Nabeel Qureshi (1983-2017)

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I’ve been presenting a weekly series that follows the book Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, by Nabeel Qureshi. (A new post each Friday.) I had entertained the thought of meeting Qureshi some day. I recently changed the direction of my life and ministry, deciding to earn a master’s degree in Biblical Studies rather than Professional Counseling. As is often the case, when we pray and seek God’s face relative to His plans for us, we find ourselves changing course.

My interest in biblical studies and Christian apologetics began in 2017 after completing a college course called World Views, which did a great job introducing the concept of worldviews, perspectives, culture, and the presuppositions we all have regarding the big questions of life: Who am I? How do I fit in? What is the purpose of my existence? Is God real?

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In order to better prepare me for defending the faith (See 1 Peter 3:15), I did an Internet search on the top books from today’s Christian apologists. It was through this that I found several posts regarding the death of Nabeel Qureshi. Qureshi was a 34-year-old convert from Islam who, after scrutinizing the Qur’an, the hadith (written traditions handed down by Muhammad), and other seminal Islamic texts, and reflecting on the comments of Imams he studied under as a young man, he converted to Christianity.

Qureshi was diagnosed with stomach cancer last summer. He underwent months of aggressive treatment, including the removal of his stomach. He posted a video to Facebook on September 8 that doctors had “given up” on treating his cancer, and had resorted to palliative care. Naturally, Qureshi faced a multitude of questions, including whether he had the faith to be healed. He wondered if there was something he needed to do – did he need to perform in a particular way in order to be walking in faith? He said, “Honestly, I don’t think so. I think God understands where I am right now, and He comes alongside us in that He loves us and gives us the strength.”

Qureshi said God “…reached me through investigations, dreams, and visions and called me to prayer… It was there that I found Jesus. To follow Him means everything to me.” I discovered Qureshi while hard at work on my own walk with Christ. I’d spent so many decades walking in the flesh, then going to God in prayer, asking for forgiveness. What I have come to understand is that I was making a conscious decision to walk in the flesh. I’ve been given the power through the death and resurrection of Jesus to choose walking in the Spirit, but I was treating my salvation as “permission to sin.” After all, I was under grace, right? Truly, I was choosing to count the suffering and death of Jesus as though it meant nothing; that I was too far gone for His death to be a propitiation for my sins. What a slap in the face of my Lord!

Qureshi wrote three fine books before his death. Seeking Allah: Finding Jesus, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, and No God But One: Allah or Jesus. Although he spent many years as a devout Muslim, defending Islam, he finally met his match when he entered into a years-long discussion with David Wood, a fellow student and practicing Christian, on the merits of Islam versus Christianity. Eventually, Qureshi realized his arguments for Islam crumbled under the evidence for Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, as well as the truth of His divinity. Qureshi faced severe disappointment and rejection from his parents after he told them of his conversion.

Qureshi made the announcement of his cancer in August of 2016. He posted the following comment on Facebook:

“This is an announcement that I never expected to make, but God in his infinite and sovereign wisdom has chosen me for this refining, and I pray he will be glorified through my body and my spirit. My family and I have received the news that I had advanced stomach cancer and the prognosis is quite grim.”

Some of you may already know of Qureshi’s passing, but it hit me between the eyes this morning. Regardless of the sadness, pain, and suffering Qureshi endured, he maintained a love and dedication to Christ. My pastor once said to me, relative to my chronic severe low back pain, “Have you ever considered that your pain provides you with the opportunity to understand and share in the pain Christ endured at Calvary?” Now that’s what I call a very provocative question.

Nabeel, my brother in Christ, rest in peace my friend. Thank you for sharing your story with the world. Your work has had a substantial impact on my walk with God, and has helped me to understand His plans for me.

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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

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

 

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

answering jihad

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

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION #11 – WHY ARE MUSLIMS BEING RADICALIZED?

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

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

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

ISIS’S METHOD OF RADICALIZING YOUNG MUSLIMS

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

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

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

THE INTERNET AND THE ACCESSIBILITY OF ISLAMIC TRADITIONS

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

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

THE RADICALIZATION OF WOMEN

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

coexist slashed by radical islam

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

Thanks for reading.

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

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

answering jihad

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

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

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

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

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

Islamic Cleric

ARE TERRORISTS MUSLIM?

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

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

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

apostacy in islam

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

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

SO ARE PEACEFUL MUSLIMS “GOOD MUSLIMS?”

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

Thanks for reading.

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

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

answering jihad

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

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

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

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

AL-QAEDA

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Al-Qaeda Soldiers

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

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

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

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

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

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Osama bin Laden

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

ISIS

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ISIS Soldiers

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

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

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Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

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

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

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

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

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

BOKO HARAM

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Boko Haram Soldiers

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

Thanks for reading.

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

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

answering jihad

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

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION #7 – WHAT IS RADICAL ISLAM?

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

THE BIRTH OF RADICAL ISLAM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TAKFIR AND MUSLIM-ON-MUSLIM VIOLENCE

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

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

Thanks for reading.

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

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

answering jihad

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

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION #6 – WAS ISLAM SPREAD BY THE SWORD?

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

31 Islamic Scimitar

Second, in Dar al-Harb, fighting was not incumbent upon Muslims but it was permissible should they want the land for themselves. If they wished to conquer it, they were to first invite its people to Islam. If the people agreed, they were safe and the house of Islam was spread without the sword.

Third, if people refused to convert to Islam, they were then offered the option of paying jizya, the ransom tax. If they agreed, they were considered a conquered people whose lands now belonged to Muslims and they received the rights of second-class citizens, dhimmis. This option was given even to polytheists despite Surah 9 of the Qur’an.

maxresdefault.jpgFourth, if the people refused to accept Islam or pay the jizya, then Muslims could fight them. If the Muslims won, it was because they either killed their enemies in battle or because their enemies surrendered. In the case of victory through surrender, Muslims could do whatever they wished with their vanquished foes (Sunan Abu Daub 2612).

There may have been occasions in history when Muslims gave an ultimatum of conversion under the threat of death, but that was not the norm. A much more common outcome, for example, was the systematized enslavement of captives that Muslims then trained and enlisted as slave soldiers, or mamluks. Given this process of waging jihad, it can be seen that the primary goal of jihad was not to convert people at the point of the sword but rather to expand Muslim territory. Conversion was one of the outcomes of jihad, but not its main purpose.

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Yet if it had not been for campaigns of the sword, Islam would not have spread as widely as it did. As David Cook summarizes in Understanding Jihad, “Islam was not in fact ‘spread by the sword’ – conversion was not forced on the occupants of conquered territories – but the conquests created the necessary preconditions for the spread of Islam. With only a few exceptions… Islam has become the majority faith only in territories that were conquered by force. Thus, the conquests and the doctrine that motivated these conquests – jihad – were crucial to the development of Islam.

Although the object of jihad was not conversion, once lands had been conquered, people were more prone to converting. This is unsurprising, as second-class dhimmi status was at times harsh. Also, the jizya was not a set amount, and records indicate that it was prone to change over time. Conquered Christians record that Amr Ibn al-As, one of Muhammad’s companions, is recorded to have tripled their taxes, and elsewhere he raised the jizya until the conquered Christians were unable to pay.

THE GOLDEN AGE OF ISLAM

It was through the injunctions toward Dar al-Harb that the Islamic empire expanded rapidly. Whatever the reality of that era and its warfare, many modern Muslims remember it with nostalgia as the Golden Age of Islam. Nostalgia is perhaps too mild a term; “longing” or “yearning” may more accurately convey the wistful sentiments of many Muslims. In their eyes, Allah rained his blessings upon the land because of the devotion of early Muslims, teaching them insights through the Qur’an that advanced them scientifically and intellectually beyond the rest of mankind. The world was as Allah intended it to be during this era when Muslims obeyed Allah and Islam reigned supreme.

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This basic notion of supremacy through the practice of Islam appears in the Qur’anic concept of jahiliyya. The Qur’an teaches that, before the advent of Islam, mankind was in a state of ignorance and barbarism, jahiliyya. Obedience to Allah results in lifting mankind out of their base condition and into “enlightenment.” The hadith build on this framework, coupling the proper practice of Islam with the generation of Islamic conquests.

In a well-known hadith from Sahih al-Bukhari, Muhammad says, “The best of you are my generation, and the second best will be those who will follow them, and then those who will follow the second generation… Then will come some people who will make vows but will not fulfill them; and they will be dishonest and will not be trustworthy, and they will give their witness without being asked to give their witness, and fatness will appear among them. (Sahih al-Bukhari 8.78.686)

The premise of this hadith undergirds the common Muslim conception of the Islamic Golden Age: after Muhammad will come the best era of Islamic history, and gradually through selfishness and lack of integrity, Muslims will fall away from the proper practice of Islam. Classically, Muslims and scholars have considered the Golden Age to span 500 years, starting at about the middle of the eighth century, but radical Muslims today are given to envisioning the era of the Golden Age as far back as the first generations of Muslims.

CONCLUSION

It is easy to see why people would think Islam was spread by the sword. Muhammad said, “I have been ordered to fight against the people until they testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah. [O]nly then will they save their lives and property from me” (Sahih Bukhari 1.2.25). Though this may sound like Muhammad wanted to convert non-Muslims at sword-point, early Muslims did not interpret it that way. Rather, it was understood that Islamic territory was to expand, but the fighting would desist if the vanquished converted to Islam.

This distinction between conquering for conversion or conquering them for their territory unless they convert is a subtle one, and in the long run the outcome was the same. With a few exceptions, Islam is the majority religion only in those lands that were captured through jihad. Muslims believe that because of the obedience of early Muslims, the Islamic empire expanded beyond all estimation. The obedience of the earliest Muslims laid the foundation for the Golden Era of Islam, and it is remembered with yearning in the Muslim heart as a time when people obeyed Allah and Allah blessed the land. Mankind was at its pinnacle. Political, intellectual, scientific, and moral progress has never been sustained in such purity since that time. Muslims can thank the earliest Muslims, the salaf, for their devotion, and if they model their example in obeying Allah and following Muhammad with integrity, Allah will bless mankind again.

With these final pieces of the puzzle, the expectation of Islamic dominance and the nostalgic notion of an Islamic Golden Age, the foundations of radical Islam were laid.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #7 – What is Radical Islam? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.