Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, Nabeel Qureshi. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016.
Summary: Contends that there is a basis in the foundations of Islam for violent, and not merely defensive, jihad, which neither can be ignored, nor assumed of all Muslims, but calls for a proactive response, particularly of Christians, of love and friendship with the hope of breaking the cycle of violence.
In this book Nabeel Qureshi, a convert from Islam to Christianity, details his own realization, particularly in the aftermath of 9/11 that Islam at its foundations was not the “religion of peace” in which he was raised and that many Muslims as well as American political figures touted this idea to differentiate the perpetrators of terror from the mass of Muslims.
Qureshi contends in this book that it is true that many Muslims were raised as he was, and that the vast majority of Muslims indeed simply want what all want: to live peaceably, to be financially secure in fulfilling work, and to raise healthy families in their faith. However, what he found as he researched the foundational texts and early history of the Prophet Muhammad, was a trajectory toward increasing violence, both in the Qur’an, and in the acts of Muhammad, and that not all of this was merely defensive. He particularly points out that Surah 9, the last of the Surahs is the most violent and, he would contend, abrogates earlier peaceable Surahs.
What he faced, and he believes faces young Muslims who turn to these teachings, particularly as they are promoted online, is that there is a choice between apostasy through leaving Islam, apathy through ignoring Muhammad’s teaching or “radicalization” which seeks to obey all his teachings, including those concerning jihad as violent struggle, not merely “spiritual” struggle as it is sometimes portrayed. Thus he would propose that efforts to separate violent radicalism from religiously rooted motivations are misinformed and dangerous.
The book consists of a series of short chapters, each which attempts to answer a single question. The first part is concerned with the origins of jihad and explores whether Islam is a religion of peace, what is jihad, is it in the Qur’an and the life of Muhammad, and what is sharia. Many of the conclusions mentioned above come from this section.
The second turns to jihad today, asking what is radical Islam, does Islam need a reformation, who are Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Boko Haram, and why Muslims are being radicalized. He would contend that the “reformation” of Islam is actually at the heart of violent radicalism, and that what is needed is re-imagining a peaceful Islam, but does not hold out much hope for this because it means ignoring or de-emphasizing some of the teachings of Muhammad.
The final section compares Islam and Christianity. He contends that what Christians and Muslims believe about God is sufficiently different that they do not worship the same God, contra theologians like Miroslav Volf. In fact, he criticizes Volf for stifling dialogue because of Volf’s categorical statements denying that there was any theological justification for the suspension of Larycia Hawkins from the Wheaton faculty for affirming that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. At the same time, Qureshi acknowledges differences here and would like to see more dialogue, which he believes Volf’s statements precluded.
In this final section Qureshi also discusses the comparisons of jihad with holy war in the Old Testament and with the Crusades. He quotes a friend who said, “If you want to follow the biblical model of attacking a land, the first thing you have to do is wait 400 years.” He also contrasts the biblical and Islamic trajectories–the former begins with war but ends in the New Testament with a renunciation of violence that carried through the first 300 years of the church’s existence, where Christians were martyred but did not fight back; the latter becomes increasingly violent in the later Surahs and its earliest centuries are filled with violent conquest and often viewed as the Golden Age of Islam.
What Qureshi would contend is that we need to have eyes wide open to these things–and to proactively love even those who could turn out to be enemies. It is a call neither to close our eyes and minds to discerning the roots of violence that he contends is at the heart of Islam, nor to close our hearts to Muslim neighbors, including those who seek refuge. It raises the question of whether we can be both vigilant and compassionate. It is a call that recognizes the possibility that some may be “radicalized” and yet that many others may be won by friends, who like a Christian friend of his, suggested that radicalization was not the only option.
It strikes me that Qureshi exemplifies the “both-and” thinking that characterizes Christians who believe the gospel calls us to a “Third Way”. Vigilant compassion succumbs neither to naive sentimentality nor to fear and hatred. It reckons with the fallen, violent world in which we live, and holds to the redemptive possibilities in the way of the Christ. As Qureshi concludes, this is not the final answer, but rather a way forward.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.