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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A Tale of Two Trees

The differences between Islam and Christianity are innumerable. Some are immediately and obviously profound. Others seem trivial at first, but expose a deeper theological rift. Consider the almost irrelevant detail of what tree Adam and Eve ate from in the Garden of Eden. The Qur’an and the Bible give divergent descriptions of what this tree was. This seemingly inconsequential discrepancy reveals a much richer truth about the God of the Bible and the god of the Qur’an.

In Genesis 2:17 God instructs Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Both Adam and Eve disobeyed and did eat of it. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the story given in the Qur’an has divergent details. According to the Qur’an, what tree did Adam and Eve eat from? Here is the relevant section,

[20.120] But the Shaitan made an evil suggestion to him; he said: O Adam! Shall I guide you to the tree of immortality and a kingdom which decays not?

Faced with this glaring discrepancy between the two texts, many present day Islamic scholars assert that Muslims don’t really know what the tree was. But early Islamic commentators had no trouble stating which tree it was. Ibn Kathir says in his commentary on the Qur’an:

Iblis did not cease prodding them until they both had eaten from it. It was the Tree of Eternity (Shajarat Al-Khuld). This meant that anyone who ate from it would live forever and always remain [i]

In the Qur’an, they took from of the tree of immortality, or eternity. In the Bible, Adam and Eve took from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Why even bother pointing out such a small difference?

The first theological difference that comes to mind is the direct implications of this action. Within Islam, this transgression is viewed as a mistake relating only to Adam. Islam teaches he repented of it, and was forgiven, thus transmitting no consequences to his descendants. Even the immediate removal from the Garden of Eden is not defined as a punishment.

“Adam and Eve left heaven and descended upon earth. Their descent was not one of degradation; rather it was dignified.” [ii]

However, the implications within Christianity are monumental. Eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is what brought sin into the world, and consequently its ramifications. This is especially pertinent in light of the Bible’s discussion of this topic in great detail, culminating in Romans 5:18 and 5:19. The fact that the Qur’an completely ignores these consequences of sin is an area that merits its own exploration. Yet there is something much less obvious happening here. As always, it’s the more subtle avenue of thought that will be pursued here.

In the Garden of Eden, there was another tree mentioned, the tree of life (Genesis 3:22). Nowhere does the Bible say this tree was forbidden from Adam and Eve. In fact, the implication is that the fruit of this tree was given to them, (Gen 2:16) and that Adam and Eve could have lived forever in a perfect and pure state before God had they not disobeyed. This tree of life appears again in Revelation 22:2, and then another time in Rev 22:14, which emphasize the privilege of partaking of that tree for those who are in heaven. Of course God doesn’t need a tree in paradise to grant us eternal life, but for whatever reason, God mentions it again nonetheless. This tree of life was only off-limits to Adam and Eve after they partook of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because they then could “live forever” (Gen 3:22) in their unredeemed state.

It is this tree of life, which matches the tree mentioned in the Qur’an, the tree of immortality. In both cases, partaking of this tree gives life in some supernatural way. But look closely at how this tree of immortality, or tree of life, is portrayed in the Bible compared to that of the Qur’an.

The Qur’an portrays the partaking of the tree of immortality as an evil and punishable act that requires repentance. In the Bible, eating from this same tree of life is the reward given to those who through a relationship with Jesus are granted eternity with God. Within Islam, that which gives life is forbidden, and that which brought death and our need for redemption is discounted. With Christianity, that which gives life is our eventual reward and that which brings death was what was originally forbidden. In Islam, the tree of life was off-limits while within Christianity, the tree of life is a gift of life given by God.

Even the minor discrepancies reveal the bizarre depths of theological disagreement.

[i] http://www.qtafsir.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=897&Itemid=74

[i] http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/1196/story-of-adam-part-3/

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The KKK and ISIS

The focus of this blog is predominately theological. Rarely do I delve into political topics. They are typically divisive, and often well-meaning Godly people legitimately differ on how to react to events of our day in ways that honor God. Yet I felt it necessary to make an exception given the vast array of misinformation and sloppy thinking that has accompanied recent events.

The following meme has been floating around the social media sites of late, and it’s a perfect example of how inverted thinking leads people to the wrong conclusion. The analogy goes that the KKK was a minority group who considered themselves Christians. ISIS is also a minority group that considers themselves Islamic. Since the KKK didn’t represent Christian tenets and ideals on any level, so too ISIS must not reflect Islamic theological views.

Most people read something like this, make a quick correlation, and move along. Particularly in the West where we value democracy so highly, we tend to have a social and cultural blind spot that majority opinion defines truth; that any splinter group could not truly represent the worldview that they themselves claim to uphold.

Many people spend their time invested in political arguments, attempting to thwart this misguided logic by pointing to actual numbers in order to prove a point. For example, regarding ISIS, the president of the United States said that “the overwhelming majority of Muslims reject this ideology.” [i] The exact number he threw out was 99.9%. [ii] However, thorough and respected surveys clearly show this statement to be patently false, as only 57% of Muslims, which is slightly more than half, had an unfavorable view of Al-Qaeda. [iii] But such political arguments sidestep the real issue of the different ways Jesus and Muhammad commanded their followers to behave and it is those teaching that must be explored.

It is true that the KKK uses the Bible in an attempt to justify its positions. Passages such as Exodus 33:16 and Deuteronomy 7:3 are used to condone their view forbidding interracial marriage. Obscure passages such as Genesis 9:25-26 are used to rationalize treating non-whites as inferior. They even use statements by Jesus Himself such as John 10:26-27 to promulgate anti-Semitic views. This seems quite bizarre since Jesus Himself was Jewish.

People hear this kind of talk, and often judge it based on their own internal feelings of indignation rather than seeking to understand how the Bible clearly refutes such mistaken interpretations of itself. Passages such as Galatians 3:28 clearly state there is no distinction between races. Ephesians 2:14-15 discusses how Jesus broke down the barrier between Jew and non-Jew in a way that superseded the Old Testament laws of separation. The entire chapter of Romans 11 points out the spiritual principle that Gentiles should be weary of considering themselves superior to Jews in any way whatsoever. Romans 11:17-18 specifically warns Gentiles against arrogantly assuming a higher status than Jews. Space does not allow for the inclusion of the staggering number of other passages that easily refute the Klan’s bizarre twist on Scripture. The bottom line, as stated by blogger Dianna Newman, is that

“when you turn to Christian scriptures, you don’t find Jesus telling people to lynch other people because they have more melanin in their skin.” [iv]

Yet what happens when we apply this same methodology to ISIS? The verses in the Qur’an which mandate jihad are not few and obscure. They are many and clear-cut.

[2.244] And fight in the way of Allah, and know that Allah is Hearing, Knowing.
[4.74] Therefore let those fight in the way of Allah, who sell this world’s life for the hereafter; and whoever fights in the way of Allah, then be he slain or be he victorious, We shall grant him a mighty reward.
[4.89] They desire that you should disbelieve as they have disbelieved, so that you might be (all) alike; therefore take not from among them friends until they fly (their homes) in Allah’s way; but if they turn back, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them, and take not from among them a friend or a helper.
[8.12] When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.

There are so many other verses in the Qur’an, but time and space runs short. The issue is that these are not obscure passages taken out of context. The Hadiths make it plain that jihad is a part of being a fully practicing Muslim. In Tabari 9:69, Muhammad said “Killing unbelievers is a small matter to us.” [v] Abu Huraira also reported as follows,

It has been narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: One who died but did not fight in the way of Allah nor did he express any desire (or determination) for Jihid died the death of a hypocrite. [vi]

There are many, many, more such passages. All of this is to say that when a comparison is made between the KKK and ISIS, what we find is that the two are exact opposites. The KKK takes the Bible out of context and uses it in a way to countermand and oppose Jesus’ actual teachings. In the case of ISIS, its members are following the teachings as plainly laid out in the Qur’an and Hadith. The KKK is not following Jesus, but ISIS is following Muhammad. The meme tries to equate these two institutions, when from a theological point of view, they couldn’t be more opposite. One doesn’t follow the religion it claims to follow; the other one does.

[i] http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2015/02/01/obama_this_medieval_interpretation_of_islam_is_rejected_by_999_of_muslims_not_a_religious_war.html
[ii] ibid
[iii] http://www.pewglobal.org/2013/09/10/muslim-publics-share-concerns-about-extremist-groups/
[iv] http://diannanewman.org/2015/11/24/all-memes-arent-equal/
[v] http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/quran/023-violence.htm
[vi] Sahih Muslim, Book 20, Number 4696

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