If you’re like me, you avoid inter-faith dialogue gatherings like the plague.
Why? How boring is it to sit on comfortable lounges listening to well-meaning men (and the occasional token woman – we are, after all, taking about patriarchal religion!) talking about what their faith means to them. The only way to stay awake is imagining a voice screaming out: “You’re all a bunch of heathens!” and “Are those Iced Vo-Vos on the table over there? YUM!”
Still, boredom is far better than participants grabbing AK-47’x and blowing each other heads off just because we couldn’t be bothered figuring out what we actually don’t agree on. For centuries, religions ancient and modern have provided the trigger for their adherents to pull triggers at others outside and inside their tent. Words and phrases like “holy war” and “jihad” and “crusade” have given war an even worse name than it already had.
Many readers will be familiar with the narrative of orientalism – the attempt by nasty Western folk to say and write nasty things about poor suffering Muslims. We’ve been warned not to read books about jihad and Muslim history by persons with European names. Yours truly was inundated with such advice when growing up – a time when books about Islam deemed the most reliable were those printed on South Asian rice paper, with English straight out of the East India Company Style Manual and pages often stuck together.
You can imagine how I must have felt a few months ago when I received a Facebook alert promoting a book written by a pastor and entitled “The Jihad of Jesus”. Gosh! Is this some kind of far-Right Christian polemic with an introduction penned by Danny Nalliah and endorsed by the Q Society and Reclaim Australia?
I then looked at who had confirmed their attendance. A young rabbi known for reaching out to Muslims. A Muslim female academic. What was going on? There was only one way to find out.
There were some 40 people seated at the launch at an inner-Sydney bookshop when I arrived. The author was introduced by the Muslim academic. He then stood up to address the crowd. I’d never seen him before, and couldn’t stop my brain exclaiming: “Jesus Christ!”
Which was quite appropriate because Dave Andrews really does look like the stereotypical Jesus Christ. He sports a very beard so Sunna-ish that he may as well have just arrived after spending 40 days with the tabligh jamaah. Dave’s hair flowed down to his shoulders, the kind of hair you see on Jesus pictures and read about in shama’il literature featuring physical descriptions of the Prophet Muhammad (s).
Dave’s message was quite straight forward. Both Muslims and Christians must understand that “you cannot rightly pursue jihad without Jesus, or rightly pursue Jesus without jihad”. We may see this as almost heresy, but that’s because we neither understand jihad nor Jesus.
Dave also argues that the essence of jihad is nonviolent struggle. Jesus was a mujahid, a “radical messianic activist” as Reza Aslan claims. ISIS claim also to be waging jihad, though theirs is of an extremely violent variety.
This book will challenge both Christian and Muslim readers. It isn’t a polemic nor is it bland Islamophilia. Dave Andrews may not provide you with stuff to agree with. But he will certainly provide stuff to think long and hard about.
Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer and an award-winning writer and reviewer. His first book, “Once Were Radicals: My Years As A Teenage Islamofascist”, was published in 2009.