Response to TheReligionOfPeace

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Originally Published in Patheos

Someone recently emailed asking if I could explain certain teachings of Islam. I googled what he wrote and found that he had entirely copy pasted his objections from the following website: http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/pages/quran/violence.aspx. Obviously basing your understanding of Islam on an anti-Islamic website is not an academically honest way to approach any subject, but he seemed confident that this was an accurate representation of what Islam teaches. Unfortunately his was not an isolated case. Most people who are anti-Islamic, in my experience, copy and paste the same objections from the same websites. The page he relied on claims that “the Quran contains at least 109 verses that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers for the sake of Islamic rule.” Rather than go through all of their points, I only reviewed their first point for him as a sample to demonstrate how poorly researched and self-contradictory their understanding of the Quran generally is.

They write:

{ Quran (2:191-193) – “And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah [disbelief or unrest] is worse than killing… but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful. And fight them until there is no more Fitnah [disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah] and worship is for Allah alone. But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against Az-Zalimun(the polytheists, and wrong-doers, etc.)”  }

They omitted several relevant parts from the passage they are trying to quote.  I have included and underlined the omitted portions so that their attempt to mislead is more easily visible,

(2:190-194) “Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors. And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and fitnah is worse than killing. And do not fight them at al-Masjid al-Haram until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers. And if they cease, then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. Fight them until there is no [more] fitnah and [until] worship is [acknowledged to be] for Allah. But if they cease, then there is to be no aggression except against the oppressors. [Fighting in] the sacred month is for [aggression committed in] the sacred month, and for [all] violations is legal retribution. So whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you. And fear Allah and know that Allah is with those who fear Him.” (Translation is from Sahih International)

Reading the above quote is sufficient alone to demonstrate the academic dishonesty with which the passage was quoted. The teaching of the Quran on warfare is clear, it only applies in self-defense.

They then write:
{ The verse prior to this (190) refers to “fighting for the cause of Allah those who fight you” leading some to claim that the entire passage refers to a defensive war in which Muslims are defending their homes and families.  The historical context of this passage is not defensive warfare, however, since Muhammad and his Muslims had just relocated to Medina and were not under attack by their Meccan adversaries.  In fact, the verses urge offensive warfare, in that Muslims are to drive Meccans out of their own city (which they later did).  Verse 190 thus means to fight those who offer resistance to Allah’s rule (ie. Muslim conquest). }

Their entire interpretation depends on establishing a “historical context” based on historically unreliable narrations that contradict the Quran. This is a common mistake in the academic approach of almost all who attack Islam: a reliance on the weakest sources in Islamic literature. In Islamic scripture, the Quran is the only book that has made a claim of absolute perfection. After the Quran, all narrations in the books of Ahadith and then in Sirah that are not self-contradictory carry weight. The reason these writers tried to find context outside of the Quran is because there is no context inside the Quran to support their interpretation.  The fact that they had to resort to this approach is itself sufficient to establish that they have no evidence from the Quran to support their interpretations. The context of the Quran is only defensive warfare and no consistent interpretation of the Quran can justify anything otherwise.

They then write,
{ The use of the word “persecution” by some Muslim translators is disingenuous – the actual Arabic words for persecution (idtihad) – and oppression (a variation of “z-l-m”) do not appear in the verse.  The word used instead, “fitna”, can mean disbelief, or the disorder that results from unbelief or temptation. }

Their entire interpretation depends on defining the word Fitnah as follows: “And fight them until there is no more Fitnah [disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah]”.  Even the translation they rely on places these words in brackets because it is only an interpretation of the translator, it is not part of the actual text. If your entire point depends on something that is not even in the text of the Quran, you don’t have much of a point.

As for the word فتنة (Fitnah), the primary meaning of this word is “trial; and affliction, distress, or hardship”; see any dictionary of Classical Arabic. For starters, the English reader can check Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon. To translate Fitnah as “disbelief and worshiping of others along with Allah” is such a stretched interpretation that even these writers worded their claim to state that it merely “can mean disbelief”. Also, their interpretation is in contradiction with the clear words of the Quran,

(2:256) “There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong.”
Their interpretation also depends on defining the word Zalimun as follows: “let there be no transgression except against Az-Zalimun(the polytheists, and wrong-doers, etc.)” First of all, they admit in the same paragraph that the root of this word, z-l-m, means “oppression” while explaining another verse, writing, “the actual Arabic words for persecution (idtihad) – and oppression (a variation of “z-l-m”) do not appear in the verse.” In trying to prove their point on one verse, they disproved their point on another verse. Secondly, even the translation they rely on places the word “polytheists” in brackets because it is only an interpretation of the translator, it is not part of the actual text. If your point depends on something that is not even in the text of the Quran, you don’t have much of a point. As for the word ظالمون (Zalimun), the primary meaning of the root ظ ل م (z-l-m) is, “he did wrong; or acted wrongfully, unjustly, injuriously, or tyrannically”; see any dictionary of Classical Arabic. For starters, the English reader can check Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon. The verse teaches a clear principle,

(2:193) “But if they cease, then there is to be no aggression except against the ظالمون oppressors.”

The Quran does not stop at simple self-defense, it additionally places the restriction that if the aggressors cease in waging warfare, then Muslims must immediately cease as well.  These words of the Quran require a level of pacifism in warfare that is unheard of even by today’s standards.

They then write,

{ This is certainly what is meant in this context since the violence is explicitly commissioned “until religion is for Allah” – ie. unbelievers desist in their unbelief. }

Again, their entire interpretation depends on one unfounded assumption, that the words “until religion is for Allah” means “unbelievers desist in their unbelief”. This interpretation assumes that the word “Allah” refers to the God of only the Muslims, an assumption that is in complete contradiction with the repeated use of the word “Allah” throughout the Quran. The word “Allah” is used generally in the Quran as the God of all religions, all prophets, and all peoples before Islam and after Islam. Reading only the second chapter of the Quran would have been sufficient to know this. Abraham and Jacob are quoted as follows in the Quran,

(2:132) “And Abraham instructed his sons [to do the same] and [so did] Jacob, [saying], “O my sons, indeed الله Allah has chosen for you this religion”.

Moses is quoted as follows,

(2:67) “And [recall] when Moses said to his people, “Indeed, الله Allah commands you to slaughter a cow.””

The followers of Moses are quoted as follows,

(2:55) “And [recall] when you said, “O Moses, we will never believe you until we see الله Allah outright””

Saul is quoted as follows,

(2:249) “And when Saul went forth with the soldiers, he said, “Indeed, الله Allah will be testing you with a river.”

Throughout the Quran, the word Allah refers to the Supreme Being, the God of every religion. It does not refer to just the God of the Muslims. Even the Arabic translation of the Bible done by Christians for the use of Christian Arabs uses the word “Allah” several times to refer to the God of the Israelites.  Allah is a universal Arabic word for the Supreme Being.  When the Quran says that Muslims must continue defending themselves “until religion is for Allah”, these words preserve the right to belief in any religion under no other compulsion than one’s own personal belief in God.

The fact that this verse preserves the inalienable human right to freedom of all religions is explained clearly elsewhere in the Quran,

(22:39-40) “Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, Allah is competent to give them victory. [They are] those who have been evicted from their homes without right – only because they say, “Our Lord is الله Allah.” And were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned.”

This is the only command on fighting in the Quran where the word  “permission” is used.  All commands to fight in the Quran come under this singular permission.  The permissibility of fighting is not to defend the freedom of religion for Muslims alone, but it is to defend the inalienable human right to freedom of religion for the followers of all religions.

If a person interprets a United States law in contradiction with the US Constitution, then within the legal framework of the United States, such an interpretation is unconstitutional. If a person interprets a law of Islam in contradiction with the Quran, then within the Quranic legal framework, such an interpretation is unconstitutional. Those who are anti-Islamic repeatedly emphasize that the Quran is a book of Shariah, or law, which it is. They should then at least approach it with the legal common sense that they would use with any book of law. The Quran is a book of law that repeatedly claims absolute perfection,

(11:1) “[This is] a Book whose verses are perfected and then presented in detail from [one who is] Wise and Acquainted.” (39:23) “Allah has sent down the best statement: a consistent Book wherein is reiteration.” (10:64) “No change is there in the words of Allah.”

Only a person who disbelieves in entire sections of the Quran can begin to justify the interpretations reviewed above. The self-contradictory nature of the interpretations presented on such websites is alone sufficient refutation. The teachings of the Quran on warfare are only in self-defense. No consistent interpretation of the Quran can justify anything otherwise, period.

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