Ramadan Day 25:
Muslims are in bondage to a religion whose sacred texts endorse violent jihad.
The morning after an ISIS terrorist attack in Belgium (which killed 32 people and injured 300 others), USA Today published an op-ed by Nabeel Qureshi entitled, “The Quran’s deadly role in inspiring Belgian slaughter.”
Nabeel, who left Islam to worship the Jesus of the Bible, articulates clearly the theological roots of jihad, and urges Christians to counteract the propaganda of ISIS – not with violence, but with the heart-changing truth of God’s Word.
As a Muslim growing up in the United States, I was taught by my imams and the community around me that Islam is a religion of peace. My family modeled love for others and love for country, and not just by their words. My father served in the U.S. Navy throughout my childhood, starting as a seaman and retiring as a lieutenant commander. I believed wholeheartedly a slogan often repeated at my mosque after 9/11: “The terrorists who hijacked the planes also hijacked Islam.”
Yet as I began to investigate the Quran and the traditions of Muhammad’s life for myself in college, I found to my genuine surprise that the pages of Islamic history are filled with violence. How could I reconcile this with what I had always been taught about Islam?
In February 2015, the U.S. State Department Acting Spokesperson Marie Harf suggested that a “lack of opportunity for jobs” might be a significant factor in radicalization and terrorism. Alternatively, Suraj Lakhani, a scholar of radicalization in Wales, suggested that the process is driven by religious concerns and a drive to bolster one’s personal identity. He implies that young Muslims ought not be allowed to hear ISIL messages or interact with their recruiters.
Naturally, I agree that interacting with ISIL recruiters is a bad idea, but I believe what the recruiters themselves say sheds the most insight on the radicalization process. ISIL’s primary recruiting technique is not social or financial but theological. With frequent references to the highest sources of authority in Islam, the Quran and hadith (the collection of the sayings of the prophet Muhammad), ISIL enjoins upon Muslims their duty to fight against the enemies of Islam and to emigrate to the Islamic State once it has been established.
A recent two-page spread in the third issue of ISIL’s propaganda magazine, Dabiq, for instance, appealed to prospective recruits to leave their homeland and emigrate to the Islamic State by quoting a hadith from the canonical collections; it urged them to realize that they are living in times that reflect those of the earliest Muslims by referring to Muhammad’s life; it encouraged them to take a step of faith by quoting the Quran; and it praised them for their obedience by quoting yet another hadith. All four references to the Quran, hadith and the related Sunnah, were on the same two-page spread. Such is the frequency and intensity with which ISIL uses Islam’s foundational texts to appeal to potential recruits.
As a young Muslim boy growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, it was impossible for me to look up a hadith unless I traveled to an Islamic library, something I would have never thought to do. For all intents and purposes, if I wanted to know about the traditions of Muhammad, I had to ask imams or elders in my tradition of Islam. That is no longer the case today. Just as radical Islamists may spread their message far and wide online, so, too, the Internet has made the traditions of Muhammad readily available for whoever wishes to look them up, even in English. When everyday Muslims investigate the Quran and hadith for themselves, bypassing centuries of tradition and their imams’ interpretations, they are confronted with the reality of violent jihad in the very foundations of their faith.
The Quran itself reveals a trajectory of jihad reflected in the almost 23 years of Muhammad’s prophetic career. As I demonstrate carefully in my book, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, starting with peaceful teachings and proclamations of monotheism, Muhammad’s message featured violence with increasing intensity, culminating in surah 9, chronologically the last major chapter of the Quran, and its most expansively violent teaching. Throughout history, Muslim theologians have understood and taught this progression, that the message of the Quran culminates in its ninth chapter.
Surah 9 is a command to disavow all treaties with polytheists and to subjugate Jews and Christians (9.29) so that Islam may “prevail over all religions” (9.33). It is fair to wonder whether any non-Muslims in the world are immune from being attacked, subdued or assimilated under this command. Muslims must fight, according to this final chapter of the Quran, and if they do not, then their faith is called into question and they are counted among the hypocrites (9.44-45). If they do fight, they are promised one of two rewards, either spoils of war or heaven through martyrdom. Allah has made a bargain with the mujahid who obeys: Kill or be killed in battle, and paradise awaits (9.111).
Muslim thought leaders agree that the Quran promotes such violence. Maajid Nawaz, co-founder of the Quilliam Foundation in the United Kingdom, has said, “We Muslims must admit there are challenging Koranic passages that require reinterpretation today. … Only by rejecting vacuous literalism are we able to condemn, in principle, ISIS-style slavery, beheading, lashing, amputation & other medieval practices forever (all of which are in the Quran). … Reformers either win, and get religion-neutral politics, or lose, and get ISIL-style theocracy.” In other words, Muslims must depart from the literal reading of the Quran in order to create a jihad-free Islamic world.
This is not at all to say that most Muslims are violent. The vast majority of Muslims do not live their lives based on chapter 9 of the Quran or on the books of jihad in the hadith. My point is not to question the faith of such Muslims nor to imply that radical Muslims are the true Muslims. Rather, I simply want to make clear that while ISIL may lure youth through a variety of methods, it radicalizes them primarily by urging them to follow the literal teachings of the Quran and the hadith, interpreted consistently and in light of the violent trajectory of early Islam. As long as the Islamic world focuses on its foundational texts, we will continue to see violent jihadi movements.”
Today, we join Nabeel in praying for Muslims who are in bondage to a false theology that teaches that one way to please God is to kill disbelievers.
We ask Him to give the Church boldness to hold out the great hope we have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15), and we pray that Muslims who question Islam’s legacy of violent jihad will not despair, but turn to Jesus, and His legacy of righteousness and peace.