In my last post, I examined a meme that attempted to show the Qur’an contains hate-speech towards nonbelievers. I argued that when we view the passages in the meme in textual and historical context, the Qur’an is not even close to hate-speech to non-Muslims. Additionally, I highlighted the perils of proof-texting by using simplistic and naive memes.
In this post, I tackle a similar meme. This one takes a few passages from the Qur’an and titles itself “ISIS & Radical Islam’s Daily Devotional.” The issue here is not only whether the group that calls itself the “Islamic State” correctly interprets and implements Qur’anic teachings, but whether these verses, prima facie, mean what this meme-maker thinks they do. I will not be addressing every verse here, since I went through some of them in my past post.
So, let’s take a look.
1) “Slay the unbelievers wherever you find them.”
A full rendering of verse 2:191 is as follows:
“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.”
First, a few things to notice: “Expel them from wherever they have expelled you” [italics mine]. “Do not fight them at al-Masjid al-Haram (the “Grand Mosque” in Mecca) until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them” [italics mine]. Does anyone else notice how this verse is not asking Muslims to preemptively kill? Doesn’t this sound more like self-defense?
This falls in line with what 22:40-41 says,
“Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged… Those who have been driven out from their homes unjustly only because they said, ‘Our Lord is God’ — And if God did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down temples and churches and synagogues and mosques.”
Wait–Temples, churches, and synagogues? It’s almost as if the Qur’an is for defending other religions in times of war.
For instance, notice who is killing and attacking first in 3:21,
“Those who disbelieve in the signs of Allah and kill the prophets without right and kill those who order justice from among the people – give them tidings of a painful punishment.”
Also, at the end of 2:193 it says,
“But if they cease, then there is to be no aggression except against the oppressors.”
Except against oppressors. You heard it.
2) “Muslims must not take infidels as friends.”
3:28 actually says:
“Let not believers take disbelievers as allies rather than believers. And whoever [of you] does that has nothing with Allah, except when taking precaution against them in prudence. And Allah warns you of Himself, and to Allah is the [final] destination.”
Does anyone else notice the “rather than believers” part? Or how about the “except when taking precaution against them in prudence”? I wonder what other Qur’anic passages say about this:
60:8: “Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes – from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.” What if I told Muslims might even have been granted permission to eat with and possibly marry Christians and Jews (“People of the Book”)? Check out 5:5: “This day [all] good foods have been made lawful, and the food of those who were given the Scripture is lawful for you and your food is lawful for them. And [lawful in marriage are] chaste women from among the believers and chaste women from among those who were given the Scripture before you, when you have given them their due compensation, desiring chastity, not unlawful sexual intercourse or taking [secret] lovers.”
Let’s put it this way, if this meme is correct on face value, all the Muslims I know would not be following the Quran.
3) “Any religion other than Islam is not acceptable.”
3:85 actually says,
“And whoever desires other than Islam as religion – never will it be accepted from him, and he, in the Hereafter, will be among the losers.”
Using this verse as a way to support the conclusion that ISIS interprets the Qur’an correctly seems quite mistaken. This says nothing about military action or violence. It is theologically, not militarily, focused. If you don’t believe me, read the few verses following 85 and tell me it’s not theological.
4) “Maim and crucify the infidels if they criticize Islam.”
5:33 actually says:
“Indeed, the penalty for those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive upon earth [to cause] corruption is none but that they be killed or crucified or that their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides or that they be exiled from the land. That is for them a disgrace in this world; and for them in the Hereafter is a great punishment.”
Notice the initial instigator of violence: “Those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger.” Now, I’m no fan of crucifying or lobbing of the hands and feet of enemy offenders, but this is certainly not something particular to Muslims during that time. See what happened to Sumayyah bint Khayyat, Bilal the Abyssinian, or what the Quraysh leadership did to other early Muslims. But this is no tit-for-tat argument. It’s merely pointing to historical context.
Most importantly, I want you to read verse 32: “Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. And our messengers had certainly come to them with clear proofs. Then indeed many of them, [even] after that, throughout the land, were transgressors” [italics mine].
So does this verse advocate crucifying and maiming infidels at all times and in all places? No. Does it say to early Muslims, during a war in which they are on the defensive, that they could corporeally punish their oppressors? Possibly. Either way, this is not the same thing this meme attempts to express.
5) “Muslims must muster all weapons to terrorize the infidels.”
8:60 actually says:
“And prepare against them whatever you are able of power and of steeds of war by which you may terrify the enemy of Allah and your enemy and others besides them whom you do not know [but] whom Allah knows. And whatever you spend in the cause of Allah will be fully repaid to you, and you will not be wronged.”
If only people would read the following verse, which says, “And if they incline to peace, then incline to it [also] and rely upon Allah.” Preparing for oppression to spark fear in oppressors is not the same as a preemptive strike. This is most certainly not what ISIS is doing.
6) “Make war on the infidels living in your neighborhood.”
9:123 actually says,
“O you who have believed, fight those adjacent to you of the disbelievers and let them find in you harshness. And know that Allah is with the righteous.”
Not only is this Surah dealing with treaties and rules of war (see preceding verse), it’s also about the suffering of early Muslims. Verse 128 says, “There has certainly come to you a Messenger from among yourselves. Grievous to him is what you suffer; [he is] concerned over you.” Muslims were suffering, on the defensive, and having to prepare for attacks. They were not doing what ISIS is doing now. (Also read Qasim Rashid’s amazing piece on Muhammed’s rules of war and Jeremiah Bowden’s excellent piece on war and jihad.)
Now, I’m no scholar of Islamic military jurisprudence (“Fiqh”), but it doesn’t take one to see how misleading this meme is.
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Kile Jones is an atheist involved in inter-faith dialogue who works towards building bridges between non-believers and religious persons. He is also the founder of “Interview an Atheist at Church Day” and Claremont Journal of Religion. His twitter is @KileBJones