By Mohamad Abdalla
May 28, 2013
Paul Sheehan said on Monday there are ''more than 100 verses in the Koran that call Muslims to violence against the Unbelievers''.
Relying on the dubious website Thereligionofpeace.com, he concludes that ''the Koran groans under the weight of its own contradictions, with entreaties to kindness co-existing with exhortations to merciless war''.
It is questionable whether such an opinion is a result of a direct insight into Islam - or based merely on an old prejudice against Islam: that Islam is inherently violent and intolerant of others.
Critics of Islam often quote out of context the Koran's more aggressive passages, arguing these could easily inspire and endorse terrorism. They ignore that the Jewish and Christian scriptures can be just as aggressive, taken out of their historical context.
For example, the Old Testament says: ''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).
Many violent Jewish and Christian groups have used these Biblical texts to justify their actions. Crusaders used them against Muslims and Jews. Nazis used them against Jews. Serbian Christians used them against Bosnian Muslims. Zionists use them regularly against Palestinians. But non-religious people have done the same in the name of one ideology of another.
In 2011, Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik allegedly hated Muslims and Islam and subscribed to a fundamentalist, right-wing Christian ideology. Of course, little to no mention was made about Breivik's ''religious'' association, or that he was ''devout'' of any sort.
The display of violence and killing of innocent people are indicative of a radical, and indeed extremist, mindset that is fundamentally opposite to the teachings of Islam.
A more objective and scholarly reading of the causes of terrorism would inform us of a host of causal factors, including radical ideology; empathy and association with radicals, socio-economic factors, personal experiences, criminal activity, racism and Islamophobia.
All of these factors play a role, one way or another, in the process of extremism and terrorism. The matter is thus complex, and it is culpably simplistic to attribute it to a single cause.
Like the terrorists he criticises, Sheehan takes the Koran out of context.
Take, for example, this partial quote he cited, ''And slay them wherever ye find them … '' Sheehan fails to state that this is part of five-long verses (2:190-195), which must be read together. When read in context the legal implication derived stipulates that fighting is permitted only under certain strict circumstances. Additionally, the same verses prohibit transgression of limits, and it does not promote killing of innocent people but allows self-defence. It further goes on to state ''if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression.'' Clearly, when the whole context is examined the verses do not promote killing of innocent people.
Those who read the Koran should keep at a minimum the following principles in mind: The reasons for revelation or the historical context of a particular verse; familiarity with the science of abrogation; examination of the verses that deal with the same subject; a cursory knowledge of Prophet Muhammad's life; and the way these verses are applied.
I dare to say Sheehan lacks this level of scholarly knowledge, and a simple reliance on a dubious website is problematic, to say the least.
When these texts are not read in their proper textual and historical contexts they are manipulated and distorted - by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
When examined objectively, one will not fail to realise that the Koran and the teachings of Prophet Muhammad strictly condemn terrorism and the killing of innocent people, Muslim or not.
Sheehan fails to mention these verses and Prophetic traditions, for example:
''… [T]ake not life, which God has made sacred, except by way of justice and law: thus does He command you, that you may learn wisdom'' (Koran 6:151).
''… [T]hat if anyone killed a person - unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land - it would be as if he killed the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land'' (5:32).
Or: the Hadith that states ''Whoever kills a mu'ahid [non-combatant, innocent non-Muslims] will not smell the scent of paradise …'' (Bukhari).
A contextual reading of the Koran or Hadith leads to one conclusion only: there is no justification for killing of innocent people, whether in Baghdad or Boston. Full stop.
The ends do not justify the means in Islamic ethics.
Associate Professor Mohamad Abdalla is founding director of the Griffith Islamic Research Unit.