point here, but rather am highlighting those verses that were used by classical Muslim jurists and theologians to explain the foundational teachings of Islam. This view of jihad reigned from the tenth until the nineteenth centuries, which leads to the final, most important matter for our consideration.

A TRAJECTORY OF DOMINATION VERSUS A TRAJECTORY OF GRACE

As Qureshi explained in his answers to Questions 4 through 6, it is not just that battles are memorialized in the Qur’an, but also that the final chapter of the Qur’an is the most violent of all, commanding Muslims to fight and subdue non-Muslims. The title of the chapter is “the Disavowal,” and it disavows all treaties of peace that came before it.

Muhammad’s life moved from peaceful to violent in a crescendo, reflecting the trajectory of the Qur’an, and he died just after conquering the Arabian Peninsula. His words in the canonical collections were, “I have been ordered by Allah to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshiped but 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). Muslims are commanded to follow Muhammad’s example, and his example was jihad.

By contrast, the stories in the Old Testament do not enjoin Jews or Christians to fight today. Though commands to fight are recorded in the text, no Jew or Christian is commanded to memorialize these battles as ongoing conduct. They were a part of the history of Israel, certainly, but not a mandate or continuing command going forward. Qureshi adds, “Although I cannot speak fairly for the various branches of Judaism, I can speak for the Christian faith: Jesus is the exemplar of Christians, and His message was one of grace and love. The violent stories in the Old Testament, however we understand their moral justification, serve as little more than a historical footnote in the practice and expectation of the Christian life.”

CONCLUSION

This question deserves much deeper treatment than can be afforded to it here, especially the presence of God’s grace even in the Old Testament, and Jesus’ role in present and eschatological judgment. But when we compare apples to apples, we see that there is a great difference between jihad and violence in the Old Testament. An increasing trajectory of jihad was the model of Muhammad until the day he died, and he is the exemplar for Muslims. It was enjoined upon them, the best people in mankind, in the final commands of the Qur’an so that Islam could prevail over all other religions. Early and classical Muslims interpreted jihad accordingly, systematizing it into a doctrine and ultimately coming to dominate one-third of the known world.

By contrast, the violence in the Old Testament that God commanded occurred after 400 years of waiting. God reminded the Jews that the expulsion of other races was not because the Jews were the best of people, but because others had sinned. Ultimately, Old Testament warfare is not meant to be an example that Christians model their lives around today. The trajectory in Christianity is not from peaceful to violent, but vice versa.

Violence has a very different place in Islam and Christianity’s theological frameworks. The final marching order of Islam is jihad. The final marching orders of Christians are grace and love. Qureshi turns his attention to this matter in the next Question which I will cover next week.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #16–What Does Jesus Teach About Violence? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.

 

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #14- Why Do Some Christians Call God Allah?

answering jihad

 

This is the fourteenth 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 # 14 – WHY DO SOME CHRISTIANS CALL GOD ALLAH?

Is Allah and Yahweh The Same.jpg

IN JUNE OF 2014, hundreds of Malaysian Muslims rejoiced as their supreme court confirmed the illegality of Christians using the word Allah to refer to the Christian God. The Catholic Church had challenged the ban many times on the grounds that Malay Bibles had used the word Allah for centuries. Authorities argued in response that a Christian use of the term could cause confusion and entice Muslims to convert, a criminal act in twelve of its thirteen states.

For a time, the Church had succeeded in convincing the Malaysian government to lift the ban, but in response Muslims began firebombing churches, ultimately leading to a reinstatement of the ban in October 2013. Three months later, Muslim authorities confiscated hundreds of Bibles from Christians on the basis that they used the word Allah, and in June a seven-judge panel confirmed this hard line stance against Christians. Political pundits saw the ruling as a “vote-winner” for the government, appealing to Malay public with sentiments that are increasingly Islamic.

ALLAHU AKBAR

When the decision was announced, Muslims around the court started chanting “Allahu Akbar.” The phrase is called the takbir, and the Malaysians may have been reciting it simply in thanks to God and to give him praise. The slogan is versatile; it is used in daily prayers, upon hearing good news, during ceremonies, as an incantation before engaging in a difficult endeavor, or even in moments of general excitement. It is not primarily a war cry, as some believe.

Allahu-Akbar.png

So the Malaysian Muslims around the courthouse may have been chanting the phrase in celebration as many Muslims do. But if they knew the literal meaning of the phrase, they may have meant something more. For example, many people think that Allahu Akbar means “God is great” or “God is the greatest.” As a non-Arab Muslim, that is what Qureshi was taught the words meant. But the word akbar is actually in the comparative form, and the phrase ought to be translated “Allah is greater.” It implies that Allah is greater than something in particular. Some have speculated that the phrase was originally used to intimidate the enemies of Muslims in battle, by saying that Allah was a greater God than their alleged god. In his earliest biography, we find Muhammad reciting the phrase before attacking the Jews at Khybar. This etymology is not certain, though, as there is not enough evidence to support it.

What is clear is that many Malaysians see Allah as a proper name for the Islamic God, so when they started chanting “Allahu Akbar,” they could have meant that the Islamic God is greater than the Christian God. If they did, they might have been hearkening back to the original meaning of the term.

ALLAH: PROPER NAME OR GENERIC TERM?

Allah can indeed be used as the proper name for the God of Islam, but is also functions in most majority Muslim languages as the generic term for God. It is commonly believed that Christians used the term Allah to describe Yahweh even before the advent of Islam. Allah functions as a contraction of al-ilah, “the god.” So language and context matter when discussing the word Allah. When speaking in Urdu or Arabic, Qureshi tended to use Allah as a generic term, as do most speakers of those languages, but when speaking in English, he tended to use it as a proper name referring to the Islamic conception of God, as do most speakers in English. Qureshi said, “When it comes to suggestions for how others should use the term, I would simply enjoin them not to be quick to criticize.” The term can be used in multiple ways, and conversation is far better served by focusing on meaningful matters rather than proper use of a term that can be legitimately used in many ways.

CONCLUSION

Some Christians call God Allah because it is often the generic word for God in Muslim-majority languages. Qureshi sees some benefit to adopting this word or other Arabic terminology if it helps clarify matters or build bridges of discussion, so long as it is not perceived as deceptive or confusing. Language is a fluid tool designed to help people communicate, and we should not be overly critical when others do not use terms the way we do.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #15 – How Does Jihad Compare With Old Testament Warfare? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #13 – Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

answering jihad

This is the thirteenth 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 # 13 – DO MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS WORSHIP THE SAME GOD?

IN QURESHI’S FIRST YEAR of medical school, a male physician from India approached him, offered the Muslim greeting of peace, and told Qureshi that he knew his mother. Qureshi returned the greeting, but he had a hunch the doctor was mistaken. Qureshi’s mother maintains purdah, the Islamic practice of wearing a burqa, and socializing outside the family only with other women. Qureshi thought it unlikely a strange man would know his mother or talk about her in such a casual manner.

On the other hand, he was a physician, he was from India, and he appeared to be part of the Muslim community. Perhaps he did know her? Upon asking further, he assured Qureshi that he did know Mrs. Qureshi. He said, “She lives here in Norfolk, and she is from Pakistan, is she not? I see her every now and again in the hospital. She is a smart, very kind woman.” Qureshi thought that did sound like his mother. She is very kind and smart, and she is from Pakistan. Also, she did come to Norfolk for medical treatment, but she primarily went to the naval hospital in Portsmouth. He was wrong about where she lived, though. The Qureshis lived in Virginia Beach, not Norfolk, but the two cities are right next to each other. Though he was wrong about a detail or two, Qureshi decided this man probably did know his mother.

But Qureshi was wrong. As the conversation progressed, the doctor told him that he had admitted some of Mrs. Qureshi’s patients from the emergency room. Apparently, he thought Qureshi’s mother was a colleague of his, but she was not a physician. Although the two were talking about the same role, that of a mother, they were not talking about the same woman. Qureshi said, “I later discovered there was a Dr. Qureshi in the emergency room at the children’s hospital, and from then on I was able to inform dozens of people that, no, she was not my mother.”

Qureshi notes intriguing similarities between that conversation and the one our nation is having about whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God. The question is pressing because the national conversation has grown controversial in light of the growing refugee crisis and concerns about jihad.

THE WHEATON CONTROVERSY

Wheaton College, a flagship of evangelical educational institutions, placed one of its professors on administrative leave on December 15, 2015, for “theological statements that seemed inconsistent with [their] doctrinal convictions.” Five days prior, while donning a hijab and staking her position on a variety of controversial matters, Larycia Hawkins had written on Facebook, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

Wheaton’s decision to give Hawkins “more time to explore theological implications of her recent public statements” ignited a firestorm of controversy. One strong voice in the fray was Yale Professor Miroslav Volf, a theologian greatly respected for his contributions to Christian-Muslim dialogue, who wrote in the Washington Post, “There isn’t any theological justification for Hawkins’ forced administrative leave. Her suspension is not about theology and orthodoxy. It is about enmity toward Muslims, taking on a theological guise of concern for Christian orthodoxy.”

Such a dialogue-stifling judgment from a highly acclaimed Ivy League scholar was surprising, but it served to illustrate the enormous tensions in Christian-Muslim relations. As a former Muslim, Qureshi said, “I have many Muslim family members and friends I spend time with regularly, and I often encourage Christians to consider gestures of solidarity with the hope that, somehow, this affection will trickle down to the Muslims I know and love. I have even recommended that Christian women consider wearing the hijab in certain circumstances, as well as counseled Christian men to consider fasting with their Muslim neighbors during the month of Ramadan, as long as it is clear these gestures are out of Christian love and not submission to Islam.”

So without a shred of “enmity toward Muslims,” Qureshi stated that he disagrees with Hawkins and Volf. Qureshi’s position is that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God, but given the complexity of the matter he believes we ought to stop demonizing those who disagree with us.

WHY MANY CONCLUDE THAT MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS WORSHIP THE SAME GOD

For years after leaving Islam and becoming a Christian, Qureshi believed that Muslims worshiped the same God as Christians, but were simply wrong about what he is like and what he has done. After all, Qureshi had been taught as a young Muslim to worship the God who created Adam and Eve, who rescued Noah from the flood, who promised Abraham a vast progeny, who helped Moses escape Egypt, who made the Virgin Mary great with child, who sent Jesus into the world, who helped the disciples overcome, and who is still sovereign today. Is that not the God of the Bible?

For that matter, the Qur’an asserts that the Torah and the Gospels are inspired scripture, and that Jews and Christians are people of the book. The Qur’an tells Muslims to say to Jews and Christians, “Our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender” (29:46). If the Qur’an asserts that Muslims worship the same God as Jews and Christians, does that not settle the matter? For years Qureshi thought it did, and the great overlap between Islam and Christianity meant we were talking about the same God. Just as when the Indian physician was right about many details and wrong about a few, leading Qureshi conclude they were both talking about his mother, so he used to think Muslims disagreed with Christians on a few details but they were talking about the same God.

Qureshi no longer believed that. At a certain point, the differences go beyond details to essential matters of identity, and it turns out he and the doctor were talking about different people. When the Indian physician said Qureshi’s mother lived in Norfolk, he was wrong about a minor detail, and yet they still could have been talking about the same woman. But when he said she was a doctor, it was not just a detail. He was wrong about an essential characteristic. It became clear that he was envisioning someone else. In the same way, the Muslim God is different in essential characteristics from the Christian God, which is why Qureshi came to the conclusion they are not the same God.

He said, “I do not condemn those who think Muslims and Christians worship the same God, because it is a complex issue. But the identity of the Muslim God is different from that of the Christian God in essential characteristics. The Qur’an seems to agree with this assessment. Though Muslims and Christians worship a God who fulfills the role of Creator, the persons they see occupying that role are quite different.

HOW THE CHRISTIAN GOD AND MUSLIM GOD DIFFER IN ESSENTIAL CHARACTERISTICS

Qureshi starts with the obvious. Christians believe Jesus is God, but the Qur’an is so opposed to this belief that it condemns Jesus worshipers to hell (5:72). For Christians Jesus is certainly God, and for Muslims Jesus is certainly not. For this reason alone, no one should argue as Volf has done that “there isn’t any theological justification” for believing Christians and Muslims worship different Gods. There is, and it is obvious when we consider the person of Jesus.

Another difference between the Islamic God and the Christian God is God’s fatherhood. According to Jesus, God is our Father, yet the Qur’an very specifically denies that Allah is a father (112:1-4). In 5:18, the Qur’an tells Muslims to rebuke Jews and Christians for calling God their loving Father, because humans are just beings that God has created. So the Christian God is a father, while the Muslim God is not.

Similarly, when we consider the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, Islam roundly condemns worship of the Trinity (5:73), establishing in contrast its own core principle of Tawhid, the absolute oneness of God. Tawhid emphatically denies the Trinity, so much so that it is safe to say the doctrine of God in Islam is antithetical to the doctrine of God in Christianity. Not just different but opposed. This difference is profound. The Trinity teaches that God is not a person, but three persons: Father, Son , and Spirit. To assert that the God of Islam is the same person as the God of Christianity becomes almost nonsensical at this point, as the Christian God is tri-personal, two persons of whom Islam specifically denies in the Qur’an.

There is more to be said about the differences between the Christian God and the Muslim God, especially in terms of character as it relates to jihad, but Qureshi addresses those issues in Questions 15 and 16. The point he is trying to make here is simply that the essential characteristics of God are different in Islam and Christianity. They are more different, in fact, than the woman the Indian physician had misidentified as Qureshi’s mother. In theory, his mother could have been a doctor, but the tri-personal Christian God cannot even in theory be the monadic Muslim God. The two are fundamentally incompatible. This is why, according to Islam, worshiping the Christian God is not just wrong; it sends you to hell.

WHY DO PEOPLE SAY MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS WORSHIP THE SAME GOD?

So how can people argue that Muslims and Christians worship the same God? Primarily by giving undue priority to the Islamic assertion that it is so. Even though the Qur’an says that worshiping Jesus or the Trinity will send Christians to hell, it somehow asserts that Muslims and Christians worship the same God (29:46). Though the logic is not clear, it is asserted as blunt fact that must be accepted. Ultimately, this is the reasoning of those who believe, as Qureshi once did, that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, and it is flawed.

The similarities between the God of Islam and the God of Christianity are superficial and at times merely semantic. Though Islam claims that the Muslim God has done some of the same things as the Christian God and sent some of the same people, these are minor overlaps and far less essential to the reality of who God is than fundamental characteristics of his nature and persons. [For me, however, I do not agree that Allah sent anyone, let alone persons sent by God Almighty.] Islam and Christianity overlap at points on the former, but they differ fundamental on the latter. So Volf’s rejoinder to this line of thinking is that Christians believe they worship the same God as Jews even though Jews do not worship the Trinity. How then can Christians say Muslims worship a different God without also saying the same of Jews? He argues that would be inconsistent or hypocritical.

Yet the response should be obvious to any who have studied the three Abrahamic faiths: the Trinity is an elaboration of Jewish theology, not a rejection. By contrast, Tawhid is a categorical rejection of the Trinity, Jesus deity, and the fatherhood of God, doctrines that are grounded in the pages of the New Testament and firmly established centuries before the advent of Islam. The earliest Christians were all Jews, incorporating their encounter with Jesus into their Jewish theology. Nothing of the sort is true of Muhammad, who was neither a Jew nor a Christian. Islam did not elaborate on the Trinity, but rejected and replaced it.

Additionally, Volf’s assumption that Jews did not in the past worship something like the Trinity is debatable. Many Jews held their monotheism in tension with a belief in multiple divine persons. [Especially those who believed the prophecies regarding the coming Advent of Jesus Christ.]  Though the term Trinity was coined in the second century AD [the term does not appear in Scripture], the underlying principles of the doctrine were hammered out on the anvil of pre-Christian Jewish belief. It was not until later, after Jews and Christians had parted ways, that Jews insisted on a monadic God. The charge of Christian hypocrisy is thus anachronistic.

CONCLUSION

Qureshi says the question of whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God is complex. Wheaton College made a reasonable decision in giving Hawkins time off to consider the implications of her statement. Whether or not she was aware of it, her statement allowed Islamic assertions to subvert the importance of essential Christian doctrine. Yet she ought not be faulted harshly, as these issues are murky. What is more dangerous is the path taken by Volf, accusing people of bigotry to shut down valid conversations. One can both love Muslims and insist that the God they worship is not the same as the Christian God.

Christians worship the triune God: a Father who love unconditionally, a Son who incarnates and who is willing to die for us so that we may be forgiven, and an immanent Holy Spirit who lives in us. This is not who the Muslim God is, and it is not what the Muslim God does. Truly, Tawhid is antithetical to the Trinity, fundamentally incompatible and only similar superficially semantically. Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God.

 

 

 

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

answering jihad

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

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION # 12 – ARE MUSLIMS TRYING TO TAKE OVER THE WEST WITH SHARIA?

sharia law

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

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

SHARIA AND WESTERN LAW

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

sharia versus constitution

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

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

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

SHARIA, ISLAMOPHOBIA, AND FREE SPEECH

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

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

Member Countries of OIC

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

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

european union

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

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

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

MUSLIM DEMOGRAPHICS AND RADICAL ISLAM BY THE NUMBERS

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

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

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

muslim support for sharia

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

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

 

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

answering jihad

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

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION #11 – WHY ARE MUSLIMS BEING RADICALIZED?

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

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

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

ISIS’S METHOD OF RADICALIZING YOUNG MUSLIMS

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

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

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

THE INTERNET AND THE ACCESSIBILITY OF ISLAMIC TRADITIONS

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

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

THE RADICALIZATION OF WOMEN

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #12 –Are Muslims Trying to Take Over the West With Sharia? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.

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

answering jihad

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

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION #10 – WHO ARE THE TRUE MUSLIMS? VIOLENT OR PEACEFUL?

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

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

Islamic Cleric

ARE TERRORISTS MUSLIM?

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

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

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

apostacy in islam

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

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

SO ARE PEACEFUL MUSLIMS “GOOD MUSLIMS?”

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

Thanks for reading.

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

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

answering jihad

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

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

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

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

AL-QAEDA

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Al-Qaeda Soldiers

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

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

mujahideen

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

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

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

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Osama bin Laden

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

ISIS

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ISIS Soldiers

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

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

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Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

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

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

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

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

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

BOKO HARAM

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Boko Haram Soldiers

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

Thanks for reading.

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