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A Catholic reads the Quran

| Sunday, November 22, 2015

In light of (or really, in the ensuing darkness of) recent international headlines, an impressive drove of laypeople have become self-professed experts on Islam. How very odd.

“Islam is a religion of peace,” we hear. “Nay, Islam is a religion of the sword,” we hear. “Islam deprives women of basic rights,” we hear. “Nay, Islam promotes the equality of women,” we hear.

Well, as a Catholic in the U.S. of A., I can’t claim to have much first-hand experience with Islam, nor do I feel myself at all qualified to discuss the religion’s tenets, origins or practices. I’ll leave that matter to bona fide campus experts like Professor Gabriel Reynolds (take his class on Islam and Christian-Muslim relations in the spring if interested). But, amidst the alternatively Islamaphobic and wishy-washy noise of pundits right and left, I figured I might actually take a look at the foundational text of Islam itself – al-Quran.

A few basic facts about the Quran might be worth noting before I digress into some of my amateur comments and observations. The Quran is composed of 114 suwar, or chapters, which are comprised of individual ayat, or verses. These chapters don’t exactly link together into a grand narrative, and even each individual surah takes on a style that is more contemplative than it is narrative-based. This might reflect the composition of the Quran itself, which Muslims believe occurred through recitation (which is what the word Quran means in Arabic) to the prophet Mohammed at intervals from the year 609 AD to 632 AD. According to scholars of Islam, the written form of the Quran was finalized during the time of the third Caliph around 20 years after Mohammed’s death, based on the manuscripts passed down to the first Caliph Abu Bakr.

We would need to travel some 1350 years and many hundreds of miles to reach the version of the Quran that I sat down to read. I picked up my square-shaped English translation with floral decals on its cover from a vendor on Oxford’s Cornmarket Street one day last spring. The bearded man who handed me the book reassured me that, despite the unavoidable inadequacies of translation, the core of the Quranic message could be found there.

I’ve hardly touched the book since then, but with all the accusations being thrown around, I thought it might just be worthwhile to look through a text that more than a billion people hold to be sacred.

Context means everything in written word, so I figured I would start from the beginning and read through a whole surah.

The Quran doesn’t seem to waste much space. After an opening exhortation to the “Lord of the Universe,” the first full-length surah, titled “The Heifer” (al-Baqarah), opens with the declaration: “This is the Book; there is no doubt in it.”

From there, the surah continues with a strong eschatological bent; that is, its ayat continually mention the punishment that awaits those who deny the truth. It’s not that God is made to seem merciless — the most common epitaph for God in this surah is “the Merciful” after all; rather, the teachings of the surah seem to be reinforced through reminders of the blindness of unbelief and the fire that is its just reward. Adherence to God’s path, so it seems, is paramount.

After having read only one surah, I’m in no position to make any judgements about the holistic content on the Quran. I did, however, come across one passage that seems particularly relevant to the tumult of ISIS and crisis in Syria.

In surah 2, ayat 84 to 85, God speaks to His people, saying: “When We made a covenant with you, We said, ‘You shall not shed each other’s blood, nor turn your people out of their homes.’ You consented to this and bore witness. Yet, here you are, slaying one another and driving some of your own people from their homelands, aiding one another against them, committing sin and aggression. […] Do you believe in one part of the Book and deny another part of it?”

Driving people from their homes? Shedding each other’s blood? The extremists in Syria might do well to give that passage another read (not that they wouldn’t find some way of contorting it to fit their ideology). And for those claiming that Islam is some war-mongering religion against which we must raise barriers and close borders, it might do you well to give at least part of the Quran — a single surah, a single ayah? — a little more than a glance. There are already upwards of four million Muslims in this country. We’re going to have to learn to get along, and learning about what each other believes might just be a start.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Charlie Ducey

Charlie Ducey is a senior who studies English at Notre Dame. He is currently a big fan of alternative German rock music.

Contact Charlie
  • Arafat

    Page 4.

    +++

    Conclusion

    The pattern of violence and aggressive disregard for human suffering that is persistent in Muslim history and contemporary attitude toward non-believers reflects the message of the Quran, which is one of personal superiority and arrogance.

    In today’s world, Muslim dominance is characterized by the oppression and discrimination of non-Muslims, while Muslim minorities within larger societies are distinguished by varying degrees of petulant demand, discord and armed rebellion. Few Muslims are uncomfortable with this blatant double standard, in which Islam either plays the victim or unapologetically victimizes others, depending on its position of power – and the reason is obvious.

    Islam is a supremacist ideology in which the role of non-believers is subordinate to the position of Muslims. Those who resist Islamic rule are to be fought until they are either killed or fully humiliated and forced to acknowledge their inferior status by converting to Islam or by paying a poll-tax and otherwise accepting the subjugation of their own religion.

    There is simply no other religion on earth that draws such sharp distinction between its own members and others, or devotes as much of its holiest text toward condemning and dehumanizing those who merely choose not to follow its dogma.

    So much about Islamic terrorism and the general indifference of the broader Muslim community toward the violence makes sense only against this dual nature of Islam – as does the strange willingness of Muhammad’s followers to tolerate their own subjugation under Ottoman or Arab tyrants, such as Saddam Hussein, while being violently opposed to a Jewish neighbor state.

    The apologists are correct in saying that Islam teaches love and kindness, but they fail to add that this applies only to the treatment of those within the Muslim community. Loyalty to one’s own identity group is valued above all else and empathy for those outside the faith is optional at best – and even explicitly discouraged in places.

    If this is a “misunderstanding” of Islam by modern-day “radicals,” then it is an error that the founder of Islam made as well. In Muhammad’s time, non-Muslims were put to death merely for speaking out against the new religion and its self-proclaimed prophet. Likewise, the Jews of Qurayza were summarily rounded-up and executed on Muhammad’s order, even though they had not even fought in battle. Since the life of a non-Muslim is cheap, actual physical harm to a Muslim is not necessary to justify murder according to the example of Muhammad.

    The Quran meets every criterion by which we define hate speech. Not only does the message inspire loathing and disregard for others, but the text mandates the superiority of Islam, even if the means of establishment is by violent force.

    In his later years, Muhammad directed military campaigns to subjugate other tribes and religions, “inviting” them to Islam at the point of a sword and forcing them to pay tribute regardless. He set in motion the aggressive military campaigns that made war against all five major world religions in just the first few decades following his death.

    Islam incorporates the ultimate devaluation of non-Muslims in the most obvious way by teaching that while a Muslim may be punished with death for murdering a fellow Muslim (Bukhari 83:17), no Muslim can be put to death for killing a non-Muslim (Bukhari 83:50, 3:111 – Muhammad: “No Muslim can be killed for killing a kafir.”). The Quran’s “Law of Equality,” which assigns human value and rights based on gender, religion and status, is the polar opposite of equality in the sense intended by Western liberal tradition, which ideally respects no such distinction.

    One can always find apologists willing to dismiss the harsh rhetoric of the Quran with creative interpretation, tortuous explanation or outright denial, but their words and deeds almost always belie a concern for Islam’s image that does not extend to Islam’s victims – at least not with the same sense of urgency – thus proving the point.

    Of course, there are also exceptional Muslims who do not agree with Islamic supremacy and sincerely champion secularism and respect for all people. Some even find verses or fragments of such to support their independent beliefs. But, for these people, the Quran as a whole will always be a constant challenge, since it explicitly teaches the distinct and inferior status of non-Muslims.

    TheReligionofPeace.com Home Page

    • Charlie Ducey

      Is it not odd that in my 800 word column I quoted more of the Quran than this critic did in his 1000 word conclusion that explicitly condemns the Quran as chauvinistic?

      • Arafat

        It is odd. But it is understandable.

        The Observer’s editors deleted three pages of my response to you. On these three pages there were dozens of quotes from The Qur’an and Hadiths encouraging violence against and hatred for non-Muslims.

        For what it is worth I am not upset that the editors chose to do this. They decided to leave the summary which does an excellent job. But if you’re so damn interested in learning about Islam then go to the website linked to the summary and then read what was deleted. You will find plenty of “educational” material. {Sarc/off}

        But, for what it is worth, it is obvious you have no real interest in learning about Islam. For whatever reason you are obviously more interested in making excuses for it regardless of what you discover.

        ++

        Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,

        who put darkness for light and light for darkness,

        who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

        Isaiah 5:20

        • Charlie Ducey

          To whom it may concern, I did spend a good thirty minutes on that website you linked, and what I found was unsettling. Though the creators of the website seem sincere in their belief that Islam is a war-mongering religion intent on oppressing all dissenters, I cannot bring myself to agree for a number of reasons.

          The first reason is that I refuse to concur with ISIS in thinking that Islam is necessarily at odds with the West and will never adapt to allow the peaceful coexistence of people of various faiths. This is the chief problem with the website: it takes the same extremist stance on Islam as ISIS does, except that it thinks that this interpretation is a false one. But the website still thinks this is the only interpretation of Islam.

          The second reason is that I think the website is intellectually dishonest in general and hermeneutically remiss in particular. The website takes a small group of Muslims as representative of the all of Islam, thereby conflating jihadists with ordinary Muslims. Though the website attempts to argue that other Muslims tend to have favorable opinions of terrorist groups and are thereby complicit in terrorism, this actually seems to be largely false empirically. While the majority of Muslims in countries like Pakistan and Jordan refuse to condemn groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, these citizens also do not support these groups through taxes as, for example, citizens of Maoist China supported Mao (one of the examples used). These statistics also fail to take into account the strong anti-western sentiment in these countries that spurs devotion to jihadist Islam. Meanwhile, the statistics in Indonesia, a rarely discussed country which indeed has the most Muslims of any nation, show little support for terrorism. The numbers among Muslims in the west are also very low, albeit not as close to 0 as one might like. But the website seems to assume that any Muslim is liable to support only this extremist stance on Islam anyway because the website creators seem to think that Islam is necessarily chauvinistic because they think that the Quran is chauvinistic. However, every single citation of the Quran that they use is out of context as they pick and choose what verses to represent. This is coercive reading at best. In my reading, I read a full section of the Quran and found passages that were both unsettling and reassuring.

          Finally, I am left thinking that viewing Islam as evil simply will not due, because in doing so we are consigning 1.6 billion people as co-conspirators in evil. This is both impractical and, I think, false. I believe that Islam can and will progress into a peaceful religion that can coexist with Christianity and Judaism, indeed, as it has in the past (see pre-British India and the Muslim Golden Age). The main challenge is not interpreting the Quran as a book promoting peace (the potential is already there), but in dispelling anti-western sentiment in the Muslim world, a sentiment which, more than anything (far more than any Quranic verse) has spurred the rise of jihadist terrorism. I refuse to submit to the view of ISIS that says Islam is and must be at war with the rest of the world.

          • Arafat

            “The first reason is that I refuse to concur with ISIS in thinking that Islam is necessarily at odds with the West and will never adapt to allow the peaceful coexistence of people of various faiths. This is the chief problem with the website: it takes the same extremist stance on Islam as ISIS does, except that it thinks that this interpretation is a false one. But the website still thinks this is the only interpretation of Islam.”
            Charles, you can think anything you want but that does not make it so that just makes it your unsubstantiated opinion. The reality is Islam has proven through its 1,400 year history that it cannot get along with others. The proof is in the pudding. Anywhere we see Islam we see either a quick or slow ethnic cleansing of all non-Muslims.
            Now you can twist this reality around anyway you want if doing so makes you happy, but that says more about you than it says about reality.

          • Charlie Ducey

            The history does not seem to be as black and white as the critics of Islam would like it to be. Regardless of the history, we have 4 million Muslims in the US, many more million in Europe and 1.6 billion in total. We have to learn to get along with these people. Painting them all as war-mongering chauvinists will only make them more likely to feel antagonism toward the west. A peaceful interpretation of Islam is possible, and it is the only interpretation that the world should be able to stomach. We cannot give in to the polarizing and binary us vs. them attitude promoting by ISIS and others.

          • Arafat

            Charlie writes, “We have to learn to get along with these people. ”
            Charlie, that’s not the problem. When people are determined not to get along with you there’s not a lot you can do to get along with them. Do you understand this concept?

          • Charlie Ducey

            I’m not about to go shake hands with ISIS. I’m talking about the Muslims people encounter in the West. Moreover, so long as you are not trying to convert Muslims or insulting Islam, Muslims in majority Muslim countries are not going to lynch Westerners either.

          • Arafat

            Really? Then why are there no non-Muslims left in most majority Muslim countries? Is that because they accepted us and our religion as we are?

            Here are some demographics for you with the number being the percentage of Muslims in that country.

            ++
            Bear in mind when studying these statistics that in every one of these countries 1,400 years ago (or less) Islam did not even exist.

            Afghanistan 100% Muslim
            (Once Buddhist, Hindu)

            Algeria 99%
            Muslim (Once Berber)

            Bahrain 100% Muslim
            (Once Zoroastrain, Christian)

            Iraq 95% Muslim (Once Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian)

            Iran 98% Muslim (Once Christian, Zoroastrian, etc…)

            Morocco 99%
            Muslim (Once Berber, Christian, etc…)

            Mauritania 100%
            Muslim (Once Animist)

            Somalia 100%
            Muslim (Once Animist, etc…)

            Saudi Arabia 100%
            Muslim (Once Jewish, Christian,
            Zoroastrian, etc…)

            Sudan 97% Muslim
            (Recent history teaches us what happened to all the non-Muslims in Sudan. It’s called genocide.)

          • Charlie Ducey

            I’m not about to go research the history of the rise of Islam for the sake of a spurious argument. I am concerned with Muslim countries of the PRESENT. Muslim expansion did not proceed by way of extermination but by way of conversion. Is it the case that Westerners and non-Muslims are exterminated in most Muslim nations? No. It is not. Why was I not lynched when I went to Indonesia last year? I understand that violence has been perpetrated against non-Muslims by terrorist groups, and I understand that a genocide has been committed in Darfur. But that does not prove what is for you going to be a very difficult thing to prove; that Islam is necessarily supremacist and that Muslim nations necessarily oppress non-Muslims.

          • Arafat

            “Finally, I am left thinking that viewing Islam as evil simply will not due, because in doing so we are consigning 1.6 billion people as co-conspirators in evil.”
            Just because Islam is an evil ideology does not make its adherents evil. They’re just people like you and me, Charlie.
            But like you and me they are susceptible to socialization. And if from the cradle to grave they are socialized with hatred for Jews, or hatred for Hindus, or that it is their birthright to subjugate all others then chances are they will turn out differently than you or I have.
            Take Hamas as an example. Google “Hamas teaches Jew hatred”. Watch the videos of Muslim children being taught to hate Jews or of nine year old Muslim children being taught how to most effectively stab Jews. And then tell me that these kids will not be socialized to be evil.
            Islam is the problem, mot Muslims. Muslims are simply Islam’s first victims. Islam crushes so many Muslims. It crushes their ability to spread their wings and to fulfill their potential. Unfortunately these also impacts non-Muslims too: the 70 million Hindus killed by Muslim invaders into southern Asia, the millions of Buddhists killed, the millions of Christians killed too.
            You can rationalize this all day long but you’re simply chasing your tail and weaving a tale that fools no one who really understands Islam clearly.

          • Charlie Ducey

            Here you go conflating Islam with jihadist terrorism again. Not all Muslims are brought up by Hamas. This should be apparent. If you really think Islam necessarily teaches anti-Semitism, why don’t you bring that up with the Imam in your local area?

          • Arafat

            Good God Charlie I’m beginning to think you’re duncey.
            Let me try to make this simple.
            Islam is a supremacist religion. Its core tenets include the belief that Muslims are superior to non-Muslims, and that peace will come when all people submit to Islam.
            Do I need to explain to you what “submit to Islam” means?

          • Charlie Ducey

            That is a blatantly false assessment of Islam that you picked up from a second-rate website that doesn’t even have good html. No, Islam is not necessarily supremacist. You think Muslims are supremacist? Have you even spoken to a Muslim before? I am starting to imagine the angle on the other side of ignorance, and I’m not terribly fond of it. Having read only one chapter of the Quran, I can tell things are not so black and white as that.

          • Arafat

            Charlie, you are not interested in being objective or in learning anything. You just pay lip service to this pretense. You are interesting in defending your false meme and nothing more. Your heels are dug in and anything I say means nothing to you even if it is undeniably true. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil is what defines you all while you defend the intolerable.
            I hope one day you are more open, less defensive, and a more rational and thoughtful person.

          • Charlie Ducey

            Yes, I must not be interested in learning anything about Islam. I guess that’s why I actually read its holy book in context. If we’re talking about heels being dug in, however, a look in the mirror could be more than refreshing. It would behoove you to learn about Islam outside of jihadism and polemicist websites.

          • Johnny Whichard

            If you are a Christian, you should believe Mohammad was evil. We were warned against false prophets.

    • Hamid

      That’s why the Islamic caliph after occupying Spain, destroyed and killed and murdered all the Jews and Christians? Go back and look at history. 800 years reign of Islamic leadership in Spain, and at the time, the most advanced place in Europe and peaceful with all religions living in peace, until when the catholics took over and persecuted all the Jews and Muslims when they refused to convert.

      • Arafat

        According to historian Richard Fletcher, “Moorish Spain was
        not a tolerant and enlightened society even in its most cultivated epoch.” On December 30, 1066, about four thousand Jews in Granada were murdered by rioting Muslim mobs—more than would be killed in the Crusaders’ infamous Rhineland pogroms of the mid-twelfth century. What enraged the Granadan Muslims was the political power of the Jewish vizier Samuel ibn Naghrila and his son Joseph: the mob resented the fact that these men had authority over Muslims, which they
        saw as a “breach of sharia.” The mob was incited to kill the Jews by a poem composed by Muslim jurist Abu Ishaq: “I myself arrived in Granada and saw that these Jews were meddling in its affairs. … So hasten to slaughter them as a good work whereby you will earn God’s favor, and offer them up in sacrifice, a well-fattened ram.”

        The mob heeded his call. A Muslim chronicler (and later sultan of Granada), ‘Abd Allah, said that “both the common people and the
        nobles were disgusted by the cunning of the Jews, the notorious changes they had brought in the order of things, and the positions they occupied in violation of their pact [of second-class status].” He recounted that the mob “put every Jew in the city to the sword and took vast quantities of their property.”

        • João Pedro Santos

          Again talking about things that happened a thousand years ago? Or do I need to talk you about the genocide of Native Americans? Or about the genocide of Congolese people by Belgians during the colonization of Africa? Or about the Holocaust? You know, they were all performed by Christians.

          • Arafat

            Hitler did not shout our “Christ Akbar” as he pushed the Jews into the ovens. He was no more a Christian than you.
            Islam is about world domination, about Muslim supremacism, about fighting to build a worldwide caliphate. If you seriously think the same can be said about Christianity than someone dropped you on your head when you were young.
            Why can’t you acknowledge the profound difference between the message and teachings of these two religions? Why are you such a p*tz?

          • João Pedro Santos

            Oh cool, using slurs again. What else could be expected from a troll?

          • Arafat

            Oh cool, avoiding the issue again. What else could be expected from a troll?

          • João Pedro Santos

            I will stop “avoiding the issue” when you stop using slurs and present actual sources instead of hate speech.

      • Arafat

        The philosopher Maimonides, a Jew who lived for a time in
        Muslim Spain and then fled that supposedly tolerant and pluralistic land,
        remarked, “You know, my brethren, that on account of our sins God has cast us into the midst of this people, the nation of Ishmael, who persecute us severely, and who devise ways to harm us and to debase us.…No nation has ever done more harm to Israel. None has matched it in debasing and humiliating us. None has been able to reduce us as they have.…We have borne their imposed degradation, their lies, and absurdities, which are beyond human power to bear.”

        Notably, Maimonides directed that Jews could teach rabbinic
        law to Christians, but not to Muslims. For Muslims, he said, will interpret
        what they are taught “according to their erroneous principles and they will oppress us. [F]or this reason … they hate all [non-Muslims] who live among them.” But the Christians, he said, “admit that the text of the Torah, such as we have it, is intact”—as opposed to the Islamic view that the Jews and Christians have corrupted their scriptures. Christians, continued Maimonides, “do not find in their religious law any contradiction with ours.”

  • Arafat

    Page 4.

    +++

    Conclusion

    The pattern of violence and aggressive disregard for human suffering that is persistent in Muslim history and contemporary attitude toward non-believers reflects the message of the Quran, which is one of personal superiority and arrogance.

    In today’s world, Muslim dominance is characterized by the oppression and discrimination of non-Muslims, while Muslim minorities within larger societies are distinguished by varying degrees of petulant demand, discord and armed rebellion. Few Muslims are uncomfortable with this blatant double standard, in which Islam either plays the victim or unapologetically victimizes others, depending on its position of power – and the reason is obvious.

    Islam is a supremacist ideology in which the role of non-believers is subordinate to the position of Muslims. Those who resist Islamic rule are to be fought until they are either killed or fully humiliated and forced to acknowledge their inferior status by converting to Islam or by paying a poll-tax and otherwise accepting the subjugation of their own religion.

    There is simply no other religion on earth that draws such sharp distinction between its own members and others, or devotes as much of its holiest text toward condemning and dehumanizing those who merely choose not to follow its dogma.

    So much about Islamic terrorism and the general indifference of the broader Muslim community toward the violence makes sense only against this dual nature of Islam – as does the strange willingness of Muhammad’s followers to tolerate their own subjugation under Ottoman or Arab tyrants, such as Saddam Hussein, while being violently opposed to a Jewish neighbor state.

    The apologists are correct in saying that Islam teaches love and kindness, but they fail to add that this applies only to the treatment of those within the Muslim community. Loyalty to one’s own identity group is valued above all else and empathy for those outside the faith is optional at best – and even explicitly discouraged in places.

    If this is a “misunderstanding” of Islam by modern-day “radicals,” then it is an error that the founder of Islam made as well. In Muhammad’s time, non-Muslims were put to death merely for speaking out against the new religion and its self-proclaimed prophet. Likewise, the Jews of Qurayza were summarily rounded-up and executed on Muhammad’s order, even though they had not even fought in battle. Since the life of a non-Muslim is cheap, actual physical harm to a Muslim is not necessary to justify murder according to the example of Muhammad.

    The Quran meets every criterion by which we define hate speech. Not only does the message inspire loathing and disregard for others, but the text mandates the superiority of Islam, even if the means of establishment is by violent force.

    In his later years, Muhammad directed military campaigns to subjugate other tribes and religions, “inviting” them to Islam at the point of a sword and forcing them to pay tribute regardless. He set in motion the aggressive military campaigns that made war against all five major world religions in just the first few decades following his death.

    Islam incorporates the ultimate devaluation of non-Muslims in the most obvious way by teaching that while a Muslim may be punished with death for murdering a fellow Muslim (Bukhari 83:17), no Muslim can be put to death for killing a non-Muslim (Bukhari 83:50, 3:111 – Muhammad: “No Muslim can be killed for killing a kafir.”). The Quran’s “Law of Equality,” which assigns human value and rights based on gender, religion and status, is the polar opposite of equality in the sense intended by Western liberal tradition, which ideally respects no such distinction.

    One can always find apologists willing to dismiss the harsh rhetoric of the Quran with creative interpretation, tortuous explanation or outright denial, but their words and deeds almost always belie a concern for Islam’s image that does not extend to Islam’s victims – at least not with the same sense of urgency – thus proving the point.

    Of course, there are also exceptional Muslims who do not agree with Islamic supremacy and sincerely champion secularism and respect for all people. Some even find verses or fragments of such to support their independent beliefs. But, for these people, the Quran as a whole will always be a constant challenge, since it explicitly teaches the distinct and inferior status of non-Muslims.

    TheReligionofPeace.com Home Page

  • Mr. Pockets

    I would recommend that anyone who is interested in learning more consider taking Professor Gabriel Reynolds’s classes on Islam and Christianity. They fulfill the 2nd theo requirement and provide a fantastic perspective into the realm of mainstream Islam