Joseph Lumbard is “Assistant Professor of Arabic and Translation Studies, American University of Sharjah” in the UAE; apparently he has left Brandeis, where he was in 2014 when he promised to “dominate” me in debate, and then ran away. A convert to Islam, he is an editor of the cynical and deceptive new Study Quran that has been hailed as the true “moderate” version of the Muslim book.
This piece is just as cynical and deceptive. This pseudo-academic charlatan and deceiver spends many windy paragraphs explaining that the Qur’an has context that jihadis ignore, and then proceeds to ignore it himself. In attempting to explain away Qur’an 9:5, “slay the idolaters wherever you find them,” he makes no mention what classic and mainstream Qur’an commentators say about the verse: Ibn Juzayy notes that v. 5 abrogates “every peace treaty in the Qur’an,” and specifically abrogates the Qur’an’s directive to “set free or ransom” captive unbelievers (47:4). According to As-Suyuti, “This is an Ayat of the Sword which abrogates pardon, truce and overlooking” — that is, perhaps the overlooking of the pagans’ offenses. The Tafsir al-Jalalayn says that the Muslims must “slay the idolaters wherever you find them, be it during a lawful [period] or a sacred [one], and take them, captive, and confine them, to castles and forts, until they have no choice except death or Islam.”
Ibn Kathir echoes this, directing that Muslims should “not wait until you find them. Rather, seek and besiege them in their areas and forts, gather intelligence about them in the various roads and fairways so that what is made wide looks ever smaller to them. This way, they will have no choice, but to die or embrace Islam.” He also doesn’t seem to subscribe to the view commonly put forward by Muslim spokesmen in the West today — that this verse applies only to the pagans of Arabia in Muhammad’s time, and has no further application. He asserts, on the contrary, that “slay the unbelievers wherever you find them” means just that: the unbelievers must be killed “on the earth in general, except for the Sacred Area” — that is, the sacred mosque in Mecca, in accord with Qur’an 2:191.
If the unbelievers convert to Islam, the Muslims must stop killing them. The Tafsir al-Jalalayn: “But if they repent, of unbelief, and establish prayer and pay the alms, then leave their way free, and do not interfere with them.” Ibn Kathir: “These Ayat [verses] allowed fighting people unless, and until, they embrace Islam and implement its rulings and obligations.” Qutb says that the termination of the treaties with a four-month grace period, combined with the call to kill the unbelievers, “was not meant as a campaign of vengeance or extermination, but rather as a warning which provided a motive for them to accept Islam.”
Finally, it is noteworthy that, according to As-Suyuti, the jurist Ash-Shafi’i took this as a proof for killing anyone who abandons the prayer and fighting anyone who refuses to pay zakat [alms]. “Some use it as a proof that they are kafirun [unbelievers].” Likewise Ibn Kathir: “Abu Bakr As-Siddiq used this and other honorable Ayat as proof for fighting those who refrained from paying the Zakah.” Thus even Muslims who do not fulfill Islamic obligations fall into the category of those who must be fought. This is a principle that latter-day Salafist movements apply broadly and use frequently in branding governments that do not rule according to strict Islamic law as unbelievers who must be fought by those who regard themselves as true Muslims. This is playing out now in the Islamic State’s declaration that those Muslims who do not accept its authority are unbelievers and can therefore lawfully be killed.
Joseph Lumbard won’t tell you any of this. He would prefer you believe that the Qur’an teaches peace, and that jihadis are misunderstanding it on a massive global scale. If that were true, can Lumbard explain why Muslim clerics have so signally failed to teach the true, peaceful Islam to their people?
“Understanding the Relationship Between the Quran and Extremism,” by Joseph E. B. Lumbard, Huffington Post, March 23, 2016:
…Muslim scholars have always been aware that texts have historical contexts and must be understood in accordance with them. One of the central tools for Quranic interpretation is the “occasions of revelation.” These reports outline the particular historical circumstances in which passages of the Quran were first articulated. They are essential for interpretation and are employed in all major Quran commentaries. In one instance, Ali ibn Abi Talib told a man that if he did not know the “occasions of revelation,” or historical contexts, he should not comment on the Quran.
The “occasions of revelation” guide interpreters in determining which verses have broad application and which are more limited in scope. They restrict the application of several Quranic verses to particular historical circumstances. The most famous instance of such contextual limitation is perhaps Quran 9:5, known as “The Sword Verse”:
Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wheresoever you find them, capture them, besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer and give the alms, then let them go their way.
The majority of Muslim scholars maintain that the phrase “slay the idolaters wheresoever you find them” refers to particular tribes that had declared open warfare on the Muslims during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad. Awareness of this historical circumstance contains and restrains the interpretation of the verse, thus preventing the wanton and unwarranted applications that those with political ambitions and apocalyptic visions seek today. As Qadi Abu Bakr, one of the most influential commentators in Islamic history writes, “It is clear that the intended meaning of the verse is to slay those idolaters who are waging war against you.” Heeding the call to fight issued in Quran 9:5 is thus conditional upon there being an existing state of aggression. If, however, one casts aside historical context and interpretive tradition, passages such as 9:5 are employed by strident ideologues to advocate a state of perpetual warfare….