Last month I had intended to publish my review of this book, and sadly got delayed. Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to mull over Jesus, the Fake Jihadis and Evangelical Christians for sometime and now I’m able to give my thoughts about it. The title is certainly a mouthful, and quite an unusual combination of terms. The question that immediately stands out is what does Jesus have to do with Fake Jihadis and Evangelical Christians? I surmised from the title alone that this work was going to pique my interest and it surely has. At best, I can describe this work as a treatise on Christians and their demonizing of Islam. At its worst, I can describe it as a title that touches on a variety of topics ranging from Jihad, Christian scholarship, Christian claims about Islam to Christian polemical arguments.
The book’s focus is responding to two evangelical Christians’ comments about Islam on a recent radio programme highlighting the publication of their book about terrorism and Islam, namely Craig Evans’ and Jeremiah Johnston’s Jesus and the Jihadis: Confronting the Rage of ISIS: The Theology Driving the Ideology. Comprising of nine (9) main chapters, the title tackles a variety of topics in a very accessible manner. There are no prerequisites needed to understand the topics that the book engages with and that certainly is welcomed. This allows for a reader of any level to simply pick up the book and understand the messages it conveys. There is a notable lack of academic pretentiousness, there is no use of overcomplicated technical terms that usually bore or confuse the reader. While the author certainly engages with technical topics, his tone and style is presented matter-of-factly.
There is an overwhelming sense of regret on behalf of the author, as he repeatedly mourns his loss of respect for noted Christian academic, Dr. Craig Evans. Frequently mentioned throughout the book, the author espouses a once great respect for the Historical Jesus Specialist while declaring his disappointment with Dr. Evans’ inconsistent treatment of Islam in light of his notable academic achievements:
It is disappointing to see a noted scholar behaving in an unscholarly manner, trading scholarship for fairly low-level polemics.
This is a recurring theme throughout the book. Time and again, the author, Muhammad Asad, asks a very simple question. Why does Evans seem to disregard his scholarly training when he writes or speaks about Islam? It’s almost as if he threw caution to the wind and decidedly chose to engage with Islam as a polemicist, not as a scholar. Any modicum of scholastic methodology, analysis and research is simply absent from the asinine statements as spewed by Evans. Perhaps what is worse, is that Evans seems to have accepted the claims made by the co-author, without having fact checked or researched his statements. The author, Muhammad Asad deals with these statements in an in-depth manner that is certainly well appreciated.
By quoting and including timestamps of the radio progamme, the author responds claim by claim in an orderly and respectful fashion. What surprised me the most is the number of scholastic citations referenced in the book. There is not a single page that lacks at least one citation or quotation. I only noticed this after spending some time re-reading select chapters, most notably the last two. Having been surrounded by academic material for sometime, I was certainly pleased to view the title as a reference work. The reader is provided with dozens upon dozens of citations, from a wide array of scholastic works that would keep a keen reader busy for at least a decade of study. This is the point when I recognized the immense value of this title, and it dawned upon me then, that the author and Evans seemed to have switched roles. A relatively unknown author uses post-graduate level scholastic methodology, research and analysis, while Dr. Evans seems to have utilized no academic guidelines at all. The student, had become the master.
In trying to answer the question of what does Jesus have to do with Fake Jihadis and Evangelical Christians, the answer is quite straightforward. The author attempts to demonstrate the inanity of Evans’ and Johnston’s claims that true Islam is embodied by ISIS. In further qualification of his points, he compares Christian teachings, and Christianity’s handling of Jews and Christian eschatology. He notes that ISIS’ brand of theological extremism is not only mirrored in Christian eschatology, but has been and continues to form core beliefs of Christianity. Many readers would find Martin Luther’s comments about Jews to not only be wholly anti-Semitic, but clearly criminal. There is no doubt that had Martin Luther been writing and uttering such statements today, he’d be labelled a racist and charged for hate speech. Yet, despite Luther’s teachings and their influence on modern Christianity, Evans and Johnston turn a blind eye and through what can only be described as cognitive dissonance, demonize Islam for significantly more civil and accommodating rhetoric in that regard.
The final chapter of the book rebuts the Orientalist claim of Islam’s borrowing from ancient traditional Judaeo-Christian and Gnostic-Christian sources for use in the Qur’an. I spent some time reading and re-reading this chapter as the author does not deal with each claim in the same manner. It can clearly be seen that the author examined each claim pensively with almost each claim being rebuffed under differing reasons, while using a consistent and cohesive methodology. He simply does not blanket all claims of borrowing as false. Rather, the author examines the claims in light of literary dependency, anachronisms, exegesis and hermeneutics. This is perhaps where his skill shines, he takes a serious and sometimes difficult topic and with what can be described as a fluent display of intellectual achievement, completely rebuts these insular claims en toto.
In roughly 120 pages, the author manages to combine key elements from Shaykh Muhammad al Yaqoubi’s Refuting ISIS, and Imam Zia Sheikh’s Islam: Silencing the Critics, with that of EP Sanders’ The Historical Figure of Jesus. The question then needs to be asked, should one borrow, purchase or discard this book? For me, although it’s only available on Amazon Kindle (US, UK), if I had the opportunity to own a hardcover edition of the work, I’d certainly purchase it. I consider it necessary reading, as more and more evangelical Christians attempt to use the Middle East’s political troubles to malign the immensely rich and diverse traditions of Islam; this work is perhaps one that would enable Muslims to stem the tide against the misuse and abuse of Islamic teachings by two opposing groups, that of radical Christians and extremist Muslims, who in the end, seem to share more in common regarding their teachings than one would have assumed.
and God knows best.