Unraveling Jihad

Due to events of the past years, the idea of whether Islam is a religion of peace has been put forward by any number of pundits and media outlets. We hear how the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful people. We also hear other voices insist that Islam is not a religion of peace. Can these two seemingly opposing viewpoints both be true? If so, how can this be?

Part of the answer rests on the difference between Islam and Muslims. On the one hand, there is the issue of Islam and its theology. What does the religion teach? What are its major tenets? What are the commands given to Islam’s adherents? Are there multiple ways in which these commands can be interpreted? On the other side of this, how do Muslims choose to live out their lives on a daily basis? How do they interact with others, and what values to they hold dear?

In other words, what are the differences between theology and practice? To understand this distinction, consider the Christian concept of forgiveness. The Bible teaches Christians are to forgive those who wrong them. In fact, Christians are not only told to forgive, but to actually pray for those who are persecute them (Matthew 5:44). This isn’t a command that has multiple interpretations; it stands squarely in plain language. It’s an outrageous concept and it goes against every fiber of our being. Our natural instinct calls us to fight back and retaliate. So many Christians don’t practice this kind of countercultural response and instead hold on to a grudge or become embittered toward those who harm them. Why is it that many Christians don’t live out this ideal as prescribed by Jesus Himself? We could apply this same idea to any number of concepts, such as tithing, extreme hospitality, or not worrying about tomorrow’s troubles. The point is that there is doctrine that a religion teaches and then there is how its adherents actually live out their faith.

Islamic sources such as the Qur’an and Hadith teach jihad as a mandatory part of Islam. There isn’t any way to avoid this issue, and I have documented that in abundance in previous articles (here and here). I have heard Muslim apologists refer to jihad solely as the internal struggle, but the Qur’an and Hadith don’t support this view. For example, blind and lame people were excluded form jihad, and Muhammad’s orders regarding jihad were given within the context of his army preparing for and returning from military battle. Yet the reality is that the vast majority of Muslims don’t live up to this ideal practice as directly by Islamic theology. I believe there are three major reasons for this inconsistency.

First, many Muslims are basically good and moral people. The idea of jihad is repugnant to them. Therefore, they find ways to diminish or completely ignore the statutes. People have a tremendous capacity to mold a religion to fit their own personal belief system. This is basic human nature, and certainly is not confined to Muslims. Many Muslims follow their conscience rather than the commands regarding jihad as laid out within Islam.

Second, many Muslims are unaware of what their religion teaches. Many mosques, such as the one nearest myself, tend to overlook and sidestep any teachings relating to jihad. They focus on other aspects of the Islamic faith. Any good heretical movement that can split theology and practice does so by overemphasizing some aspects of the religion, while underemphasizing or completely ignoring others. Many Muslims haven’t been exposed to the dictates and requirements placed upon them in the Qur’an and Hadith concerning their duty to fight the infidels. In their minds, they are following Islam as best they know how given the partial theology they have been taught.

Third, there are many Muslims who do believe in jihad. However, part of Muhammad’s teaching relates not only to jihad itself, but also speaks to its timing. When Muslims are vastly outnumbered, Islam teaches that provisions should be made to bide their time. There are stages of infiltration to increase Muslim numbers. At a later date, when the time is more ripe, more aggressive and direct action can be taken.[i] There are many Muslims who secretly believe in jihad, but know that here in the West, that day is still several years away. What the media defines as the “radical” Muslims are those in the third camp who also believe the time is now rather than later. What percentage of Muslims that fully subscribe to jihad, but is patiently waiting for better timing is unknown. Such statistics could probably never be gathered.

In summary, Islam is not a religion of peace. Yet many Muslims are indeed peaceful. It isn’t the “radical” Muslims who have perverted Islam. It is the peaceful Muslims who have perverted Islamic theology in order to fit their consciences, their lack of knowledge, or their desire to await a more opportune time to launch more direct and combative action.

[i] Shoebat, Walid. God’s War on Terror. Top Executive Media, 2008, p 118-121.

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The Mustard Seed

I never cease to be amazed at how many ways the aspects of Christian and Islamic theology can be contrasted. For example, in each religion, often the very same symbol is used as an illustration. For example, Jesus uses the mustard seed to illustrate a point in the Bible. Similarly, the Qur’an uses the mustard seed to illustrate a point in the Qur’an. Yet the very same item is used as an avenue to illustrate two drastically opposing concepts.

In the Bible, there are two parables that use a mustard seed to make a point. One of them occurs in Matthew 13 and regards the growth and expansion of the kingdom of heaven. The other, which we will examine in more detail, occurs in Matthew 17. To put the parable in context, Jesus has just transfigured himself, and He and the disciples have come down from the mountain where they meet a man whose son is demon possessed (Matthew 17:15). The man had already been in contact with Jesus’ disciples, who were unable to do anything about it (Matthew 17:16). Jesus heals the boy (Matthew 17:18) and it is here where the story picks up in verse 19,

19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” 20 And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.

The issue at hand is faith. How much faith must you have? According to Jesus, the amount of faith required to accomplish the seemingly impossible is tiny. The mustard seed is used as this illustration because of its miniscule size. It takes the smallest amount of faith in order to connect with God and subsequently perform good works. God also makes it clear in the Bible that it is faith alone which leads to salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). The result of even the tiniest amount of faith is not just the path to salvation, but the power of God to then tap into His power (Ephesians 2:10). While Jesus’ parable doesn’t explicitly refer to salvation, it is about faith, and how much you are required to have. The point is that the mustard seed is used as a measure of faith, which is what leads to salvation, which is what later leads to good works.

The Qur’an also mentions the mustard seed. This verse in the Qur’an references salvation more directly. It specifically tells the Muslim faithful about the accuracy of measurement when their deeds are weighed and their eternal destiny will be determined.

[21.47] And We will set up a just balance on the day of resurrection, so no soul shall be dealt with unjustly in the least; and though there be the weight of a grain of mustard seed, (yet) will We bring it, and sufficient are We to take account.

Here the Qur’an refers to the scales that will be used to measure a person’s good deeds against their bad deeds on the day of judgement. If the scales are heavy with good deeds, the Muslim can go to paradise. If the scales are light, the Muslim will spend eternity in Hellfire. Here the mustard seed is used as an illustration of how exacting the measurement will be. If your bad deeds outweigh your good deeds by just a smidgeon, your fate is sealed. The Qur’an has other such verses that reiterate the same concept. For example, consider chapter 99, verses 6-8

[99.6-8] On that day men shall come forth in sundry bodies that they may be shown their works. So he who has done an atom’s weight of good shall see it. And he who has done an atom’s weight of evil shall see it.

Ultimately, Allah’s decision on the Muslim’s salvation is measured by good deeds versus bad deeds, and everything, no matter how microscopic, will be counted.

So in both Christianity and Islam, the mustard seed is used to signify how tiny something must be in order to be counted. Yet what it refers to isn’t just different, but completely antithetical. In Islam, the smallest of acts can be counted against your account. In Christianity, the smallest amount of faith in Jesus provides access to eternal life with Him. Both religions use the tiny mustard seed to make an example, yet the same object represents two totally different conceptions of salvation.

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Answering Jihad

One of the most volatile and misrepresented subjects when discussing Islam is that of jihad. Yet it’s a topic that gets more than its fair share of air time. Conversations on this Islamic religious teaching tend to drift into the arena of politics, which can often be both divisive and unproductive. For these and other reasons, I tend to avoid the subject, except occasionally for a more theological and historical piece such as this previous article that discussed the crusades. Thankfully, people more skilled than I have tackled the hard questions related to jihad in a concise and coherent manner.

Answering Jihad is the latest book released by Nabeel Qureshi. Nabeel Qureshi has authored several books now, including Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, and No God but One: Allah or Jesus. He is currently on staff with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. As a former Muslim, he has a unique understanding and capacity to write on this subject with both authority and compassion.

Nabeel Qureshi shared some of the same aversions to writing about jihad as I did. In the first paragraph of his introduction, he explains that “I informed [my editor] explicitly that I never wanted to write a book on jihad because the topic is so charged that even broaching the subject makes one’s intentions appear suspect.”[i] Of course, the topic continued to come up over and over again after his talks, and so finally he relented and tackled it head on. Qureshi does not shy away from any of the tough questions, such as “Is Islam a religion of peace,” “What is Radical Islam,” and “Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?” Most importantly, he approaches the questions from a balanced yet candid perspective. He puts forth this wild and little understood notion that someone can criticize Islamic teachings while simultaneously loving our Muslim neighbors.

He approaches the subject of whether or not Islam is a religion of peace in the most straightforward and unbiased perspective that I have seen. He comes at it from a number of different angles. One example comes in the chapter where he deals with the common assertion that Islam just needs to undergo a reformation. This precipitated what I thought was the best line of the book.

“I have heard many people, frustrated by the increasing frequency and scale of Islamic terrorism, suggest that Islam needs a reformation. What they may not realize is that radical Islam is the reformation.”[ii]

That indeed is the powerful and misunderstood irony of the current movements within Islam.

Unraveling Islam focuses on the differences between the god of the Qur’an and the God of the Bible. So I would be remiss if I didn’t provide Qureshi’s take on the question. He adeptly explains why people often mistakenly assume Allah and YHWH are the same being. Then he plainly spells out the errors in this line of thinking. Many articles on this blog have verbalized that the similarities between the two are superficial at best, while in-depth analysis shows how intrinsically opposite they are. Qureshi articulates this assertion in very much the same way,

“The similarities between the God of Islam and the God of Christianity are superficial and at times merely semantic. Though Islam claims that the Muslim God has done some of the same things as the Christian God and sent some of the same people, these are minor overlaps and far less essential to the reality of who God is than fundamental characteristics of his nature and persons. Islam and Christianity overlap in points on the former, but they differ fundamentally on the latter.” [iii]

That sums it up perfectly. Nevertheless, this book is not a scholarly dissertation of the theological differences between Christianity and Islam. Rather, it is a book that suggests a better way forward; a way that we as Christians can embrace the people who are currently caught and trapped within this false religion. Muslims are coming to the United States in great numbers. Rather than being afraid, the church can instead view this as an amazing opportunity. Many of those Muslims who are here now are college students who are training here in order to return to Muslim countries to be movers and shakers, people of great influence in spiritually empty places. Maintaining intellectual integrity about who Allah is not while simultaneously reaching out to Muslims amongst us showing who Jesus is for the glory of God’s kingdom is the challenge of our day. Qureshi skillfully encapsulates the tough issues that correspond to this unique and present opportunity.

[i] Qureshi, Nabeel. Answering Jihad. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, p 9.
[ii] ibid, p. 75
[iii] ibid, p. 114

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