Quran and Violence
Posted by Parsin on March 24, 2008
A study of allegations against Islam
Dr. Jim Garlow, a senior pastor of Skyline Church in San Diego, has written an open letter to one of his pastor-friends “David” (not his real name). The title of the letter is “Jesus and Mohammad….After September 11.” He has also encouraged all the readers to copy, forward, and publish this provocative letter against Islam. Pasture Garlow is attacking Muslims and demanding them “to renounce the many Koran (Qur’an) texts which call for the killing of Jews and Christians” without having a minimal level of understanding of the Qur’an, its structure, and the historical events surrounding its revelation. He admits, however, that he himself has not read the Qur’an and has taken these verses from an article (from the internet) whose author/compiler is not known. The verses mentioned in the article are all taken out of context and neither the unknown compiler nor Mr. Garlow has paid any attention to the verses preceding or following them. It is critical to study these allegations very carefully; as such misinterpretations are also shared by a few extremists among Muslims who have used such verses-completely out of context and meaning- as a pretext to conduct their heinous crimes. This of course is not limited to Islam, all major beliefs and faiths have experienced the same phenomenon, and it is the obligation of all seekers of truth to stand up against such misinterpretations. Mr. Garlow uses these sample verses to conclude that the Qur’an promotes violence and is against peace. He has further emphasized for at least 20 times that according to the teachings of the Qur’an, Muslims are ordered to kill Jews and Christians who do not convert to Islam. Here are some of the highlights of his article:
“Muslims don’t have “missionaries” in the way we view that word; historically they have “evangelized” with swords (rifles/bombs/coercion/threats) or equally oppressive measures (the taking of homes, jobs and family members); and that is why they control a massive section of the globe- 1.4 billion people.”
“Islam is not a religion in the way we think of it. It is a legal system, a form of government, a coercive tyranny (in virtually every Muslim nation). And we, as Americans, are ignorant, thinking that they are just like us –just a “religion”- and that we all worship side by side- together- worshipping the same God. Not so! Islam (according to the Koran) commands its followers to slaughter all infidels (non-Muslims). And that includes you and me!”
“Islam is not about peace (real peace) –if the Koran, Mohammad (the founder), and contemporary Muslims are to be regarded as “Islamic.” Ask the people in Mecca in 622AD (the first persons ever killed by Muslim armies) if Islam is “about peace.” The Koran is quite clear about killing those who do not embrace its teachings. A simple historical and geographical overview demonstrates that point powerfully.”
“The Koran, followed by nearly 1/4th of the Earth’s population (estimated by U.N. to become ½ the Earth’s birthrate by 2055), still calls for death to everyone who is not Muslim. And New York City, Washington, DC and Pennsylvania have learned that in such a tragic, painful way.”
“American Muslims condemn the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks (and I do appreciate that), they are not addressing the epicenter of the problem. They condemn the act or acts of terror; I want them to address the source for the act or acts. (Huge difference!) And that source (according to growing mountain of FBI evidence, including hand written letters) is the Koran, and its portrayal of Allah and Mohammad’s commands”
The above is an extract of Mr. Garlow’s open letter cited here in order to acquaint the readers with some of his main views and arguments. In this article we will evaluate these claims and find out if the Qur’an truly transpires violence against non-Muslims.
Allegations against the Qur’an:
At the end of his letter, Mr. Garlow presents 17 verses from the Qur’an and some traditions in support of his claim that the Qur’an and Islam promote violence. Here we will review some of these verses from the Qur’an which is the foundation and reference of religious law in Islam. The Qur’an serves as a reference for authenticity of all other traditions and narrations attributed to religious scholars and leaders. If any such teachings or traditions contradict the Qur’an, they lose their authenticity and cannot be considered “Islamic”. The reason is that Muslims believe that the Qur’an is not a collection of sayings from the Prophet himself, but the exact words of God, revealed to the Prophet. Unlike the Bible which was written by Jesus’ disciples many years after the actual events, the Qur’an was collected in writing as it was revealed and therefore has not been changed or altered later. All other traditions and saying (even those attributed to the Prophet) were collected and compiled some hundreds of years later and therefore lack the weight and authenticity of the Qur’an.
1. Stalking of infidels, surrounding, arresting, and killing them
Mr. Garlow has mostly referred to the verses from the chapter Repentance (the 9th chapter of the Qur’an). This chapter seems to be dealing with infidels very strongly. The fifth verse of this chapter has particularly attracted Mr. Garlow’s attention and is as follows:
“When the sacred months are over, slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them. If they repent and take to prayers and render the alms levy, allow them to go their way. God is forgiving and merciful” (Ch. 9, V.5)
Not only Mr. Garlow but also anyone who does not read the previous and the following verses of this verse and takes that particular section out of context will come to the conclusion that Islam condones violence against non-Muslims. Just as if we take the clause “eat and drink” from the Qur’an and not pay attention to the rest of that verse which says “but do not be wasteful” we may conclude that God has ordered us to eat and drink as much as we possibly can without being conscientious. Similarly, if one reads the verse: “don’t get close to prayers while you are drunk” and only takes the first part of the verse “don’t get close to prayers” without paying attention to the rest of the verse, one can conclude that the Qur’an forbids prayers.
There are some points about the above verse that should be considered:
1.1) The chapter Repentance is strictly about those infidels who had made peace treaties with Muslims but by ignoring and breaking their promises were trespassing upon the rights of the others. In reality their deceitful “behavior” is under attack not their atheistic “beliefs” or their disbelief in Islam. This fact can be seen from the very first verse of this chapter which summarizes the message of the whole chapter:
(“A declaration of immunity from Allah and his Messenger, to those of the pagans with whom you have contracted mutual alliances (but they have ignored it)” (Ch. 9, V.1)
Also the 4th verse of the same chapter which is right before the verse that was used in the article indicates:
“(But the treaties are) not dissolved with those pagans with whom you have entered into alliance and who have not subsequently failed you in anything, nor aided anyone against you. So fulfill your engagements with them to the end of their term: for Allah loves the righteous.” (Ch. 9, V.4)
If the author had used the Qur’an as his reference instead of an article by an unknown compiler, surely he could not have made such an unjust accusation about Islam. It is astonishing as well as regrettable how these critics of the Qur’an don’t even bother to take a minute to read the facts and arguments leading to a particular verse. Just to make sure there are no misunderstandings and to clarify that the criticism is not targeted towards those who just do not believe in Islam, the Qur’an stresses:
“…except those with whom you made a treaty near the Sacred Mosque. As long as these stand true to you, you stand true to them: for Allah loves the righteous.” (Ch. 9, V.7)
The word “righteous” in this verse is a translation of the Arabic word “taghva” which signifies self-control and will-power to keep promises and agreements. Even if the infidels have “taghva”, they should be honored and God loves them for that.
1.2) In modern times it is acceptable to be neutral and impartial in order to avoid objections or attacks. At the time when the Qur’an was revealed; however, things were very different in the Arabian Peninsula. During those times of tribal laws, hostility, violence, war, and the on-going plunders among the primitive tribes, the first law of survival was to make treaties and agreements with neighboring tribes and clans. That was the reason behind Prophet Mohammad’s decision to make peaceful coexistence treaties with Jewish tribes and all the surrounding pagan clans when he migrated to Medina. In those days, treason, breaching of treaties, or supporting enemies meant a declaration of war. Therefore, it was completely natural to have such strong commands against treason in the Qur’an for Muslims to follow. It would be unscientific and anachronistic to use modern day’s standards and criteria to judge social events of a specific time in the past with a different set of laws, civility, culture, and tradition. In those times there were no governments with military, disciplinary, police, or security systems to guarantee the boundaries of law and the rights of the people, nor were there any institutions such as the United Nations or human rights organizations to protect the rights of minorities and the indigent. The Prophet and his small number of followers had already made enemies by their revolution against idolatry and their support of monotheism. Therefore they had no choice but to make friends and alliances and to make peace agreements with all the tribes while fighting hard against those who wanted to destroy and annihilate them.
1.3) The beginning of the verse mentioned by Mr. Garlow (Ch. 9, V.5) clearly refers to a sufficient time (passing of the forbidden months), indicating that not only those who had violated their treaties had not been forced to make a hasty decision, but also they were given more than enough time to meditate and speculate all their options. They were then given the option to either abide by the peace treaties or to leave Mecca which was home to Kaaba (the holiest house of worship for Muslims) and a center for monotheism. Was this an unjust request considering the given situation? It is obvious that Muslims had a duty to fight back if their enemies had decided to destroy them.
1.4) Not only Mr. Garlow, but also many readers assume the meaning of “slay the pagans” to be “kill the pagans.” The Arabic verb used here which has been translated as slaying or killing is “qital.” However, the meaning of “qital” is to fight and battle, and not necessarily to kill (although in a battlefield there may be killings as well). The purpose of “qital” is not to slaughter but to fight the aggressor with all your strength, even if it involves killing or being killed. The word “qital” in Arabic is also used for blunting of a sharp object or diluting of wine to lessen its strength. Thus, the intention of “qital” in the Qur’an is to “blunt” and prevent the assault and aggression of enemies at all cost.
2. Torment of infidels to soothe the believers
The next argument Mr. Garlow makes to prove that the Qur’an promotes violence is the 14th verse of the Repentance chapter. First note the translation of the verse:
“Slay them, and Allah will punish them by your hands, cover them with shame, (and) help you (to victory) over them, heal the breasts of Believers” (Ch. 9, V.14)
At first glance, this verse seems to support such an argument. Here again the Arabic verb used in the verse is “qital” (meaning to fight) which commonly (and mistakenly) has been translated to slaying. Mr. Garlow has assumed that the purpose of such fight is to take revenge and to make the believers “feel relieved.” The following points need to be considered:
2.1) To define the reasoning behind such harshness, the previous verse states:
“Will you not fight people who violated their oaths, plotted to expel the Messenger, and took the aggressive by being the first (to assault) you? Do you fear them? Nay, it is Allah whom you should more justly fear, if you believe!” (Ch. 9, V.13)
In this verse we can clearly see that the harshness is not because the unbelievers have not converted to Islam, but because they have violated their peace treaties. Also they have initiated the assault against Muslims and so the Muslims are urged to a defensive (not an offensive) fight. Finally the goal is to eliminate the fear in the believers so that they can defend themselves. Therefore, the intention is not to provoke or encourage the Muslims to impose Islam by sword.
2.2) The 12th verse in the same chapter more clearly explains:
“But if they violated their oaths after their covenant, and taunt you for your faith, you fight the chiefs of unfaith: for their oaths are nothing to them: that thus they may be restrained.” (Ch. 9, V.12)
IThus the reason for all this severity is the violation of their oaths and taunting Muslims for their faith. Muslims have to fight their leaders (because the leaders are the actual provokers of the masses) to punish them for violating peace treaties. Furthermore, they have to fight them until they refrain from plotting against Muslims, and not until they convert to Islam.
2.3) The other point that catches the eye in these verses is the element of tolerance towards the infidels as long as they are not violating Muslims. The 6th verse of the same chapter recommends to the Prophet:
“If one amongst the pagans ask you for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the Word of Allah; and then escort him to where he can be secure. This is because they are men without knowledge.”(Ch. 9, V.6)
If Mr. Garlow’s conceptions and claims were true, in this case instead of recommending that the Prophet escort an unbeliever to a safe place (from his follower’s harm), the Prophet would have been asked to free him if he converted to Islam or to behead him otherwise.
3. To battle with the people of the Book and force them to pay Jizya (tax)
To Mr. Garlow, the 29th verse of the Repentance chapter also appears to be self-evident, proving that the Qur’an promotes violence and war. If in the previous verses we were dealing with pagans and infidels now we are directly asked to struggle with Christians and Jews. It is very understandable that such a verse should offend a Christian priest. The translation of this verse is as follows:
“Fight those who do not believe in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the people of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (Ch. 9, V.29)
At first glance it appears as if the Muslims had been trying to extort the Christians and Jews in order to dominate them and force them into submission. However, a closer examination of this verse reveals a few points:
3.1) The purpose of fighting with people of the Book (Christians and Jews) is to make them pay “Jizya” (tax) not to impose Islam on them. Jizya was a taxation method which was used at the time for Christians and Jews. Muslims as part of their religious duty had to pay tithes to the government. The Jizya was considerably less than the tithes that Muslims had to pay, and like the tax that today’s governments expect their citizens of different nationalities to pay, was used for all the services that the government used to provide in those times. What do the American and Western governments -who are Christians and claim that they are supporters of human rights- do to those who refuse to pay tax? Do they treat them with toleration and kindness or make them pay their taxes even with jail threats and force?
3.2) As usual Mr. Garlow has translated the verb “quatelu” as “to kill” and has not considered that by killing someone you cannot collect tax from them! The purpose of this command is to fight and use all the government resources in order to make them pay their obligations (taxes) to the society. The reason for emphasizing that the Jizya should be paid with willingness and submission is to make the people of the Book law-abiding and respectful to the rules of the community.
3.3) Unfortunately, Mr. Garlow has not paid enough attention to see that this harsh command is not targeted at ALL the people of the book. It exclusively refers to those Christians and Jews who do not believe even in their own religious values (including God or the judgment day) nor observe any religious code. In addition, they sought after the protection provided by the government without paying their shares. If the author himself were responsible for managing a society, would he have permitted such irresponsible people to get away with neglecting the society’s rules and regulations?
4. The encouragement of Muslims for war and Jihad
Christians are followers of the Bible which is the book of good news and tidings. The Bible’s teachings mostly endorse the personal relationship between the individual and God. Social and political matters are generally considered to lie outside religious domain: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” This could partly be attributed to the fact that Jesus lived a short life and did not get a chance to establish a community based on his teachings. Therefore, it is understandable that Christians should find it questionable to find so many social and political commands such as those governing matters of war and peace, treaties, taxation, etc. in the Qur’an. To Christians, such commands are against the peaceful philosophy of religion.
The following verses are examples that Mr. Garlow has found objectionable:
“O you who believe! What is the matter with you, that, when you are asked to go forth in the cause of Allah, you cling heavily to the earth? Do you prefer the life of this world to the Hereafter? But little is the comfort of this life, as compared with the Hereafter.”(Ch.9, V.38)
“You go forth (whether equipped) lightly or heavily, and strive and struggle, with your goods and your persons, in the cause of Allah. That is best for you, if you (but) knew.” (Ch.9, V.41)
“O Prophet! Strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites, and be firm against them, their abode is Hell, -an evil refuge indeed.” (Ch.9, V.73)
4.1) The historical situation of Muslims and the unique society that the Prophet established in Medina was distinctively different from that of the small group of scattered followers of Jesus during his life time. Prophet Mohammad and his companions were forced to migrate from Mecca to Medina. In Medina they came under siege and were constantly attacked by the tribes who felt threatened by the monotheism promoted by this new religion. Consequently, the Prophet and his followers were forced to defend themselves against the tribes who were breaking their peace treaties and assaulting them. If we examine the essential reason and motivation behind all of the Prophet’s combats, we will realize that none of them were intended to convert the enemies to Islam. In fact, all of them were preventive or defensive and intended to ward off aggression and attacks form their enemies. This fact is supported both by reliable historical reports as well as many Qur’anic verses which were the main inspiration for all of the Prophet’s actions. An example is the battle of Khandagh (ditch or channel in English) which was a defensive war against a coalition of Jewish and Quraish tribes (a very powerful tribe at the time) as well as some nomadic tribes. They had made an alliance to besiege and massacre the Muslims in Medina and to eradicate and destroy Islam forever.
4.2) In those days there were two powerful civilizations: Persia (today’s Iran) and Greece. In civilized Iran of the time, the massacre of the Manicheans and Mazdakyans (two Persian religions) was quite natural. They would not tolerate any other religious belief and pluralism did not mean anything. In civilized Greece, which is believed to be the origin of western democracy, non-Greek ideas were considered to be savage and barbarian. They not only would not tolerate other political and religious beliefs but new scientific ideas were condemned as well. The story of Socrates and his hemlock cup is a very good indication of the narrow-mindedness of the leaders of that era. It is astonishing to see how western analysts do not reflect on the cultural situation of the Arabian Peninsula with their fossilized tribal and fanatical reactions towards a new religion that was against the foundations of their belief system. Was the Prophet supposed to stop the enemy’s aggression with pleading and begging? As one Islamic intellectual expressed: “The red rose of monotheism is guarded by its thorn”. The red rose’s only intention is to be fragrant and beautiful but without its thorn it could be swallowed by a cow or a sheep.
4.3) The command of “Jihad” against unbelievers in the 73rd verse of the Repentance chapter does not necessarily mean a military battle with them. Interestingly, the term holy war which “Jihad” is usually translated to does not exist in the Qur’an. It was a term used by Christians during the Crusades. The meaning of “Jihad” in the Qur’an is to effort, endeavor, and strive as hard as possible in all aspects of life and to be prepared to suffer hardship, torment, or any other consequences in order to advance the main goal. Of course, a battle could happen as the last resort. In the Qur’an, cultural and educational effort through the use of the Qur’an has been referred to as the “Major Jihad” (Ch.25, V.52). The recommended striving in verse 73 of the Repentance chapter is not military for two main reasons: In the first place, if the meaning of Jihad was to use military force, then the Prophet as the leader of the Muslim community, should have used armed forces against the hypocrites (a group among the Muslim community who did not truly believe in Islam) just because of their mischief. According to historical accounts, the Prophet did not have even the slightest military battle with any group just because of their mischief. Not even one person was ordered to be killed by the Prophet because of being an unbeliever. We can not claim that the Prophet, who was the messenger of God’s orders, did not carry out what he was preaching. Secondly, if the meaning of striving were to use military force, there was no reason to follow that with being firm against them. Being firm is much easier than using armed forces. The literary style of the Qur’an when issuing a command is always from easier procedures to harder ones; not the other way around. To sum up, the meaning of striving (Jihad) against unbelievers and hypocrites in the above verse is to teach Muslims not to be indifferent and silent and use all their efforts and might to neutralize the hypocrites’ plots and conspiracies.
5. The encouragement of Muslims for war and Jihad
Mr. Garlow claims that Muslims do not accept any other beliefs and their book bluntly notifies them:
“If anyone desires a religion other than Islam, never will it be accepted of him.” (Ch.3, V.85)
He concludes that Muslims are not being honest when they declare peace, reconciliation, and interest in unity with the followers of other religions. In fact he claims that Islam fundamentally teaches its followers that they are distinct and better than followers of all other religions. His claims are not correct for many reasons:
5.1) In exactly one verse before the above verse the Prophet has been advised of something one hundred percent opposite to Mr.Garlow’s claim:
“Say we believe in Allah, and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and in (the Books) given to Moses, Jesus, and the prophets, from their Lord; we make no distinction between any of them, and to Allah do we bow our will” (Ch.3, V.84) 5)
This verse clearly illustrates the fact that the Prophet has been asked to declare his faith in all the prophets before him and everything that was revealed to them and not make any distinction between any of the previous revelations. Obviously all Muslims are required to follow their Prophet’s example by rejecting religious bigotry, racial prejudices, superiority, domination, and quarreling.
5.2) The 83rd verse of the same chapter clearly shows that the word “Islam” that is used in verse 85 does not specifically mean the religion Islam which is the faith that Muslims follow. The word Islam in Arabic actually means “to surrender to God” and to worship Him only. The reason that the faith revealed to Prophet Mohammad was called Islam is because it exemplifies the most complete form of surrendering to God as a special case of a general concept. The word “Islam” has a very general meaning and also includes the surrendering of all creation (including humans) to their creator:
“ Do they seek for other than the religion of Allah? While all creatures in the heavens and on earth have, willingly or unwillingly, bowed to his will (accepted Islam), and to him shall they all be brought back” (Ch.3, V.83)
5.3) In the Qur’an, all prophets and their followers have been referred to as Muslims. Abraham has repeatedly been referred to as Muslim: “Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian; but he was true in faith, and was a Muslim (bowed his will to Allah)…” (Ch.3, V.67). In his prayers, Abraham wishes for himself, his offspring, and his descendents to continue to be true Muslims “Our Lord! Make of us Muslims, bowing to your will, and of our progeny a people Muslim, bowing to your will…” (Ch.2, V.128). In fact, the Qur’an emphasizes that the name Muslim was initiated by Abraham “…it is the cult of your father Abraham. It is He who has named you Muslims…” (Ch.22, V.78). Jacob (Abraham’s grandchild nicknamed “Children of Israel” and father of all Jews) in his last will to his children in his death bed says: “…Oh my sons! Allah has Chosen the faith for you; then do not die except you are Muslims” (Ch.2, V.132). The prayer of the sorcerers (who were the first group among the Pharaoh’s tribe to become followers of Moses) was to “…take our souls unto you as Muslims…” (Ch.7, V.126). Even the Pharaoh, when he was overwhelmed with the flood said: “I believe that there is no God except Him Whom the Children of Israel believe in; I am of those who submit to Allah in Islam.” (Ch.10, V.90). Joseph also prayed to God to: “…make me die a Muslim and join me with the good.” (Ch.12, V.101). The followers of Jesus after their faith to God and his messenger said: “… we have faith, and you bear witness that we bow to Allah as Muslims.” (Ch.5, V.111). Solomon, whose name is a derivative of the word Islam, invites the Queen of Sheba to Islam (Ch.27, V’s.31, 38, 42, 91). The decedents of Lot are also known as Muslims in the Qur’an: “But we did not find there any just (Muslim) persons except in one house” (Ch.51, V.36). These are but a few examples of the many references and indications found frequently in the Qur’an indicating the generality of the meaning of the word “Islam”.
5.4) One of the most common mistakes is the wide usage of the word religions (plural) for the monotheistic faiths. In the Qur’an the religion of God is only one and that is “Islam” in its general form which means surrendering exclusively to God. The Qur’an recognizes only one religion “the Religion before Allah is Islam (submission to His Will)….” (Ch.3, V.19). However, another term, “Shariah” is used for the different forms of revelation to various prophets. As such, we can talk about the different Shariah’s revealed to Moses, Jesus, or Mohammad, whereas all of these are considered to be one religion called Islam, or surrender to God. This important point is illustrated in the following verse where the Prophet Mohammad is told:
“The same Religion He has established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah – that which We have sent by inspiration to you – and that which we enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus; namely that you should remain steadfast in Religion, and make no divisions therein….” (Ch.42, V.13)
Religion is like a tree and “Shariah’s” are like the many branches that grow from the same root and body. If the name Islam has been chosen for the last religion, it is because it exemplifies the whole “tree” in the best possible manner at its time.
5.5) The Qur’an not once, but 19 times, recognizes and emphasizes the legitimacy of the previous holy books (the Torah and the Bible). This will leave no room for competition or trying to discard or eliminate any of them.
5.6) The Qur’an not only endorses the previous holy books and refers to their followers with the utmost respect and calls them “the people of the Book,” but also, it claims the responsibility of being “the Guardian” and protector of their holy books:
“To you we sent the scripture in truth, confirming the scriptures that came before it, and guarding it in safety…” (Ch.5, V.48)
5.7) The Qur’an informs Muslims that you (Muslims) love them (the people of the Book) and believe in their Book while they don’t love you nor do they believe in your Book:
“Ah! You are those who love them, but they don’t love you, – though you believe in the whole of the Book…” (Ch.3, V.119)
6. What is the standard for being the best believer?
The 110th verse of chapter 3 (Al’-Imran) in the Qur’an complains about the resistance of “the people of the Book” towards the new Religion. It then introduces a virtue and stresses that if Muslims practice that virtue, they will be the best of peoples:
“You are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah. If only the people of the Book had faith, it was best for them; among them are some who have faith, but most of them are transgressors.” (Ch.3, V.110)
Mr. Garlow uses the above verse to prove that Muslims are biased and believe they are superior to all other religions. He dose not grasp the fact that this distinction and privilege is not given based on race or ethnicity, rather, it is based on the responsibility, obligation, and commitment one should feel towards one’s society. This virtue (promoting good and advising against evil) has been demanded from the believers of all faiths, however, it has been expounded and developed further in the last faith and if practiced it will give rise to the best people. In verses 104 and 105 of chapter 3, it has been explained that the reason for “enjoining what is good” and “forbidding what is wrong” is to prevent Muslims from getting into the same discord and controversy which happened to Christians and Jews. Effectively, Muslims are asked to protect their unity and values, by practicing these teachings. If Mr. Garlow had taken his “facts” from the Qur’an, he would have seen verses 113-115 of the same chapter in which the true believers from Christians and Jews have been praised and honored in a manner that the Qur’an has not even used for true Muslims:
“Not all of them are alike; of the people of the Book are a portion that stands (for the right); they rehearse the signs of Allah all night long, and they prostrate themselves in adoration. They believe in Allah and the Last Day; they enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong; and they hasten (in emulation) in (all) good works; they are in the ranks of the righteous. Of the good that they do, nothing will be rejected of them; for Allah knows well those that do right.” (Ch.3, V.113-115)
How could such an impartial and compassionate view (which can be seen from many other verses in the Qur’an as well) be overlooked? Obviously, not all the people of the Book have such qualities. If Muslims have been advised not to choose the people of the Book as their guardians or protectors it is because most of them, unfortunately, are not bound by their own religious teachings. They are mostly concerned with profits and dominance over the world for economical gains. To reach these goals and to protect their own interests they are even willing to cause mischief and war, contrary to the teachings of Christianity and Judaism.
7. Encouragement to kill and to be killed
The verses 152-156 of chapter 3 are all about one of the Prophet’s battles called “Uhud”. In this war the Prophet and the Muslims were defending the city of Medina from the aggression of the Quraish tribe. In this battle numerous Muslims were killed including a great commander called Hamzah. A group among Muslims (historically known as the hypocrites) started to taunt and blame the rest
“…if they had stayed with us, they would not have died, or been slain.” (Ch.3, V.156)
This is how God responds to their selfish naggings:
“And if you are slain, or die, in the way of Allah, forgiveness and mercy from Allah are far better than all they could amass.” (Ch.3, V.157)
Mr. Garlow’s perceptive of these verses is that Muslims are being summoned for war and are encouraged to be killed so that they could prosper and be forgiven by God. Consequently, he wonders, what kind of a religion would drive its followers to destruction and death instead of encouraging them to enjoy God’s blessings and live a happy life. Once more, the previous and following verses clearly indicate that this verse is a response to those who believe self-sacrifice and devotion, in order to defend one’s nation and faith, are to perish and to waste one’s life.
Mr. Garlow also refers to another verse in which Muslims are called to fight in the cause of Allah. Interestingly, these verses seem to be shocking to Christians, although they themselves have been the cause of many global and regional wars.
“Let those fight in the cause of Allah who sell the life of this world for the Hereafter. To him who fights in the cause of Allah, – whether he is slain or gets victory – soon shall we give him a reward of great (value).” (Ch.4, V.74)
This verse also stresses and reminds Muslims of their obligation and duty towards their captive fellow-Muslims. It ensures them that if they fight against the brutality and cruelty going on against the Muslims in Mecca, God will reward them generously. This verse is completely defensive and protective and the verses that follow undoubtedly point out that the intention by no means is to kill Jews or Christians or to force them to convert to Islam:
“ And why should you not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated (and oppressed)? – men, woman, and children, whose cry is: Our Lord rescue us from this town (Mecca), whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from you one who will protect; and raise for us from you one who will help!” (Ch.4, V.75)
Is it not obvious that this command to fight is a response to the prayers of the ill-treated, oppressed, and weak people of Mecca (and not to kill anyone as Mr. Garlow stresses repeatedly)? Those people were separated from the Muslims that had migrated to Medina and were being treated brutally, without having the means or strength to defend themselves. Could protection and support of tortured and tormented fellow-believers be called “slaying non-Muslims”? Even worse, could this phrase be used within the context of current times and conclude that the followers of Islam are commanded to kill non-Muslims? Some of the verses from chapter 8 of Qur’an were also used by Mr. Garlow where he has again concluded that Islam is not a peaceful faith:
“Remember your Lord inspired the angels (with the message): I am with you; give firmness to the believers; I will instill terror into the hearts of the unbelievers; you smite above their neck and smite all their finger-tips off them.” (Ch.8, V.12)
“It was not you who slew them; it was Allah; when you threw (a handful of dust), it was not your act, but Allah’s; in order that he might test the believers by gracious trial from Himself; for Allah is He Who hears and knows (all things). (Ch.8, V.17)
The above two verses are part of a group related to a battle known as “Badr.” This battle was the first combat between Muslims and those who had thrown them out of Mecca and had taken possession of their houses and belongings. These verses imply God’s assurance and support in a battle in which Muslims gained victory over those who had earlier thrown them out of their homes and lands and had inflicted unimaginable torture and pain upon them because of their beliefs. Defending and protecting one’s belongings, families, and beliefs against the aggressors cannot be considered violence by any standard. Muslims are not supposed to be satisfied with only their prayers and fasting. They also have to be sensitive to what goes on around them by not tolerating oppression, coercion, cruelty, and injustice against themselves or anyone else in their society. According to the Qur’anic teachings, when Muslims are fighting against the oppressors and aggressors to defend the weak and the oppressed, it is not them who are fighting; it is God. The point of course is not to force anyone to convert to Islam; it is to ensure the right of a new religion to be accepted and practiced freely by those who have chosen to believe in it. Bringing these events and the verses related to them out of their historical context and applying them to modern times and concluding that Muslims are ordered to kill non-Muslims just because of their refusal to embrace Islamic teachings is a result of ignorance, if not hatred. In fact, verses 15 and 16 in the same chapter emphasize the fact that the commands in verses 12 and 17 are strictly related to the battlefield. This can be concluded from the fact that Muslims are warned not to flee the battlefield:
“O you who believe! when you meet the unbelievers in hostile array, never turn your backs to them. If any do turn his back to them on such a day – unless it be in a stratagem of war, or to retreat to a troop (of his own) – he draws on himself the wrath of Allah, and his abode is Hell, – an evil refuge (indeed)!” (Ch.8, V.15,16)
The summary and the essence of all the “Jihad” commands in the Qur’an could be seen in the 190th and 191st verses of chapter 2. This chapter was revealed to the Prophet during the last years of his mission and is a comprehensive collection of all the verses that contain the world “qital” (fight). These two verses contain seven major principals which should be used as a reference for all other Qur’anic war commands:
“Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah does not love transgressors. And fight them whenever you catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but do not fight them at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith.” (Ch.2, V.190,191)
Muslims should fight to defend themselves.
“Qital” should only happen when the fight is in the cause of Allah and not to conquest, expand, or force a religion.
“Qital” is only permitted when the enemy is fighting Muslims and not because of differences in belief systems.
“Qital” could happen only for warding off and repelling the aggression from the enemies and Muslims should not transgress, because God does not love transgressors.
“Qital” happens in places where the enemies have hidden and are ready to ambush. The term used in this verse is “Seghafah”, which means hiding, lurking, or plotting to ambush.
Expelling the enemies applies to the exact location from where the Muslims have been expelled.
Oppression (limiting the freedom of people to choose their faith and removing them from their homes and countries) is worse than slaying.
8. To become equipped and armed with the most advanced military equipment
Another reference that has been used by Mr. Garlow to prove the same unjust claims against Muslims is verse 60 of chapter 8:
“Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies, of Allah and your enemies, and others besides, whom you may not know, but whom Allah knows. Whatever you shall spend in the cause of Allah, shall be repaid to you, and you shall not be treated unjustly.” (Ch.8, V.60)
Let us review a few points about this verse:
8.1) The term “against” used in the beginning of this verse is actually an inaccurate translation of the Arabic word “la-hom”, which means “for them”. In fact, “against them” is the translation of another Arabic term “alai-hom”, which is not used in this verse. There is a fine point here which should be considered. Muslims are asked to be prepared and equipped militarily for the benefit of themselves and their enemies, because this preparedness will prevent the enemies from attacking, causing damage and destruction to both sides. In other words, the purpose of this military strength is to prevent (and not to cause) war and violence.
8.2) The purpose of becoming equipped is not to attack any group to make them convert to Islam; it is to alarm the enemies so that they would not even consider attacking. This is just the same as using immunizations to keep the body strong against the possible attack of bacteria; is this considered being violent towards the bacteria?
8.3) Immediately after the above verse we read:
“But if the enemy inclines toward peace, you (also) incline toward peace, and trust in Allah; for He is the One that hears and knows (all things).” (Ch.8, V.61)
How could a religion which so willingly accepts a peace offer from its enemies, order its followers to get armed with the most advanced technology of their time in order to be violent and aggressive towards non-Muslims.
8.4) The pretext and reasoning for this commandment is clearly given in verse 56 of this chapter:
“They are those with whom you made a covenant, but they break their covenant every time, and they do not have the fear (of Allah).” (Ch.8, V.56)
Therefore, this defensive preparedness is to guard against those who break their treaties and not towards innocent Jews or Christians.
9. Violence against infidels, affection with fellow-believers
A believer can not be indifferent towards the enemies of truth and their tyranny. It is natural for one to feel close to those who share the same belief system and values, and to feel alienated and estranged from those who hate and despise that belief system. In Islamic terminology, this action and reaction is referred to as “Tavalla” and “Tabarra”, literary “closeness” and “separation”. The term “Tabarra” does not have a connotation of animosity or hatred; it means keeping a distance or staying separated. The Qur’an explains this as follows:
“Mohammad is the Messenger of Allah; and those who are with him are strong against unbelievers, (but) compassionate amongst each other…”. (Ch. 48. V. 29)
Mr. Garlow has also objected to this verse because it recommends strength against the unbelievers, which requires the following clarifications:
9.1) The explanations given in verse 27 of the same chapter makes it clear that this show of might is not against all unbelievers. It is only targeted towards those unbelievers who were preventing the Muslims from entering the sacred Mosque in Mecca to complete the religious ritual of Hajj. It does not target the unbelievers who were not interfering with the Muslims and their rituals.
9.2) In the same verse the Arabic term used for “strong” is “Shadid” which means serious, upholding, and resistant, and not aggressive, ruthless, or cruel. The opposite meaning of the term “Shadid” is soft, permeable, and flexible. Basically it orders the Prophet and his followers to be strong against those who violated their most fundamental rights, including the right to worship freely.
9.3) The same verse continues to acknowledge and praise the same spirit in the true followers of Moses and Jesus, indicating that these characteristics are shared by the sincere followers of all religions:
“…This is their similitude in the Torah; and their similitude in the Gospel …” (Ch. 48, V.29)
9.4) The remaining part of this verse gives a beautiful example from the world of plants clarifying that being strong (“Shadid”) against unbelievers means being firm and stable:
“…(their example is) like a seed which sends forth its blade, then makes it strong; it then becomes thick, and it stands on its own stem, (filling) the sowers with wonder and delight…” (Ch. 48, V.29)
Just like a tree which becomes strong and sturdy in order to protect itself against the storms, and not to invade other trees, the believer’s firmness and strength is for the sake of their protection against the aggressors.
10. Avoiding friendship with the Jews and Christians
The most important evidence given by Mr. Garlow to discourage Christians from friendship with Muslims is the following verse, which, according to him, contradicts the Muslim’s claims of friendship and brotherhood:
“O You who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors; they are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guides not a people unjust.” (Ch. 5, V.51)
The term “Velayat” translated as “friends”, and repeated three times in this verse, is the key to understanding this verse. Most translators of the Qur’an have translated this term as friendship, and have concluded that Muslims should not befriend Christians and Jews. On the other hand friendship has a wide range, starting from casual acquaintance all the way up to confidentiality and intimacy. One should wonder which level of friendship is meant in this verse. Does it mean that Muslims are asked to keep separate and refrain from regular friendship and socialization with Jews and Christians? What limitations and boundaries should be considered? The term “Velayat” has at least two connotations: It means friendship as well as guardianship and supervision. From these connotations, we can conclude that this verse is advising Muslims against a friendship that leads to submission and surrender. It has been clearly stated in the Qur’an that “Velayat” should solely be limited to God, his Prophet, and other believers, and that seeking protection and supervision from unbelievers is not permissible. On the other hand, it can clearly be understood from the overall verses in the Qur’an that there is no objection to normal friendship and regular scientific, cultural, and economic relationships with others. What has been forbidden is to become dependent and reliant upon others, a situation that unfortunately most governments in Islamic countries currently have chosen to be in. There are two other equivalent terms used in relationship to the people of the Book in the Qur’an. One is “Bitanah”, literary meaning “under-garment” or anything related to one’s heart and inner sole. The other term is “Valijah”, which means something that permeates and takes over slowly. The point is that Muslims should not share their inner-most secrets with others who may gradually penetrate and dominate over their societies. This reasoning is confirmed by the same verse, when it states that “they are but friends and protectors to each other.” The best proof for authenticity of these miraculous verses can be seen in the unconditional support of the US government (as the most powerful Christian nation) for the aggression of Zionism (as a symbol of Jewish power) against the oppressed people of Palestine. Another piece of evidence comes from history: the colonization of many Muslim countries by the West. It is the danger of losing cultural, political, military, and economical independence that Muslims have been warned against through the term “Velayah.” Not only normal friendship is not prohibited, but also Muslims are specifically encouraged to deal justly and compassionately with those who do not fight with them and who do not drive them out of their homes and lands:
“Allah does not forbid you, with regard to those who do not fight you for (your) faith, nor drive you out of your homes; from dealing kindly and justly with them; for Allah loves those who are just. Allah only forbids you, with regard to those who fight you for (your) faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support (others) in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and protection). Whoever seeks such protection, they are the unjust.” (Ch.60, V9).
Source: A. Barzargan