Countering jihad with clarity and charity
An interview with Nabeel Qureshi
Ron Rupke met with Dr. Nabeel Qureshi for Christian Courier on March 18 as part of Qureshi’s speaking tour for his book on jihad, just released this month. Qureshi is a Christian, former Muslim and global speaker for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. His new book is a direct response to last year’s Paris attacks and San Bernadino shootings, and the fear of Islam that followed.
Four days after this interview, two suicide bombings in Brussels tragically underscored the relevance of their conversation. As Qureshi wrote in an op-ed the next day, solutions to the violence that “overlook the spiritual and religious roots of jihad can only have limited effectiveness” (USA Today, March 23). Here, Qureshi shares his “better way forward.”
Ron Rupke: I’m sitting here with Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, the author of several significant books, including Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. I just finished reading his most recent book, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward (review on page 9).
Nabeel, you were reticent to write about jihad, and I’m sure you had lots of questions since you were known as a Christian who was raised Muslim. What made you decide to write about this?
Nabeel Qureshi: After the Paris attacks, which [created] confusion in the West, people didn’t really know how to respond. The question of whether Islam is a religion of peace was brought back to the fore, but people hadn’t resolved that yet when San Bernadino happened, so it had a multiplying effect. People were angry; people were demanding answers, very much reminiscent of the atmosphere post-9/11. What I didn’t hear anyone do at that time is shed light on the issue with clarity and charity. I saw people who felt very compassionate towards the Muslims who were innocent, and take up their cause and say Islam is a religion of peace, and on the other side I saw people who would be very passionate about stopping jihad and they would focus on the violence inherent in Islam and they wouldn’t say anything to ameliorate some of the anger towards Muslims. There was no voice that was both compassionate and truthful, or at least no loud one. So out of concern for the Muslims in my life, and for those confused Christians and Westerners, I wrote the book.
I found your book helpful, to hear some of your own experiences growing up, in believing Islam was a religion of peace. Can you talk a bit about that?
Yes. Most Muslims inherit their understanding of Islam from those around them. And that’s the case for virtually everyone in every religious tradition. We were told Islam was a religion of peace. Whenever the topic of jihad came up, it was always contextualized, at least in my experience, as a defensive effort. Muhammad had to fight to defend the Islamic religion. He had to fight to defend the onslaught of polytheism. The problem is that this is a very filtered, selective and inappropriate interpretation of Muhammad’s life and of the battles he fought. When you actually read the records, and go to the Quran and what it says, and the life of Muhammad, there is no avoiding the fact that there is violent jihad, both offensive and defensive, in [his] life, and that’s all glorified by traditions of Islam.
I took a particular interest in the question of whether it would be proper to seek a reformation of Islam, and the answer you gave, that the Protestant Reformation was going back to the roots of the Christian faith, and if we are asking the Muslim to go back to the roots, we might not like what we are asking for. Can you elaborate on that?
When we think of a reformation, we think it’s something that will make a religion more modern, more peaceful, because we envision the Christian reformation. The fact is, when you go back to the roots of the Christian faith, Jesus says “Turn the other cheek”; “If you live by the sword, you’ll die by the sword,” “Love your enemy, pray for those who persecute you.” That’s why the Reformation was peaceful. In Islam, though, when we bypass the traditions we’ve inherited over the centuries, and go straight to the Quran, we come away with a very violent message. That is what those who tried to reform Islam in the 20th century kept encountering. [. . .]
When Muslims wonder, why has Allah taken his favour away from us? It’s because in the West, Muslims are pandering to capitalism. In the East, to communism (at the time); so we need to stand up for Sharia, for our law. And that’s exactly what ISIS is doing today. ISIS is an offshoot from Al Qaeda, which goes back to the [previous reformers]. ISIS is the Islamic reformation – an attempt to go back to the roots of Islam and curry favour with Allah.
Jihad is real. How do we answer? Your answer is a profoundly Christian one, that we love our neighbour – reach out, go beyond our comfort zone, welcome Syrian refugees to Canada who might be Muslim. I can understand making this a realistic proposal to a Christian audience. Will it work beyond that?
First things first, let’s make sure [it works] with Christians. This is what you’re called to do – to not be afraid. Jesus never shows fear in the face of threats. Engage even our enemies with love. Be willing to be self-sacrificial. I’m not saying we need to be naïve and open up our borders without any kind of policies at all. But I am saying that the matrix by which we allow foreign policies to be made should be love, concern for others and not fear for our own lives.
For a secular audience, the hope is that they would catch at least one part of the answer, which is to not conflate Islam with Muslims. For though Islam might be violent, and the Quran might teach violence and Muhammad’s life exemplifies violence, that doesn’t mean that your Muslim neighbour is violent. Muslims have inherited different traditions of Islam, and the vast majority are a peaceful people.
I’ve read widely on what is happening, and why it’s happening. Yours is the first book I’ve seen that gives an honest and forthright assessment of what motivates a jihadist, and how that is tied to something that really does exist, and yet advocates a loving and compassionate response. I want to commend you for that. Yet it was a response to something that happened four months ago. How did you write it so quickly?
It’s not a scholarly tome. It’s not cutting edge research. This is just the reality of jihad that has been obscured by controversy, by political correctness. I lived the discovery of this for many years, researching it for myself. Muslims are coming to a crossroads when they are researching this material and concluding that Islam is truly teaching violence in its core text. I was at that crossroads once, and the reason I came away as I did was God sent a young Christian into my life who was compelling about sharing the truth of Christianity. God was very good; his hand was over this.
A memorial in Paris to honour the victims of terrorist attacks last year.
Those who try to reform Islam by going back to its roots find a violent message, Qureshi says.