Answering Jihad: a book review

answering jihad

During the summer of 2013, I sat with an audience at the end of a week-long apologetics conference to hear RZIM’s newest apologist share his testimony. In 2013, America had been involved in various forms of war on terror for over a decade, but the threat of terrorism of American soil didn’t feel so real — Osama bin Laden was dead; ISIS was only beginning to form and had not emerged as the global force it has now become. Even so, it was clear to those of us who were looking that most of the fighting in which we’d been involved, most of the impetus that dragged the Arab Spring into summers and falls and winters of civil wars, was linked to Islamic ideology. Meanwhile, the numbers of peaceful Muslims in the United States were increasing, and there was this question of what to do with them? How to answer and engage them?

The young man who shared his testimony was an American born to Pakistani immigrant parents, raised a devout Muslim, and led to devout Christianity through one faithful friend and the intervention of Almighty God. The story he shared was published the following spring as Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity — a book which quickly climbed to the New York Times bestseller list — and that morning it moved me to tears to hear Nabeel Qureshi describe struggle between family loyalty and a desire for the truth. It inspired me, too, to engage the Muslims in my community with friendship and with truth.

But now it is spring of 2016, ISIS has perhaps between 80,000-200,000 fighters worldwide and recent attacks in Europe and in the United States have been perpetrated in the name of jihad, while international leadership and western Muslims continue to insist that Islam is a religion of peace. How do we reconcile the two? Caught between militants firing weapons at peaceful holiday parties and the sweet-faced, hijab-wrapped women who share the grocery aisles with us, it’s natural to ask which represent the real Islam. Is Islam essentially violent? Or are jihadists wrong about their religion? Is it safe to welcome Muslim immigrants to our country? Or are all of them really out to get us?

This is where Nabeel Qureshi’s newest book, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, comes in. Written in response to the widespread panic inspired by last year’s Paris and San Bernadino attacks, Answering Jihad sets out to answer the 18 questions which Qureshi is most commonly asked about jihad.

Dealing first with jihad’s origins, Qureshi begins by defining Islam, making a careful distinction Muslims and Islam: “Though Muslims are adherents of Islam, and Islam is the worldview of Muslims, the two are not the same. . . . Islam is not Muslims, and one can criticize Islam while affirming and loving Muslims” (27). Qureshi then traces the violent roots of Islam, countering claims that jihad is primarily a spiritual struggle with evidence from the Quran and the life of Muhammad.

From the historical discussion, Qureshi moves into questions about jihad today, defining radical Islam, explaining the origins of various terrorist organizations (namely, Al-Qaida, ISIS, and Boko Haram), and describing how Muslims are being radicalized. Salient points from this section include the fact that to “reform” Islam is to radicalize, as Islam’s origins are violent rather than peaceful, and the fact that the internet is the most powerful tool for radicalization as it allows ordinary Muslims, who used to get all their religious instruction filtered through imams and religious elders, to access translations of original texts and see Islam’s violent roots for themselves. Studying those texts leads Muslims to what Qureshi describes as “a three-pronged fork in the road” where they must “choose apostasy, apathy, or radicalization” (144).

The last section of the book deals with Jihad in a Judeo-Christian context, and treats such questions as “Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?”, “How does Jihad Compare with Old Testament Warfare?”, and “What Does Jesus Have to Do with Jihad?” To me, this section felt weaker than the others, probably because Qureshi’s goal for the book is not to write a Christian apologetic, but to explain jihad. While I felt that Qureshi could have offered more evidence, for instance, on how Old Testament warfare differs from jihad — to a Muslim, the beliefs of non-Muslims might well seem as evil as the idolatry for which God destroyed the Canaanites — he makes it clear that the origins of Christianity, in the teachings of Christ, are in peace and not violence: “The very crux of Christian theology is that Jesus, the example for all mankind, was willing to die for others, including his enemies. . . . Jesus commanded total love and grace” (131).

While Qureshi offers no policy plan for dealing with Muslim immigrants or countering jihadists, he does offer practical guidance for Christians wondering how to respond: understand the truth about Islam, recognize the reasons for radicalization, and reach out with compassion and friendship for Muslims before they arrive arrive, as Qureshi did, at the crossroads of apostasy, apathy, or radicalization:

Fear and fighting, both fuel radical fires. We need something that breaks the cycle, and I think that can only be love. . . . as envisioned by Jesus, a decision to engage others as image bearers of God, to put their needs and concerns above our own, even at the cost of our own. . . . The gospel does not succumb to the pitfalls of fear or fighting, which only fuel radicalization, and it gives Muslims an appealing direction at the three-pronged fork in the road. (146-47)

Answering Jihad equipped me with information in place of the questions I had held previously, and gave me tools with which to navigate the conflicting messages of western leaders and radical Islamists. The book not only helped explain why so many Muslims are radicalizing, but also shed light on why so many Muslims are not jihadists. Qureshi’s organized approach to the issue in itself relieves some of the panicky feelings which recent atrocities in the Middle East have heaped around the idea of jihad, and he fills his organized framework with evidence-based assertions rather than speculation — assertions and evidence which gain more weight from Qureshi’s having himself been a devout Muslim. Qureshi’s deep love for his still-Muslim family helps him preserve a respectful, compassionate tone even while exposing ugliness in the roots of Islam. This is no panic-born invective on the evils of Islam, but a rational, compassion-fueled investigation which presents friendship, not phobia, as the appropriate response.

For anyone facing questions about jihad, Islam, and our Muslim neighbors — and aren’t we all facing such questions today? — Answering Jihad provides clear, accessible information, equipping readers to pursue “a better way forward, a way that upholds both truth and compassion” (11). I highly recommend it.
*Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward is published by Zondervan and will release on Tuesday, March 8, 2016. Visit AnsweringJihad.com to learn more about the book and about the bonus materials you’ll receive if you pre-order your copy in the next few days.

©2016 by Stacy Crouch

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