Let’s Go to Theology Class! Week Four

Summary of the fourth week of class in pursuit of my Master’s in Theology at Colorado Christian University.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S. Psych.

IT’S ONE THING TO pick up a book and read about theology. And that’s okay. It’s how I got interested in taking the subject on as a graduate student. It all starts with contemplation. We “think” about what it means to be alive, to have purpose. We wonder how we might make a difference in society. We question the “logic” of believing in God. Armed with such a burning desire to know, I enrolled in a master’s program in theology and started out on what so far has proved to be an amazing, breathtaking journey.

In week four of my theology class we considered the proper relationship between theological study, sanctification, contemplation, prayer, and action. Further, we discussed the type of character most conducive to theological insight, and how the systematic study of theology should impact one’s character. Generic “theological” study does not necessarily require any degree of sanctification. Many people choose to study theology or philosophy without any sense of what is meant by redemption or sanctification. These concepts are, however, imperative in Christian theology.

What is the proper relationship between theological study, sanctification, contemplation, prayer, and action?

I was amazed how little I understood about sanctification over the years. I thought it “just happened” when I “got saved.” Considering the decades of sinful behavior and active addiction I went through after accepting Christ (at age 13), I was far from sanctified. Of course, it does start with salvation. When we become redeemed, we are expected to “repent” of our old life. Then sanctification can begin. According to R.E.O. White, sanctification means “to make holy.” [1] It’s not uncommon for a new Christian to think this means he or she is made holy (shazam!) all at once. White further explains that to be sanctified is to be “set apart” from common or secular use.

First Corinthians 1:2 says we are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints. R.E.O. White writes that sanctification is not merely justification’s endgame; rather, it is justifying faith at work. The new believer is declared to be acquitted and clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Through sanctification, God begins to accomplish His will in us. This is often called becoming spiritually mature. We are not saved by good works, but there is little hope of sanctification without submitting to the will of God.

Thomas Aquinas says in the Summa Theologiae [2] that four of the gifts of the Spirit of the Lord are wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and counsel, and that these gifts have a direct impact on the intellect. Isaiah 11:2 says. “And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD” (RSV). David Jeremiah explains that the coming king “will be endowed with the Spirit of the Lord, who provides the wisdom, ability, and allegiance to God that are necessary to accomplish a challenging task.” [3] Proverbs 2:6 says, “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” James reminds us that if we lack wisdom in any circumstance, we are to ask God and He will give it (James 1:5). Thomas Aquinas said any discourse of reason always begins from an understanding. It is critical, therefore, that we never attempt theology while lacking understanding. Although the work of the Spirit is already completed relative to the compiling of Scripture, His work regarding “illumination” is ongoing.

Prayer is the means by which we gain access to God. Just as we speak to the Father, and call upon Jesus, we must request from the Holy Spirit the guidance, understanding, knowledge, illumination, and discernment needed to effectively and accurately undertake systematic theology. It is equally important to pray for guidance regarding God’s call on our lives. When I decided to change my major from the master’s in counseling program to the master’s in theology, I spent weeks in prayer. I consulted with my pastor, several lay ministry friends, family members, my CCU student advisor, two professors, and several elders at my church. I cannot fathom undertaking a systematic study of Christian theology without prayer.

What type of character is most conducive to theological insight, and how should it change as the result of undertaking theological study?

In any theological undertaking, one would expect there to be a change of character. I think of Nabeel Qureshi (1983-2017), author, speaker, lecturer, and apologist, who converted to Christianity from Islam after spending nearly two years conducting an exegetical study of the Holy Bible. His character, if you will, was that of a loving, dedicated, well-behaved young man who had been raised in a religious home. In fact, no one in his immediate or extended family were extremists or jihadists. He loved the Qur’an, Allah, and his messenger Muhammad. This “character” coupled with a sharp intellect likely contributed to his willingness to examine the theology of Islam, and, ultimately, compare it to Christianity.

Tradition injects a lot into character, and, when that character matures, one becomes curious about tradition, religion, politics, culture, the meaning of life, and so on. Qureshi said one of the greatest hardships he faced was having to inform his parents he had become a Christian. He was, after all, part of a “community of believers” that were bonded together by solid theological principles and deep-seated tradition. He believed in Islam. He revered Muhammad. Regardless, once he met Jesus Christ, he could no longer reject Him than he could make himself stop breathing. This is precisely the type of character it requires to begin a theological study.

Insight comes from honest, rigorous, open-minded, and thorough study. We’ve been told that theology is in its simplest form “the study of God.” For me, the desire to know God stems from my burning desire to know why my earthly father seemed to hate me so much and, more frighteningly, whether my Heavenly Father was as mean-spirited, vindictive, nasty, judging, and punishing. (Incidentally, I eventually learned that my dad did not hate me, and he did the best he could to keep me from running off the rails and into the gutter.)

If God were to be “the same as” my dad, I would have no time for Him. Regardless, somewhere deep inside, I wanted to know several things. First, exactly who or what was this Christian God I’d heard of at church? Second, was He authoritative—leading from a position of authority and strength, love and longsuffering—or authoritarian—ruling over everyone with a heavenly despotic fist, ready to accuse and condemn? Third, was it true, as my father said many times, that I was worthless, or was there hope that my life had some greater meaning?

As to what type of character should result from theological study, Trevor Hart said, “Faith is not a natural progression from knowledge or experiences available to all, but results from a special dispensation which sets us in the perspective from which the truth may be seen, and demands a response” [4] [italics mine]. In other words, deciding to systematically study Christian theology is both a soulful drive or ambition and a rigorous discipline. I have gone through numerous personal changes as an undergraduate student of psychology at Colorado Christian University. I believe those changes set the stage for my choosing to take on a master’s level study of theology. There is a progression at play. Had I not first chosen to return to college, I would not have discovered CCU; had I not enrolled at CCU, I would not be the Christian I am today; and, had I not grown more mature in Christ as an undergraduate, I would not have undergone the requisite changes conducive to undertaking a master’s degree in theology.

This is the fourth week of my first theology class, and already I feel tectonic shifts within me. My personality has brightened, and my mind has cleared. I am ravenous for information about theology, Christology, eschatology, and apologetics. I see people as God sees them, and I’ve begun to feel a heartache for those who will never see the truth about the life, love, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I have started to keep my promises more consistently than I used to, and I exercise greater control over my tongue (which was no easy task!). I even noticed a major change in the amount of television I watch. All of that notwithstanding, I find myself asking God every morning to put a task before me; to lead me where He needs me to go; to break my heart for what breaks His.

Footnotes

[1] R.E.O. White. “Sanctification.” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017), 770

[2] Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae, I.II, q. 68, a1

[3] David Jeremiah. The Jeremiah Study Bible. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2013), 893-94.

[4] Trevor Hart. Faith Thinking. (Eugene:Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1995), 75.

 

 

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward: Conclusion

answering jihad

This is the final installment in a 19-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through eighteen covered eighteen questions people have most commonly asked Qureshi about jihad and Islam. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

CONCLUSION—ANSWERING JIHAD

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

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

The Truth About Islam

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

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

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

The Accelerated Polarization of Muslims

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

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

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

Compassion for Muslims

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward

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

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

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

Selective Timeline of Jihad in Islam

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

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

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #18 – What Does Jesus Have to Do With Jihad?

answering jihad

 

This is the eighteenth 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 # 18 – What Does Jesus Have to Do With Jihad?

JESUS IS SURPRISINGLY PROMINENT in Islamic eschatology. Not only do Muslims believe Jesus is a miracle-working prophet, he is also the Messiah who will return from heaven at the end of days.

THE MUSLIM JESUS AND JIHAD

The Qur’an underlies these beliefs in two passages. First and foremost in the mind of many Muslims is the understanding that Jesus did not die on a cross. 4:157-158 states, “[Jesus] was not killed, nor was he crucified, but so it was made to appear… Allah took him up to Himself.” Yet the Qur’an also shows Jesus asserting his own death. In 19:33, Jesus says, “Peace is on me the day I was born, the day I die, and the day I rise alive.” If Jesus did not die on the cross and was instead raised directly to heaven, how can he say “peace is on me the day I die?” Only if he will return to earth once more and die that time.

On account of these verses, the Qur’an is understood to teach that Jesus is currently in heaven, awaiting his return to earth, after which he will initiate the latter days and then die before the final day of resurrection. This belief is nearly universal among Muslims.

Furthermore, in the hadith Muhammad says:

[S]urely Jesus the son of Mary will soon descend amongst you and will judge mankind justly; he will break the Cross and kill the pigs and there will be no Jizya (Sahih al-Bukhari 4.55.657).

Also prominent in Muslims’ view of the end times is a battle between Jesus and the anti-Christ, the Dajjal. According to Sahih al-Muslim, “The Last Hour would not come until the Romans would land at al-Amaq or in Dabiq.” After this battle with the Romans, the anti-Christ will challenge Muslims and even have the upper hand against them until Allah sends Jesus back from heaven. Then, “Allah would kill them by his hand and he would show them their blood on his lance [the lance of Jesus Christ]” (Sahih al-Muslim 2897).

Beyond this point, Islamic eschatology begins to vary widely, depending upon one’s denomination of Islam. Many Muslims believe Jesus will fight alongside Muslims, who will be fighting Jews, and even the stones will cry out against Jews on that day. Muhammad said, “The Hour will not be established until you fight the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say, ‘O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him'” (Sahih al-Bukhari 4.52.177).

Some believe Jesus will appear with another apocalyptic figure, the Mahdi, either equal to or superior to Jesus, but details vary among Muslims on these matters, and apart from these two figures are many other signs of the end of days. You might consider reading David Cook, Contemporary Muslim Apocalyptic Literature, for more information. Regardless of the specifics, however, it is a common Muslim view that Jesus will engage in jihad at the end of the world.

THE CHRISTIAN JESUS AND JIHAD

The Christian message, called the Gospel, is this: God entered the world out of love for us, paid the penalty of our sins by dying on our behalf, and then rose from the dead as proof that he had defeated death. The word gospel means, “good news,” and it is the message that, on account of what God has done, we will live forever with him.

Since Christians will live forever, they are told not to fear in the face of death. Paul says, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). Since we know we will be with God forever, there is no more fear of death for the Christian of true faith. In fact, death is even beneficial to a Christian, because it sends him to God, with whom he is longing to be. Paul writes, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). The security of salvation is what liberates Christians to follow difficult teachings of Jesus and to self-sacrificially love one’s enemies, even being ready to die for them.

That is why some Christians have been willing to go to tumultuous Muslim contexts and serve those who could do nothing for them, even in the face of death. Ronnie Smith was a Texan science teacher who decided to move his family to Benghazi when the Libyan revolution was under way. For a few years, he taught chemistry to high school students in the war-torn country, bringing them hope when they had little. He wanted to serve people just as Jesus had, and just as people killed Jesus, so a group of radical Muslims killed Ronnie Smith.

A short time before his death, Ronnie Smith answered a survey indicating that the Gospel is what encouraged him to serve people despite the risk of death. He knew his life was in danger before moving to Libya, but Jesus enabled him to answer jihad with compassion. Through the message of the Gospel, Jesus made Ronnie Smith invincible. He was able to love without fear.

Japanese journalist Kenji Goto went to syria to rescue a new friend, Haruna Yukawa. Goto had met Yukawa six months prior, when Yukawa was trying to turn his life around after a failed suicide attempt following the death of his wife. When ISIS captured Yukawa, Gogo believed there was a chance he could help rescue him. In an interview he said it was “necessary” for him to try and rescue Yukawa, and that his faith gave him the courage to go. Goto had accepted the Gospel in 1997, enabling him to answer jihad with compassion. Jesus made Kenji Goto invincible. He was able to live without fear.

In February 2015, ISIS beheaded twenty-one Christians on a beach in Libya. In a video the men are seen moments before their execution, calling out to Jesus and mouthing prayers. Most of them were migrant laborers working in Libya to provide for their families in Egypt. Although ISIS slaughtered the men to shock the world with terror, the response of their families sent an altogether different message. In an interview with VICE News, the mother of twenty-four-year-old Abanoud Ayiad said, “May God forgive ISIS… [but because of them] I gave the best gift to God: my son.” The mother of twenty-five-year-old Malak Ibrahim said, “I’m proud of my son. He did not change his faith till the last moment of death. I thank God… He is taking care of him.” The mother of twenty-nine-year-old Samuel Abraham said, “We thank ISIS. Now more people believe in Christianity because of them. ISIS showed what Christianity is.” The wife of twenty-six-year-old Malid Makin said, “ISIS thought they would break our hearts. They did not. Milad is a hero now and an inspiration for the whole world.”

As with Ronnie Smith and Kenji Goto, these twenty-one men had been transformed by the Gospel, as had their families. They were able to live and die with confidence, and their families were able to rejoice in their deaths because they are now truly alive. Bishop Felobous, himself related to five of the slain men, even expressed sadness upon hearing that the Egyptian military was retaliating against ISIS. “I was very sad when I heard the news of the air strikes led by the Egyptian military against ISIS. God asked us to even love our enemies.” Even after they had slaughtered five of his relatives, Bishop Felobous was able to answer jihad with compassion.

According to numerous reports, one of the men on the beach in Libya was not an Egyptian Christian, but a citizen of Chad. It was not until he saw the faith of the men around him that he was moved to trust in Christ. When the time came to make his decision, asked whether he would denounce Christianity and live or proclaim the Gospel and die, he said, “Their God is my God.” He chose to live for one minute as a Christian rather than for the rest of his life after having denied Jesus.

CONCLUSION

Jesus has much to do with jihad, both in Islam and Christianity. In common Islamic eschatology, he personally wages war on behalf of Muslims, breaking all the crosses and killing all the swine. In this war Muslims will kill Jews and defeat them, and Jesus will destroy the anti-Christ for their sake.

In Christianity, Jesus shows Christians how to answer persecution with love. Although this suggestion might seem impossible to some and ridiculous to others, Jesus’ teachings were always radical, and they are only possible to follow if the Gospel message is true. If we will live eternally with God in bliss, then we can lay down this life to love even our enemies. In the face of jihad, the Christian Jesus teaches his followers to respond with love.

 

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward- Question #17 – How Does Jihad Compare With the Crusades?

answering jihad

 

This is the seventeenth 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 # 17 – How Does Jihad Compare With the Crusades?

QURESHI RECALLS WAKING UP one morning to a tweet in which a disgruntled individual accused him of criticizing Islam inconsistently. If Christians fought in the Crusades, does that not show that Christianity is violent? If it doesn’t, then how could Qureshi accuse Islam of being violent?

crusades

Of course, this individual did not have the advantage of reading the previous sixteen chapters of Qureshi’s book before asking his question. By now [for those of you who have read the book, or have been following this weekly series] it should be clear there is a great difference between jihad and the Crusades. Jihad was commanded by Muhammad and the Qur’an, both in principle and in reality, whereas Jesus commanded no such thing as the Crusades, neither in principle nor in reality. Therefore, jihad reflects the religion of Islam, whereas the Crusades do not reflect the Christian faith. There is a significant difference between the two.

HOLY WAR

As was mentioned at the end of the previous chapter (Question #16), Jesus’ teachings on peace and violence were so clear that no Christian force entered into battle until after Christianity was assimilated into the Roman Empire in the fourth century. At that time, much that was culturally Roman coalesced with the Christian faith, and warfare began to gradually enter the Christian perspective.

By the turn of the fifth century, the question had become a serious one: Were Christians prohibited from all warfare, or might they engage in battle under certain circumstances? It was at this time that the Christian theologian Augustine began formulating a framework that would allow Christians to fight a just war. Providing stringent conditions, Augustine argued that fighting could fall within the will of God, but only as a necessary evil, an act that required penance. Many Christians adopted Augustine’s view, and for the next few centuries some fought under the banner of their faith with the understanding that they would have to repent as a result.

map of the crusades.jpg

So it was approximately four centuries after Jesus that Christians formulated a theology of acceptable warfare, but it took another seven centuries before Christians developed a concept of holy war. Just after the First Crusade was launched, the contemporary historian Guibert of Nogent remarked in his work, On the First Crusade, “God has instituted in our time holy wars, so that the order of knights and the crown running in their wake… might find a new way of gaining salvation.” No longer did warriors see themselves as committing sin when they fought; instead they saw their actions as meritorious, even salvific [i.e., leading to salvation].

salvationist

By contrast, Muhammad himself taught his warriors that fighting was salvific. According to Sahih al-Bukhari, “…the first army amongst my followers who will invade Caesar’s city will be forgiven their sins” (Sahih al-Bukhari 4.56.2924). As Qureshi demonstrated in his answer to Question #4, Allah essentially made a bargain with Muslims. Death in battle would secure a mujahid’s station in heaven (9:1110).

So it was not until Christians were a thousand years removed from Jesus that they developed a theology of holy war, whereas Muhammad and the Qur’an themselves taught Muslims that fighting could lead to salvation. Holy war is in the very foundation of the Islamic faith.

THE NATURE OF THE CRUSADES

Some records of the Crusades depict Christians committing abominable acts. An example is Count Emicho’s slaughter of Jews in the Rhineland. A rogue Christian leader, Count Emicho systematically slaughtered and plundered innocent Jews against the behest of multiple Christian bishops. He asserted that his zeal was on account of the Jews’ mistreatment of Jesus, ignoring the fact that Jesus himself was a Jew.

Also jarring is the description of what crusaders did to Muslims after scaling the outer fortifications of Jerusalem, as recounted here in a translation of the Gesta Francorum et aliorum Hierosolimitanorum collected in R.G.D. Laffan’s Select Documents of European History:

Our men followed and pursued them, killing and hacking, as far as the temple of Solomon, and there was such a slaughter that our men were up to their ankles in the enemy’s blood… Entering the city, our pilgrims pursued and killed the Saracens [Muslims] up to the temple of Solomon. There the Saracens [Muslims] assembled and resisted fiercely all day, so that the whole temple flowed with their blood. At last the pagans were overcome and our men seized many men and women in the temple, killing them or keeping them alive as they saw fit… Then the crusaders scattered throughout the city, seizing gold and silver, horses and mules, and houses full of all sorts of goods. Afterwards our men went rejoicing and weeping for joy to adore the sepulchre of our Savior Jesus and there discharged their debt to Him.

At then end of the fighting, the archbishop of Pisa and the count of St. Gilles wrote a letter to the Pope, an English translation of which has been produced by the University of Pennsylvania, boastfully describing their victory: “If you desire to know what was done with the enemy who were found there, know that in Solomon’s Porch and in his temple our men rode in the blood of the Saracens [Muslims] up to the knees of their horses.”

Qureshi writes, “Please allow me to be clear: I denounce these atrocities unequivocally. I am utterly against the courses of action that the crusaders took, as they demonstrated a disregard for the value of human life, a demonization of Jews and Muslims, and no grounding whatsoever in the teachings of Jesus. That said, the description in these accounts are clearly exaggerations, as there were not enough people in the entire world to create a knee-deep lake of blood in Jersusalem. We should not view this florid language as a precise fact.”

hands of peace

Qureshi believes it is important to be accurate about the historical context of the battle. John Esposito, professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University, has denounced the First Crusade in his book, Islam: The Straight Path, using these terms: “Five centuries of peaceful coexistence elapsed before political events and an imperial-papal power play led to centuries-long series of so-called holy wars that pitted Christendom against Islam and left an enduring legacy of misunderstanding and distrust.” Professor Esposito’s sentiments may be admirable, but they’re based on fiction, a fiction that has taken hold of the popular understanding of the Crusades.

The reality is that Muhammad proclaimed war against Byzantine Christians, and his companions undertook the work of conquering Christian lands. Muslims had been subjugating Christian lands ever since the inception of Islam, just as the Qur’an commanded them. According to Crusade scholar Thomas Madden, in an article he wrote for the National Review shortly after September 22, 2001, “The crusades were in every way a defensive war. They were the West’s belated response to the Muslim conquest of fully two-thirds of the Christians world.”

This may bear repeating: Muslims had conquered two-thirds of the Christian world before the First Crusade. Islamic conquests were also often brutal. Qureshi shared one account of Muhammad’s companion ordering his soldiers to slaughter defenseless women and children in the chapter on Question #4. Here is another example from the Chronicle of John, Bishop of Nikiu as Muslims were conquering the Bishop’s people:

[W]hen with great toil and exertion [the Muslims] had cast down the walls of the city, they forthwith made themselves masters of it, and put to the sword thousands of its inhabitants and soldiers, and they gained an enormous booty, and took the women and children captive and divided them amongst themselves, and they made that city a desolation.

This slaughter of men and enslavement of women and children follows Muhammad’s example in his treatment of the Quraayza Jews. Qureshi said, “Let us also not forget that Muslims often enlisted the captured boys in their slave armies, starting with the ghilman in the middle of the 800s, and later the mamluks. This practice became so deeply rooted in Islamic custom that, according to Daniel Pipes, sixteen of the seventeen preeminent Muslim dynasties in history systematically used slave-warriors.”

CONCLUSION

When we condemn the Crusades, we ought to do so in light of what they actually were: a defensive effort after much of the Christian world had been conquered by Muslims. Yet Qureshi does condemn the Crusades. The slaughter of Jews in the Rhineland and Muslims in Jerusalem was, in Qureshi’s opinion, unconscionable, especially since crusaders had taken on the name of Christ. If their efforts had represented the state and not the church, and had they been much more humane, Qureshi believes he might have felt differently. But instead he believes taking the symbol of the cross, on which Jesus died for his enemies, and turning it into a symbol for killing one’s enemies deserves to be condemned.

Qureshi said, “As a Christian, I am thankful it took a millennium for Christians to so distort Jesus’ teachings to support holy war. Had Christians engaged in such wars one hundred or two hundred years after Jesus’ death, perhaps the matter would be less clear-cut. As it is, there is little question. Jesus did not commission any concept of holy war, and it took Christians a thousand years to depart from the foundations of Christianity radically enough to engage in it.

By contrast, violent and offensive jihad is commanded in the Qur’an and we find corroborating traditions in the life of Muhammad. The foundations of Islam command Muslims to engage in holy war, offering them salvation if they die while fighting. It took Muslims 1,300 years to depart from the foundations of Islam so radically as to insist that Islam is a religion of peace.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #18–What Does Jesus Have to do With Jihad? 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 #16 – What Does Jesus Teach About Violence?

answering jihad

This is the sixteenth 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 # 16 – What Does Jesus Teach About Violence?

ISLAM APPEARS TO ENVISION Moses as a prefiguring of Muhammad, and there are parallels between the two men. Both proclaimed monotheism in polytheistic contexts, both led their people out of physical oppression, both guided their people in times of battle, and both brought intricate laws to their followers.

Yet Jesus did none of these things. In the four accounts of Jesus’ life that we have in the Gospels, Jesus never led an army, never struck a man, and never even wielded a sword. In fact, His teaching on violence was clearly the opposite. The only place in the Gospels where we might expect Jesus to fight, during His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane when His disciples were willing to fight for Him, Jesus gave them this command: “Put your sword back in its place… for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

sword in the garden

If Islam’s final and most succinct commands on peace and violence can be found in Surah 9 of the Qur’an, Jesus’ final and most succinct commands on peace and violence can be found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). This sermon encapsulates Jesus’ teachings and forms a basis for Christian ethics. Nowhere in the Sermon on the Mount do we find an allowance for Christian violence, even for self-defense: “I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles” (Matthew 5:39-41).

1961 King of Kings Sermon on the Mount

This teaching works in tandem with Jesus’ command to love one’s enemies. Christians are not supposed to fight their enemies, because they are supposed to love them.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48)

In the Christian worldview, the exemplar for followers of God is no mere man but God Himself. Since God cares for those who are His enemies, even blessing them with rain, Christians ought to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them, so that they can follow God’s example.

love your enemies

This contrasts with the teaching of the Qur’an, where Allah tells Muslims, “O you who believe! Do not take my enemies or your enemies as allies, offering them your friendship when they do not believe” (60:1). Of course, that is not to condemn the Qur’an, as it is counter-intuitive to love one’s enemy. The Christian command may make little earthly sense, but it is the explicit teaching of Jesus. There are no teachings in the Gospels that contradict this categorical command, none that abrogate the mandate for peace and replace it with violence or hate. Jesus’ command is for grace and love, unconditional and unadulterated.

JESUS THE ZEALOT?

In his 2013 book Zealot, author Reza Aslan argued that Jesus actually did have violent aspirations. Aslan, a professor of creative writing at the University of California, Riverside, seemed to borrow heavily in his book from the 1967 arguments of S.G.F. Brandon that Jesus was a revolutionary figure seeking political upheaval and not opposed to violence. Arguments such as these, heavily criticized by the scholarly communities of both the 1960s and the 2010s, generally refer to a few verses to make their points.

One of the verses is Matthew 10:34, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Those who quote this verse to demonstrate that Jesus was violent are either deceiving or deceived, as it is taken suspiciously out of context. The very next verse clarifies that Jesus is not talking about physical violence: “For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” Jesus is talking about division within families, not actual warfare. No honest and careful study could conclude that Matthew 10:34 promotes violence.

Another verse that can cause confusion if context is ignored is Luke 19:27, in which Jesus says, “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.” Yet reading the whole passage makes the statement clear. Jesus is telling a parable, sharing a teaching about a king. He is not demanding that His enemies be brought before Him and killed. Throughout the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells many parables, including ones about an evil judge who ignores a woman (Luke 18), a farmer who sows seeds (Luke 8), a vineyard owner who orders a tree to be cut down (Luke 13), and a woman who searches for a lost coin (Luke 15).

These parables are not meant to imply that He is an evil judge who ignores women, that He is a farmer who sows seeds, that He is a vineyard owner who orders trees to be cut down, or that He is a woman looking for a coin. Similarly, His parable in Luke 19:27 is not meant to imply that He is a king who wishes to kill people. Rather, Jesus uses stories to provide memorable illustrations, and His parable in Luke 19:27 prefigures the outcome of those who have rejected God on the final day of judgment.

Perhaps more understandably, people sometimes turn to Luke 22:36 to suggest that Jesus considers violence acceptable. In this verse, Jesus says, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.” It is sometimes assumed, since Jesus told His  companions to purchase a sword, that He wanted them to fight.

Context is again critical, and a closer look reveals the problem with this understanding. Jesus in this verse is telling His disciples to prepare for a journey, and He suggests they purchase a sword among the list of items they will need for their journey. The English word sword is also misleading here, as English speakers are prone to imagine a weapon used primarily for battle. The Greek word for sword that evokes such imagery is rhomphaia, but it is not the word for sword that Jesus used. Instead, He used the word machaira. Like a machete, a machaira was a long knife designed as a multi-purpose tool, useful for cutting meat or cleaning fish. Like a machete, a machaira could be used for fighting, but that was not its only or primary purpose. It would certainly have been useful as a traveling tool.

There appears to be confirmation of this interpretation within the text. As if to ensure that His disciples would not use the machaira for fighting, He tells them two are enough (Luke 22:38). Two swords could not be sufficient among twelve disciples for fighting, but they could be sufficient as traveling tools. Either way, the verse says nothing about actually committing violence.

The only remaining account in the Gospels that might suggest Jesus’ approval of violence is His cleansing of the temple. Of all four accounts in the Gospels, the most apparently violent is the account in the Gospel of John, which says,

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts He found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves He said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me” (John 2:13-17).

moneychangers

This passage describes Jesus at His most zealous. He sees cattle and sheep sellers, dove sellers, and money changers, and He makes a whip for driving them all out of the temple. Some who read this passage might picture Jesus violently attacking people, but a careful reading shows that Jesus expelled all three of the groups differently, and none with violence toward people. First, the Greek syntax shows that He struck only sheep and oxen: “[He] drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle.” The sheep and cattle having been driven out, their sellers followed. Jesus then turned over the tables of the money changers, causing them to leave. Finally, Jesus did not release the doves as that would amount to stealing them, but He ordered their sellers to depart. So Jesus purged the temple of all three groups of people, yet struck no person.

CONCLUSION

For anyone who wishes to strictly follow the teachings of Jesus, there is no room for violence. Not only does Jesus never allow offensive violence, He explicitly teaches against self-defensive violence, living out this difficult teaching in the Garden of Gethsemane. This is a difficult teaching for Christians to grapple with, as it would otherwise seem self-evident that violence is permissible for just causes, such as self-defense or protecting the oppressed. Jesus did not give us any exceptions to this tenet. His commands were categorically peaceful.

Jesus’ radical stance against violence coheres with the life He lived and the message He preached. The very crux of Christian theology is that Jesus, the example for all mankind, was willing to die for others, including His enemies. He came to serve those who killed Him, even to die on their behalf. His commands to His followers are consistent with His example. He tells them to love their enemies, to pray for them, and to self-sacrificially serve them, and in this way to be like God. Reading Jesus’ words carefully leaves no doubt: Jesus commanded total love and grace.

This degree of peace was so radical that Christians struggled even with the notion of self-defense, and for 300 years after Jesus Christians never fought in a single battle.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #17–How Does Jihad Compare With the Crusades? 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 #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.