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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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Book Review: Snuggle Time Prayers, by Glenys Nellist, Illustrated by Cee Biscoe

Snuggle Time PrayersThrough Zonderkidz™, author Glenys Nellist and illustrator Cee Biscoe have created Snuggle Time Prayers, a cute board book of bedtime prayers intended for ages 2–4. It’s small enough for a young child to handle comfortably, which may help with engagement. The cover is a bit cushioned, which may help if not handled quite as well. :)

The text consists of fifteen rhyming prayers base on a paraphrased verse of in the Bible (perhaps from the author or a translation for kids by Zondervan with which I am unfamiliar—there is no notation either way). Each takes up no more than two pages (no page turning needed) with accompanying anthropomorphic illustrations in full color (they appear to be soft pastels) appropriate for the content and easily incorporated as a teaching and learning opportunity.

Most of these prayers are not necessarily indicative of bedtime prayers, which extends its applicability. Not all children are going to relate well to each of the prayers, but there appears to be enough here to find a few for everyone. I would recommend using the book as a fun and helpful starting point from which parents and children pray in more specific and relatable ways.

 

*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.”

Book Review: Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood, by Nate Pyle

Man EnoughNate Pyle’s debut book, Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood, contributes a much-needed perspective in our churches’ debate over gender roles and what it means to be a man (or woman, as the case may be). Steering away from cultural stereotypes of wilderness surviving, football playing, car fixing men devoid of any emotion other than jealousy and anger, Pyle points us to a more accurate and biblical perspective right from the start: there is no single template for masculinity (19) and that “being a man is not dependent on what one does; rather, a man is a man because he is made in the image of God. . . . Masculinity does not need to be proved; it needs to be affirmed” (25). The same thing can be (and is) said of women! When we look to Genesis, both man and woman are addressed in the mandates to be fruitful and rule—there is no gender distinction between the two (173). Leaping to Paul in his letter to the church in Galatia, Pyle also points out that there is no gender distinction in the fruit of the Spirit that is indicative of Christians, even though our culture (and churches!) tends to think of most of these attributes as being feminine (love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, gentleness), Pyle notes how faithfulness and self-control are often perceived as masculine (be faithful to your wife/family, and exercise self-control to be competitive and successful) (158). This certainly needs to change.

Much of the book is a journey through Pyle’s husky childhood to an athletic, adventuresome adulthood and still not “feeling like a man.” I’m sure many will be able to relate, especially in an American culture where bread-winning and other struggles are no respecters of gender and churches tend to push a “man works, woman stays home” mentality (yes, this sort of scripture twisting is still quite prevalent). I’ve recently tossed my hat into the pool of applicants for a “Men’s Ministry Coordinator” position at a local university despite its desire to promote “Biblical masculinity” through “initiatives that are specific to men,” like “Fantasy Football League.” I like to think it’s just a poorly written job description and that it isn’t indicative of an actual university-wide perspective, but either way, I pray it is filled with someone who thinks like Pyle in this regard!

(Kudos to Dual Identity for their cover design! This sucker pops!)

 

*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.”

Book Review: The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church, by Gregory A. Boyd

The Myth of a Christian NationGregory A. Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church is a must-read for those who still believe the United States of America was and/or is a “Christian nation,” and still a great read for anyone who wants to look deeper into “American Christianity.” Here are a few major considerations on which Boyd writes:

 

  • Kingdom of the Sword vs. Kingdom of the Cross
  • Whose nation is holy?
  • Warlord Conquerors vs. Sacrificial Witnesses
  • Fallacious presuppositions in “taking America back for God,” “a Christian nation,” and “one nation under God.”
  • Violence vs. Pacifism

 

Before this summer (2015) I had spent about ten months with my former church working through political theology, emphasizing the need to be and working first from the perspective and position of citizens of the kingdom of God. It was a great time, full of diverse backgrounds and opinions as we wrestled with history, scripture, and a plethora of contexts. Boyd’s book was on my shelf the entire time, but it was just one of many in my library waiting to be cracked open. Had I read it beforehand, I certainly would have used it as a group study. There are great discussion questions for each chapter at the end of the book to aid readers in wrestling with Boyd’s postulations, with which I will go ahead and say I agree. One may really appreciate his final chapter, wherein he addresses tough questions some readers would likely pose. It’s always nice to see an author continuing to honestly wrestle with his own tough convictions.

I do wish there had been a section on the importance of better understanding the way laws work, how they are or are not enforced (sometimes rendering them ineffective and pointless), legal rights, what “freedom” really is, and from whom we really receive these things. Boyd does briefly touch on a few of these, but not near enough given his main thesis. Perhaps just one more chapter would have rounded it out a bit better. However, I still highly recommend this one and hope to be able to use it in another group setting!

Book Review: Culture Care, by Makoto Fujimura

Culture CareI’m proud to have been a part of the Kickstarter effort to launch Makoto Fujimura’s Culture Care. This is a much-needed work for artists of all kinds to encourage, facilitate, and bring about a beautiful, healthy, and generative culture. Though artists in the typical sense of the word will find it especially insightful and motivating, Fujimura here expands the definition of an artist to the creativity found within us all as image bearers of our creator, thereby necessarily including businessmen, janitors, and all walks of life as equal participants in the cultivation of culture’s soil.

Mako powerfully and explicitly states, “I am not a Christian artist. I am a Christian, yes, and an artist. I dare not treat the powerful presence of Christ in my life as an adjective” (65). We create because it’s who we are, and we glorify God in all we do. In a commercially driven society that creates a thing and then the soon-to-follow “Christian” version of the thing, we’re all too sucked into marketing in a sacred vs. secular divide. A painting does not need to contain a cross to be “Christian,” nor a song mention any part of the gospel to be called the same; in fact, we don’t even need this adjectival language! If it glorifies God, it is beautiful and that for which we strive in caring of and for culture through creativity and artistic expression. When left in the hands of commercialization, art becomes something else, a mere commodity that is cheapened on so many levels. When “gifted” to the world for the sake of others—for the sake of glorifying God—then artists (of all kinds) will do more than fill an order, get a check to pay a bill, or simply please a customer: they rightfully care for their culture.

Weaving scripture throughout the text, Mako does anything but ignore our rooting in Christ as the motivation for Culture Care (both as title and concept), but writes and argues in such a way that should be convincing and convicting for believers and nonbelievers alike in working toward better cultivation. Though nowhere stated as a goal and purpose of the work, I see many artists discovering a window into our creator, the author of their gifts and talents, through Culture Care. I highly recommend it for all formal artists, those desiring such, and those who simply want to better understand how they are or are not positively, creatively, and lastingly impacting their culture.

Thanks for this one, Mako. It’s pulling me back into my artistic roots, and with healthy motivation. Blessings to you and yours on the farm—keep digging and cultivating all types of soil.