Islam vs. Religious Freedom

Is this true?

quran-sword

One argument against Trump’s immigration ban is that it might be a “Muslim ban.”  This morning Virginia inserted an argument into the ongoing case equating a Muslim ban with segregation.  My approach is different.

I asked a friend at lunch yesterday if Islam was legal under American law, or prohibited because the Quran (sometimes spelled Koran) advocates violence?  My friend surprisingly suggested that such a question cannot be investigated because authoritative translations of the Quran cannot be identified by those outside the Muslim community, especially online, in the era of fake news, etc.

Methodology & Sources

My friend’s position is that of the ostrich.  “The facts might be unpleasant so I won’t look at them.”  My approach is to investigate to the best of our ability, whatever that is.  Let us choose the most Islam-friendly sources we can find and make them known and open to critique:

  1. https://quran.com/ – Appears to be maintained by sincere Islamists, and provides Arabic original for comparison by those able to read it.
  2. http://www.clearquran.com/ – A fresh English translation by American educated electrical engineer and resident and converted Muslim, Talal Itani.

Then from various hostile sources, taken section by section below, we will identify the supposed offensive commands and cross reference them to the friendly sources 1 & 2 and see if the interpretation holds up.

During the course we will consider friendly defenses of the verses.  Actually we found only one of these, defending one verse, but it might apply more broadly and has an interesting relation to violent-advocacy verses in the Old Testament (O.T.).

This is not a comparison of religions.  There is plenty of violence in the O.T. (e.g. Deuteronomy 7:16), with the Hebrews being urged to exterminate the Canaanites.  There is even child sacrifice seemingly rewarded by God (Judges 11), and commands to stone non-believers (Deuteronomy 15:5).  Christians are told “he who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7) and generally the Deuteronomic law is replaced by tolerance and forgiveness.  Jewish legalists both now and in ancient times carefully interpreted harsh laws as impossible because the preconditions could not be met (example of the rebellious son).  There exists Jewish terrorism (Wiki reference) but it is generally not linked to violent scripture.  It could be considered linked to land gifts in scripture.  Such claims are a matter of international law and diplomacy, however, not of U.S. legal code, and are to some degree at least opposed by U.N. resolutions against settlements.  (However, that suggests that comparable U.N. resolutions might be directed at Islam.)

Some sources claim “nearly all” O.T. injunctions are time limited (reference), but our examples refute that.  Trying to compare religions results in a sidetracked discussion.  The violent verses of the O.T. have never been cited by Jewish terrorists.  Christian terrorists either cite only political grievances (e.g. the IRA) or extremely vague scripture (e.g. Rev. Paul Hill, an abortion doctor assassin, quotes Psalms 91: “You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day.”  It does not seem possible to make a case for illegality of that scripture under the U.S. legal code.

Islamic terrorists themselves claim their acts are supported by the Quran, so on the face of it we could take them at their word, except that political leaders such as George Bush have denied it is a fundamental character of Islam (press release 9/17/2001, analysis).  My question here is more narrowly whether the claims of the Islamic terrorists that they were influenced to action by the Quran are supportable to the extent that the Quran could be considered to have substantially contributed and constitute illegal material in the manner of incitement to violence (18 U.S. Code § 2102) or advocacy of overthrow of the government (18 U.S. Code § 2385), which are illegal under U.S. law.

The Religion of Peace (TROP)

Our first hostile source, with a sarcastic title, claims to be a “fact-based site which examines the ideological threat that Islam poses to human dignity and freedom.”  It lists monthly terrorist attack statistics (which are daunting), and admonishes readers not to engage in similar tactics themselves, saying the site: “strongly condemns any attempt to harm or harass any Muslim anywhere in the world over their religion.  Every human is entitled to be treated as an individual and judged only by his or her own words and deeds.”  However, it makes the common error of assuming all O.T. incitements are time-limited.

TROP says “The Quran contains at least 109 verses that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers for the sake of Islamic rule.”  Obviously we’ll only look at a few.  One of the most often cited because of its dramatic form is Quran 9:5, from our friendly sources:

  1. And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the polytheists wherever you find them and capture them and besiege them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them [go] on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.
  2. When the Sacred Months have passed, kill the polytheists wherever you find them. And capture them, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayers, and pay the alms, then let them go their way. God is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.

I listed this one first because it is the one for which we have a rebuttal from Kabir Helminski (article in Huffington Post).  The rebuttal follows:

  • This was a guidance to the Prophet at that specific time to fight those idolaters who, as 9:4 mentions, violated their treaty obligations and helped others fight against the Muslims. It is not a general command to attack all non-Muslims, and it has never signified this to the overwhelming majority of Muslims throughout history. Had it been so, then every year, after the “sacred months are past,” (The “sacred months” are four months out of the year during which fighting is not allowed) history would have witnessed Muslims attacking every non-Muslim in sight. This yearly slaughter never occurred. Though the present verse is only one example, none of the Quranic verses that mention fighting justify aggression nor propose attacking anyone because of their religious beliefs. Nor were forced conversions recognized as valid under Islamic law.

Helminski does generalize his rebuttal to basically all other verses.  This is too general and cannot be accepted without question.  We might, however, examine them for ourselves, and we will.  We will also compare what TROP says about this verse:

  • According to this verse, the best way of staying safe from Muslim violence at the time of Muhammad was to convert to Islam: prayer (salat) and the poor tax (zakat) are among the religion’s Five Pillars. The popular claim that the Quran only inspires violence within the context of self-defense is seriously challenged by this passage as well, since the Muslims to whom it was written were obviously not under attack. Had they been, then there would have been no waiting period (earlier verses make it a duty for Muslims to fight in self-defense, even during the sacred months). The historical context is Mecca after the idolaters were subjugated by Muhammad and posed no threat. Once the Muslims had power, they violently evicted those unbelievers who would not convert.

    [Note: The verse says to fight unbelievers “wherever you find them”. Even if the context is in a time of battle (which it was not) the reading appears to sanction attacks against those “unbelievers” who are not on the battlefield. In 2016, the Islamic State referred to this verse in urging the faithful to commit terror attacks: Allah did not only command the ‘fighting’ of disbelievers, as if to say He only wants us to conduct frontline operations against them. Rather, He has also ordered that they be slain wherever they may be – on or off the battlefield.]

It seems to me from internal evidence in the text (the waiting period, and “wherever you find them,”) that TROP carries the day and Helminski’s defense is inadequate.  You, of course will make up your own mind, or already have.

I am greatly disappointed at not finding more elaborate defenses from the Islamists themselves.  It was so trivially easy, by comparison, to find Jewish analyses of violent verses which didn’t just excuse them as historically constrained, but vanquished them to the realm of the hypothetical with intricate and seemingly impenetrable argumentation.  (Not so much on the land verses, unfortunately.)  If Islam wants to be taken at least as seriously as the Jews, let them come forward with the point by point defense of comparable intensity and logical focus.  Some of this may be cultural disparity.  Jews tend to have higher verbal IQ (with an average as high as 125, reference) than spatial IQ.  By comparison the average Muslim IQ is 81 (reference, which has been used in Britain as a terrorist defense, reference).  So we shouldn’t demand subtlety or a high degree of abstraction from the Quran.  The straightforward meaning should be taken, as that is what will be taken by its audience.

Let’s take two more examples from TROP which illustrate certain points, beginning with the “terror verse,” Quran 8:12:

  1. [Remember] when your Lord inspired to the angels, “I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip.”
  2. Your Lord inspired the angels: “I am with you, so support those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. So strike above the necks, and strike off every fingertip of theirs.”

The point here is use of the word “terror” in the Quran, as a divine objective, along with the apparent command to followers to lop off heads (strike above the neck) and perform other mutilations associated with kidnapper-style terrorism (striking off fingertips).  You can imagine a defense of this verse possibly, and if you do, then read what TROP says about it.  Now we consider the “fighting verse,” Quran 2:216:

  1. Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it is hateful to you. But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.
  2. Fighting is ordained for you, even though you dislike it. But it may be that you dislike something while it is good for you, and it may be that you like something while it is bad for you. God knows, and you do not know.

TROP points out Mohammad was urging his followers to rob caravans.  But apparently the idea that war was an essential part of Islam stuck.

164 Jihad Verses in the Koran (Yoel Natan)

Natan does not give as much commentary as TROP, and some of his interpretations do not hold up, but as the subject is Jihad rather than violence generally.  Indirectly from Natan I realized that the entire chapter 8 is instructions regarding the spoils of war (or raiding).  For brevity, I will now use only friendly source 2, as it does seem so far to have the clearest English and not to materially differ from source 1.  In the context of discussion of the spoils of war, 8:12 considered above can only be taken literally!

10 Violent Koran Verses and the Terror They Spawned (Taki’s Magazine)

Gavin McInnes in a January 2016 article (linked above) gives more examples of “baby bashing” verses in the Bible, and points out the Quran is not the only reason the Middle East is turning back to barbarism while the West has been turning away for at least 500 years.  But it is a significant one:

  • 9:29: Fight those who do not believe in God, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden, nor abide by the religion of truth—from among those who received the Scripture—until they pay the due tax, willingly or unwillingly.

That seems pretty clear.  And it’s hard not to notice the very next verse which pretty much clarifies how Mohammad feels about Christians and Jews:

  • 9:30: The Jews said, “Ezra is the son of God,” and the Christians said, “The Messiah is the son of God.” These are their statements, out of their mouths. They emulate the statements of those who blasphemed before. May God assail them! How deceived they are!

Citations from much later chapters show that Mohammad has not changed his mind about anything:

  • 47:4: When you encounter those who disbelieve, strike at their necks. Then, when you have routed them, bind them firmly. Then, either release them by grace, or by ransom, until war lays down its burdens. Had God willed, He could have defeated them Himself, but He thus tests some of you by means of others. As for those who are killed in the way of God, He will not let their deeds go to waste.

And finally, a glimpse at what Islam (and Mohammad) think is the proper treatment of women:

  • 4:34: Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, as God has given some of them an advantage over others, and because they spend out of their wealth. The good women are obedient, guarding what God would have them guard. As for those from whom you fear disloyalty, admonish them, and abandon them in their beds, then strike them. But if they obey you, seek no way against them. God is Sublime, Great.

By the ending of that paragraph, one would think abusing and striking women was “sublime”.

What does the Koran say about nonbelievers? (Freethought Nation)

So, we can find individual verses that say this or that, or the opposite of it (just as we can in the Bible) until we are blue in the face.  But what is the net balance?  According to Dr. Moorthy Muthuswamy, quoted in a September 2013 article in Freethought Nation by Acharya and Murdock (the citation is a bit unclear), 61% of the Quran speaks ill of unbelievers or calls for their violent conquest.  Only 2.6% of the verses show goodwill toward humanity.  And 75% of Mohammad’s biography consists of Jihad waged on unbelievers.

Based on the material I discarded from the above sources (which I did not go through in this article), some percentage of hostile sources may be in error about specific Quran verses.  Perhaps as much as half, unless one discounts completely the more egregious sources.  In the interest of conservative estimation, let’s use the figure of half, and throw out half of Muthuswamy’s verses.  We still have 30% of the Quran railing against unbelievers and 37% of Mohammad’s life waging war on them.  With similar generosity we might suppose an optimistic investigator could find 5% of the Quran to be positive toward humanity.

Conclusion & Precedent

We do not seem to have produced an exoneration of the Quran.  In fact, if this were a Grand Jury, we probably have enough evidence to recommend indictment under the two articles of U.S. code previously cited.  There is a good bit of evidence of incitement to individual violence, and since it is organized in some cases as incitements to organized warfare, as one would conduct against state entities, and as the constitution of the U.S. protects the so-called unbelievers, then it implicitly advocates overthrow of our government.

Final determination would need to be made according to rules of evidence, with some representatives of Islam allowed to construct a point defense and cross examine witnesses.  Except that we do not have a way of prosecuting an idea in the courts, so it would presumably be handled by the more fuzzy legislative process.  Still, I would recommend a trial type exposition, in the format of a reality TV series, to frame the debate prior to legislative action.  It could probably be done with executive order, legally, but there is such a favorable opinion of Islam after George Bush’s 9/17/2011 statement about the “religion of peace” that that approach wouldn’t fly anymore than the executive order on immigration.  So, legislation it is.  In that case, forget the trial, let’s just cut them off at the border.

There is precedent, some good and some bad, for dealing with situations like this.  The best method is for the religious group themselves to identify and handle the problem.  The Mormons, for example, when they wanted Utah to become a state, did away with their divine revelations on polygamy (which I don’t find nearly as objectionable as LBGTQ marriage, but anyway).  Muslim Americans could define an American Islam which repudiates the verses necessary to comply with American law.  Then, of course, they would find themselves in Jihad with their overseas fellows.  How they solve that is their business.  But the border guards would be at their service in the common defense.  Let them fix some of the women’s issues with Islam while they are at it, and I’ll have no further objection.

The bad precedent, or at least it is assumed bad, is the Spanish Inquisition.  Ferdinand and Isabella did much more than fund Columbus.  After uniting most of Spain, they wished their citizens to be able to live in peace.  They invited first the Jews and then the Muslims to convert or leave, and established the Spanish Inquisition, initially headed by a converted Jew, to make sure the converted congregations weren’t continuing to practice their contentious religions in secret.  In order for it not to come to a matter of the thought police, which no one likes, I hope American Islamists will wise up and handle the problem like the Mormons did.  This circumvents the need for any legislation or government involvement at all, which is preferable when possible.

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