Monday, December 05, 2016

BookPastor >> "Answering Jihad" (Nabeel Qureshi)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on April 14th, 2016.


TITLE: Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward
AUTHOR: Nabeel Qureshi
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (176 pages).

What does it mean to say that Islam is a religion of peace? Is this understanding the same for both Western and the Middle-Eastern minds? What is Jihad? How does a religion cause a person to become radicalized? What is the meaning of Islam and its origins?

Spurred by the rising anxiety of terrorism from Islamic radicals and the confusion surrounding religious truth and ideology, Nabeel Qureshi shares honestly and passionately about what Islam stands for, what Jihad essentially means, and how we can respond or relate to Muslims. Qureshi is a former Muslim who when young, was very pious about all things Islam. He has previously shared about his conversion from Islam to Christianity in a book entitled, "Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus."

Some of the clarifications he have made in the book include his study, experience, and analysis of the history of Islam and the teachings of the Quran.
  1. The Western understanding of Islam as a religion of peace is different from the Muslim's understanding of peace. Islam means "surrender," a peace that comes only after all the enemies of Islam have surrendered. Violence may be necessary in order to bring about such peace. 
  2. The word 'Jihad' means 'struggle,' and is sometimes referred to as the sixth pillar of Islam. While the word sometimes is used in the Quran in a spiritual sense, it more often than not refers to a physical struggle for a spiritual goal.
  3. Each time anyone attempts to go back to the origins of the Islamic faith, violence is part and parcel of the struggle in the faith. A vast majority of Muslims have not bothered to go back to the roots of the religion. In order to understand the Islamic religion, one must also understand the contexts of the religion. 
  4. The history of the prophet Muhammad is replete with violence; both offensive and defensive forms of jihad. (Example, in Quran 9:29, there is a command to fight Jews and Christians because of belief, not aggression)
  5. "Sharia" literally means "path to water" but the interpretations of Shariah law varies tremendously due to "abrogation" where there are verses the some say are no longer relevant but others insist on its relevance.
  6. The expansion of Islam involves the use of the "sword" whether directly or indirectly.

Qureshi then comes to a very interesting Part II - Jihad Today.

The reason for the rise of Islamic radicals recently is due to the frustration of certain Muslims with how Muslim countries feel inferior to the rest of the world. They cannot make sense of where the promise of the glory of Islam lies when they do not see themselves on a larger footprint of the world map. While some people may become afraid of Islamic radicalization and propose that moderate Islams seek some kind of reformation within themselves, Qureshi points out that the very radical behaviour of the terrorist sects is a form of "reformation" already! Assuming that reformation is an attempt to discover and re-discover the riches of the past and the origins of the religion, invariably, the researcher would have to make sense of the horrific context of violence from which the Quran was received. ISIS itself is an act of "Islamic Reformation." Due to this context, it is argued that progressive Muslims must avoid using "reformation" as a fundamental strategy but "reimagination" for something better for the future.

Qureshi looks at three terrorist groups to study their ideologies. For Al-Qaida, the leader, Osama bin Laden calls himself a "servant of Allah" whose calling is to destroy those nations who had defiled the two Holy Mosques. The rationale for violence is religious. The formation of ISIS comes after some Muslims see the second invasion of Iraq as Western aggression against Islam. Desiring a caliphate, their vision is to establish an Islamic state beyond the shores of Iraq and Syria. It is also religious. In Nigeria, the terrorist group Boko Haram, was founded by Muhammad Yusuf, which too had religious goals and subsequently became the "West African Province" of ISIS.

Qureshi gives us an insider look into how Muslims think with regard to Islam being a religion of peace. The opinions are disconcertingly split. In fact, a good Muslim is not simply a religious term because the identity, the freedom, and the way the religion is practiced is vastly different. Most Muslims just want to live a peaceful and normal life. If they start to go back to the foundational contexts of Islam, there is a high chance that they would begin to grapple with sharia, with abrogation, and with jihad. The way forward is to engage Muslims with love and care, especially for those who have migrated to non-Muslim countries. Friendship rather than fear is a great step forward.

Part Three covers a host of questions of recent interest. Like the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God, one must learn to nuance the differences in theology before one can answer the question appropriately. Do Muslims believe in the Triune Godhead? While Jesus is mentioned in both the Quran and the Bible, Muslims do not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ. If there are similarities, they are mainly superficial. We also look at the question of violence in the Old Testament. While the violence do exist in the Old Testament, it does not necessarily mean God condones the violence. If one tries to advocate violence, look at Jesus. He is not an advocate but a victim of violence. See the Cross!

Three Thoughts 

My first impression of this book is fear. Perhaps, I have been too comfortable with the Christian ideal of love and good works, as taught in the beatitudes of Jesus and the many examples of the fruits of the Spirit. While there are many records of wars and killings in the Old Testament, it is important to note that the context of the violence is because of sin and rebellion against God. There are passages in the Bible where God had instructed Israel to destroy their enemies, but those are more of exceptions rather than the norm. Qureshi's analysis of Jihad is worrying because it carries implications for Muslims wanting to be good and faithful to their holy book. If it is true that any good Muslim wanting to go back to the roots of their faith will eventually encounter and even advocate violence, then we are stuck. There is this tension of religious practice and cultural assimilation. The moment this tension gets off-balance, trouble ensues. At times, I was even worried that the author would be targeted by various Islamic radicals for even writing this book! Remember Salmon Rushdie?

Second, I think it is important not to read Western ideals into the Middle Eastern mind.  This book brings a good corrective view for Western audiences. Some of us in the West may think too simplistically that whatever they believe, others would also believe. That is simplistic conclusion at least, and intellectual arrogance at most. I remember the book written by Ted Dekker & Carl Medearis, entitled "Tea with Hezbollah." Thinking highly of Jesus' commandment to love God and to love people, they approached various leaders of Islamic militant groups with the question of love. Generally, the answer is yes. Love is important, but before there can be any love, there needs to be justice. This is something very difficult to resolve. In this book, Qureshi also questions the notion of peace, truth, compassion, and the ways religions are practiced under the lenses of Western ideals and Middle-Eastern realities. The only way forward is openness by all, friendship with all, and humility from all.

Third, we must continue to build bridges of peace and understanding pro-actively rather than presumptuously. This means we do not simply assume that Muslims think the same way as non-Muslims. We cannot purport to try and interpret Islam with a non-Muslim mindset. We should also not pre-judge people in any way. Jesus' teaching is apt, that with what measure we judge, the same will be meted on us. At the same time, we must stand up for the truth and to support a common vision for a better tomorrow. It begins with humility. It continues with honesty. It moves forward with hope. This book gives us some basic understanding not to judge Muslims per se, but to understand that they too had problems that they need to deal with themselves and with their fellow believers. This is perhaps the most important reason why we should read this book.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan and BookLook Bloggers Network in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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