Over the course of my thirty-five year career I have had the honor and joy of participating in many interfaith programs, worship services and courses. I have chaired interfaith groups of clergy, I have co-taught classes with rabbis and imams, I have served on an Interfaith Religious Editorial Advisory Board for a major daily newspaper, I have taught courses on all the major faith traditions of the world . . . and the list goes on. Time and again my own faith has been deepened and enriched by such experiences. So I approached Dave Andrews provocatively titled book, The Jihad of Jesus, with an open mind, expecting to be challenged, and I was.
In only a few pages (the book, including afterword, runs just 163 pages) Andrews outlines an approach to religious conflict that could, should it be embraced, transform the geo-political landscape.
Andrews opens with a definition of jihad, drawing a distinction between what is known as the greater jihad and the lesser jihad. It is a distinction and a subtlety which is often overlooked in popular media. The greater jihad, he writes, "is the inner struggle by a believer to fulfill his or her religious duties." (1) The lesser jihad, "is the physical struggle against oppressors, including the enemies of Islam." (1) Many folks are aware of the two-fold nature of jihad, but then he reminds readers of the fact that the physical struggle can take violent or non-violent forms. This proves to be crucial as his material unfolds, for Andrews advocates undertaking what he eventually calls "strong-but-gentle nonviolent struggles." (130)
In the first two chapters Andrews sets about the task of reviewing the history of both Christian and Muslim atrocities and acts of violence. It is a rather unsettling overview, intended to remind us that all human beings seem to be quite capable of violence against others. He offers a very well-constructed definition of so-called holy wars, showing from both a Christian and Islamic perspective what it takes for a war to be called "holy".
I found his analysis of what he calls an "open set perspective on religion" and a "closed set perspective" to be especially helpful. He illustrates how any faith tradition can be approached in either fashion.
The remainder of the book is devoted to outlining what he calls the jihad of Jesus (or Isa in Arabic--he makes a major point of the fact that Jesus is considered an extremely important prophet in Islam). he closes out his examination of the issue with a chapter devoted to telling the stories of four individuals, two Christians and two Muslims, who have engaged in the non-violent struggle for justice and peace. They are fascinating stories.
I recommend the book for anyone seeking a more nuanced way to approach to interfaith conversation. There is an extensive bibliography, and copious footnotes. It is a well-researched piece. Perhaps the highest praise I can offer it is to reveal I may be using it as a text for an upcoming course.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.