'Answering Jihad' with Truth and Love


51vdsGwFoZL._SX326_BO1204203200_Responding to Islamist terror attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, and Brussels, many observers continue to believe that the religion of Muhammad needs a reformation. Nabeel Qureshi has bad news for them.

“What they may not realize is that radical Islam is the Islamic reformation,” Qureshi writes in “Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward” (Zondervan, 2016). “Just as the Protestant Reformation was an attempt to raze centuries of Catholic tradition and return to the canonical texts, so radical Islam is an attempt to raze centuries of traditions of various schools of Islamic thought and return to the canonical texts of the Quran and Muhammad’s life.”

While one might quibble with Qureshi’s shorthand description of the Reformers’ aims—as well as his unfortunate grouping of Protestants with Islamists—the former Muslim, who detailed his conversion in “Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus” (2014), is making a critical point. Islam, in its founding documents and early history, is shot through with violence. Any attempt to “re-form” Islam by them is only bound to produce more carnage.

In fact, that’s why we are seeing so much violence perpetrated by Muslim groups such as ISIS, Al-Qaida, and Boko Haram. The Quran and the hadith—traditions concerning the life of Muhammad—provide ample warrant for such mayhem. And access to these documents has never been easier, a fact that the terrorists are only too happy to exploit.

“As a young Muslim boy growing up in the 1980s and 1990s,” Qureshi wrote in USA Today after the Brussels attacks, “. . . if I wanted to know about the traditions of Muhammad, I had to ask imams or elders in my tradition of Islam. That is no longer the case today. Just as radical Islamists may spread their message far and wide online, so, too, the Internet has made the traditions of Muhammad readily available for whoever wishes to look them up, even in English. When everyday Muslims investigate the Quran and hadith for themselves. . . . they are confronted with the reality of violent jihad in the very foundations of their faith.”

As ISIS recruiters said in the days after the Brussels attacks, “Every Muslim who is well aware of the history of Islam, knows that the holy war against infidels is an integral part of Islam, and those who read history would know.”

While Qureshi takes pains to show Christian love toward the followers of Islam, he does not shrink from hard truths about the religion itself. In the ongoing debates about whether Islam is either inherently a “religion of peace” or a sanctioning of warfare with spiritual significance (his definition of jihad), Qureshi continually points readers back to the Quran and the hadith, noting, “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 contexts and formulations of doctrinal jihad.” Even those who see Islam differently will be challenged by his analysis.

And despite these dark elements in Islam, Qureshi can point to his own story as a peace-loving, pro-American Muslim in acknowledging that there are other ways to live out one’s Muslim faith. He allows for at least the possibility of an Islam that “moves away from its foundations, whether organically through centuries of tradition and jurisprudence or synthetically through an intentional re-envisioning of Islam by progressive Muslim thought leaders.”

Still, Qureshi holds out the most hope through worldview change for followers of Muhammad, especially via the gospel. Qureshi says that he faced a crisis of faith when he learned the extent of violence in Islam and had to make a choice: leave Islam, become apathetic about Islam, or become radicalized. He chose Christ. So have many other Muslims in recent years.

“Answering Jihad” sprinkles 18 common questions about Islam and (to a lesser extent) Christianity among three concise but fascinating sections: “The Origins of Jihad,” “Jihad Today,” and “Jihad in Judeo-Christian Context.” It is in this final grouping that Qureshi begins to explore how Christians can begin to eschew fear and bigotry and chart “a better way forward” with our Muslim neighbors. I say “begins” because the book is long on good will toward Muslims but regrettably short on how to actually reach out.

“We need to show compassion for Muslims and befriend them,” Qureshi writes, “not only because they are people inherently worthy of love and respect, but also because we can only speak into their lives and decisions if we have earned the right.” We could, and do, say that about every lost person, right?

A few paragraphs later, he acknowledges, “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.” While one can applaud Qureshi’s spirit and humility here, I wish he had provided some specifics.

Evidently there was no time. The book, now a bestseller, was written and brought to market in under two months—the blink of an eye in modern publishing—in response to current events. While such speed is admirable, I wonder if a little depth was sacrificed.

Qureshi’s chapter, “Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?,” reprises and expands his widely quoted article of the same title. Its occasion was the “same God” controversy at Wheaton College over the winter. Qureshi says that while the deities of Christianity and Islam share the role of Creator, they cannot be the same being because they differ in “essential characteristics,” in their understandings of Jesus, the fatherhood of God, and the Trinity.

Answering the common charge that Christianity is also shot through with violence, Qureshi acknowledges similarities but explores important differences, from the historical and theological records of both religions. Qureshi says Islam offers a “trajectory of domination,” most clearly exemplified by Muhammad, while Christianity offers a “trajectory of grace,” most clearly exemplified by Jesus Christ.

“The very crux of Christian theology,” Qureshi says, “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.”

If this truth were ever to sink into the heart of Islam, there would be no more need for talk of a Muslim reformation.

Image copyright Zondervan. Review copy from the author's personal collection.

Stan Guthrie, a licensed minister, is Editor at Large for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and for Christianity Today. Stan blogs at www.stanguthrie.com. His latest book is God’s Story in 66 Verses: Understand the Entire Bible by Focusing on Just One Verse in Each Book.

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