ABUSING THE QUR’AN
The Qur’an itself is often challenged, and particular verses of the Qur’an are often mentioned as proving some particular accusation against Islam. Muslims respond with explanations about the context, historical background, poor translation, interpretation that goes against all of Islamic thought, etc. This is most often a one sided monologue that shuts down dialogue.
“Strictly speaking, it is no more correct to say that Islam is peaceful than to proclaim that it is violent.
The texts and traditions on which any faith’s practice is based are open to multiple interpretations, and, as these interpretations pile up over the course of history, it becomes almost impossible to assert the existence a unique orthodoxy. A liberal humanist Muslim can find enough in the Islamic texts to justify a peaceful view of Islam—-and this is being done with great fervor these days. However, a militant Muslim seeking sanction for violence can also find plenty in the same sources to proclaim holy war on the world.
Islam is no more inherently violent or peaceful than Catholicism which, at various times, has found justification for both Torquemada and Mother Teresa in the same tradition. This is the complexity that must not be obscured by simplistic attempts to understand Islam, and Muslims must play a crucial role in this matter. To put it bluntly: It is time for a vocal and successful reformist movement within Islam, and Muslims living in the West are in the best position to lead it.” A Time for Renewal, Ali Ahmed Minai
MISUSED VERSES OF THE QUR’AN
Muslim commentary on some of the specific verses often misused to “prove” negative points about Islam is readily available:
1:193 - 2:65 (pigs and monkeys?) - 2:190-194 and , and  - 2:216 (jihad or quital) - 2:224 - 2:282 (male and female witnesses) - 4:7 (inheritance laws) - 4:25 (slavery) - 4:34 (beating wives), and , and , and , and  - 4:76 - 4:91 - 48:29 - 4:89 (apostasy) - 4:95 - 4:157 - 5:33 - 5:51, and  (non Muslims as friends) - 5:54 - 5:60-64 (anti-Semitism in Qur’an) - 7:163-166 (pigs and monkeys?) - 8:12, and  (beheading) - 8:55 (world domination) - 9:5, and , and  (verse of the sword) - 9:29 (jizya) - 18:86 (does the sun set in a ‘muddy pool’?) - 33:23 (jihad & martyrs) - 47:4 (war of aggression or self-defense) - 48:29 (treatment of unbelievers)
There are also numerous misrepresentations of concepts and terms used in the Qur’an and Hadith. For example:
72 virgins in Paradise, dhimmi, jizya, jihad, abrogation, shura and democracy, etc.
Supposed ‘problems’ with the Qur’an have been ‘proven’ by misreading, and by clever word games, for example, even though the Bible also uses ‘we’ in reference to God, the same usage in the Qur’an is considered an error. Although the Qur’an is the basis for Arabic grammar, the Qur’an is accused of grammar mistakes, internal contradictions, and borrowing from the Bible. Verses are taken out of context and ‘creative’ translations used to prove whatever the individual wishes to prove.
For a lengthy list of responses to various claims about Islam and Muslims see The American Muslim article collection on this subject.
There are some ignorant Muslims who have made the same sort of claims against Christianity or Judaism, but they are an insignificant minority. Most Muslims are quite aware of the connections between Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and also quite aware that scriptural verses must be looked at in context. The claims against Islam, Muslims, and the Qur’an are so widespread and widely accepted that they make any dialogue difficult. We are living in a dangerous time, and dialogue is a necessity, so somehow we need to find a way to understand each other.
As Robin Wright says, “mining the Qur’an for incendiary quotes is essentially pointless. Religions evolve, and there is usually enough ambiguity in their founding scriptures to let them evolve in any direction. If Osama Bin Laden were a Christian, and he still wanted to destroy the World Trade Center, he would cite Jesus’ rampage against the money-changers. If he didn’t want to destroy the World Trade Center, he could stress the Sermon on the Mount.” Even if one doesn’t agree with this view,
the point is that every religion-or secular ideology, for that matter-offers the possibility of violence and peace, oppression and liberation, depending on who is interpreting it, how, and in what particular contexts. As I always say, there is little family resemble between modern liberation theology and the Christianity of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Conquest. ... And yet, ignoring that every religion is open to multiple interpretations, many people are attacking Muslims for making “it sound like there are two versions of the Koran floating around out there. If so, what is the difference between the Koran that the Terrorists are reading, and the Koran that the rest of the Muslim world is reading? ... I need to have the ‘real’ Islam please stand up.” (This is from an article forwarded to me by a friend with no title or bye-line). ... The same author-who says he’s a Catholic-also says he doesn’t “want to hear [the] history about the Crusades, or the U.S. foreign policy crap, or . . . comparisons [of Islam] to Christianity and Judaism.” Thus, while wanting Muslims to explain which Qur’an we are reading and which is the real Islam, he himself chooses not to explain the difference between the bible that the Crusaders and Conquistadors were reading and the bible he has been reading, nor to convince others why his Christianity is the “real” one. ... Such a strategy not only lays upon Muslims a burden that believers in other religions refuse to bear themselves, but it also obscures the fact that the bloodiest conflicts, like the two World Wars, have had secular, not religious roots. Even those conflicts we think of as religious can be shown to be about power and resources, not merely ideology. ... This is no less true of the Crusades, than it is of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, or Jews and Muslims in the Middle East, or even the attacks of September 11th.
Interpretation and Exceptionalism, Asma Barlas
This issue of “interpretation” is why Muslims believe so strongly that the only actual Qur’an is the original Arabic Qur’an - all translations are interpretations because the meaning has been interpreted from one language to another by an individual or committee - and every translation is therefore open to some degree of error. Whether intentional or unintentional the translators own personal bias creeps into the translation.
Any translations of the Qur’an will not be called “The Qur’an” but “the meaning of the Qur’an” or “Interpretation of the Qur’an” or “Translation of the Qur’an”, etc. and most often will have two columns of text - one the original Arabic and the second the translation into whatever language.
TThat translations vary, sometimes dramatically, is easily observable by
comparing the same verse from a variety of translations. There are also translations that are controversial (like the
Hilali-Khan translation, and  ), and the
revised Yusuf Ali translation, and there are
multiple understandings of some verses. See our
article collection on Qur’an and Hadith.
There are verses in the Torah, the New Testament and the Qur’an (and most probably every other existing scripture) that can be easily abused either through purposeful manipulation of meaning or through ignorance - either to justify actions or to make judgements about the faith of others. The fact that it is an exercise in futility doesn’t seem to stop those who have so little self-esteem that they can only justify their own beliefs by denigrating the belief of others.
BIBLE— (TORAH AND NEW TESTAMENT)
TThose carrying out these attacks on the Qur’an must be
unaware that there are many verses in the Bible that can be considered violent and warlike, and that can be misused in exactly the same way as some verses in the Qur’an. For example:
When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you. However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. When the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you. Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes” (Deutronomy 20:10-17)
“Hymenaeus and Alexander I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” 1 Timothy 1:20
“This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down, and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, Then David ran and stood over the Philistine, and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath, and killed him, and cut off his head with it…. And David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem; but he put his armor in his tent. And as David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand.” 1 Samuel 17:46
“Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.”... And there is also with you Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, who cursed me with a grievous curse on the day when I went to Mahanaim; but when he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the LORD, saying, I will not put you to death with the sword.’ Now therefore hold him not guiltless, for you are a wise man; you will know what you ought to do to him, and you shall bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” 2 Samuel 16:9, 1 Kings 2:8
” When they came into the house, as he lay on his bed in his bedchamber, they smote him, and slew him, and beheaded him. They took his head, and went by the way of the Arabah all night, and brought the head of Ishbosheth to David at Hebron. And they said to the king, “Here is the head of Ishbosheth, the son of Saul, your enemy, who sought your life; the LORD has avenged my lord the king this day on Saul and on his offspring.” 2 Samuel 4:7
“That is not true. But a man of the hill country of Ephraim, called Sheba the son of Bichri, has lifted up his hand against King David; give up him alone, and I will withdraw from the city.” And the woman said to Joab, “Behold, his head shall be thrown to you over the wall.” Then the woman went to all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and threw it out to Joab.” 2 Samuel 20:21
“at Jezreel by this time tommorrow…And when the letter came to them, they took the king’s sons, and slew them, seventy persons, and put their heads in baskets, and sent them to him at Jezreel. When the messenger came and told him, “They have brought the heads of the king’s sons,” he said, “Lay them in two heaps at the entrance of the gate until the morning.”. (2 Kings Chapter 10 verse 6) “God has now fulfilled the prophecy of the prophet Elijah. So Jehu put to death all who were left of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, as well as all of his close friends and priests, until he had left not one single survivor.” (2 Kings Chapter 10 verse 10) “He put to death all of Ahab’s house, who were left there and so blotted it out, in fulfillment of the word which YAHWEH had spoken to Elijah.” (2 Kings Chapter 10 verse 7)
“When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you. And when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them.” (Deutronomy 7:1-2)
“I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.” (Luke 19:26-27)
“Do not think that I have come to send peace on earth. I did not come to send peace, but a sword. I am sent to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Matthew 10:34-35)
I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee.Ӕ (Exodus 23:27)
And the LORD our God delivered him before us; and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people. At God’s instructions, the Israelites “utterly destroyed the men, women, and the little ones” leaving “none to remain.” 2:34 And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain. (Deuteronomy 2:33-36)
Joshua said to the people of Israel, “The Lord has given you the city of the all silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the Lord: They shall come into the treasury of the Lord. The people utterly DESTROYED ALL THAT WAS IN THE CITY, BOTH MAN AND WOMAN,YOUNG AND OLD, AND OX AND SHEEP, AND ASS, WITH THE EDGE OF THE SWORD. (Joshua 6:21,23)
“And he should go and worship other gods and bow down to them or to the sun or the moon or all the army of the heavens, .....and you must stone such one with stones and such one must die.” Deuteronomy 17:3-5
“Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” (Romans 1:20-32)
“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)
Deuteronomy 2:34-35; 3:6-7; Josh. 6:17; 8:2, 24-28; 10:28-40; 11:14, 13:12-18; 20:10-18 all call for the total annihilation of the enemy - men, women, and children. Genesis 34; Judges 3:12-20; 4-5; 14-15; 19-21; Esther 8-9 can all be read to encourage guerilla warfare.
MISUSED VERSES OF THE BIBLE
These and many other such verses can be used to “prove” that Judaism or Christianity:
Promote slavery (Ephesians 6:5, Deuteronomy 20:10);
Sanction being sold into slavery as a punishment for theft (Exodus 22:1-3); Believe in gender inequality (1 Timothy 2:11, 1 Corinthians 14:34); Require veiling for all women (1 Corinthians 11:5); Treat women unjustly (1 Corinthians 11:5 and 14:34, 1 Timothy 2:11, Ecclesiasticus 25:18-19 & 33, Ecclesiastes 7:26, Genesis 3:16 & 19:8 & 21:10, Leviticus 27:6, Numbers 27:8-11 & 30, Deuteronomy 21:10-13 & 25:5-10 & 22:13-21, Judges 19:16-30); Admit that their own texts have been falsified (Jeremiah 8:8); Demand unquestioning obedience to political authority (Romans 13:1); Advocate suicide (1 Samuel 31:4-5); Allow the murder of civilians in wartime (1 Samuel 15:3 and 15:18, Ezekial 9:4-7, Hosea 13:16, Numbers 31, Isaiah 13:9 and 15-18); promote honor killings (Genesis 34:1-31); Encourage the slaughter prisoners of war (Deuteronomy 7:1-2; Encourage killing of enemies - Numbers 33:50-52, Deuteronomy 2:33-36, 3:3-6 and 7:2)Luke 19:26-27); Encourage killing of strangers (Numbers 1:51, 3:10, 3:38, 18:7); Encourage killing non-believers (Numbers 17:2-7, Acts 3:23); Encourage abandoning the sick (Numbers 5:1-4); Support punishment for the sins of your ancestors (Numbers 14:18); Encourage war (Mattthew 10:34); Promote blood feuds (Numbers 35:19-21); Allow POLYGAMY ( Exodus 21:10; 2 Samuel 5:13; 1 Chronicles 3:19 and 14:3; 1 Kings 11:3; 2 Chronicles 11:21; Deuteronomy 21:15; Genesis 4:19 & 16:2); Are anti-Semitic (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, Micah 3:1-12, Hosea 8:1-14, Matthew 23:13-39, Acts 2:23, 3:13-15); Encourage beheading of enemies (1 Chronicles 10:9; 2 Kings 6:31, 2 Samuel 4:7 and 20:21; 2 Kings 10:6);
and to prove that Judaism and Christianity REQUIRE a death sentence for the following crimes: -
- working on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:15); cursing ones parents (Leviticus 20:9): being rebellious towards parents (Deuteronomy 21); worshiping other gods (Deuteronomy 17:2-5 and 32:23-25); enticing a friend or family member to worship other gods (Deuteronomy 13:6-10); being a witch, medium, or wizard (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27); engaging in homosexual acts (Leviticus 20:13); not being a virgin on one’s wedding night (Deuteronomy 22:20-21); having sex outside of marriage (Leviticus 20:10-13,1 Corinthians 5:5); violating the Sabbath (Numbers 15:35, 15:36); marrying a foreigner (Numbers 25:6-9); becoming apostate or a heretic who dissents (1 Timothy 1:20)
The problem is that the misconceptions about the Qur’an are widely believed by a wide cross section of non-Muslim Americans. When I listen to talk radio, I can be fairly certain that some “expert” will be on explaining why it is that a particular verse of the Qur’an is the reason that there are Muslim terrorists, or than another verse proves that Islam is intolerant.
It seems that vilifying Muslims and Islam has become a “career opportunity!” An episode of the West Wing television program had an interesting segment on this selective representation of Bible quotes. The video can be seen here
I don’t think the solution is for Muslims to resort to the same tactics, but we do need to stop being so defensive and point out clearly that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
RESOURCES (collections of articles and references)
Muslim Voices Against Extremism and Terrorism