NEW YORK — The world woke up again to another deadly attack from the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant last Tuesday and mourned.
In three coordinated nail bombings in Belgium claimed by the Islamic militant group, two at Brussels Airport in Zaventem, and one at Maalbeek metro station in Brussels, 35 people were killed and at least 270 more were injured.
The attacks quickly sparked a fresh round of debates on Islam and how to treat its adherents.
Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump, who last year called for a temporary ban on Muslims after similar terrorist attacks in Paris where 130 people were killed, called for tougher border security. He warned that Brussels was "peanuts" compared to what could happen in the U.S. "We have to be careful — much tougher than we've been" on people coming into the U.S. "at will," he said.
Trump's rival Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas subsequently declared radical Islam has been waging a war against the West and President Barack Obama has refused to acknowledge it. "They are just the latest in a string of coordinated attacks by radical Islamic terrorists perpetrated [by] those who are waging war against all who do not accept their extreme strain of Islam," Cruz said in a statement. "Radical Islam is at war with us. For over seven years we have had a president who refuses to acknowledge this reality."
But what is the best way to respond to radical Islam and stem its spread?
A day earlier, across a table at The Muse Hotel in midtown New York City, New York Times bestselling author Nabeel Qureshi discussed a response he details in his new book released earlier this month titled, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward. And a part of his message includes advice to Christians that they can still love Muslims even if some adherents of Islam are trying to wipe them off the planet.
He decided to write the book, he said, to help the average American gain some insight into both Islam and Muslims to facilitate better communication and understanding of both subjects. Right now, he says, there is need for "clarity."
"It's for the average person. It's the person who's heard about Islam in the media who's heard these battles going on between more conservative politicians saying we should keep all Muslims out of the country until we figure something out versus those who say this has nothing to do with Islam. We are hearing all of this. There is a lot of confusion, there is a lot of polarity and not much clarity. No one's actually teasing out the complexities here," said Qureshi, who is a global speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.
"People are so confused right now and there is so little constructive conversation going on that even just saying 'look, see people as people and understand the religion and what it is inherently,' even just saying that, though it seems like a basic step, it would require a herculean effort to accomplish because there is so much division and no one is talking about this," said Qureshi.
"Policy experts, in order to do the right thing, in order to go in the right direction, they have to know what the problem is. They don't know what the problem is because they are not looking at the whole picture," he explained.
And the complete picture, he says, is very complex.
Qureshi was raised as a devout Muslim in the U.S. and grew up studying Islamic apologetics with his family and engaging Christians in religious discussions. He eventually became an apostate after being disabused of the notion that Islam is a religion of peace.
"After years of investigation, I had to face the reality. There is a great deal of violence in Islam, even in the very foundations of the faith, and it is not all defensive. Quite to the contrary, if the traditions about the prophet of Islam are in any way reliable, then Islam glorifies violent jihad arguably more than any other action a Muslim can take," he writes in his book.
"This conclusion led me to a three-pronged fork in the road. Either I could become an apostate and leave Islam, grow apathetic and ignore the prophet, or become 'radicalized' and obey him. The alternative of simply disregarding Muhammad's teachings and continuing as a devout Muslim was not an option in my mind, nor is it for most Muslims, since to be Muslim is to submit to Allah and to follow Muhammad. Apostasy, apathy, or radicalization; those were my choices," he wrote.
And this background is something that even moderate Muslims and apologists who tend to argue that Islam is a religion of peace fail to acknowledge, he explained.
"On the one side you have people who are completely ignoring the history of Islam and what it might have to do with violent Jihadists. On the other side of the picture people are looking at the theology and ignoring the complexities of the religious traditions such that Islam can be manifested as a peaceful practice but only in circumstances where people move beyond the foundational practices," said Qureshi.
Islam's foundational texts and the life of Muhammad depicted in them, he says, makes it difficult to support the narrative that Islam is a religion of peace. The only way to maintain that narrative would be to renounce those parts of the texts.
"The Quran and the life of Muhammad are the issue. If you are able to formulate an Islam that departs from those canonical texts then you get somewhere internally," he said.
Since "Islam has always resisted that kind of a change," he doesn't see it happening. Starting a conversation about the complete contents of the canonical texts of Islam, he says, is a good place to start a discussion about solutions and Answering Jihad highlights that.
"But that's where we need to start looking. We can't just relegate all Muslims to violence because Islam in its core texts is violent. That's what some people are missing on the one side and on the other side people are just closing their eyes to the reality of the texts. We can't do either of those is what I'm saying. Look at all of it together. And then we can formulate a response," he explained.
As the canonical texts of Islam become more readily available on the Internet, the "idea of a moderate Muslim" will also become increasingly difficult to maintain, he adds.
"I think the idea of a moderate Muslim is becoming less and less a reality because as moderate Muslims become exposed to the texts of the Quran of Elijah Muhammad, they are being exposed to that more and more because of the Internet. As they are being exposed to that they are ending up being forced down one of three paths like I said in the book. Apathy, apostasy or radicalization."
"When you are a moderate Muslim, you just think, 'OK, Islam is peaceful and I practice my religion and that's that. But that's only because you haven't actually read the texts of the Quran and the Hadith. You haven't actually seen what Muhammad has said. Now you might be following the tradition in your mosque or you might be following your elders who taught you, but you haven't read the texts. And that's my point," Qureshi emphasizes.
"It's the increased accessibility to texts that is moving people away from the moderate Muslim position into apostasy, apathy and radicalization. In my case it was apostasy because there was no way I could follow Muhammad and all that violence, but I still believed God existed."
Due to his strong faith in God, Qureshi was able to make the leap into Christianity because it "made sense" to him.
"But for those who don't necessarily have such a strong tie to God, they see the violence in Islam and they become nominal, apathetic. Or those who do have a strong connection to God and they see the radicalization, they become radical likewise," he explains. "And that's why I think nominal Islam is going to increase from here on out and each of those three paths you're going to see an increase of apostasy, apathy and radicalization."
Qureshi also believes that a clearer distinction needs to be made between Islam and Muslims to facilitate understanding.
"I think the best thing that we can do at this point in time is to distinguish between Muslims and Islam. We haven't made that distinction in public media yet. And that's why you cannot criticize Islam because people see that as criticism of Muslims. The conversation gets shut down because of the accusations of Islamophobia," he notes.
To illustrate that point, Qureshi pointed to a recent incident at the University of Toronto in Canada where one of his scheduled speaking engagements was cancelled over concerns of Islamophobia.
"I was supposed to have a talk at the university on teaching people how to love their neighbor while understanding Islam as a foundation. They shut down the event two days out. They said 'no this is Islamophobic. You're gonna create anger and hatred …"
"So we can't even address the issue because it is so politically charged right now. And the reason why it's so charged is that people are conflating Islam with Muslim. I wasn't gonna say anything negative about Muslims at all. That would be hateful. I was gonna say something about this system to which they adhere. It is not hateful. It's scholarly and critical but since we conflate it these conversations get shut down," Qureshi explained.
"That's step number one for the politicians — is to start thinking and using terminology more clearly so we can start discussing these issues. We can't even get off the ground discussing these issues for that reason," he adds.
Christians too, he argues, need to show more love.
"My suggestion to Christians is you can go a step further than that. Even if you have people who are trying to kill you, you can love them, you can self-sacrificially embrace them. The reason why that is a response is because it will proactively deter radicalization."
"If you look at this guy (Syed Rizwan Farook) in San Bernardino … he had no friends at his work place. That's why he shot everyone," Qureshi asserts.
"I'm thinking if there were a Christian there. Even though he was a radical Muslim, had proclivities to kill people, if you had still as a Christian say that 'I'm going to self-sacrificially love this guy even if it kills me.' I think there is a good chance he might have changed his mind."
"So Christians have the ability to go that extra step further at the risk of their own lives to preclude radicalization on the front end. And that's the main issue here isn't it? Because we are acting so reactively. Waiting for things to go wrong and then we are saying how do we fix it? I think the Christian message is the only one out of these options to proactively stop it from happening. But again, we can't talk about these things because the conversations shut down. You cannot supplant radical ideology with a secular vacuum."