A remarkably clear-sighted essay from Gordon Nickel in the National Post:
The problem of Muslim radicalization has been on the agenda of all nations since 9/11. But Canada faces a unique dilemma because the doctrine of multiculturalism is seen as intrinsic to our national identity. The recent disruption of an alleged homegrown Islamist terror plot has caused many Canadians to ask: How can multiculturalism — which preaches tolerance above all else — be squared with a militant, intolerant creed that demonizes non-believers? This week, the National Post presents a week-long series of articles examining this question. In today’s second instalment, Gordon Nickel examines the claim that Islam is inherently a ‘religion of peace.’
Since the London bombings of 7/7, there has been a renewed effort among Muslims in the West to present Islam as a religion of peace. This has come in response to persistent probing of the relationship between Islam and violence. Here in Canada, this issue recently leapt to the front pages following news that all 17 suspects in an alleged Ontario-based terror plot are Muslim.
For some Muslims, the rise of homegrown terror has meant an interest in re-examining the foundational texts that extremists have used to justify their attacks — the Koran, the Hadith (traditions of what the prophet of Islam said and did), the Sira (earliest biography of the prophet), and works of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). Some are challenging classical interpretations of these texts that have held sway for centuries.
When the Koran is cited by Muslims in response to questions about violence, it is often discussed in such a way as to shut down a meaningful exploration of the text. One or two mild passages are usually offered, as if these fully represented the contents of a scripture containing 6,000-plus verses. But the Koran — literally “recitation” — is a collection of diverse materials that include polemic, praise, eschatology, law, narrative, battle calls, and details of the domestic life of the Prophet.
In particular, the sourcebooks contain a great deal of material relating to violence. This article reviews that small part of the material that is directly relevant to any debate about the link between Islam and terror: the commands to fight and kill.
The Koran contains five commands to kill and 12 commands to fight (literally, “try to kill”). Most are found in the second (verses 190, 191, 193, 244), fourth (vv. 76, 84, 89, 91) and ninth (vv. 5, 12, 14, 29, 36, 123) suras.
The commands address a number of different situations, from “fighting those who fight you” to “fighting totally.” The objects of the fighting and killing include the unbelievers, the “associators” (mushrikin, or polytheists) and “the friends of Satan.”
In classical Muslim discussions of these verses, two verses attracted more attention than any others. They came to be known as “the sword verse” (9.5) and “the verse of tribute” (9.29).
The verse of tribute concerns the “people of the book” — generally understood by Muslims to be faith communities possessing a scripture, especially Jews and Christians. The command is to fight those who have been given the book “until they pay the tribute (jizya) out of hand and have been humbled.” The command in the sword verse is to “kill the associators (mushrikin) wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush.” At face value, therefore, polytheists appear to be at greater risk than Jews or Christians.
The Arabic verb in all of these verses is not the verb related to jihad. Rather, it is the verb qatala in its first (“to kill”) and third (“to fight, try to kill”) forms. The Koran contains many other verses using forms of qatala which — though not imperatives — appear to encourage fighting or killing. Among these is 61.4: “Allah loves those who fight in his way.”
Don’t fail to read it all.