Here we go again: more smooth lies, half-truths, detours and deceptions — anything to keep us from looking squarely at the jihad doctrine as delineated by the Qur’an and Sunnah. It’s interesting that Philip Jenkins gets a big feature on NPR for claiming that the Bible is more violent than the Qur’an — when NPR offers the opposing view, featuring someone who says that the Qur’an is more violent than the Bible, we will know that the End Times have begun. “Is The Bible More Violent Than The Quran?,” by Barbara Bradley Hagerty for NPR, March 18 (thanks to all who sent this in):
As the hijackers boarded the airplanes on Sept. 11, 2001, they had a lot on their minds. And if they were following instructions, one of those things was the Quran.
In preparation for the suicide attack, their handlers had told them to meditate on two chapters of the Quran in which God tells Muslims to “cast terror into the hearts of unbelievers.”
“Slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them,” Allah instructs the Prophet Muhammad (Quran, 9:5). He continues: “Prophet! Make war on the unbelievers and the hypocrites! … Hell shall be their home, an evil fate.”
When Osama bin Laden declared war on the West in 1996, he cited the Quran’s command to “strike off” the heads of unbelievers. More recently, U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan lectured his colleagues about jihad, or “holy war,” and the Quran’s exhortation to fight unbelievers and bring them low. Hasan is accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, last year.
Given this violent legacy, religion historian Philip Jenkins decided to compare the brutality quotient of the Quran and the Bible.
Defense Vs. Total Annihilation
“Much to my surprise, the Islamic scriptures in the Quran were actually far less bloody and less violent than those in the Bible,” Jenkins says.
Jenkins is a professor at Penn State University and author of two books dealing with the issue: the recently published Jesus Wars, and Dark Passages , which has not been published but is already drawing controversy.
Violence in the Quran, he and others say, is largely a defense against attack.
“By the standards of the time, which is the 7th century A.D., the laws of war that are laid down by the Quran are actually reasonably humane,” he says. “Then we turn to the Bible, and we actually find something that is for many people a real surprise. There is a specific kind of warfare laid down in the Bible which we can only call genocide.”
It is called herem, and it means total annihilation. Consider the Book of 1 Samuel, when God instructs King Saul to attack the Amalekites: “And utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them,” God says through the prophet Samuel. “But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”
When Saul failed to do that, God took away his kingdom.
“In other words,” Jenkins says, “Saul has committed a dreadful sin by failing to complete genocide. And that passage echoes through Christian history. It is often used, for example, in American stories of the confrontation with Indians — not just is it legitimate to kill Indians, but you are violating God’s law if you do not.”
Jenkins notes that the history of Christianity is strewn with herem. During the Crusades in the Middle Ages, the Catholic popes declared the Muslims Amalekites. In the great religious wars in the 16th, 17th and 19th centuries, Protestants and Catholics each believed the other side were the Amalekites and should be utterly destroyed.
But Jenkins says, even though the Bible is violent, Christianity and Judaism today are not for the most part.
“What happens in all religions as they grow and mature and expand, they go through a process of forgetting of the original violence, and I call this a process of holy amnesia,” Jenkins says.
They make the violence symbolic: Wiping out the enemy becomes wiping out one’s own sins. Jenkins says that until recently, Islam had the same sort of holy amnesia, and many Muslims interpreted jihad, for example, as an internal struggle, not physical warfare….
So is it just that simple? Religious texts teach violence, and so believers commit acts of violence that they believe will please God, until they just forget that the texts that teach violence are actually in their Scriptures? And what exactly makes them do this forgetting? Setting aside the fact that the Old Testament passages Jenkins cites are specific commands for a particular times and place, not universal commands for all believers for all time to make war against unbelievers, as we see in the Qur’an, it is also true that Jenkins completely ignores the fact that it was Jewish and Christian principles involving the dignity of the human person as made in the image of God that led to the spiritualizing of violent passages in the first place. He also neglects to mention that when these passages were used in history to justify violence, this was contrary to their mainstream interpretations both before and after the periods in which the violence was committed.
In Islam, by contrast, there is such a sharp dichotomy between the believer and the unbeliever (cf. Qur’an 48:29, which tells the Muslim to behave mercifully to fellow believers, but harshly to unbelievers), that the spiritualizing of violent Qur’anic passages has never taken place. Jenkins claims that “until recently, Islam had the same sort of holy amnesia, and many Muslims interpreted jihad, for example, as an internal struggle, not physical warfare.” In reality, the two understandings have never been considered mutually exclusive by Islamic scholars. Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and great proponent of violent jihad, mandated Sufi spiritual exercises for the early Brothers, so that they would not neglect the aspect of jihad as internal struggle. The Chechen jihad was long led by Sufis — the great proponents of that internal jihad.
And it simply isn’t true that until recently, the prevailing understanding among Muslims was that jihad is an internal struggle, but now that is changing. Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee, Assistant Professor on the Faculty of Shari’ah and Law of the International Islamic University in Islamabad, his 1994 book The Methodology of Ijtihad offers a quite different explanation of why jihad may appear to be a relatively recent phenomenon. He asserts: “The primary goal of the Muslim community, in the eyes of its jurists, is to spread the word of Allah through jihad, and the option of poll-tax [jizya] is to be exercised only after subjugation” of non-Muslims. But if this is so, why hasn’t the worldwide Islamic community been waging jihad on a large scale up until relatively recently? Nyazee says it is only because they have not been able to do so: “the Muslim community may be considered to be passing through a period of truce. In its present state of weakness, there is nothing much it can do about it.”
Perhaps Philip Jenkins would be so kind as to explain to Imran Ahsan Khan Nyazee how he misunderstands Islam. Or perhaps Waleed El-Ansary, who is cited later on in the NPR piece, would take on the job:
That may be the popular notion of jihad, says Waleed El-Ansary, but it’s the wrong one. El-Ansary, who teaches Islamic studies at the University of South Carolina, says the Quran explicitly condemns religious aggression and the killing of civilians. And it makes the distinction between jihad — legal warfare with the proper rules of engagement — and irjaf, or terrorism.
“All of those types of incidences — [Sept. 11], Maj. Nidal Hasan and so forth — those are all examples of irjaf, not jihad,” he says. According to the Quran, he says, those who practice irjaf “are going to hell.”
The problem with El-Ansary’s slick explanation, of course, is that the Qur’an actually never “condemns religious aggression and the killing of civilians” — if those civilians are non-Muslims. The NPR article offers no supporting citations. I invite all Muslim readers of this site (and non-Muslim Islamic apologists) to offer verses to support this assertion in the comments field below, and I will check in from time to time and examine each one that is offered in light of the mainstream and authoritative tafasir, or Muslim commentaries on the Qur’an.
So what’s going on here? After all, we all have images of Muslim radicals flying planes into buildings, shooting up soldiers at Fort Hood, trying to detonate a bomb on an airplane on Christmas Day. How to reconcile a peaceful Quran with these violent acts?
El-Ansary says that in the past 30 years, there’s been a perfect storm that has created a violent strain of Islam. The first is political: frustration at Western intervention in the Muslim world. The second is intellectual: the rise of Wahhabi Islam, a more fundamentalist interpretation of Islam subscribed to by Osama bin Laden. El-Ansary says fundamentalists have distorted Islam for political purposes.
“Basically what they do is they take verses out of context and then use that to justify these egregious actions,” he says.
Contradiction: the word “fundamentalist,” which is misapplied to Islam in the first place, usually means someone who takes the text literally. But here El-Ansary would have us understand that the “fundamentalists” in Islam are misusing the texts. So then how are they fundamentalists at all?
El-Ansary says we are seeing more religious violence from Muslims now because the Islamic world is far more religious than is the West.
Wait a minute. The Islamic world is more religious, and yet so few people seem to notice that the Islamic jihadists are taking all these Qur’anic verses out of context?
Still, Jenkins says Judeo-Christian cultures shouldn’t be smug. The Bible has plenty of violence.
“The scriptures are still there, dormant, but not dead,” he says, “and they can be resurrected at any time. Witness the white supremacists who cite the murderous Phineas when calling for racial purity, or an anti-abortion activist when shooting a doctor who performs abortions….
15,000 Islamic jihad attacks, about half a dozen murders of abortionists in the last thirty years, and they’re equivalent. Right.