Book Review: Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, by Nabeel Qureshi

Answering JihadThey obviously didn’t begin then, but since September 11, 2001, conversations on Muslim-Christian relations have been on a sharp rise, even more so with recent worldwide bombings. Tensions are high, misunderstandings are often higher, and hate fills more rooms than the love of Christ. This is what eventually pushed Nabeel Qureshi, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity some years ago, to break his silence on the matter and quickly write Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward. Qureshi does not waste his reader’s time; in the Introduction he explains his background, purpose in writing, and the point on which he will eventually land: “[A]s long as Islam is practiced in a way that calls Muslims to return to its foundations, violence will follow. … I really do feel that the Christian teaching of loving one’s enemies, even in the face of death, might perhaps be the most powerful answer to jihad at our disposal today. Not only does it allow us to counter jihad, it also enables us to treat Muslims with the utmost dignity: as image bearers of God” (19–20). From there the book is divided into three parts in which Qureshi answers eighteen questions to eventually get to his point:

Part 1: The Origins of Jihad
Question 1: What Is Islam?
Question 2: Is Islam “a Religion of Peace”?
Question 3: What Is Jihad?
Question 4: Is Jihad in the Quran and the Life of Muhammad?
Question 5: What Is Sharia?
Question 6: Was Islam Spread by the Sword?

Part 2: Jihad Today
Question 7: What Is Radical Islam?
Question 8: Does Islam Need a Reformation?
Question 9: Who Are Al-Qaida, ISIS, and Boko Haram?
Question 10: Who Are the True Muslims—Violent or Peaceful Muslims?
Question 11: Why Are Muslims Being Radicalized?
Question 12: Are Muslims Trying to Take Over the West with Sharia?

Part 3: Jihad in Judeo-Christian Context
Question 13: Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?
Question 14: Why Do Some Christians Call God “Allah”?
Question 15: How Does Jihad Compare with Old Testament Warfare?
Question 16: What Does Jesus Teach about Violence?
Question 17: How Does Jihad Compare with the Crusades?
Question 18: What Does Jesus Have to Do with Jihad?
Conclusion: Answering Jihad

Also included are several helpful appendices that are worth reading.

 

Given that my wife was living in Manhattan on 9/11 and subsequently obtained her M.A. through the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (studying Middle East relations, terrorism, and Arabic), I knew throughout the reading of this book that we’d be having some intense discussions later. So, until she gets a chance to read it herself and we actually have more of those discussions (I don’t know Arabic and have not studied Islamic scholarship), I’ll try to address this text based on the evidence presented, convincing or otherwise, and keep “but my wife says” comments out of it. (Maybe we’ll add a follow-up inclusion or post later!) If nothing else, this has lead to our determination to read together the Quran (in English—please save “there is no translation of the Quran” comments for forums that wish to engage in those debates) and hadith in their entirety so that we can better address these things.

 

Parts 1 and 2 I found quite helpful in defining terms and ideas using the Quran and traditions chronologically as to maintain timeline of what they meant and came to mean, establishing a convincing argument, in my estimation, of the violent foundation of Islam and that to which “radicals” are bringing people back. Does this mean all “good Muslims” are violent? No, and Qureshi addresses this (91–92); but his argument throughout the book is that of Islam’s foundation (the Quran and Muhammad’s teachings) and what a call to this will bring: violence.

 

Part 3: This is where my “expertise” and scholarship comes into play, and this is where I find many of Qureshi’s arguments wanting.

Question 13: Quershi’s answer is an absolute “no.” That’s fine, but his reason is perhaps based on a semantic misunderstanding of the word same. His principle argument is that Islam denies Jesus and the Holy Spirit as God, and therefore worships a different God. He claims this is not the case with Jews because the Trinity can be developed from the Old Testament; however, he stops short of answering whether or not Jews practicing Judaism (those who deny Jesus as the Messiah) are worshipping the same God. His arguments would say they don’t. So, as he writes in reference to the word Allah in Question 14, perhaps these words may also be applied to same: “The term can be used in multiple ways, and our conversations would be far better served by focusing on meaningful matters rather than proper use of a term that can be legitimately used in many ways” (119).

Question 15: The conclusion: “The final marching order of Islam is jihad. The final marching orders of Christians are grace and love” (125). Okay, but let’s not sidestep theses Old Testament passages by stating that they “serve little more than an historical footnote in the practice and expectation of the Christian life” (124). That’s not very helpful.

Question 16: Jesus makes no room for violence, even in self-defense. Amen! Qureshi does a great job in briefly and concisely addressing the seemingly problematic verses for pacifists in the New Testament in favor of complete nonviolence. Jesus calls us to peace and to love our enemy. It appears that he really is going to conclude the book with the love of Christ and sacrifice, not retaliation, in the face of jihad. But then he addresses Question 17…

Question 17: “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 I do condemn the Crusades. The slaughter of Jews in the Rhineland and Muslims in Jerusalem was 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, perhaps I would feel differently. But to take the symbol of the cross, on which Jesus died for his enemies, and to turn it into a symbol for killing one’s enemies in my mind deserves to be condemned” (136, emphasis mine). Wait, what? If the Crusades had been in the name of the state on not in the name of Christ Qureshi may have felt differently about them? Only because the cross of Christ was taken into battle does he have a problem with it? When do Christians not carry the cross of Christ? Did Jesus ask us to take up our cross in a church building and lay it down when our nations call us to action on their behalf? Never! This is a dangerous door being opened, which will be fully swung open in his ultimate conclusion (Question 18 properly reflects Question 16).

Conclusion: “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.
     So, 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” (146–147, emphasis mine).

Here Qureshi unfortunately does not address the noted passages as he did with those in Question 16, perhaps avoiding further conflict with the military background of his family, though I don’t know how a proper addressing of these passages and maintain a nonviolent stance in the name of Christ would be anymore offensive or controversial than writing this book with a still Muslim family. And if not advocating for any particular course of action, then what is the point of the book? Seriously, love is not apathetic; it is active. With heart framed in Christ, we are called to action; not violent action, but action nonetheless. Being passive is not the same thing as pacifism. Jesus calls us to lay down our lives, not to take others’.

By opening this door to violence in the name of a nation, Qureshi has effectively sanctioned jihad for any people group, Christians included, in the name of a nation’s best interest. If an Islamic state exists, then they could rightly use Qureshi’s own words to point out that it is not in the name of religion but in the name of the nation that they “defend” others from the “evils” of “Western culture,” just as Western nations use violence to “defend” others from ill-perceived cultures and to promote its own ideals. Patriotism is idolatry. We are first citizens of the kingdom of God, and we ought never lay down our cross.

 

Love our neighbors, Muslim or otherwise, yes. Leave open the possibility of violence in the name of our nation so that we can justify that which goes against the act of loving? Never! Jesus is Lord, and demonstrating his love is the only way forward.

I’m not sure who to recommend this book to because the Christians I know who already hate Muslims (or really anyone they disagree with) would take away from this book exactly that which I found dangerous in Qureshi’s conclusion: a way to kill them all through via the nation state. Of course, my response: #facepalm Missed. The. Point. But if listening to Qureshi, they’re positioned could be justified. Those who are already trying to love their neighbor do not need this book (at least not for its intended purpose). So, I’m torn. There’s some really compelling material here with a cataclysmic conclusion.

 

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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