This article was originally published in the Muslim Sunrise, in September of 2011. Muslim Sunrise is the oldest Muslim publication of North America.
By Khaula Rehman MD
Many Christians and Jews, perhaps unconsciously, consider the Quran standing in absolute contrast to the scriptures they themselves cherish. In the minds of ordinary Christians – and Jews – the Quran teaches savagery and warfare, while the Bible offers a message of love, forgiveness, and charity. For the prophet Micah, God’s commands to his people are summarized in the words “act justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Christians recall the words of the dying Jesus: “Father, forgive them: they know not what they do.” Likewise, there are verses in the Holy Quran to promote tolerant and kind behavior. The Holy Quran says, “And good and evil are not alike. Repel evil with that which is best. And lo, he between whom and thyself was enmity will become as though he were a warm friend.” (Al Quran 41:35) This article is to give the Christians and the Jews a balanced view of the two scriptures, the Bible and the Quran.
There are no verses in the Holy Quran to trigger and promote genocide, but there are in the Bible: When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you.[i] (Deuteronomy 20:10-17)
There are no verses in the Holy Quran to destroy polytheism with sword and kill all polytheists and even their livestock, regardless of whether they are at war or not, but in the Bible there are: If you hear it said about one of the towns the Lord your God is giving you to live in that troublemakers have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely,both its people and its livestock. You are to gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. That town is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt. (Deuteronomy 13:12-16)
There are no verses in the Holy Quran to kill people for sexual misconduct but there are in the Bible: If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10) And: If a priest’s daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she disgraces her father; she must be burned in the fire. (Leviticus 21:9) There are no verses in the Holy Quran ordering to attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. There is nothing in the Quran ordering, ‘do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys,’ but there is in the Bible: Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’” So Saul summoned the men and mustered them at Telaim—two hundred thousand foot soldiers and ten thousand from Judah. Saul went to the city of Amalek and set an ambush in the ravine. … But Saul and the army spared Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and lambs—everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed. (1 Samuel 15:1-9)
There are no verses in the Holy Quran describing Allah as a Man of war but in Exodus 15:3, the Bible tells us the Lord is a man of war. Such war verses are not limited to the Old Testament only. In Mark 7:9-10, Jesus is critical of the Jews for not killing their disobedient children as prescribed by Old Testament law. In Luke 19:22-27, Jesus orders killed anyone who refuses to be ruled by him. The New Testament quotes Jesus Christ, “Think not that I am came to bring peace on earth: I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10: 34) At another place the New Testament quotes Jesus, “Then said he unto them, ‘But now, he who has a money bag, let him take it, and likewise his knapsack: and he who has no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one.” (Luke 22: 36) The Holy Quran does not prescribe death sentence for the sin of arrogance but the Bible does: Anyone who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the Lord your God is to be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel. (Deuteronomy 17:12) The Holy Quran does not prescribe to kill witches and fortune-tellers but the Bible does: Do not allow a sorceress to live. (Exodus 22:18) And: A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads. (Leviticus 20:27) The Holy Quran gives freedom of speech to followers of all other religions and does not prescribe killing them for preaching their religion but the Bible does: If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to them or listen to them. Show them no pity. Do not spare them or shield them. You must certainly put them to death. Your hand must be the first in putting them to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone them to death, because they tried to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again. (Deuteronomy 13:6-11) The Holy Quran does not prescribe capital punishment for stubborn and rebellious children but the Bible does: If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, “This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.” Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid. (Deuteronomy 21:18-21)
Now, the Christian apologists could be writhing in pain and anger and asking a host of questions, for example, why are you cherry picking? Why don’t you take the holistic picture and appreciate the message of compassion in the Bible? Why do you not hear the message of Jesus Christ of turning the other cheek? Muslims can say yes we accept Jesus as a kind hearted prophet of God and the Holy Prophet Muhammad in the Quran has been called as a mercy for the whole mankind, based on his conduct towards all people that he dealt with in his life time.[ii] Now I can hear through the grapevines, the Christian apologists offering host of explanations, for these verses! They are saying statements like, there are different explanations of these verses in different Judeo-Christian traditions and sects, the Old Testament has been superseded by the New Testament, do not take these verses literally in our present times, look at the context of these verses in time and history. I say yes my dear, yes indeed, the Muslims have explanations also, for the so called ‘sword verse’ of the Holy Quran and other similar verses that sometimes hatemongers like to obsess about and the USA national media unilaterally comments on, fairly regularly![iii] Let the discussions begin, as we hold hearings about the Holy Quran in different juries across the West, let us be fair and reasonable and put the Bible on trial as well. Last but not the least, the Christian apologists tell me that even if these verses are there in the Bible, so what, we do not take Bible seriously anymore and do not act on the Biblical injunctions anymore. But I remind them that according to a recent poll, more than 60% of the USA population still takes the Bible to be literal word of God.[iv] So, let us talk, let us talk about both the Bible and the Holy Quran in a grown up fashion. According to the Holy Quran, Jihad even when it means armed struggle, it implies only defensive war and not a pre-emptive strike. Let me introduce two Exhibits in defense of the Holy Quran.
[i] All Bible references and quotes are from New International Version.
[ii] Al Quran 21:108.
[iii] Al Quran 9:5.