Questions on the Quran - Part I
Published in abridged version 4/12/02 at the Duke Chronicle
Since 9/11, many have stressed the need for dialogue about Islam. As such, there are questions that I need to ask about certain verses in the Quran and the practices of some Islamic countries and people. What follows is said in good faith, to seek understanding, without rancor or ill will.
1. Disbelievers. Verse 2:191 of the Quran states, “ Kill disbelievers wherever your find them.”. 8:12: “I will cast terror into the hearts of disbelievers. Therefore, strike off their heads and every fingertip.” 9:5: “Slay the disbeliever where you find them, take them captive, besiege them, and lie in wait to ambush them.” 47:4 states, “when you meet the unbelievers, strike their necks till you have bloodied them, then fasten the shackles.”
Who exactly is an “unbeliever” – anyone who is not Muslim, who is not Muslim/Christian/Jewish, who does not believe in God, or who is just evil? This is very important, as “unbelievers” are treated to an eternity of boiling water, pus for food, and torture in hell in verse after verse. Thus, are Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Buddha, Confucius, and countless others joined in that fate? Just as important, the 4 verses noted above are invoked today to enjoin Muslims to destroy others.
2. Friends. 3:118: “Do not take as close friends those other than your co-religionists.” 5:51: “Do not take the Jews and Christians for friends.” 5:82: “You shall find the most hostile people to be Jews and pagans.”
These verses are used to justify anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism in many mosques, media, and madrassahs in many places.
3. Women. 2:228: “Men stand a step above women.” 2:282: “In transactions involving future obligations, write them down. Get 2 witnesses of your men, and if there are not two men, then a man and two women.” 4:3: “Marry upto 4 wives, or marry what your right hands possess.” 4:11: “Allah commands you, with respect to children, that the male shall inherit the equivalent of the share of 2 females.” 4:34: “Men are in charge of women…those of them you fear might rebel, admonish them, abandon them, and beat them.”
Is this really divine sanction for thinking that a woman’s credibility is ½ that of a man (which is how courts in many Muslim countries treat the issue), that a woman should get only ½ that of men in inheritance, and worst of all, that it is OK for men to beat their wives?
4. Celestial Virgins. 37:48: “Those in Heaven shall have wide-eyed maidens.” 44:54: “We give them wide-eyed virgins in marriage.” 52:17-22: “The God-fearing are in gardens and bliss…We shall wed them to wide-eyed houris.” 55:70-73: “In Heaven are beautiful, virtuous maidens…No man touched them before.” 56:22: “Wide-eyed houris, like hidden pearls, are a reward for what those who made it to Heaven used to do.”
Is heaven a celestial brothel? This concept is the basis for Hamas and other terrorist groups to brainwash young men by saying, “You can only have 4 wives on earth, but 72 virgins in heaven”, and for the Palestinian Authority to proclaim that “martyrs are wedded to celestial virgins.”
5. Slavery. 4:92: “Whoever kills a believer by mistake should free a believing slave.” 23: 5-6 “Those who guard their private parts, save from their wives or their slave-girls their right hands possess, are not blameworthy.” 24:33 “Such of your slaves as seek emancipation and wish to pay for their emancipation, write it for them , if you know there is some good in them.” 24:58 “Let your slaves…ask leave of you 3 times before they come into your presence.” 30: 50-51: “O Prophet, we have permitted you to marry anyone your right hand controls, and any woman who bestows herself upon you.” 70:29 “Those who guard their private parts except for their wives or what their right hands possess are not blameworthy.”
Does God really approve of slavery and sleeping with slave-girls? As a matter of historical record, Islamic empires had slaves for centuries after the prophet Muhammad’s death, and even today,
I realize that what I have presented herein is selective and that the Quran also explicitly states “to kill a life is akin to killing the whole world” and that “women are equal to men”, among other very beautiful verses. But that is not relevant, as the verses I have presented above, along with others prescribing death for blasphemy, cutting off hands for stealing, etc. are invoked today to preach violence, terrorism, and injustice.
Self-proclaimed “moderate” Muslims explain terrorists’ behavior on the basis of hopelessness and oppression. But millions of sub-saharan Africans who suffer far more than any Arab population do not train or celebrate suicide bombers. Whatever Israel has done to the Palestinians, it is dwarfed by the Taliban’s murdering 1.5 million Afghans, Saddam’s genocide of Kurds, Pakistan’s murder of Bangladeshis, Kuwait’s expulsion of 250,000 Palestinians in 1991, and even King Hussein’s killing of 5,000 Palestinians in one month in 1970 to suppress a Palestinian revolt in Jordan. The “root” of 9/11 is the same as the root of Daniel Pearl’s beheading, not grievance or despair, but evil desire: Islamic fundamentalist terrorists explain their actions by dividing the world into dar-al-Islam (the Islamic world) and dar-al-Harb (non-Islamic world), and perceive a divine mandate (based on 48:28 & 61:9 “It is He who sent His apostle with the religion of truth to make it triumph over every religion.”) to conquer the latter -- anything that stands in the way of that conquest, whether a country or a journalist, should be destroyed, an idea that inspires terrorists from Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines to bin Laden to Sudan’s government . It falls to Muslims to disabuse the fanatics in their midst of this notion, lest the
For centuries, verses in the Bible (e.g., Exodus 21:7 and Leviticus 25:44) were used to justify slavery in the West. But Western societies evolved to separate church from state, and realized that ethics can be separate from religion, and that religious verses can be wrong. The West had to take down the KKK and religious despotry. Moderate Muslims must do the same today to Islamic fundamentalists. The Islamic world is host to all but one of the world’s military regimes, only 2 of its democracies, and 28 of the world’s 33 active conflicts. It took 1700 years for the West to recognize the evil within; while Islam is less than 1400 years old, given modern weapons, the world does not have the luxury for Islamic societies to mature for several more centuries. A theocracy cannot be a democracy, for ethics and law etched in scripture and based on divine right quash dissent, reason, and uncertainty, which underpin democracy, progress, and science: ideological certainty devolves into insistence upon ignorance. Much as cream rises to the top of milk, Islamic fundamentalist terrorism is the scum that has risen to the top of the sewer that is politics in the Arab world. And while every society has scum, only Islamic fundamentalism has suicide bombers and global reach & desire.
Moderate Muslims who have been explaining to Americans that Islam teaches peace should take that message to fanatics and radicals in their community and their inciters, followers, and would-be suicide bombers. Suicide bombing is particularly repugnant for why should anyone care about one who relishes killing others more than one’s own life? Moderate Muslims must state in mosques, media, and madrassahs that Osama bin Laden, the cult of death, the concept of heavenly brothel, etc. are a disgrace to Islam and Muslims everywhere. As long as moderate Muslims do not directly confront the wolves in their fold, they turn a blind eye to terrorism.
I ask that moderate Muslims acknowledge the depravity of Islamic fundamentalism, on par with Nazism and Stalinism, and unequivocally & unconditionally repudiate the notions that shari’a is the answer to all problems, that the whole world should strive to mimic 7th century
“On account of religion being identified with virtue, a religious education gives courage to the stupid to resist the authority of educated men…There is not one word in the scriptures in praise of intelligence; in this respect ministers of religion follow divine authority more closely than in others.” Bertrand Russell