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Jihad vs. Old Testament Warfare - An Excerpt from Answering Jihad

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andwering jihadZondervan just released Answering Jihad by New York Times bestselling author Nabeel Qureshi. In this book, Qureshi takes a balanced look at questions about Jihad, such as What is it? and How should we respond? As a former Muslim who found Jesus, he takes the reader on a journey to discover what the Bible says about this confusing topic.

Today's excerpt compares Jihad and Old Testament warfare. The author reminds us how important it is to remember context and to measure each concept by its own merits. Join us as we read:



NO MATTER THE CONTEXT in which I discuss jihad, one question invariably arises: How can one condemn jihad in light of the violence in the Old Testament? It is one of the most common questions I have encountered since jihad was cast into the public limelight. In fact, I had to address this question the morning I wrote this chapter, during a question and answer session in Atlanta.

I do not wish to argue in this chapter that the God of the Hebrew Bible is better than the God of the Quran, even though I am a Christian and will not be able to keep this chapter totally free of bias. Nor will I seek to defend the morality of the violence in the Old Testament per se; others have cultivated that task far more thoroughly and accurately than I could here. For example, consider the 2014 book by Paul Copan and Matt Flannagan, Did God Really Command Genocide?

In this chapter I simply hope to compare jihad, the Islamic doctrine of warfare, to incidents of Jewish warfare in the Old Testament. The two religious systems conceive of warfare differently, and only after we have understood the details can we analyze the morality and ethics of either.


To begin, we must make sure we are comparing apples to apples. The Quran is a very different type of book than the Bible, and it is easy to confuse categories when comparing the two. The Quran consists almost entirely of Allah’s words in direct address (with a few notable exceptions, such as the words of worshipers in surah 1). The Bible, on the other hand, contains many genres, including poetry, apocalyptic literature, wisdom literature, prophecy, and history.

This final genre means that the Bible recounts many events not endorsed by God, but simply recorded in God’s Word. Such events should not be placed in the same category as battles that God himself commanded. The latter category is the one of interest for our purposes.

For example, I have seen many polemical discussions focus on Genesis 34. In this account, Jacob’s daughter is raped by a Canaanite, and her brothers seek revenge by lying to the men of the Canaanite city and then killing all the males, looting corpses and houses, seizing flocks and herds, and taking women and children captive. Yet Yahweh never sanctioned this. It is inappropriate to consider this an attack that God had commanded. There are other attacks that Yahweh did endorse, such as the ones commanded in Deuteronomy 20:16–18, but we ought to keep these distinctions clear.


I have a dear friend who once said, “If you want to follow the biblical model of attacking a land, the first thing you have to do is wait 400 years.” According to Genesis 15:13–16, Yahweh said to Abraham, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own. . . .[I]n the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” Warfare in the Old Testament was designed to purge the Promised Land of the Canaanites (a group of whom are the Amorites), and this was God’s promise to Abraham. That promise was fulfilled 400 years later, affording the Amorites many generations to repent and change their ways before the Hebrews finally attacked.

This is different from jihad in the Quran. Although at times there were buffer periods of a few months before Muslims would attack (9:2), that was not always the case, as with the Muslims’ attack on caravans. Additionally, the warfare the Quran commands is not due to any evil action, but rather due to the beliefs of non-Muslims, such as the Christian belief that Jesus is the Son of God (9:29–30).


Another important matter to consider is that warfare in the Old Testament is not about subjugating inferior peoples. Yahweh does not promise the Jews that they are the best of people and that their enemies are less than they are. He makes this quite clear in Deuteronomy 9:4-6.

In other words, the Hebrews were not inherently better than the Canaanites; they were a stubborn and stiff-necked people. Yahweh was not affirming the superiority of the Hebrews by giving them victory so much as judging the sins of the Canaanites.

The Quran, by contrast, envisions Muslims as the best people: “You are the best of all people, evolved for mankind” (3:110). It teaches that Jews and Christians who do not convert to Islam are the worst of all creation: “Those who do not believe [in Islam] from among the Jews and Christians and the idolators will go to hell. They are the worst of creatures” (98:6; see 98:1–5 for context). This is why the Quran in 9:33 commands Muslims to fight Jews and Christians, so that Allah may cause Islam “to prevail over all religions.”

I must emphasize that I am not cobbling together verses of the Quran to make a point here, but rather am highlighting those verses that were used by classical Muslims jurists and theologians to explain the foundational teachings of Islam. This view of jihad reigned from the tenth until the nineteenth centuries, which leads to the final, most important matter for our consideration…


Join Qureshi as he answers questions from the perspective of a former Muslim who is deeply concerned for both his Muslim family and his American homeland.  Order Answering Jihad, which is available now from Zondervan Academic.

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