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Answering Jihad Part 1

Nabeel Qureshi was raised in a devout and loving Muslim home, but during his college years he began to closely examine Islamic teachings along with the claims of Christianity. As a result, Nabeel committed his life to Jesus Christ, a dramatic and engaging story he told in the New York Times bestselling and award-winning memoir, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus.

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, is Qureshi’s just-released book, rushed to press in the wake of the growing global concern over the threats and actions of Muslim extremists. This is Part 1 of a 4-part interview with Qureshi, currently studying Judaism and Christianity at Oxford, pursuing his doctorate in New Testament studies.

As a child, you grew up in a Muslim home with several family members having served in the U.S. Military. What values did that ingrain in you?

Our allegiance was to God and country; we were Muslim, first and foremost. As with Americans of other religious backgrounds, our faith was in no way exclusive of our devotion to our nation. According to my parents’ teaching, it was Islam that commanded me to love and serve my country. Islam taught me to defend the oppressed, to stand up for the rights of women and children, to shun the desires of the flesh, to seek the pleasure of God, and to enjoin the good and forbid the evil. By my teenage years I enthusiastically proclaimed Islam to all who would listen, and I usually started by informing them of a teaching that was knit into the fiber of my beliefs: Islam is the religion of peace.

How did September 11, 2001 change your thoughts on jihad?

On September 11, I was confronted for the first time with the stark reality of jihad. It was not as if I had never heard of jihad before; I certainly had, but I knew it as a defensive effort buried deep in the pages of Islamic history. That is how our imams alluded to jihad, and we never questioned it. As American Muslims we rarely, if ever, thought about jihad. When the twin towers fell, the eyes of the nation turned to American Muslims for an explanation. I sincerely believe September 11 was a greater shock for American Muslims like my family than for the average American. Not only did we newly perceive our lack of security from jihadists, as did everyone else, we also faced a latent threat of retaliation from would-be vigilantes.

It felt as if we were hemmed in on all sides. In the midst of this, while mourning our fallen compatriots and considering our own security, we had to defend the faith we knew and loved. We had to assure everyone that Islam was a religion of peace, just as we had always known. I remember hearing a slogan at my mosque that I shared with many: “The terrorists who hijacked the planes on September 11 also hijacked Islam.”

This led you to studying the history of Islam, in which you discovered a lot of violence in what you were taught was the “religion of peace.” How did you respond to that?

After years of investigation, I had to face the reality. There is a great deal of violence in Islam, even in the very foundations of the faith, and it is not all defensive. Quite to the contrary, if the traditions about the prophet of Islam are in any way reliable, then Islam glorifies violent jihad arguably more than any other action a Muslim can take. This conclusion led me to a three-pronged fork in the road. Either I could become an apostate and leave Islam, grow apathetic and ignore the prophet, or become “radicalized” and obey him. The alternative of simply disregarding Muhammad’s teachings and continuing as a devout Muslim was not an option in my mind, nor is it for most Muslims, since to be Muslim is to submit to Allah and to follow Muhammad. Apostasy, apathy, or radicalization; those were my choices.

How would you define Islam?

Islam is defined by obedience to Muhammad’s teachings and worship of no other god but the one he proclaimed, Allah. Although there are as many as 1.6 billion expressions of Islam in the world, Muslims are not themselves Islam. In my experience as an American Muslim, there was absolutely no emphasis placed on violence, but a great deal of emphasis placed on morality, legality, community, and spirituality. For me and all the American Muslims I knew, Islam was a religion of peace with God and peace with man. But my experience of Islam is not the only one, and it cannot define Islam. For other Muslims, violence is a part of their expression of Islam, but their experience is no more definitive than mine was.

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Amazing voices from the faith community. These are pastors, social justice leaders, musicians, cultural influencers, filmmakers and more who blog from time to time on ConversantLife.


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