The rise of radical Islam in recent decades and the carnage caused by groups like Al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, and now Hamas, have prompted many to make sweeping claims about the “true” nature of Islam. Conflicting voices argue violently about the nature of violence in Islamic history. Some say that “jihadists” are not true Muslims, because Islam is really a religion of peace. Others (including the “jihadists”) claim they are simply obeying the clear commands in the Quran.
One of the clearest, more charitable and concise contributions to this debate is Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, by the late Nabeel Qureshi. Nabeel Qureshi was raised as a devout Muslim, but after an anguished journey of discovery and the pursuit of truth, he left Islam and became a Christian. One might automatically discount his opinion because of this, but besides the simple fact that we all have biases, the question is really about what the sacred texts of Islam teach and how to interpret them. Years of studying the facts and the evidence made Qureshi take the incredibly painful step of leaving Islam. This background is precisely what qualified him to write about jihad in Islam.
Multiple Expressions of Islam
The question of jihad in Islam is really a question of which textual tradition to follow. Which books have priority for Muslims now? Is it just the Quran? Which part of the Quran? The earlier or later sayings of Muhammad? What about the hadith, the collections of authoritative traditions about Muhammad and his teachings? Different groups of Muslims view each of these with various levels of authority.
Qureshi presents convincing evidence that the Quran is replete with texts condoning violent jihad. The hadith also contain numerous texts that command and condone violent jihad. As Qureshi summarizes:
Islam is a complex religion composed of many facets and layers. The expression of Islam that shaped my young life taught me to love my family, to serve my country, to pursue my God, to repent of my sins, and to strive for a moral life. In addition, I was dogmatically taught that Islam is a religion of peace. But despite the many positive teachings and qualities, the reality is that Islam’s foundations contain a tremendous amount of violence. The life of Muhammad and the text of the Quran are the two pillars of the Islamic worldview, and the traditions of each progress from peaceful beginnings to a crescendo of violent jihad (Answering Jihad, 144).
Muslims are justified in moving away from the foundations of their faith either through centuries of accreted tradition or through an intentional reimagining of the religion. If they do so, they may be able to express Islam both peaceably and with internal consistency. However, as long as Islam continues to place primary emphasis on emulating the person of Muhammad and following the canonical texts and traditions, the end result will be the same. Islam will direct its adherents to its violent foundations with violent results (Answering Jihad, 144).
Qureshi relied on the work of Professor David Cook, a specialist in Islam at Rice University, who agrees that violent jihad finds ample support in the foundational texts of Islam.
Not Unique to Islam
This issue is not unique to Islam. Other religions have faced the same issues of which text(s), and which tradition(s) to follow. Several ancient Greek philosophers (most notably Plato) believed that many elements of their culture’s legends and stories were not “literally” true, which helped them to explain the barbarity, adultery, and adolescent behavior of their gods and heroes.
This article was was originally published in Salvo Magazine. Reposted, in part, by permission.