Chapter 4 of No God but God discusses the meaning of jihad and describes how Muhammad gained power in the region and was later welcomed into Mecca, the city he previously fled. This transition occurred due to a few things: fighting with the powerful Quraysh tribe which ruled Mecca, declaring Yathrib (also known as Medina) as a sanctuary city (thus making it a site for pilgrimages and opening it up to commerce and diverting funds from Mecca) and raiding caravans in order to acquire wealth. To my surprise author Reza Aslan matter-of-factly states that this raiding of caravans was not considered stealing, but acceptable practice and the way smaller clans benefited from the wealth of larger ones. Though annoying to those raided, it was basically par for the course while traveling through the desert. The caravan raids not only gave the Ummah more property and wealth, it gave caravan drivers more of an incentive to travel to Medina instead of further along the unprotected desert to Mecca (more miles to travel equaled more opportunities for raiders to steal.)
The author discusses the Battles of Badr, Uhud and The Trench and Muhammad's acceptance of the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah and how each of these events contributed to the decline of the powerful Quraysh and the rise of Muhammad. Although Muhammad's followers didn't understand why he accepted the unfavorable conditions of the treaty, according to Aslan this "decision to to accept the cease-fire and return the following year turned out to be the most decisive moment in the battle between Mecca and Medina. For when ordinary Meccans saw the respect and devotion with which their supposed enemy and his band of 'religious zealots' entered their city and circled the Ka'ba, there seemed little incentive to continue supporting the war." (pg. 106) Indeed a year later when Muhammad returned to Mecca with ten thousand men behind him, "the city's inhabitants welcomed him with open arms."
Perhaps there is a lesson in this about respect going a long way in changing our enemies' minds? Like maybe overcoming evil with good really works! That's what crossed my mind anyway.
I really enjoyed Reza Aslan's thoughts on jihad and what it meant in early Islam. While he admits that radicals have abused it to justify indiscriminate killing of women, children, noncombatants and so forth, he shared the way jihad was understood in the beginning and by the majority of Muslims today. First, the greater jihad - which does not mean 'holy war' [a Crusader term], but 'to strive, struggle' - is "the struggle of the soul to overcome the sinful obstacles that keep a person from God." (pg. 81) I've heard people liken it to our Christian fight of faith - a spiritual battle which Paul writes about in Ephesians 6:10-17 when he reminds us to put on the whole armor of God (prayer, faith, truth, the Word of God) so we can resist the devil's schemes.
There is a lesser jihad in Islam which Aslan says "is best defined as a primitive 'just war theory'" where Muslims were allowed to fight in defensive battles with very strict rules: no killing of noncombatants, no raping, no torture of prisoners, no destruction of houses of worship or medical institutions and so forth. Aslan said that people who claim to kill in the name of Islam yet blatantly break these Islamic rules of war show proof that they are not followers of Islam. They are followers of their own rules! I think we can agree that all religions have people who do this. Like people who say they are followers of Jesus yet hate and kill and break every single teaching he ever gave.
Alsan told how Muhammad thought his revelation was just a continuation of the ones God gave to the Jews and Christians. That, in essence, we were all one big ummah and his message was just the one meant for (then) current times. Although as the "seal of the prophets" or last of them, his message would be for everyone born for the rest of time on earth.
Aslan notes that Muslims then read the Torah and also that Muhammad considered Orthodox Trinitarians to not be "People of the Book." We are unbelievers since we associate partners with God (which is the greatest sin in Islam.)
I really enjoyed the explanation of Aslan about every religion being a religion of the sword at the time that Muhammad came on the scene. He said with precious few exceptions, people's religion was their identities, even their citizenship! (see pg. 80) That part was quite interesting to me and made me think how glad I am to stress relationship with God over religion. I do believe religion is man-made, but relationship is God made and that's why relationship is far and away superior! Man is only capable of making chaos of the world. Look at history. Look at the world today! Westerners gripe about countries that have inferior human rights and who mistreat their people and oppress them. Yet we have a whole slew of evils that have made our countries miserable. So much discord. So much fighting and shouting and downright hatred! You can almost feel it in the air sometimes.
Is this the result of people who love God and have the peace of God ruling their hearts and lives? I think not.
Jesus stated, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God." (Matthew 5:9)
If you are not a peacemaker, are you in relationship with God?