Many Westerners continue to think of the Quran as a book of violence, which stands in sharp contrast to the Bible, a book of love. In his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), Catholic apologist Robert Spencer (kingpin of the anti-Muslim cyber-world) feeds into this Orientalism-on-steroids view of Islam. Spencer claims that the Quran is the single most violent religious scripture on earth. He dismisses any comparison to the Bible, arguing that “there is nothing in the Bible that rivals the Qur’an’s exhortations to violence.”
We responded by producing oodles of violent Biblical passages (see parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of this Series), which are in fact way more violent than the Quran. The Bible, unlike the Quran, sanctions the targeting and killing of civilians (including women, children, and even babies); it sanctions genocide. No such thing can be found in the Quran. One simply cannot find any verse in the Quran that calls to kill babies like the Bible explicitly does.
Spencer et al. respond to these passages by claiming that the Biblical passages are merely “descriptive”, unlike the Quran’s violent passages that are supposedly “prescriptive, open-ended, and universal.” Anyone who follows such debates knows how crucial this counter-argument is to the anti-Muslim camp. It has been the shield with which they protect their hypocrisy, insulating themselves from Mutually Assured Destruction in these My-Holy-Book-is-Better-Than-Yours Holy Wars.
In this article (see pages I, II, and III), that counter-argument (so loved and cherished by Islamophobes) has finally been laid to rest: it has been shot dead like bin Ladin. Clearly, there are verses in the Bible that condone violence–passages that are prescriptive, open-ended, and universal commandments to wage holy war against unbelievers and to enslave them–at least according to the standards and methodology employed by Robert Spencer et al. against the Quran.
The Islamophobes have immediately reacted by claiming that “you can’t possibly compare those Biblical passages with the Quranic verses!” and then focus on (and magnify) some perceived insignificant difference between the phrasing of the two books. Yet, if we place the two texts side by side, there seems little reason to appreciate any significant difference at all (at least in a way that would benefit the Bible). If we consider the Quranic verses to be “prescriptive, open-ended, and universal”, then certainly the Biblical passages (discussed on pages 1-3) are as well. In fact, there is ample reason to consider them more so.
The Bible, for instance, says:
Psalms 149:5 Let godly people triumph in glory. Let them sing for joy on their beds.
149:6 Let the praises of God be in their mouths, and a two-edged sword in their hands,
149:7 to execute vengeance on the heathen and punishment on the people,
149:8 to bind their kings with chains, and their leaders with iron shackles.
The only way Robert Spencer and his minions can explain why these verses “don’t count” is by arguing that these were psalms attributed to King David and that therefore should not be understood as universal commandments; rather, these apply only to a specific person (David) in a specific time (thousands of years ago) in a specific scenario (the divinely sanctioned war with the inhabitants of Canaan).
Yet, if these Biblical verses “don’t count” because of this reason, then the Quranic verses he cited should also “not count” either since the same exact reasoning can be employed. These were Quranic verses revealed to a specific person (Muhammad) in a specific time (1,400 years ago) in a specific scenario (the war against the enemy tribes of seventh century Arabia).
Once again, Spencer’s own selection of quotes is all the proof that is needed to refute him. Spencer writes (emphasis is ours):
Islamic apologists more often tend to focus on several Old Testament passages:
* “When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you. And when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them” (Deuteronomy 7:1-2)
* “When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you. However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. When the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you. Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes” (Deuteronomy 20:10-17).
* “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves” (Numbers 31:17-18).
Strong stuff, right? Just as bad as “slay the unbelievers wherever you find them” (Qur’an 9:5) and “Therefore, when ye meet the unbelievers in fight, smite at their necks; at length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly on them” (Quran 47:4) and all the rest, right?
Wrong. Unless you happen to be a Hittite, Girgashite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, or Jebusite, [the Seven Nations] these Biblical passages simply do not apply to you. The Qur’an exhorts believers to fight unbelievers without specifying anywhere in the text that only certain unbelievers are to be fought, or only for a certain period of time, or some other distinction. Taking the texts at face value, the command to make war against unbelievers is open-ended and universal. The Old Testament, in contrast, records God’s commands to the Israelites to make war against particular people only. This is jarring to modern sensibilities, to be sure, but it does not amount to the same thing.
Notice that he cites verse 9:5 as proof of the Quran’s “prescriptive, open-ended, and universal command to make war against unbelievers.” Yet, on the very same page of his own book (p.29 of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades) Spencer quotes verse 9:13 of the Quran (just a few lines down from 9:5), which says:
“Will ye not fight a folk who broke their solemn pledges, and purposed to drive out the messenger and did attack you first?” [Qur’an 9:13]
You can read this verse at the top right hand corner on p.29 of Spencer’s own book (click the image below to view):
Clearly, the Quranic passage is not talking about any or all unbelievers for all time. Rather, this Quranic passage was revealed with regard to a very specific situation and against a very specific group of “unbelievers”, namely those “who broke their solemn pledges [peace treaties]…and attacked you first”, and who even tried to “drive out the messenger” from the city. Just as Spencer et al. argue that those Biblical verses apply only to nations that no longer exist, so too can Muslims today argue that this passage is only against those who “drove out the Messenger” (Muhammad). Since the Prophet Muhammad is no longer alive, couldn’t it be said that there is no “folk” on earth who could drive him out, and therefore the passage does not apply to anyone any more?
Another key phrase in the passage is “they did attack you first”, which supports the idea that the Quran, quite unlike the Bible, endorses war in self-defense only. This point will be explored in a future article in the Series. But for now, we can safely say that the passage is–at least as much as the psalms are–speaking about a very specific situation and a very specific people: namely, “a folk who broke their solemn pledges, and purposed to drive out the messenger and did attack you first.” If this explanation suffices for our opponents with regard to their own holy book, then why can’t Muslims also use it for their own scriptures? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
Robert Spencer has also relied on another common tactic of deception used by Islamophobes to convince the reader that the Quran contains “prescriptive, open-ended, and universal” commandments to wage holy war with infidels. He quotes verse 9:5 as follows: “slay the unbelievers wherever you find them.” By wrenching this verse out of context, the conspiratorial Islamophobe convinces the reader that the Quran instructs Muslims to kill non-Muslims wherever, anywhere–even at the gas station, the bookstore, or even at the local Walmart! If you see a pious Muslim at Walmart, be very careful, because his holy book commands him to kill you “wherever”! (The Muslim’s failure to do so is only a reflection of his taqiyya or his ignorance of his own religion!)
This phrase found in 9:5 (“slay the unbelievers wherever you find them”) is actually a repetition of an earlier verse (2:191), which also says: “slay them wherever you find them”. This was not, however, an open license to wage war against all unbelievers anywhere, everywhere. In fact, the verse is mitigated by what comes before and after it:
2:190 Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities! For God loves not aggressors.
2:191 And slay them wherever you find them, and drive them out of the places wherever they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And do not fight them at the Sacred Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you there, then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.
2:192 But if they cease, God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
2:193 And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for God. But if they cease, let there be no hostility except towards those who practise oppression.
The word “wherever” was clarifying an issue that the early Muslims faced: was it permissible to fight in the Sacred Place (the environs of the Holy Kaaba)? It was from this place that the pagans drove the Muslims out (and hence the command to “drive them out of the places wherever they drove you out”).
Many of the early Muslims felt uncomfortable fighting in the holy place where it was normally not permitted to do so. According to Islamic belief, it is forbidden to hit anyone in the Sacred Place (the environs of the Holy Kaaba). Even killing an insect within the Sacred Place is prohibited, so how could the Muslims fight and “slay” enemies therein? To this, the Quran answers: “slay them wherever you find them”, i.e. even if it happens to be inside the Sacred Place.
The word “wherever” is not sanctioning violence everywhere; rather, it is permitting fighting in the Sacred Place if necessary.
Reading the entire passage altogether, it is impossible to conclude that this is an open-ended call for global warfare and unending aggression, especially since “God loves not aggressors.” More importantly, the passage itself shows that it is about a very specific situation and against a particular people.
Spencer also cites 47:4, once again only partially reproducing the verse; here is Spencer’s rendition:
“Therefore, when ye meet the unbelievers in fight, smite at their necks; at length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly on them” (Quran 47:4)
It becomes very obvious why Spencer chose to omit the rest of the verse, which in its entirety reads:
47:4 Therefore, when you meet the disbelievers in battle, smite at their necks, until you have defeated them, then firmly bind them (as prisoners). Afterward, free them out of generosity or by ransom–until the toils of war end. Thus are you commanded. God could have defeated them Himself if He had willed, but His purpose is to test some of you by means of others. As for those slain in the way of God, He will not let their deeds be for nothing.
The verse is hardly a “prescriptive, open-ended, and universal commandment to wage holy war against infidels”. Instead, it is a command given to the early Muslims with regard to a particular battle they were involved in. The Muslims were instructed to fight the enemy (“smite at their necks” in holy speak), take the enemy soldiers on the battlefield as prisoners, and then free them “out of generosity” (grant them their freedom of out of grace) or free them “by ransom” (exchanging them for Muslim prisoners of war or for a fee).
Compare the Quran’s treatment of prisoners of war in these verses (of Spencer’s own choosing!) with the Biblical verses quoted by Robert Spencer himself:
Deuteronomy 7:2 When the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them.
The Quran says that “[after] you have defeated them” and have taken them as prisoners, “free them”; on the other hand, the Bible says “[after] you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them”–which, as we have seen, in Bible talk means exactly that: ethnic cleansing and genocide. The Quran says to free them out of generosity as a favor to them, whereas the Bible ominously warns: “show no favor to them”.
As can be seen, Spencer’s own selection of verses proves our assertion and what Prof. Philip Jenkins argued:
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. 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.
As always, there is a need for an important disclaimer here. Nowhere are we trying to say that Judaism/Christianity/Bible are violent, full stop. Rather, what we are saying is that if we use the same methodology that Robert Spencer and the other Islamophobes employ against Islam/Quran, then in that case Judaism/Christianity/Bible are even more violent. Therefore, any conclusions that follow should apply equally or more so. Indeed, this becomes even more apparent when we expose the manipulation of texts, the misleading use of tactical ellipses, and the sleight of hand tricks employed by Robert Spencer et al.
There are many ways that moderate Jews and Christians “restrict” the violent verses of the Bible. Insisting that Jews and Christians must understand their holy text in a certain way would not only be obtuse, it would be counterproductive. Yet, why is it that these anti-Muslim ideologues allow theological and textual acrobatics when it comes to the Bible, but meanwhile they forbid the contextualization of Quranic verses? Certainly it is much easier to “constrain” the violent verses of the Quran than it is for the Bible, since the Quran itself almost always cushions these verses in between mitigating verses. This contrasts quite considerably with the Bible, which has violent verses wrapped in violent passages.
When we published pages I-III of this article, Islamophobes quickly responded by arguing that the Biblical passages we cited don’t actually call for open-ended and universal violence against heathens. To “constrain” the meaning of these verses, they use various explanations and arguments: “these passages only refer to a specific situation, time, context, and people” or “that’s just the Old Testament”, etc. etc. To bolster these claims, they look for proof in the Bible itself.
But the truth is that for every proof they provide for their argument, another can be found against it. There is nothing in the Bible that clearly and unequivocally supports either of these or other such arguments. Some would even say it’s “textual acrobatics”. As we stated before, there is nothing wrong with mitigating the Bible’s violence in this way; it’s even quite laudable. The question though is: why do these same people insist that absolutely no contextualization can be done with the violent-sounding Quranic verses?
Pound for pound, there is far more violence in the Bible than in the Quran. Specifically, the Bible sanctions the killing of civilians (women, children, and even babies), and endorses wholesale genocide. Moreover, there is more “explanation” necessitated and more textual acrobatics needed to mitigate these violent Biblical passages. So why then focus on the Quran? Here, an appropriate Biblical verse is applicable:
Matthew 7:5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.