Islam has many expressions. It is not monolithic. We are wrong if we think we understand Muslims because we have met one or read the Qur’an. That is a simplistic and false understanding. “Islam is a dynamic and varied religious tradition.” In the same way, if you have met a Christian and read the New Testament, for example, that does not mean that you understand Christianity. “The range of contemporary Muslim religiosity varies tremendously. One of the reasons for this is that people understand and ‘use’ religion in a variety of ways; that is true whether we are dealing with Islam or Christianity or any other religion.”
As Christians have different beliefs regarding certain doctrines, Muslims have different beliefs as well. Christianity has many expressions, liberal and fundamental and various particular denominations. In this post (and in part two), we will explore the Islamic understanding of jihad and contrast it with Christianity. Our first observation is to realize the multifaceted nature of our exploration.
Many Expressions of Islam
As we have briefly seen, not all Muslims are the same and not all Muslims understand jihad in the same way. So, some Muslims emphasize the more peaceful passages (e.g. surah 5:32; 2:256; Allah is also repeatedly said to be “most gracious, most merciful”) and that the Qur’an seems to teach to not begin the fight (2:190; 22:39). However, others believe that those who have not confessed Allah and his prophet have already essentially made war with Muslims and should be subjugated. Some Muslims are strict adherents to Islam and some are secular. Muslims are not homogeneous. (For example, we see two very different narrative accounts in Nabeel Qureshi’s, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus and Mosab Hassan Yousef’s, Son of Hamas). In fact, “not all Muslims believe that the Qurʾān is the literal and inerrant word of God, nor do all of them believe that Islam requires strict conformity to all the religious and moral precepts in the Qurʾān.” We could group Muslims into three broad groups: secular Muslims, traditional Muslims, and fundamentalist Muslims.
It has been said that the majority of Muslims are secular Muslims. This group believes in the nice parts of Islam, but rejects the call to jihad. Traditional Muslims “study Islam, know it, and practice it, but they have a stumbling block with the concept of jihad.” This group likely uses the doctrine of abrogation, the teaching that some things in the Qur’an no longer apply, to discount the Qur’anic verses on jihad. Fundamentalist Muslims have
“an antipathy to secularism, an emphasis on the importance of traditional religiosity as their members understand it, and a strict adherence to sacred texts and the moral codes built upon them. Although these and other common features are important as sources of insight, each fundamentalist movement is in fact unique and is best understood when viewed in its own historical and cultural context.”
Islamophobia is going to hinder the genuine love and concern that we are called to and it is also unfounded. It is important to realize that not all Muslims are terrorists or support terrorists. However, it is also important to consider why some Muslims would be terrorists.
Jihad is “a religious duty imposed on Muslims to spread Islam by waging war; jihad has come to denote any conflict waged for principle or belief and is often translated to mean ‘holy war.’” This is a very complex subject and we can only introduce it here. However, it is important that we understand that there are various ways that Muslims understand the place of jihad within their lives. So, Anthony N. Celso says, “The connection between Islam and Jihadism can be quite complex and thorny. The centrality of jihad in Islam has inspired much controversy among scholars.”
The hadith teaches that there are four ways to carry out jihad: by the heart, the tongue, the hand, and the sword. It seems that some form of jihad is vital. Surah 49:15 says, “The believers are only the ones who have believed in Allah and His Messenger and then doubt not but strive with their properties and their lives in the cause of Allah.” It seems then if Muslims do not strive in some form then they are not true Muslims. “Those that chose not to fight in holy battle are seen as less pious and will lack reward.”
Once again, I want to emphasis that not all Muslims support violent acts of jihad. However, the Qur’an does seem to explicitly endorse and even command violent acts of religious commitment (e.g. Qur’an 2:19-93, 190-193, 216; 3:85; 4:74, 89, 95; 5:51; 8:16, 39; 9:5, 12-14, 29, 123; 61:10-12 see also Hadith 9:57; 48). The abrogation of such texts seems unfounded. In fact, surah 9:5 (that says in part to “kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush”) seems to abrogate peaceful passages like 2:256.
So, Nabeel Qureshi has pointed out that
“The earliest historical records show that Muhammad launched offensive military campaigns and used violence at times to accomplish his purposes. He used the term jihad in both spiritual and physical contexts, but the physical jihad is the one Muhammad strongly emphasizes. The peaceful practice of Islam hinges on later, often Western, interpretations of Muhammad’s teachings, whereas the more violent variations of Islam are deeply rooted in orthodoxy and history.”
Thus, it is true that for some “the use of violence toward the goal of spreading Islam is believed to be an Islamic duty.” For example, “Modern jihadists believe they have divine sanction to engage in violence against apostate regimes.”
Latif and Munir make the case that jihad and terrorism are not the same things. “Jihad and terrorism are two different concepts. Jihad is basically meant for the eradication of harmful trends and developing society, while terrorism directs to destruction of the people and society.” Here is the difference: “Unlike terrorism, Jihad is never done to fulfill any human desires or worldly objectives: it aims only at the establishment of an Islamic order according to Allah’s commandment.”
They give this definition of terrorism: “the systematic and organized use of violence and intimidation to force a government or community, etc to act in a certain way or accept certain demands” (Chambers dictionary). Jihad seems to do just that, so what is the difference? Upon reading the Qur’an, we see the difference with the violence of jihad and terrorism is that jihad has the mandate and applause from Allah; whereas terrorism seems to be different because it is viewed as merely pointless violence without divine sanction. So, it seems, indiscriminate killings, kidnappings, and tortures are wrong without Allah’s approval and thus terrorism, but with his approval it is something else entirely, it is jihad. This type of reasoning, if we understand the whole system of thought, makes sense (although I believe it is false and destructive).
It makes sense, because, as they go on to say, jihad is not for the benefit of Muslims only, “in fact Jihad is for humanity at large.” They seem to be saying that with jihad the end justifies the means. Basically, through terrorism comes pestilence, but through jihad comes paradise. Why is this the case? It seems, they would answer, because jihad is Allah’s will. So, what does it come down to? Terrorism could be done for selfish mercenary reasons but jihad is done for a transcendent reason.
Jihad is considered by some to be the “sixth pillar” of Islam. Of course, others view jihad in a different way. For instance,
“In subsequent generations Muslims have spiritualized these commands to refer to the greater jihad, which is the jihad of the soul. This stands in contrast to the lesser jihad, the jihad of warfare. Other novel attempts to modernize the call to jihad have referred to the jihad of the pen—the attempt to convince unbelievers of the rightness of Islam through debate and persuasion.”
Kuhn says “Although I think Western Christians would do well to examine the Muslim perspective of the West’s aggression against Muslim nations, I also view the foundational building blocks of Islamic militancy to be found in the texts of the Qur’an and Hadiith.” It is also important to not that “A poll showed that seventy-eight percent of Palestinians supported the attacks on September 11.”
It is important to note that although the teaching of jihad, even violent jihad, is in the Qur’an that does not mean that every act of modern terrorism has support in the Qur’an. Chancellor says, for instance, that “Suicide has no support in the scared literature, nor has it historical precedent. There is no tradition of honorable suicide in Islam, and Islamic history offers no positive models of suicide.” So, Westerners should not think that every committed Muslim supports suicide bombers and violent takfir. In fact, there are religious authorities in the Muslim world that have spoken strongly against such operations. However, jihadists have still searched for religious sanctions for taking Muslim life.
This is an interesting and complex situation because
“On the one had, radical Islamists must anchor their violence in classical Islamic texts and traditions in order to uphold their image as bearers of authentic Islam and as followers of divine commandments. On the other hand, the classical Islamic tradition imposes constraints on many aspects of these same radical Islamists’ violent activism. One such constraint is that Muslims should not kill themselves intentionally (suicide). Another is that Muslims should not kill their fellow Muslims. Yet another is that Muslims should not intentionally harm non-combatants (civilians).”
However, many Muslims feel hopeless in the political and social climate that they are in. They feel like the situation necessitates such actions because of the Western “crusaders.” Further, “Pleasing Allah is clearly not an easy task, since he demands extreme levels of devotion to duty. The faithful follower then might well be driven to radical demonstrations of commitment in order to ensure that his god is pleased with him” (cf. Surah 4:74, 95-96). Thus, “Death is welcomed as an opportunity for martyrdom and slaughter of Islam’s enemies becomes a moral imperative.”
 James D. Chancellor, “Islam and Violence,” in SBTS, 42.
 Andrew Rippin, Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (New York: Routledge, 2012), 311.
 “The resistance of people to Islam was often taken to be equivalent to an attack on Islam. The final goal of jihâd must then be a world which has been brought under the control of Islam and is, by definition, peaceful” (cf. Qur’an 22:39) (Andrew Rippin, Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices [New York: Routledge, 2012], 63).
 Mark A. Gabriel, Islam and Terrorism: What the Quran really teaches about Christianity, violence and the goals of the Islamic jihad (Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine, 2002), 39.
Henry Munson, “Fundamentalism” in Encyclopedia Britannica (https://www.britannica.com/topic/fundamentalism/Islamic-fundamentalism).
 “‘Jihad’ is basically an Arabic word derived from the root j.h.d. which mean ‘strive’ ‘struggle’ and ‘expand effort’ although it implies ‘motive’ or ‘intention’” (Amir Latif and Hafiza Sabiha Munir, “Terrorism and Jihad, An Islamic Perspective” in the Journal of Islamic Studies and Culture, 71).
 Anthony N. Celso , “Jihadist Organizational Failure and Regeneration: The Transcendental Role of Takfiri Violence,” 4.
 Emir R. Caner and Ergun M. Caner, “The Doctrine of Jihad in the Islamic Hadith” in SBJT, 39.
 For other controversial references see: Qur’an 4:34; 5:33, 38; 33:50; 65:4.
 Cf. David Bukay, “Peace or Jihad? Abrogation in Islam” in Middle East Quarterly (Fall 2007), 3-11. Plus, “If Muhammad practiced military raids with divine sanction, then to fail to act in a similar way in the modern world would be a failure to submit to the sunna rasuul Allah. While Muslims do not all agree on the issue, the force of Islamic moderate to mobilize the masses in demonstration against terrorist attacks. Muslims know that imitation of the Prophet is the path of virtue. They also know he (and his successors) establish the Islamic nation through military prowess” (Kuhn, Fresh Vision for the Muslim World, 202).
 Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2014), 116. Qureshi gives other examples as well. “Muhmmad ordered a warrior to assassinate a mother of five, Asma bint Marwan. She was breastfeeding a child when she was murdered, her blood splattering on her children. When the assassin told Muhammad he had difficulty with what he had done, Muhammad showed no remorse” (Ibid., 222). He goes on to say, “Muhammad captured and beheaded over five hundred men and teenage boys from the Jewish tribe of Qurayza. After the Muslims killed the men, they sold the women and children into slavery and distributed their goods among themselves” (Ibid.). This is different than Christianity. See, e.g., Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan, Did God Really Command Genocide? Coming to Terms with the Justice of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2014).
 Andrew Rippin, Muslims: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (New York: Routledge, 2012), 312.
 Anthony N. Celso , “Jihadist Organizational Failure and Regeneration: The Transcendental Role of Takfiri Violence,” 3. Paper prepared for presentation at the Political Studies Association Meeting, Manchester, England. April 14-16, 2014.
 “Religious violence is characterized as violent acts done by religious people as religious people, informed and legitimized by a religious vision, and for the purpose of achieving specifically religious goals” (James D. Chancellor, “Islam and Violence,” in SBTS, 43). However, Latif and Munir have said that “jihad has come to be equated with terrorism” which they say “runs counter to the spirit and substance of Islam” (Amir Latif and Hafiza Sabiha Munir, “Terrorism and Jihad, An Islamic Perspective” in the Journal of Islamic Studies and Culture, 69).
 Amir Latif and Hafiza Sabiha Munir, “Terrorism and Jihad, An Islamic Perspective” in the Journal of Islamic Studies and Culture, 74.
 Ibid., 74 see also 79-80.
 Ibid., 75.
 Kuhn, Fresh Vision for the Muslim World, 199.
 Kuhn, Fresh Vision for the Muslim World, 200.
 Brand, “As Far as the East Is from the West: Islam, Holy War, and the Possibility of Rapprochement” in SBJT, 8.
 James D. Chancellor, “Islam and Violence,” in SBTS, 47. Although some might see historical precedent in the Hashshashin.
 Takfir “has its closest analogue in the Christian concept of ex-communication in which fellow Muslims strip co-religionists of their Islamic status providing theological sanction for their killing” (Anthony N. Celso , “Jihadist Organizational Failure and Regeneration: The Transcendental Role of Takfiri Violence,” 5).
 James D. Chancellor, “Islam and Violence,” in SBTS, 47.
 Anthony N. Celso , “Jihadist Organizational Failure and Regeneration: The Transcendental Role of Takfiri Violence,” 5.
 Mohammed M. Hafez, “Tactics, Takfir, and anti-Muslim Violence” in Self-Inflicted Wounds: Debates and Divisions within al-Qa’ida and its Periphery eds. Assaf Moghadam and Brian Fishman, 20.
 Chad Owen Brand, “As Far as the East Is from the West: Islam, Holy War, and the Possibility of Rapprochement” in SBJT, 6. “Most important to the Muslim, is the promise of eternal forgiveness and blessing in Paradise. For the Muslim who fears the scales which may measure his eternal damnation if weighted heavier for evil than good, this is the only true eternal security they have. Therefore, for the Muslim who fears the scales and assumes that they have no hope, death in Jihad is not only a viable option, it may be the only option. Twice is the point made that Allah guarantees entrance into Paradise for the Muslim who dies in Jihad” (Emir R. Caner and Ergun M. Caner, “The Doctrine of Jihad in the Islamic Hadith” in SBJT, 40).
 Anthony N. Celso , “Jihadist Organizational Failure and Regeneration: The Transcendental Role of Takfiri Violence,” 3.