In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful
I was intrigued by the question of one of my regular (and very dear) readers in response to my last post about the London bombings:
You know as well as me that the Quran is full of verses such as:
(008.012) “When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.”
Do you feel ready to keep your faith in God, but to reject all such verses? Which means to accept a new, rewritten Quran, half of the original (all the Medina Surah) being for ever cancelled from the book and forgotten from the memories?
I am not criticizing his question in the least. In fact, I welcome the question, and I am happy he asked it. The short answer is: No.
But, let me explain why, because I don’t want to give the impression that I support the mutant interpretations of the Qur’an used by the Muslim fanatics who maim and murder in the name of my faith.
There is no doubt that the Qur’an has a number of belligerent verses, like 8:12, for example. Yet, as I have explained in the past, these verses have a context. Once the context is understood, the verses are clearly understood. Yet, before I go into verse 8:12, I must explain a bit about the process of revelation of the Qur’an. The Qur’an was not revealed all at once in toto. Rather, it was gradually sent down over a period of 23 years. During that period, the community of believers evolved and specific situations came up, to which the Qur’anic text frequently responded. That is why the Qur’an seems to be fragmented if one reads the book from cover to cover. The Qur’an, in fact, mentions this gradual process:
“God – there is no deity save Him, the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsistent Fount of All Being! Step by step has He bestowed upon thee [O Muhammad] from on high this divine writ, setting forth the truth which confirms whatever there still remains (of earlier revelations): for it is He who has bestowed from on high the Torah and the Gospel” (3:2-3).
This is important to understand when reading verse 8:12. This verse – along with several ahead of it – was revealed in reference to the Battle of Badr, the first major battle between the Muslims and the Meccan pagans around 625 C.E. A little background is in order.
After the Prophet (pbuh) and his followers were expelled from Mecca and migrated to Yathrib (now known as Medina), a city 300 miles to the north, the Meccans seized all the property of the Muslims that was left in Mecca. This was an act of open war. When the Prophet learned that a large caravan of the Meccans was coming from Syria near Medina, he intended to attack it. Abu Sufyan, who was leading the caravan, learned of this planned attack and sent word to Mecca for protection. His fellow Meccans sent an army, and they met in battle at Badr. The Muslims handily defeated the Meccans, killing almost all of the most important leaders of Mecca.
Now, verse 8:12 comes into clearer focus. The verse speaks about what God told the angels to say to the believers, in order to inspire them before the battle. The Muslims were very fearful, especially since the Meccans were thrice their number, battle hardened, and much better equipped. This becomes even clearer when the verse is read in context:
: Lo! You were praying unto your Sustainer for aid, whereupon He thus responded to you: “I shall, verily, aid you with a thousand angels following one upon another!”
: And God ordained this only as a glad tiding, and that your hearts should thereby be set at rest – since no succour can come from any save God: verily, God is almighty, wise!
: [Remember how it was] when He caused inner calm to enfold you, as an assurance from Him, and sent down upon you water from the skies, so that He might purify you thereby and free you from Satan’s unclean whisperings and strengthen your hearts and thus make firm your steps.
: Lo! Thy Sustainer inspired the angels [to convey this His message to the believers]: “I am with you! [And He commanded the angels:] “And give firmness unto those who have attained to faith (with these words from Me:) ‘I shall cast terror into the hearts of those who are bent on denying the truth; strike, then, their necks, and strike off every one of their finger-tips.'” [emphasis added]
See? The verse is clearly speaking about the events surrounding the Battle of Badr. It is not a general command to “strike at the necks of the infidels.” Anyone with an understanding of the history of Islam knows this. When I read these verses, I know that they refer to the Battle of Badr. No where in my mind is there even an inkling of a thought to “strike at the necks of the infidels.”
This reminds me of another verse which is frequently cited by critics of Islam as proof of the Qur’an’ s exhortation to kill those who are not Muslim. In fact, some of these critics even claim that this verse is the scriptural basis for the brutal and inhuman practice of beheading now common in Iraq and Afghanistan:
“smite their (the infidels) necks until you overcome them fully, and then tighten their bonds” (47:4)
This could not be farther from the truth. Now, I purposely quoted only part of the verse out of context to show how misleading this tactic is. The full verse reads:
“Now when you meet [in war] those who are bent on denying the truth (commonly translated as “the infidels”) smite their necks until you overcome them fully, and then tighten their bonds; but thereafter [set them free] either by an act of grace or against ransom, so that the burden of war may be lifted: thus [shall it be]. And [know that] had God so willed, He could indeed punish them [Himself]; but [He wills you to struggle] so as to test you [all] by means of one another. And as for those who are slain in God’s cause, never will He let their deeds go to waste.” (47:4)
This verse, like 8:12, is speaking about the believers’ conduct in an open battle against the enemy. God is “psyching up” the believers before a battle, just like American soldiers psych themselves up before they go into combat. It is not an open call to behead all infidels. Once again, when the verse is understood in its context, this becomes obviously clear.
In fact, the verse actually is one of mercy toward the enemy. After the battle is over, during which the believers are to “smite their necks,” the verse directs the believers to set free those who are captured by the Muslims, either “by an act of grace or against ransom.” These captives are avowed enemies, who would have killed the believers if they had the chance. Despite this, however, the verse directs the Muslims to set them free. How, in God’s Most Holy Name, can this verse be one of terror?
So, to recap my answer to the reader’s question: No, I would not advocate a “new” Qur’an, with the Medinan surahs taken out. The resultant “revised” Qur’an would immediately cease to be the Qur’an. The seemingly violent verses that would be taken out have a context. Study and understand this context, and it becomes quite clear that they are actually not violent at all.
But, you know, anyone can misquote, mistranslate, or quote out of context a verse of scripture to seemingly prove a point. This has been done with the Biblical text for centuries to justify such things as slavery and racism. Muslim terrorists do the exact same thing with the Qur’an to justify their heinous acts of murder. But just because they do so, it does not mean the Qur’an is therefore violent. Capice?