I wrote this in response to a document posted on a facebook site titled “Is Islam a Religion of Peace? Twice I tried to post this response and both times it did not take. Since I spent a considerable amount of time on this and did not wish it to go to waste, I am turning it into a blog and then posting a link to is on this facebook site as a response.
If you read this and are not a member of that facebook site, some of the references may be a bit unclear, however I do believe the overall meaning and information provided will not be.
It would have better and more accurate to ask –“Can Islam be a religion of peace?” as well as “Can Islam be a religion or violence?” The answer to both questions is yes. The same is true with Christianity and with Judaism.
By the way, while some of your quotes are accurate, others are not in that they do not take into account the context which provides the needed information about what is being talked about nor the surrounding verses. The Qur’an is a work that accumulated over time and dealt with specific events and situations during its early history. Because of that some of its words are specific, some are more general.
Just to take one of many possible examples of the misquotes from this document:
Muslims are to “arrest them, besiege them and lie in ambush everywhere” (Sura 9:5)
The context: These verses were “revealed” during a war in which two Arab tribes who had made an agreement with Mohammad and his followers broke that agreement and helped the enemy. In other words, the “infidels” and “idolaters” being spoken of here are a specific reference to those two tribes and not a general reference to all such.
The missing verse: this claim totally ignores Surah 9:4 which states:
“Except those of the idolaters with whom you made an agreement, then they have not failed you in anything and have not backed up anyone against you; so fulfill their agreement to the end of their term. Surely Allah loves those who keep their duty. “
Looking at the commentary for these verses, from the Maulana Muhammad Ali translation and commentary.
4a. Only two tribes, the Bans Oamrah, and the Bans Kananah, are related to have
adhered to their treaties. The exception given here makes it clear that the Muslims were
not fighting with the idolaters on account of their religion, but on account of their having
been untrue to their engagements.
5a. The clear exception of the last verse shows that by the idolaters here are meant,
not all idolaters or polytheists wherever they may be found in the world, not even all
idolaters of Arabia, but only those idolatrous tribes of Arabia assembled at the pilgrimage who had first made agreements with the Muslims and then violated them.
5b. The exception here has given rise to much misconception. It is thought that it
offers to the disbelievers the alternative of the sword or the Qur’an. Nothing is farther
from the truth. The injunction contained in the first part of the verse establishes the fact
that the whole verse relates to certain idolatrous Arab tribes who had broken their
engagements with the Muslims, and who had now been apprised of a similar repudiation by the Muslims. The order to kill them and to make them prisoners and to besiege them and ambush them amounts clearly to an order to fight against them, as it is in war only that all these things are made lawful. They had so often broken their word that they could no more be trusted. Yet, if they joined the brotherhood of Islam, and there was an absolute change in their condition, the punishment which they otherwise deserved could be remitted. It was a case of forgiving a guilty people who had repented. It should also be noted that a mere confession of the faith is not required; what is required is an absolute change, so that the old crimes are all abandoned. Therefore, along with the confession of the faith, it is required that they should keep up prayer and pay the poorrate. The subject is further clarified in the next verse and the following section.
6a. This verse leaves no doubt that the Prophet was never ordered to kill anyone on
account of his religion. “You shall give him a safe conduct that he may return home
again securely in case he shall not think fit to embrace Muhammadanism” (Sale).
In other words if they break their word to you then you are not obliged to honor your word to them. If they keep true to their word then you have to keep true to yours. How is that different than what we do? Did we keep to any treaties we made with Japan in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor during WW 2?
In other words – this verse does not tell Muslims to kill unbelievers everywhere.
By the way, a little common sense should have made this fairly obvious. Until recent times Jews and non-conformists were, on average, safer living in Islamic countries than they were in Christian ones. Were these to be the true interpretation of those verses then Islamic countries should have NO one who is not Muslim and all unbelievers should be dead.
Take a look at the very early conquests of Muslims. They did not convert and they did not kill unbelievers. Given this, then either Muslims have not been following the Qur’an or those who advocate this interpretation are wrong.
To give a little help here – this interpretation that Muslims are required to kill unbelievers is totally bogus, wrong, misguided, incorrect, and not true.
Consider this from the book “Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think” by John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed. This book is the result of a Gallup poll of Muslims around the world. While overall this was well done, there are a few flaws in that it occasionally does not dig deep enough on what is meant by certain words and responses. However, I thought this bit of interest in our current discussion.
By using responses to the questions relating to violence and Islam they identified a group of Muslims who could either become terrorists or would support terrorism and violence. They then asked a follow up question to both those most likely to support violence and those least likely to – why?
Those who supported violence most often cited political, social, economic, and justice reasons for supporting violence. Those who opposed violence most often cited their religious beliefs and cited verses from the Qur’an to support those beliefs.
You might also look over this Gallup Poll site in regards to the above:
You might look over this blog of mine and consider the actions of these Muslims and then tell me that they believe unbelievers and infidels should be killed.
In addition to the misquotes, several of your references are also incorrect. For example, you state:
“ A Muslim can kill any person he wishes if it be a “just cause” (Sura 6:152)”
Sura 6:152 actually says:
“And come not near to the orphan’s property, except to improve it, until he attain the age of full strength; give measure and weight with full justice; – no burden do We place on any soul, but that which it can bear;-whenever you speak, speak justly even if a near relative is concerned; and fulfil the Covenant of Allah: thus He commands you, that you may remember.”
Nothing there about killing any person for a just cause. Several of your citations are similarly incorrect.
Given the misquotes and the inaccurate citations i would say that your source for this document is not concerned much about accuracy.
I would strongly urge you to read a bit more about Islam and the Qur’an. What you are getting is a one sided view with selective quotes that leave out context – both of the history of when the verse was written and also the verses around that verse. Using the same tactic I can make just about any religious text seem to be a radical call for exterminating all who do not believe the same. Heck, I can even cobble something together from the three Humanist Manifestos that make them seem to be promoting violence and intolerance.
Bottom line is that Islam, like Christianity, has the makings within itself to be either a religion of peace or a religion of violence. Some Muslims have made it a religion of peace. Others have made it a religion of violence. Most though have made it a mix of the two, with, I believe, a leaning towards the peace side.
Islam is not going to go away, anymore than Christianity is. So the real question facing us is do we help those Muslims who live their religion as one of peace and tolerance or do we help those Muslims who chose violence?
Yes, speak out strongly, condemn, and damn those Muslims who turn Islam into a religion of violence, intolerance, and hatred. You will find many other Muslims – moderates, liberals, progressives – joining you in this.
But this confusion of the two, this treatment of Islam as if the radicals and murderers are the only correct and true way to read the Qur’an; as if there were no other interpretation of way for Muslims to live only helps the radicals and terrorists and will cause those who champion a more peaceful Islam and are working to make it so to fail. If they fail then instead of a minority of Islamic terrorists we would have about two billion Islamic terrorists. So, it is not just a matter of being fair, being accurate, being truthful – but also one of a practical nature in how best to defeat the terrorists.
I would also strongly urge those who disagree it take the time to read some more about Islam, and not just from the anti-Islam sites.
I know that you will find Muslims who proclaim that this violent and intolerant interpretation is the correct one – but you will also find many other Muslims who disagree with such an interpretation. Indeed many Imams and Islamic groups have put out statements saying just that.
Given all of what I have said above and after doing your own research in places you might not normally look, take a moment to consider why you take the word of radical, violent, and intolerant Muslims that their reading of the Qur’an is the only correct one over that of the more numerous moderate, liberal, and progressive Muslims who strongly disagree.
Is it because you have looked at all the evidence and objectively considered it, or is it because it fits your biases and prejudices (which we all have) against religion in general and Islam in particular?
The truth lies in looking at all the views and evidence and not just that which conforms to your own beliefs.
B y the way, I will probably not be responding to any of those who respond back to this. I just do not have the time for now. I would suggest that you spend some time reading about Islam from more unbiased sources and looking at both sides instead of those whose views are limited by their biases and prejudices. Islam is no more inherently violent than Christianity.
For history I would suggest both the Oxford’s history of Islam and the Cambridge history of Islam. I would also suggest “The Arabs: A History” by Eugene Rogan which provides a history of the Middle East from the beginnings of the Ottoman Empire until today. While not focused exclusively on Islam it does provide a good historical context that helps explain why the Middle East has fostered such violence and backwardness today.
For an example of some of the modern trends within Islam you might try “Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith, and Jurisprudence” by Kecia Ali. It provides an honest look by a Muslim woman and scholar (Professor of Religion at Boston University) on how the Qur’an and Islamic traditions are being looked at and re-evaluated in light of modern thinking and challenges and does so without downplaying the problems involved.
For something on Muhammad, I just finished reading “The Cambridge Companion to Muhammad” and found it to be a good read.
To get a feel for the history of the on –going conflicts between the fundamentalists in Islam and the modernists you might try “Modernist and Fundamentalist Debates in Islam: A Reader” edited by Mansoor Moaddel and Kamran Talattof. This book provides a collection of essays by both modernists and fundamentalists on different issues within Islam. The essays go back to the 19th century.
Let me finish by saying that not only are much of the Qur’an in this document being misquoted, as I showed above, but it is often selectively quoted only referencing those bits that support and ignoring those that contradict a position. Given this failure I thought I would end this with some quotes from the Qur’an that do not get much play in the anti-Islamic sites.
Surah 3 verse 104
“Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong. They are the ones to attain felicity
Surah 41 verse 34
“Nor can goodness and evil be equal. Repel (evil) with what is better: Then he between whom was hatred become as it were your friend and intimate”
Surah 16 verse 126-128
126 And if you must punish, let your punishment be proportionate to the wrong that has been done to you. but if you show patience, that is indeed the best for those who are patient.
127 And do be patient, for patience is but with the help from God, nor grieve over them and distress not yourself because of their plots
128 For God is with those who restrain themselves and those who do good.