From what we know of Bastille Day terrorist Mohamed Bouhlel (at the time of writing), he did not seem to fit the mould of the typical Islamic jihadist.
He was not a devout man. He didn't go to the mosque, he didn't fast or pray publicly.
In fact, according to some of his relatives, he seemed to flout all the rules of Islam—being more interested in smoking, drinking, and chasing women.
Despite all these things however, it seems that Bouhlel was willing to pay the ultimate price on the jihad.
Bouhlel's attack followed the pattern prescribed by ISIS, and indeed ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, with early reports suggesting that he was radicalised very quickly.
These facts beg the obvious question: why would a man so seemingly uninterested in his Islam, sacrifice his life (and the lives of so many innocents) on the altar of jihad?
A religion of deeds
As a religion, Islam is defined in practice by the pursuit of good deeds. What constitutes a good deed is defined in the Quran and the Hadith—the fundamentals of which are described in the 'Five pillars of Islam.'
These include the declaration of faith, prayers, alms-giving, fasting, and the pilgrimage to Mecca.
For a Muslim, salvation is attainable by the believer by performing good deeds. Every man is solely responsible for his own salvation, for "no bearer of burdens shall bear the burden of another" (Sura 53:38). Whether a Muslim attains paradise, depends on his good deeds outweighing his bad deeds come the day of judgement. Even Muhammad himself, who is considered the very model of a good Muslim, could not be said to be fully secure of his salvation before he died.
For a man like Mohamed Bouhlel, who it seems had spent most of his life ignoring the requirements of his religion, living a life where good deeds outweigh the bad could seem like a huge mountain to climb.
Where does jihad fit in?
The power of jihad as a motivating factor for a man like Bouhlel should not be underestimated.
In popular culture, the idea of the jihadi dying for the sake of the 72 virgins he will receive in the afterlife is a common one. While undoubtedly some are motivated by this vision, I think many jihadis are more driven by fear of their own sinfulness.
Amongst good deeds that Muslims can do, jihad is unique. Its special characteristics are described in the hadith of Sahih al-Bukhari.
'A man came to Allah's Messenger and said, "Instruct me as to such a deed as equals jihad (in reward)." He replied, "I do not find such a deed."' (Sahih al-Bukhari: vol. 4, Book 52, Hadith 44)
As well as being a deed of huge value, it is also unique in that it guarantees admittance for a mujahid (Islamic fighter) to paradise. For a person deeply aware of their own religious shortcomings, taking a hadith like this at face value changes everything.
No matter what they had done before, the jihad offers a Muslim a chance for redemption. By sacrificing their life for the sake of the jihad, a bad Muslim can not only restore their status within the umma, but also remove any uncertainties they had about their own salvation.
The need for grace
Often we paint jihadis as monsters and what Mohamed Bouhlel did on Bastille Day certainly was a monstrous act.
But they are still people, and as uncomfortable as it may sound, in their minds they are doing what they think is right and moral.
The problem is not with their zeal, or the recognition that they are sinful people who need to struggle to do the right thing.
Rather, it is where they have placed their faith.
As Christians, we too believe that sacrifice is necessary for salvation—but one of a different kind. Jesus' sacrifice on the cross achieved all the things that the jihadi's sacrifice cannot.
Instead of men sacrificing themselves for God, God sacrificed himself for the sake of mankind.
Instead of giving up his life to destroy his enemies, Jesus gave up his life to save them.
Instead of man reaching righteousness through their good works, Jesus did it for them, offering his own perfect righteousness as a free gift to all who ask for it.
Tim Newman lives in Nelson, New Zealand. He holds an MA in History from Canterbury University in Christchurch. Tim is an award winning Christian Today writer and is a career journalist. Tim has given permission for his award winning history articles to be republished.
Tim Newman's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/tim-newman.html