Which Faith Is Worth Dying For, Islam or Christianity?
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.
The Christian church has also divided deeply over the issue of how to read and interpret the text of Holy Scripture—the Bible. Should we understand everything “literally,” as some conservatives maintain (though no one really does that consistently), or do we read biblical stories as symbolic and metaphorical, as if designed to simply teach us spiritual truths, rather than literal, historic facts? Over the centuries, Christians have had to wrestle with how to reconcile the Old Testament commands to drive out the Canaanites with Jesus’ ethic of love and turning the other cheek.
So textual ambiguity or tension should not be taken as a somehow uniquely Muslim question. The question of jihad in the Islamic texts is a question the Muslim world must decide for itself. The question is urgent. Lives and the fate of nations hang in the balance. In one of Nabeel Qureshi’s last recordings, made before he tragically lost his life to stomach cancer in 2017, he exhorted everyone to debate and discuss these issues with the fundamental attitude of love and peace. These words need to be heard and heeded, as Hamas commits atrocities and a six-year old Arabic boy is stabbed to death in the U.S. by a man who hates Muslims.
Examining the Evidence in Love of Truth
We need to pursue, and speak, the truth in love (Ephesian 4:15). Both sides of this equation are essential. Truth without love leads to fundamentalist Bible-thumping, but love without truth leads to vapid and spineless liberalism. In his memoir Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Qureshi helps readers to understand what it means to grow up as a Muslim. As a medical student, Qureshi was trained to examine the evidence, and he was compelled by his love of truth to subject his own beliefs to rigorous testing. Over a period of years, he examined the evidence for both Christianity and Islam and vigorously debated with his friend David Wood. In his book, he recounts how he gradually came to doubt Islam.
One of the key arguments in favor of Christianity was the resurrection of Christ. Since Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection and spoke of it as confirmation of his other claims to be the Son of God, this was a major obstacle for Qureshi. It was even more difficult because Islam teaches that Jesus, whom Muslims consider the greatest prophet besides Muhammed, did not actually die on the cross. When Qureshi finally became convinced that Jesus did in fact die on the cross and rise again, the rest of his beliefs about Islam began to fall like a domino run.
As he relates in his stirring testimony, renouncing Islam and embracing Christ was the most difficult decision in his life. It led to broken relationships with his family and years of heartache. But he was also confronted with the fact that the Quran did not have any words of comfort for him when he needed it most. In his darkest moment of despair, as he questioned what he had always been taught about Islam, it was the Bible that spoke clearly and directly to him. One of those verses that grabbed him was Matthew 16:24-26, where Jesus tells his disciples that they must take up their cross and follow him. That was starkly real for Qureshi. It is also deathly real for our brothers and sisters in many Muslim-majority countries.
Muslims throughout the world are experiencing dreams and visions of Jesus. Qureshi recounts his own encounters in Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. It is well worth reading, especially in this era of hot takes on Islam on social media and, even more so in a time when the enlightened woke elite actively take the side of Hamas.
Qureshi tells the story of Sara Fatima al-Mutairi, a Saudi woman who converted from Islam to Christianity. Her brother, a high ranking official in the Saudi government, discovered this and eventually tortured and killed her. What would persuade Fatima, and Qureshi, to risk everything for the sake of Christ? Love of the truth, and an encounter with the risen Christ.
Perhaps it is fitting to let the martyred Fatima have the last word. In his book, No God but One, Qureshi relates some of the last words she posted online, before being brutalized by her brother:
We are Christians walking on the path of the Messiah.
Take from me this knowledge and note it well!
Jesus is my Lord, and he is the best protector.
I advise you to pity your state of being
Gaze upon your look of hatred, how hideous it is.
Man is brother of man, O learned ones!
Where is the humanity? And where are you?
My last words I pray to the Lord of the worlds,
Jesus the Messiah, the Light of Clear Guidance:
Change their hearts and set right their discernment.
May he spread love among you, O Muslims.
Holy Struggles: Reconciling Christianity & the Crusades (Salvo 27)
The Interrupted Terrorist: How a Radicalized Antisemite Found Peace in Jerusalem (Salvo 64)Gregory Soderberg
Ph.D., teaches and mentors students of all ages at Logos Online School, Kepler Education, the Bible Mesh Institute, and Redemption Seminary. He writes at gregorysoderberg.substack.com and gregorysoderberg.wordpress.com.• Get SALVO blog posts in your inbox! Copyright © 2023 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/post/questions-crosses