In my article I propose that, “when everyday Muslims investigate the Quran and hadith (or sayings of the Muhammad) for themselves, bypassing centuries of tradition and their imams’ interpretations, they are confronted with the reality of violent jihad in the very foundations of their faith.” Nonetheless, I suggest that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and innocent and should be received with friendship and love.

That is a very short digest of my recent book, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward. In the opening chapter of that book, I describe why it took me years to come to this conclusion: I had always been taught Islam was a religion of peace and that Muhammad was a kind, peaceful man, in fact the most perfect who ever lived. It took years of studying the sources to move away from the interpretations that the imams in my denomination had taught me. Incidentally, those are the same imams who taught all three of the respondents above, as I grew up in the same sect of Islam that they are a part of. How is it that people can come to such differing conclusions about the person of Muhammad?

The answer has to do with the incredible number of traditions of Muhammad’s life. Although the Quran only mentions Muhammad by name four times, the body of literature known as hadith contain hundreds of thousands of accounts and anecdotes. These are not full narratives of Muhammad’s life, but discrete stories of specific events or sayings. Islamic tradition does also record narrative biographies of the life of Muhammad, and those are called sirah, but they hold a lesser place in the eyes of most Muslims.

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