Nabeel Qureshi grew up in a devout Muslim family. But in college, he started exploring the claims of Christianity and eventually decided to convert.
Since then, Qureshi has devoted himself to studying Christian apologetics and writing and speaking about Islam and Christianity. In his latest book, Answering Jihad, Qureshi addresses many of the big questions he’s heard American Christians asking after attacks like those in Paris, San Bernardino and Brussels. He says he wanted to help give people a context to understand what Islam is, who Muslims are, what is driving radical militant groups like ISIS and Boko Haram.
“Unless we figure out what’s going on on this basic level, I don’t think we’ll be able to respond appropriately as a nation on policy issues,” he says.
We talked to Qureshi about what the Quran teaches about violence, why Muslims are being radicalized and why Christians need to befriend their Muslim neighbors.
One of the questions you address in the book is whether Islam really is a religion of peace. Is it?
Although the vast majority of Muslims might be peaceful people, when you say “Islam is a religion of peace,” you’re talking about the system or the religion from its inception. Apart from the first 13 years that Muhammad claimed to be a prophet, you don’t really have any history of Islam that was devoid of violence. The moment Muhammad was able to start fighting, he started launching battles at a rate of nine battles a year until he died. And then after he died, Muslims conquered one-third of the known world—from the shores of the Atlantic to India.
So from the very beginning of Islamic history, violence has been quite present. So what do we mean when we say Islam is a religion of peace? The only way that could possibly mean something true is if we say Islam somehow brings peace to a person, but that’s not the way the slogan is being used.
It seems like if you look at the Old Testament, you could argue that Christianity and Judaism have been pretty violent religions, as well. What would you say to people who say Christianity is violent, too?
Christians as a force did not fight for hundreds of years until after Jesus. Jesus Himself, when He was being arrested unjustly, told His men to put away their swords because “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword.” At no point do we see Jesus carrying a sword in the Gospels, and at no point does He command violence.
So it’s really hard to say something like “Christianity is violent” unless you assume that the actions of crusaders or people who claim to be Christian reflect on the religion, and I don’t think they do.
When it comes to Islam, I’m not saying “Look how violent the terrorists are, therefore Islam is violent.” That would be poor reasoning. What I’m saying is the foundations of Islam—I’m talking about the Quran and the life of Muhammed—are very violent. Islam can be formulated in non-violent ways, but to do so, you have to depart from its foundations, as many Muslims do.
When it comes to Christianity, it’s a completely different picture. Now, the slightly problematic issue would be the Old Testament where God does command some violence. It’s not as much as people think. Most of the violence in the Old Testament was not commanded but simply recorded, but there were a few battles that were commanded. What we see though, in Deuteronomy 9 and 11, for example, is that this was judgement—the judgement of God coming upon a small group of people relative to all the people that existed. It was just a small group, and it was for a specific time, and they had been given 400 years to repent.
This is very different from what we see with Islam. With Islam, there’s no limitation to who can come under Jihad. It’s not a judgement for sins, it’s an establishment of the superiority of Islam, as we see in chapter 9:33 of the Quran. So it’s a totally different ballgame, especially if you’re comparing it to Christianity.
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