Saturday, September 23, 2006

A Religion
The Sword

One Sunday, a couple years back, my Pastor gave a sermon in which he compared Christianity and Islam. He concluded by calling Islam a "religion of the sword." When I heard him say that I thought, "Wow, that's a bit extreme." Those were in the days shortly after I began to become aware of the rise of the new anti-Semitism. At that point I still thought was more or less like any other religion, but perhaps with a few more crazies.

Today, a stellar piece of writing on the subject of Islam appears over at the Australian News today. I suggest reading
the whole thing, but will excerpt this section here dealing with Islamic scriptures which support violence:

Saudi Arabia's most senior cleric also explained that war was never Islam's ancient founder, the prophet Mohammed's, first choice: "He gave three options: either accept Islam, or surrender and pay tax, and they will be allowed to remain in their land, observing their religion under the protection of Muslims." Thus, according to the Grand Mufti, the third option of violence against non-Muslims was only a last resort, if they refused to convert or surrender peacefully to the armies of Islam.

Abdel went on to urge people to read the Koran and Sunnah (the record of Mohammed's teaching and example) for themselves, pointing out that the Koran, Islam's equivalent of scripture, has been translated into many of the world's languages: "Those who read the Koran and the Sunnah can understand the facts."

On this at least the Archbishop of Sydney and the Saudi Grand Mufti do agree, for in an address earlier this year, Pell also urged people to read the Koran.

Accessing the facts: So what are these facts contained in the Koran and Sunnah that the Grand Mufti would have us read? As it happens, reading the Koran is not without its difficulties. There is, for a start, the thorny problem of context. The Koran gives little help with this: it does not mark off specific passages one from another and its 114 chapters (suras) are not laid out in chronological order.

The keys to unlocking the context for individual passages of the Koran can be found in the life of Mohammed, the Sunnah. The sources for the Sunnah are the traditions (hadiths), of which Sunnis recognise six canonical collections, and biographies of Mohammed (sira literature). Although the volume of this material is considerable, it is now largely available in English translation, much of it on the internet.

In addition to the inherent difficulty of the sources, many secular Westerners rely on certain crippling preconceptions. One is the often-heard mantra that "all religions are the same". Another is the claim that "anyone can justify violence from any religious text". This idea stretches back at least to Rousseau, who considered any and all forms of religion to be pernicious.

Either of these views, if firmly held, would tend to sabotage anyone's ability to investigate the Koran's distinctive take on violence.

There is another obstacle, and that is Western culture's own sense of guilt and suspicion of what it regards as Christian hypocrisy.

Any attempt to critique some of Islam's teachings is likely to be met with loud and vociferous denunciations of the church's moral failings, such as its appalling track record of anti-Semitism. And did I mention the crusades? Finally, the reality is that Muslims adhere to widely varying beliefs and practices. Most people are understandably afraid to come to their own conclusions about violent passages in the Koran, lest they find themselves demonising Muslims.

But does the Koran incite violence, and how does its message compare with the Bible?

The Koran: It is self-evident that some Koranic verses encourage violence. Consider for example a verse which implies that fighting is "good for you": "Fighting is prescribed upon you, and you dislike it. But it may happen that you dislike a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that you love a thing which is bad for you. And Allah knows and you know not." (2:216)
On the other hand, it is equally clear that there are peaceful verses as well, including the famous "no compulsion in religion" (2:256).

Resolving apparently contradictory messages presents one of the central interpretative challenges of the Koran. Muslims do not agree today on how best to address this. For this reason alone it could be regarded as unreasonable to claim that any one interpretation of the Koran is the correct one.

Nevertheless, a consensus developed very early in the history of Islam about this problem. This method relies on a theory of stages in the development of Mohammed's prophetic career. It also appeals to a doctrine known as abrogation, which states that verses revealed later can cancel out or qualify verses revealed earlier.

The classical approach to violence in the Koran was neatly summed up in an essay on jihad in the Koran by Sheikh Abdullah bin Muhammad bin Hamid, former chief justice of Saudi Arabia: "So at first 'the fighting' was forbidden, then it was permitted and after that it was made obligatory: (1) against those who start 'the fighting' against you (Muslims) ... (2) And against all those who worship others along with Allah."

At the beginning, in Mohammed's Meccan period, when he was weaker and his followers few, passages of the Koran encouraged peaceful relations and avoidance of conflict: "Invite (all) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious." (16:125)

Later, after persecution and emigration to Medina in the first year of the Islamic calendar, authority was given to engage in warfare for defensive purposes only: "Fight in the path of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits, for God does not love transgressors." (2:190)

As the Muslim community grew stronger and conflict with its neighbours did not abate, further revelations expanded the licence for waging war, until in Sura 9, regarded as one of the last chapters to be revealed, it is concluded that war against non-Muslims could be waged more or less at any time and in any place to extend the dominance of Islam. Sura 9 distinguished idolators, who were to be fought until they converted - "When the sacred months are past, kill the idolators wherever you find them, and seize them, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them in every place of ambush" (Sura 9:5) - from "People of the Book" (Christians and Jews), who were to be given a further option of surrendering and living under Islamic rule while keeping their religion: "Fight ... the People of the Book until they pay the poll tax out of hand, having been humbled." (Sura 9:29)

The resulting doctrine of war was described by the great medieval philosopher Ibn Khaldun: "In the Muslim community, the holy war (jihad) is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the (Muslim) mission and the (obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force." (The Muqaddimah)

Let me point you over to my sidebar where I now have a link to the Koran and Sunnah, the sacred scriptures of Islam.
If you have trouble believing anything in this article, look it up.

I highly suggest everyone read Sura 9 of the Koran at least once, and keep in mind when you do that that chapter is one of the last things Mohammed wrote. Therefore, its commandments and assertions abrogate (take precedence over) earlier passages.

That is why, while there may be many decent people who are Muslims, there is no major moderate Muslim political organization, media outlet, academic institution or government anywhere in the entire world. The more seriously one studies the Koran the more one must come to the conclusion that Mohammed's kingdom Dar al-Islam and Sharia law) must be spread and violence must be used, if the Infidel resists.

We have a big problem on our hands.