RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–When radical Islamists brought unprecedented terror to the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, they also escalated a debate that’s been raging for centuries: Is Jihad a personal, internal struggle against evil inclinations, or holy war against non-Muslim infidels?
The issue is a lightning rod for controversy, and as Christians seek to understand Islam and reach out to its 1.2 billion faithful with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s important that they take a closer look at this Islamic ideology. So said N.S.R.K. Ravi of the North American Mission Board’s interfaith witness team who spoke Aug. 15-17 at the National Conference on Islam at LifeWay’s Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina.
“Throughout history, Islamic and non-Islamic scholars have debated the concept of Jihad,” said Ravi, who was raised as a Hindu in an Islamic region of India. “Even among Islamic scholars there are various interpretations of this principle. Some Islamic scholars consider Jihad the sixth pillar of Islam, superior even to the obligatory acts of prayer, fasting, almsgiving and pilgrimage. One thing is clear: According to Islamic teachings, Jihad is fard (an obligation) for every Muslim.”
The term Jihad is derived from the Arabic term “Jahada,” which means to endeavor, strive or struggle. It is sometimes translated “holy war.” In religious contexts, Jihad means to struggle against one’s evil inclinations, but in many circles the word is understood in a military sense rather than its universal meaning in the Koran (Islam’s holy book) and the Hadith (the words and deeds of Islam’s founder Muhammad).
Muslims contend that the main purpose of Jihad is to protect and preserve the haqq (truth), Ravi said. Some believe the way to deal with those who pose obstacles to the spread of Islam is to declare Jihad against them. This can take on peaceful forms: Jihad with the tongue (speaking the truth), Jihad with the heart (feelings and intentions) and Jihad with the hand (good works).
However, the Koran also encourages Jihad with the sword — to defend Islam from attack, or to forcefully establish Islam in foreign lands if Islam is not granted free expression there. In this sense, Jihad may be waged against oppressors, disbelievers, idolaters and even Christians and Jews.
“Those who participate in Jihad are told they will receive rewards from Allah, ranging from the spoils of war if they survive, to entrance into paradise if they’re killed in battle, according to the Hadith,” Ravi said. “No wonder some extremist Muslims are willing to die in the name of Jihad.”
So, what of Osama bin Laden’s call for Jihad against America and the West? What of the Jihad that kept Iran and Iraq gripped in a bloody eight-year standoff? What of the teenage Palestinian homicide bombers who, in the name of Jihad, readily blow themselves up in crowded Israeli streets? What of Muhammad Atta and the other Sept. 11 hijackers?
Muslims around the world will disagree as to whether these acts of Jihad were faithful to Islamic teaching or horrible abuses, but to Ravi that misses the point. “Isn’t it sad,” he said, “that Islam, which offers no assurance of salvation, holds out the possibility of heaven only to those who sacrifice their lives for Allah. Christianity is just the opposite. Our God sacrificed His life for us at Calvary so we might live with Him in heaven.”
LifeWay and NAMB will host a second National Conference on Islam Sept. 19-21 at LifeWay’s Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico. For more information, or to register online, log on to www.lifeway.com/islam. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: ASSESSING ISLAM, MUSLIM CONFERENCE and RAVI’S REVIEW OF ISLAM.