Q&A: Does Islam Denigrate People of Other Faiths? Part I of II
I'm too tired to make a fluffy introduction but I promised myself I would write something tonight. So, in His Name, here goes:
I referenced an expat blog in a previous post and never completed answers to JK's questions. Here is the next question he posted:
"Why can’t Muslims be honest about the hundreds of verses in the Quran that denigrate non-Muslims? Do they think that these verses have no effect on Muslims’ behavior and attitude towards non-Muslims? Muslims will endlessly quote peaceful verses but never mention the far more numerous verses that that mandate violence, subjugation, hate, and discrimination (q 2:216, 8:55, 9:29, 9:111, 49:29, 61:9, etc…). Will Muslims condemn these sayings?"
Let me just put this bluntly: Does any verse in the Quran encourage true Muslims to act unjustly or even impolitely towards members of other faiths?
In fact, if a Muslim does act with ill will towards anyone, especially a non-Muslim, then he or she either does not understand the Quran or is deliberately in gross violation of the etiquettes taught to us via the Quran and life of the Prophet Mohammad, peace and blessings upon him. In fact, if a Muslim's behavior or attitude is unjust or even rude in any way towards members of other faiths, then this Muslim would seriously need some spiritual lessons from the Quran, not avoidance of the Quran, as a remedy.
The Quran clearly outlines to us our code of etiquette in dealing with members of other faiths, even when in disagreement or when discussing religious matters:
"Invite to the path of your Lord with wisdom and fair instruction, and reason with them in the best manner; your Lord is the most knowledgeable of any who stray from His path, and He is most knowledgeable of those who are rightly guided."
Note that nowhere in the Quran will you find the demand for Muslims to be rude in any way to non-Muslims. Also nowhere in the Quran will you find a "mandate" for Muslims to subjugate, discriminate, or hate anyone, whether Muslim or not. There are some verses you quoted above that you simply misunderstood and others that you read out of context, but we will get to all of that insha Allah (God-willingly).
First, I want to babble on about how amazingly kind our Prophet, peace and blessings upon him, was.
He visited his Jewish neighbor who had had fallen ill, even though this neighbor used to leave garbage strewn over the Prophet's path every day (take that for Israeli-Palestinian relationships today). He married outside of our faith. When he looked in peoples' eyes, he made each individual believe that he or she was his favorite human on earth, and his gaze alone gave so much hope and joy that he was nicknamed after the guiding moon. He promised paradise to a woman of poor moral character simply for quenching the thirst of a dog. He also promised paradise to a companion whose only exceptional quality was his ability to forgive and hold no harsh feelings towards another form of life. He took special care of the poor and the orphans. He gave rights to the disabled. He stopped the traditional Arabian practice of burying infant girls alive. When a group of people once wandered into the Muslim community unclothed and hungry, he stood up and cried to his people "Feed them! Clothe them!" without even questioning where they were from or what their faith was. He forgave the man who murdered his uncle and the woman who ripped his uncle's heart out and chewed on it after his murder. He always put the needs of his community first. As a matter of fact, George Bernard Shaw wrote, "I have studied him — the wonderful man — and in my opinion far from being an anti-Christ he must be called the savior of humanity."
One of the biggest mistakes I see people of other faiths make when reading the Quran is that they attempt to remove the verses within it from their historical contexts. In order to learn the Quran, you must focus on the tafsir, or exegesis of it, which is based on three things:
1. Other verses that are relevant to the verse being analyzed
2. Traditions ("Sunnah"), or Sayings, of the Prophet Mohammad, peace and blessings upon him
3. The historical context, called "asbab-al-nuzool" in Arabic, or "cause for revelation" (direct translation in English), which basically refers to any special historical events that the verses specifically refer or apply to
Without these three things, please do not even attempt to pass judgment on the Quran. If God wanted to send a Book alone, He could have just dropped it out of the sky or let John Smith stumble upon it. But instead He chose to give us a living human example of this Revelation. Muslims do not separate the Prophet from the Quran, or vice versa. Before we begin to analyze any of the verses quoted above, we must understand this.
Now, let's get started. I plan to quote the verses in the opposite order in which you referenced them above. Let's start with 61:9, which is:
"He is the One who has sent His messenger with guidance and the religion of truth, so that it may prevail over all religions, though those who associate others [with God] may hate it."
Muslims believe in heaven and hell. We believe in a Day of Judgment. We believe there is only one true way, and that is submission to God (note, submission to God translates into Arabic as the word "Islam"). No amount of fluffy talk will change this, and the truth is, we make no apologies for believing this. Quite frankly, I couldn't imagine a "true path," unless this true path had no back routes. We do not believe that all religions lead to Paradise. Truth be told, I'm not even sure why this would offend you.
First, although we believe that only those who have faith and do righteous deeds are among the guided, we have no knowledge of what is inside of another human being's heart, nor do we know the destiny of any human being. Therefore, we are not allowed to make judgment calls about those who live around us. There is a well-known (figurative) saying of the Prophet Mohammad that I'm giving my rough translation of below:
"The hearts of the children of Adam are between the two fingers of the Merciful; He turns them as He wills. Oh God! Disposer of hearts! Turn our hearts [to favor] obedience to You."
The meaning of the above tradition of the Prophet Mohammad (p.b.u.h.) is beautifully elaborated on by the Ibn Arabi Society: "This canonical hadith is depicted as the response to Aisha's asking the Prophet whether he was ever afraid. This beautifully succinct image concretely pulls together dozens of the Qur'anic verses . . . powerfully representing the constant ups-and-downs of our inner experience, the contrasting roles of the different divine Names of Majesty and Beauty (Jalâl and Jamâl) expressed and realized through that experience, the 'ever-renewed theophanies' of those Names, and the reality of God's ultimate control of that panoply of ever-changing inner states."
If you can acknowledge that we have no business judging the spiritual fate of other Muslims or of members of any other faiths simply because we are too busy seeking stability in our own spiritual struggles to reflect God's beautiful Attributes, then you may be able to see some wisdom in the verse that you once took issue with. First, 61:9 actually seems to predict something I mentioned already in a previous post. Islam is the second largest, and fastest growing, religion in the world. The verse specifically says, "so that it may prevail over all religions." It seems to me to be a miraculous reality that we are alive to witness today.
In fact, even figures from over a century ago recognized the great power of Islam, such as Lamartine, who, in 1854, wrote: "Philosopher, Orator, Apostle, Legislator, Warrior, Conqueror of ideas, Restorer of rational beliefs, of a cult without images, the founder of twenty terrestrial empires and of one spiritual empire: that is Muhammed. As regards all the standards by which human greatness may be measured, we may well ask, is there any man greater than he?"
As a Muslim, I can be proud of the extreme growth of my faith, be grateful to God for guiding me to this beautiful religion, and all the while, not have a harsh feeling in my heart to any who disagree with me. This is what my religion teaches me. Any Muslim behaving harshly towards members of other faiths has clearly misunderstood the point, and I don't tolerate this behavior in the name of my beliefs. And anyone from another faith who has issues with us feeling like our beliefs are pretty schnazzy will just have to deal. Every major faith teaches the same thing. On the Day of Judgment, we will all see which was the right path.
'Nuff said. For now, at least.
[...to be continued insha Allah...]