Thursday, February 11, 2016

Book Review: The Jihad of Jesus by Dave Andrews

For many people jihad and Jesus are totally contradictory, mutually exclusive options. You must choose the one or the other. You cannot have both. Given our present situation, Muslims would tend to choose jihad, Christians would tend to choose Jesus. But it is my contention that--rightly understood--you can't have one without the other. In spite of the fact this may seem heresy to Muslims and/or Christians, I contend that you cannot rightly pursue jihad without Jesus, or rightly pursue Jesus without jihad. - Dave Andrews, The Jihad of Jesus

I admit that I don't really know that much about Islam. I could tell you a little about the five pillars and a few other very basic tenets, but beyond that I freely admit my own ignorance of the second-largest religion in the world.

That isn't to say that I'm not interested, or that I haven't tried to do better. I occasionally have the privilege of attending interfaith functions and hearing from my brothers and sisters of that faith, I follow several prominent scholars and activists on Twitter, and I pick up books that deal with various themes on the subject. But it's not enough, and I acknowledge that. Especially given the general sentiment in the United States toward Muslims both natural born and immigrant alike since late 2001, it becomes all the more important for me and many others to do better, as ignorance is one of the leading causes of fear and discrimination.

So when I had the opportunity to review The Jihad of Jesus by Dave Andrews, this seemed like a good step toward making the change for myself that I knew I needed.

First, we should probably talk about the title. It's pretty provocative, as I believe was the intention. Most probably have a particular idea of what "jihad" means, that being the enacting of "holy war" against others in the name of God. Andrews' introduction--all of one page--gives the proper and full definition that he will explore in more depth throughout the book. The word itself actually translates as "struggle," of which there are two types: the "greater jihad" which is the inner struggle of a believer to be faithful, and the "lesser jihad" which is a physical struggle against oppressors.

As mentioned, Andrews clarifies what Islam typically means by each, as well as how it's been twisted by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

In fact, the first section of the book is about twisted religion in general. Andrews spends several chapters recounting the dark histories of both Christianity and Islam; the ways people have used religious belief to justify acts of violence, oppression, and genocide. What's more, he doesn't let either off the hook by claiming that these events "weren't really Christian/Islam," as they were committed under these religions' banner and such claims too easily dismiss the atrocity of the acts themselves.

From here, Andrews invites the reader to properly consider how religion contributes to horrific acts, and how people use religion to inspire or justify them. His third chapter offers an informative overview of the social and psychological factors that cause individuals and groups to participate in or approve authoritarian movements.

The second section reflects on the nonviolent nature of both Christianity and Islam, and the need to reclaim this core spirit both to counteract times when either religion becomes distorted, as well as to consider how both religions may partner to work for greater justice and peace. For Islam, he explores the concept of Bismillah, which remembers all of humanity as belonging to a God who is gracious and compassionate. Living by this is meant to result in showing that same grace and compassion to others. Thus, the "greater jihad" or inner struggle is to remain faithful to this way of living.

For Jesus, Andrews explores the peacemaking nature of Jesus' life and teaching. This features a contextual analysis of when he mentions swords, which is a common argument used to say that Jesus would have been okay with violence. Similar to his consideration of Bismillah, Andrews concludes that Jesus advocated and modeled a way of life that views others as sacred and beloved. The inner struggle of Christians to live in this way is quite similar to that of Muslims to live by Bismillah.

I found The Jihad of Jesus to be greatly informative and challenging. I've found myself reflecting quite a bit on his analysis of how groups become inspired to engage in acts of violence, and can see these concepts reflected in our world. His call for both Christianity and Islam to be honest with themselves about their historical sins and to return to the heart of their purpose is an important one for this present moment.

(I was sent a free copy of this book to review by the Speakeasy blogging book review network. My opinions are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.)