Having already achieved notoriety with a ludicrously superficial comparison of George Washington with Islam’s prophet Muhammad (analyzed by me here), Huffington Post blogger and PhD candidate Craig Considine has returned with more delusional thoughts on Islam. Considine’s latest Huffington Post entry attempts to present the Islamic doctrine of jihad not as a violent threat to Christians and others, but rather as a teaching of individual improvement common to both Christianity and Islam. This by Considine purported interfaith bridge between Christianity and Islam, however, does not withstand any serious examination.
In a “New Perspective of ‘Jihad’ in Christianity and Islam,” Considine writes that “anti-Muslim” individuals often “criticize the term ‘jihad’ as a form of Islamic supremacism, oppression, and violence” while “Muslim extremists…argue that ‘jihad’ refers to a ‘holy war.” Yet in “Islam, ‘jihad’ has several different components” including “personal struggles, such as the struggle against an addiction; social struggles, such as the struggle to become tolerant of others; and occasionally a military struggle, if and when necessary in self-defense.” Comparing various verses from the New Testament and the Qur’an, Considine seeks “to consider” jihad “through a Christian perspective” given that the “idea of struggling is at the very heart of Christianity,” although jihad “is not literally used in Christian scripture.” Such “common characteristics of ‘jihad’…can build bridges of mutual understanding and tolerance.”
Considine derives this varied understanding of jihad from a saying attributed to Muhammad. To the question “What is the major jihad?” Considine quotes Muhammad replying, “The jihad of the self (struggle against the personal self).” Considine determines therefore that “violent struggle” was not the “most important form of ‘jihad’” for Muhammad.
As the American Muslim convert Yahiya Emerick notes in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Islam (2002), this statement comes from what Muhammad supposedly said “to some soldiers after they had left the battlefield victorious one day.” Muhammad declared, “You have left the lesser jihad, now you are coming to the greater jihad. The struggle against yourself.”
Yet as my esteemed friend Robert Spencer masterfully analyzes at his website Jihadwatch, violent “Islamic jihadis certainly insist that the hadith [canonical saying of Muhammad] Considine is quoting about the greater and lesser jihad is spurious.” This hadith “does not, in fact, appear in any of the major hadith collections, the ones that Muslims consider most reliable (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, and an-Nasai).” Not surprisingly, PhD candidate Considine gives no source for this hadith.
Spencer observes that this hadith does appear in ‘Umdat al-Salik or Reliance of the Traveler. Sunni Islam’s leading interpreters at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, declared in 19991 this manual on Islamic law from the Shafi’i school of jurisprudence a reliable guide. ‘Umdat al-Salik “devotes a paragraph to the greater, spiritual jihad” and then “many pages to the lesser, martial jihad, to the spoils of war, the treatment of the conquered dhimmis, etc.” The “lesser jihad may indeed be lesser in name,” but “nonetheless exists, and is often given greater attention in Islamic jurisprudence than its supposedly greater counterpart.” Indeed, why should any victim of an Islamic “lesser” jihad such as, say, Israeli Jews care about whatever subsequent “greater” spiritual jihad a Muslim militant might intend to complete upon obtaining military victory?
The “Lesser vs the Greater Jihad” entry at Wikiislam offers several arguments to substantiate Spencer’s position. To begin with, as the American Muslim website Islamtomorrow corroborates, “Should a hadeeth contradict the Quran then it would obviously be rejected.” Yet Wikiislam cites the apparent contradiction to Considine’s “lesser” jihad invocation in Qur’an 4:95 with its declaration that “[n]ot equal are those believers remaining [at home]—other than the disabled—and the mujahideen, [who strive and fight] in the cause of Allah with their wealth and their lives.” Also in contradiction are hadith of the most unimpeachable authenticity such as Sahih Bukhari 1.2.26. Therein “Allah’s Apostle was asked, ‘What is the best deed?’ He replied, ‘To believe in Allah and His Apostle (Muhammad). The questioner then asked, ‘What is the next (in goodness)? He replied, ‘To participate in Jihad (religious fighting) in Allah’s Cause.’” Accordingly, militant Muslims such as Sheikh Abdullah El-Faisal, convicted in 2003 in the United Kingdom of incitement to murder, have labeled Considine’s “lesser” jihad hadith as “fabricated” and “frequently quoted by cowards and hypocrites who don’t want to die for Allah.”
Considine’s about military struggle being a “lesser” Islamic jihad are of a piece with his belief in the “practice of non-violence,” a “major aspect of the Christian ‘jihad,’” as a Christian-Muslim commonality. To substantiate Islam as a religion of peace as well, Considine cites the Qur’an’s verse 5:32. “If anyone slew a person unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land,” he quotes, “it would be as if he slew the whole humanity: and if anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole humanity.”
As Spencer analyzes, “like virtually everyone else who ever quotes Qur’an 5:32, Considine doesn’t mention to whom it is addressed,” namely, as 5:32’s full text states, the “Children of Israel.” Considine additionally does not lose any words over the verse’s “exceptions at its heart” of “murder or for spreading mischief in the land.” Understanding such exceptions is exceptionally important, given the grievous punishments for “mischief” delineated in the subsequent verse 5:33. The penalty for those who “strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land.” Spencer rightfully terms “simply ludicrous” such a “mandate to crucify people and amputate limbs” as manifesting Considine’s Islamic vision of “struggling in the name of non-violence.”
Considine likewise cites Qur’an 2:190, where Muslims learn to “Fight in the case of God those who start fighting you, but do not transgress limits (or start the attack); for God loveth not transgressors.” Yet Spencer again notes that Considine apparently has once more not bothered to read ahead a few verses to 2:193 with its injunction to “[f]ight them until there is no [more] fitnah [an Arabic word meaning rebellion, AEH] and [until] worship is [acknowledged to be] for Allah,” that is to say, Islam. Considine’s similar reference to Qur’an 4:90 (identified in the text as 4:9 through an apparent proofreading error), meanwhile, actually discusses an exception under the rule in the preceding verses 4:88 and 4:89 concerning “hypocrites” who “turn away” from Islam. The believers are to “seize them and kill them wherever you find them and take not from among them any ally or helper.”
Spencer notes that Qur’an 2:193, along with many other violent Qur’an verses such as 9:5, the Sword Verse, show the “progression of Qur’anic revelation about warfare.” Such progression accords with the Islamic doctrine of abrogation or Al-Nasikh wa al-Mansukh, according to which chronologically later Qur’an verses abrogate earlier ones, a doctrine never mentioned by Considine. According to traditional Islamic teaching, for example, the Sword Verse abrogated 124 earlier verses calling for interfaith tolerance. As Spencer notes, many leading Islamic theologians consider Qur’an 2:256’s oft-proclaimed maxim of “there is no compulsion in religion” cited by Considine to be abrogated.
The late William Eugene Phipps, a professor at West Virginia’s Davis and Elkins College, concurred in his 1999 book Muhammad and Jesus: A Comparison of the Prophets and their Teachings. “Most major interpreters of the Quran agree,” wrote Phipps, “that verses urging military conquest replaced verses that are irreconcilable with them” while “some Muslim authorities think that” 2:256 “was replaced by a revelation sanctioning the strongest kind of coercion.” Therefore “Muslim extremists, who are relatively small in number, have no difficulty finding verses in the Quran that support their acts of mass violence.” Claiming in the 2003 book Secrets of the Koran: Revealing Insights into Islam’s Holy Book that “at least 109 other verses” have abrogated 2:256, the Canadian missionary Don Richardson noted logically enough that abrogation “makes it difficult—impossible really—for us to trust any good verse any Muslim apologist ever quotes from the Koran.”
Qur’an 2:256’s is also open to multiple interpretations. Phipps noted that the verse “may have been a comment on human obstinacy, that people cannot be compelled to alter their beliefs.” The renowned journalist Milton Viorst’s 2001 book In the Shadow of the Prophet: The Struggle for the Soul of Islam likewise argues that the “verse as a whole might thus be read as an ideal, holding not that Islam bars compulsion but that God has no need of compulsion to spread His message.” Examining 2:256’s full text, Viorst notes as well its proclamation that the “right course has become clear from the wrong,” a passage that “invites a reading which legitimizes violence toward those for whom ‘the right has—not—been clearly distinguished from the false.’”
Qur’an 2:256 is, moreover, amenable to a narrow understanding that while a person’s individual internal belief is not subject to compulsion, his outward behavior, such as advocacy of a faith opposed to Islam, is. Leading Islam scholar Bernard Lewis writes in his 2002 book What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response that this “much quoted verse…was generally interpreted by Muslim jurists and rulers to authorize a limited measure of tolerance for certain specified other religious beliefs, without of course in any way questioning or compromising the primacy of Islam and the supremacy of the Muslims.” Writing two years earlier in What You Need to Know about Islam & Muslims, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary professor and former Christian missionary to Iran George W. Braswell, Jr., agreed that 2:256 in “practicality…means if one is not born a Muslim, it is best to convert to Islam. If one does not convert to Islam, one may be tolerated with a minority status within the rule of Islam.”
Even Rhodes College professor John Kaltner did not have a very positive presentation of 2:256 in his 2003 book Islam: What Non-Muslims should Know, although he argued that “[m]any non-Muslims have a mistaken understanding of how Islam spread” in believing that “primarily violent means…forced people to convert.” While this “approach would go against the Muslim view of religious faith that is reflected in” 2:256, populations facing Islamic military expansion in the faith’s founding era received a “number of options.” They could “join the faith and become Muslims…as full members of the ummah” or, for Jews and Christians, “they could keep their faith as long as they paid a special tax called the jizya” and became a “dhimmi, or protected minority.” Only absent these two choices “did military confrontation and violence ensue.” Kalter never explains why these three coerced choices, including a second-class citizen dhimmi status, comport with “no compulsion.” In all, Considine is clearly false to assert that there is “no way a Muslim can force others to believe in Islam.”
Considine’s other citations of Islamic doctrine are less than meets the eye. Qur’an 17:53–54’s injunction to “speak in a most kindly manner” to non-Muslims is not necessarily incompatible with making ultimatums. Moreover, while some sources translate these verses into English this way, other translations render meanings without reference to non-Muslims. References to knowledge in Islam cited by Considine, meanwhile, have no value absent a commitment to find objective truth, something that would first entail often unpopular among Muslims questioning whether Islam as a belief system itself is valid.
Considine’s writing is merely the latest effort in what Islam historian Daniel Pipes described in 2002 as the “nearly universal falsification of jihad on the part of American academic scholars.” Such writing “implies that organizations with the word ‘jihad’ in their titles, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad and [Osama] bin Laden’s own ‘International Islamic Front for the Jihad Against Jews and Crusade[rs],’ are grossly misnamed.” These “Muslims waging violent and aggressive jihads, under that very name and at this very moment, in Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, Chechnya, Kashmir, Mindanao, Ambon, and other places around the world” have somehow “not heard that jihad is a matter of controlling one’s anger,” among other personal improvements. Yet how these actual “jihadists understand the term is in keeping with its usage through fourteen centuries of Islamic history.”
Instead of a bridge between Christians and Muslims, as Considine would argue, jihad today remains a dangerous threat to Christians, as the Hudson Institute’s book Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians recently documented. As Spencer has written in his latest book Not Peace but a Sword: The Great Chasm between Christianity and Islam, such a targeting of Christians is a natural consequence of what Christian missionary and scholar Phil Parshall described in his 1994 book Undertanding Muslim Teachings and Traditions: A Guide for Christians as a “distinctively anti-Christian theology.” Rather than share this jihad, Christians (and others), however much they seek dialogue and cooperation, must be on guard against it.