And slay them wherever you may come upon them, and drive them away from wherever they drove you away… (Qur’an 2: 191)
One of the most common arguments I’ve encountered regarding why Islam is an inherently violent religion is that the Qur’an – the sacred text of Islam – is purportedly full of violent exhortations such as the one above. Numerous commentators responding to my recent blog posts have urged me to read the Qur’an if I’m looking for proof of why Islam is evil.
Well, I appreciate the suggestion, and am in the process of following this advice (after some research I’ve selected Muhammad Asad’s richly annotated English ‘interpretation’ of the Qur’an). However, I do indeed wonder if the Christians who have so vigorously exhorted me to read the Qur’an have taken the time to read our own sacred text – the Bible. It’s not exactly all flowers and fluffy bunnies.
For example, the book of Deuteronomy contains “rules of warfare” similar to the section of the Qur’an quoted above. Here’s the Deuteronomy passage in its entirety (italics added):
When you draw near to a town to fight against it, offer it terms of peace. If it accepts your terms of peace and surrenders to you, then all the people in it shall serve you at forced labor. If it does not submit to you peacefully, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it; and when the Lord your God gives it into your hand, you shall put all its males to the sword. You may, however, take as your booty the women, the children, livestock
and everything else in the town, all its spoil. You may enjoy the spoil of your enemies, which the Lord your God has given you. Thus you shall treat all the towns that are very far from you, which are not towns of the nations here. But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them – the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites – just as the Lord your God has commanded, so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 20: 10-18)
This is not an isolated passage. The entire book of Joshua tells the story of how the Israelites did as God commanded and killed every man, woman, and child in the towns which had been ‘promised’ to them. Passages such as Numbers 32 further emphasize
how God was furious with those Israelites who did not want to cross the Jordan
and fight to win the land promised to them by God.
For those Christians who are now quickly dismissing my point by saying ‘well yes, that’s the Old Testament – the New Testament is different’. Well first I would note that Christianity claims both sections of the Bible as sacred text. Secondly, I would note
that Christ himself emphasizes the sacred nature of the Old Testament (see for example Matthew 5:18). Thirdly, the New Testament also contains violent passages such as this one spoken by Jesus:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.” (Matthew 10:34-36)
The Book of Revelation is also full of violent and vengeful language.
I’m guessing a few of you are feeling a little defensive now – if not downright offended. I bet you’re thinking “But you’re taking these passages out of context! This isn’t the core message of the Bible! This isn’t what we believe or practice!”
Of course not. This is my faith too – and my faith – just like yours – is based on love of God and love of neighbor.
However, what I’ve done is to show you how easy it is to cherry-pick certain passages from the Bible and twist them around to make it seem like our faith is violent and vengeful. That is exactly what Islamophobes do with the Qur’an.
For example – the passage from the Qur’an that is quoted at the beginning of this post is part of a larger passage – one that makes it clear that war should only be waged in self-defense, and should only involve combatants:
And fight in God’s cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression – for, verily, God does not love aggressors. And slay them wherever you may come upon them, and drive them away from wherever they drove you away – for oppression is even worse than killing. And fight not against them near the Inviolable House of Worship unless they fight against you there first; but if they fight against you, slay them: such shall be the recompense of those who deny the truth. But if they desist – behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace. Hence, fight against them until there is no more oppression and all worship is devoted to God alone; but if they desist, then all hostility shall cease, save against those who (willfully) do wrong. Fight during the sacred months if you are attacked; for a violation of sanctity is (subject to the law of) just retribution. Thus if anyone commits aggression against you, attack him just as he has attacked you – but remain conscious of God, and know that God is with those who are conscious of Him.” (2:190-194)
Per Muhammad Asad the last line of this passage is a clear injunction to ‘abstain from all atrocities, including the killing of non-combatants’.
So – this passage emphasizes – ad nauseum- that war is only justified in self-defense, must cease immediately if the other side stops, and should not involve civilians. Comparing that to the ‘rules of war’ from Deuteronomy, this Qur’anic passage is pretty impressive.
While I’ve just started reading the Qur’an, I have also been reading a wonderful book by an Islamic legal scholar and American Muslim woman, Sumbul Ali-Karamali, called The Muslim Next Door. She notes:
Of the approximately 6,236 verses of the Qur’an, only fifty-nine mention fighting or warfare in any context. Of these fifty-nine verses, at least ten contain injunctions not to fight. A few more mention fighting only in passing and in the context of historical stories of past prophets. That leaves only about forty-seven verses – of the 6,236 total verses of the Qur’an – that urge warfare. It seems to me that only a misguided and unsuccessful manual for murder would spend less than 1 percent of its narrative discussing fighting. Far more of its verses (114) urge peace. The over 6,000 remaining verses have nothing to do with war at all.” (p.76)
But what about Muslims today? What do they actually believe? Aren’t they all violent? Didn’t they all support and celebrate the 9/11 attacks? Well, interestingly, Gallup, one of the most respected market research firms in the world, just published results of a poll of Americans Muslims and Americans of other faiths. Their findings?
Muslim Americans are the staunchest opponents of military attacks on civilians, compared with members of other major religious groups Gallup has studied in the United States. Seventy-eight percent of Muslim Americans say military attacks on civilians are never justified.
Muslims also were the most likely to say that it is never justified for an individual or small group to target civilians (89% rejected such attacks), and 92% responded that Muslims do not sympathize with al Qaeda.
It’s worth noting that only 38% of Protestants said that military attacks against
civilians are never justified (see graph below).
So, in summary – it seems to me that those Christians and Jews who claim that all
Muslims are violent because of selected passages in the Qur’an, would do well to re-read the following words of Jesus:
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)