Tolerance and the Qur’an

Understanding the Unavoidable Islam


Nezir Hyseni

A member of the Gideons (an organization which distributes the Bible worldwide) was telling the story of handing out Bibles in the streets of Marseille, a city in France. According to him, the French city of Marseille now claims Islam as the religion of the majority. It was in this city that Muslims who were offered Bibles took them, and either threw them over his head or burned them in front of him. Such an attitude would not be expected from the majority of westerners even if they strongly disagreed with literature distribution and its message.

With Islam coming to the West through immigration and conversion, it is to be expected that attitudes in the “public square” are going to be affected. The social reality of religious pluralism, where Islam and other religions cannot live in isolation any more, forces us to take seriously the implications of such a plurality of religious views and examine the effects on religious freedom and tolerance. Can Muslims and other religious people live together in peace and harmony? As a student of world religions says: “Frankly, the history of religion is not reassuring.”[1]

What makes some Muslims behave as they did in the streets of a French city? What leads some Muslims to blow up the World Trade Center towers in an American city, killing thousands of civilians? Is this behavior an expression of true Islam or a perversion of it? What does Islam teach on religious tolerance? These are questions that cannot be answered quickly or easily and yet the answers are there if one looks diligently.

The importance of understanding the Islam of the Qur’an

As Jacques Ellul says: “It is impossible to judge the Islamic world in a general way: a hundred different cultures have been absorbed by Islam. It is impossible to study all the doctrines, all the traditions, and all their applications together. Such a study can only be undertaken if one limits oneself to the study of specific questions, disentangling what is true from what is false.”[2]

My task in this piece of writing is to look at the environment of the interfaith exchange in a pluralistic society, especially focusing on the impact of Islam on such an environment. It is important to clarify that the Islam I have in view in this writing is the Qur’anic Islam – the Islam that is faithful to its source, the Islam which cannot exist without the Qur’an as it is – not innovative forms of Islam, or the Islam of people who do not understand and do not follow their religion as prescribed for them in the Qur’an. I will not analyze the differences between numerous branches of Islam with their specific teachings and beliefs. I choose to focus on the teaching of the Qur’an since this is the common denominator for all the different branches of Islam. It is the one source which all Muslims accept, whilst other sources of authority are interpreted and believed (or denied) in unpredictable ways. My concern, therefore, deals exclusively with the unavoidable Islam, that form of Islam which will exist as long as the Qur’an exists.

I will specifically explore the extent to which Qur’anic Islam tolerates other religions. The central question to be investigated in this study is this: “Is the Qur’an’s teaching compatible with tolerance in a pluralistic society?”

The professor and author Edward W. Said, who was born in Palestine but has resided in US since the 1950’s, claims as a matter of fact that “ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union there has been an active, explicit search in the United States for new official enemies, a search that has now come to settle on ‘Islam’ as a manufactured opponent.”[3] Seeking to avoid projecting a “manufactured Islam,” one of the goals of this paper is to combat prejudice – that is, a posture which is not based on relevant information and experience, either favorable or unfavorable, about Islam.

In a recent article in Time magazine, Michael Elliott comments on the PBS documentary “Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet” (funded partially by a number of Islamic foundations). He writes: “What the world needs is not a hagiography of the Prophet or an apologia for Islam but a clear sense that modern Muslims are prepared to engage in an honest debate on the way in which their faith has been perverted by those who kill thousands of innocents.”[4] In this writing I seek to contribute toward the need for a clear sense in the debate about the relationship of the Muslim faith and its violent expressions.

The importance of understanding the unavoidable Islam involves exposing the lies of some presentations of Islam and raising awareness about the challenge presented by a faithful expression of Qur’anic Islam. We will also look at how it may affect the future of the democratic society, as formed by the values of Western civilization.

King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, a Muslim, has said: “The Democratic system that is predominant in the world is not a suitable system for the peoples of our region.”[5] It is important to determine why Fahd believes this to be so; and if the Islam to which he adheres is the Qur’anic (unavoidable) Islam, then how do Islam and democracy co-exist in a pluralistic society. Can Islam be tolerant?

Defining “tolerance”

Since we need to understand what the Qur’an teaches about religious tolerance we must define what tolerance is, and then we must see if there is such a thing taught in the Qur’an. Some Muslims may object to this approach, saying that the Qur’an ought to define the meaning of tolerance. The goal here, however, is to compare the concept of tolerance as generally understood in the democratic West with “Qur’anic tolerance.”

Tolerance is different from toleration. Jay Newman wrote:

... [W]e are reminded that there are two different nouns corresponding to the verb ‘tolerate’ – ‘tolerance’ and ‘toleration.’ The latter seems to have a broader application; it refers to any instance of tolerating. But ‘tolerance’ is more closely related to the adjective ‘tolerant.’ Toleration is merely instantiated in each instance of toleration; the term is entirely behavioural. Tolerance is expressed as well as instantiated in tolerant actions. A person can be tolerant on one occasion and intolerant on another. But most of us believe that some men are generally tolerant while others are not. ‘Tolerance,’ then, unlike ‘toleration,’ is often seen as a character trait, a disposition, and usually as that kind of disposition that we call a ‘virtue.’[6]

To describe a person, a religion, or a doctrine as both tolerant and intolerant says nothing about the disposition or character of such an entity with regard to tolerance.[7] It is not possible to characterize any person or religion as both tolerant and intolerant if tolerance is understood as a normative and defining virtue. One person or religion can be intolerant, although at times may show toleration; another can be tolerant but, inconsistently with the tolerant character, may show lack of toleration in specific or isolated occasions. This distinction between “tolerance” as a normative virtue (something we ought to exemplify consistently) and “toleration” merely as an instantiation of tolerance (occasioned by expediency), is important to bear in mind as we investigate Muslim scripture and history where there may be examples of toleration.

Tolerance and the view of truth

What does it mean to tolerate another’s beliefs? To “tolerate” another’s beliefs does not mean that one accepts them as true; but in being tolerant one respects another’s right to free will to choose what to believe. As Newman clarifies, “Tolerating a religious belief, then, does not involve a half-hearted acceptance or endurance of the belief in itself, but rather it involves acceptance or endurance of someone’s holding that belief, that is of a certain case of believing.”[8]

Relativists modify this meaning of tolerance to make it more of a propositional attitude, which involves respecting another’s religious beliefs as being of equal value to all other truth claims, even one’s own convictions. If this line of thought, however, is followed to its logical conclusion, a person could end up holding as equally true both propositions, even if they are obviously contradictory.

Metaphysical relativism considers metaphysical constructs as valuable in that they give significance to our lives; but it is not necessary for them to correspond with something objective outside of our minds. They are basically our own constructs. The motivation for such a conclusion may be epistemological (doubting the possibility to know things as they are in themselves, following the Kantian postulation of the categories of the mind that give shape to reality as experienced by us) or moral (in seeking to accommodate everybody’s view).

When metaphysical relativism is considered as a foundation for tolerance, we end up with no tolerance at all because it deprives the belief of any significance which makes it worth holding. On the other hand, this view also ends up being another dogmatism itself, as Newman writes: “Tolerance, after all, does not demand that one believe that every other person’s metaphysical views are as true or as reasonable or as profound as his own. Indeed ... tolerance is possible only because we are capable of putting up with things that we do not like ... or agree with.”[9] This condition implies: (1) having a certain belief and (2) being introduced to another person who holds beliefs with which you disagree. If we didn’t have to put up with those who hold beliefs contrary to ours, there would be no need for tolerance. If all believed the same thing, namely, that all religious beliefs are not to be taken seriously, but rather are to be considered merely as different keys in a piano (which may be different but not true or false), than what is there to tolerate?

In conclusion, we can say that tolerance means exemplifying an attitude of respect[10] or endurance toward another’s views, even those one may consider false, and tolerance as such can rightly be a virtue in one who believes in absolute truth. Muslims and Christians (and others who believe in the nature of truth as absolute and objective), have a real opportunity to be tolerant in this sense of the word, while relativists don’t.

Muslim background beliefs

To understand the Muslim view of tolerance we need to understand some basic concepts of the Muslim worldview and sources of authority. The answer to many questions about Islam and its nature is connected with understanding “the very structure of Islam as a religious and political complex.”[11] Although the so called Christian Byzantine Empire and the Western Holy Roman Empire, with the close association of the Christian Church and the State throughout the Middle Ages might suggest a similarity with the Islamic religious-political structure, it is a wrong assumption to consider them identical.[12] Islam is radically different in that in its very identity is a political-religious structure. Fazlur Rahman, a well respected Muslim scholar writes: “Islam insisted on the assumption of political power since it regarded itself as the repository of the Will of God which had to be worked on earth through a political order ... To deny this fact would be both to violate history and to deny justice to Islam itself.”[13]

The concept of God as “Allah” is of a being that is totally other, wholly transcendent to the point of implying that Allah is unknowable in himself but known in his will and requirements revealed in the Qur’an (Sura 42:11; 112:1-4). In the words of a Muslim scholar: “You may not have complete transcendence and self-revelation at the same time.”[14] This view of God is accompanied by a view of humans as the “slaves” of God (Sura 19:93). One major concept in Islam is captured in the very meaning of the word “Islam” itself: namely “submission,” which carries the sense of laying down arms before the victor and is taken to exemplify the total submission of every aspect of life, as an individual and society to Allah (The God).

The Qur’an teaches about itself that it is God’s direct and verbal word, that it is eternal and came down from what is preserved in heaven (Sura 85:22) as the “Mother of the Book” (Sura 3:7; 13:39; 43:4). Although the Qur’an considers the Old and New Testaments as God’s word (Sura 3:93; 4:163; 5:46 etc.), it considers its own authority as greater than theirs (Sura 5:48). Even the Arabic language of the Qur’an is considered an integral part of Allah’s word (Sura 20:113; 12:2), therefore, Muslims consider the Islamic culture as of heavenly origin.[15]

So, Islam is a political, cultural and religious system. Religion, as based primarily on the Qur’an, is a part of the system, which informs all the other aspects of the Islamic system. Religious doctrine, however, is viewed in Islam as a preamble to Islamic law, the Shariah (divine law),[16] which is a comprehensive code governing every aspect of life, because Islam is a religion primarily oriented toward law rather than theology.[17]

Another important Muslim concept is the “Umma,” or “the community of submission.” Although Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, had been reciting the earliest Suras of the Qur’an starting in A.D. 610 for about 13 years, it is A.D. 622 that marks the beginning of the Muslim era, because this marks the emergence of the “Umma,” the establishment of the Muslim political- religious structure. Dr. W. Bonar Sidjabat writes: “... the Islam of the Qur’an is theocratic and the Muslim state was a theocracy from its first ascent to power.”[18]

Prior to A.D. 622, Muhammad had not attracted many with his monotheistic message. The people of Mecca, the city of Muhammad’s birth and his first decade of religious activity (which started when he was 40 years old), were not responding positively to Muhammad’s message. They eventually made life so miserable for Muhammad and his few followers that they decided to flee to Medina, another city three hundred miles to the north, where some people had invited Muhammad to mediate differences between various tribal groups. William J. Saal writes:

That well-known event, the Hijra [emigration to Medina], gave Muhammed opportunity to gain control of Medina and eventually extend that control to the entire Arabian Peninsula and beyond.

This event is the pivotal event of Islamic history and has become the starting point of the Muslim calendar. Muslims believe that God’s ultimate objective was the creation of a new universal social order. The Hijra marks the beginning of this new world order, today identified with the Nation or Community of Islam, the Ummah.[19]

There are many issues that require further development at this point in tracing the history of Islam; the looting of Meccan caravans and subsequent battles with Meccan protectors of the caravans (Sura 2:216-218) in A.D. 624; the conquering of Mecca in A.D. 630; massacres of Jews; and military campaigns against the Christians in the north of Arabia under the leadership of Muhammad. He died in A.D. 632 “... but not without ordering about a month before his death another expedition to the North.”[20] We should turn to our main question now and will pursue history only in relation to defining the Qur’anic view of religious tolerance.

The Qur’an: its importance

The Qur’an is the absolute authority of Islam (socio-political-economic-cultural-religious system). Fazlur Rahman writes: “This ‘Other’ [Allah] through some channel ‘dictated’ the Qur’an with an absolute authority.”[21] The high esteem with which Muslims regard the Qur’an seems best captured by a Muslim scholar, Yusuf K. Ibish, who says: “It is not a book in the ordinary sense, nor is it comparable to the Bible, either the Old or New Testaments. ... If you want to compare it with anything in Christianity, you must compare it with Christ Himself ... Christ was the expression of the Divine among men, the revelation of the Divine Will. That is what the Qur’an is.”[22]

With regard to the importance of the Qur’an in forming a concept of tolerance in Islam, Sidjabat correctly observes:

[A]lthough the Muslim opinion about any problem does not always find its answer literally in the Qur’an, but also in and supported by the Sunnah (custom) and Hadith (tradition), the Ijma (consensus) and Qias (analogy), the value of the Qur’an as the primary source of any Islamic religious problem is decisive. ... Its significance for the concept of religious tolerance is obvious, if we realize that the Qur’an can be considered as the command of God ... Following the contents of the Qur’an means practically being obedient to the will of Allah no matter how tolerant or intolerant this might be for others.[23]

Sidjabat even goes so far as to suggest that Muhammad’s “political tolerance or intolerance should not be primarily attributed to Mohammad himself but rather to Allah from Whom – as Mohammad believed – came the Qur’an.”[24]

Qur’an’s nature and the problem of chronology

One would assume that if we just read the Qur’an we should be able to follow its teaching on tolerance easily, but that is not the case. Ignaz Goldziher, considered one of the outstanding European Islamists, wrote: “In its entirety, [the Qur’an] represents an amalgam of the two essentially heterogeneous periods that form the infancy of Islam [Meccan and Medinese].”[25] Nevertheless, chronology and delineation of those periods, is downplayed in the present arrangement of the Qur’an; “ignoring its own pivot,” as Kenneth Cragg puts it.[26] Cragg says:

Through the sequences of [Muhammad’s] career – yearning, vision, utterance, pertinacity, controversy, endurance, rejection, emigration, militancy and triumph – the accumulation of the Qur’an moves in parallel relation, fusing meaning with mission, and truth with setting. It is as events unfold that the whole grows into entirety ... [But] In many circles, the non-chronological form of the Qur’an as it stands, however we account for it, becomes in this way a virtue in disguise or, rather, a proper parable of the necessary transcendence of mere point and circumstance which the believer should attain. God had not allowed the Qur’an to be arranged in sequence, in order to preclude notions of the time factor and of calendar time itself, seen as embarrassments to its celestial status.[27]

The Qur’an was not written down systematically during the time of Muhammad but was primarily memorized by Muhammad’s followers. It was not until after his death, and due to the fear that those who knew the Qur’an by heart were dying in the conquering battles Muslims were fighting, that Umar got the idea to ask Muhammad’s successor (caliph) Abu Bakr (632-634) to “order that the Qur’an be collected.”[28] Although that compilation of the Qur’an doesn’t exist[29] and there was another compilation made during the third successor, Uthman (644-656),[30] the order of the chapters (Sura) was decided at the time of the first official copy as the order of length rather than chronology.[31] All the other competing variants of Qur’an, “whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies, [were ordered to] be burned.”[32]

The Qur’an itself does not help in determining the order of the chapters and sometimes, even verses from one chapter come from different periods. Cragg observes: “... the Surahs, especially the longer ones, are composite within themselves as well as irregular in time, so that the continuous reader oscillates bewilderingly across the years and has, indeed, a better chance of being in historical step if he starts at Surah 114 and reads back to Surah 2, than if he lets the paging guide him.”[33]

On the one hand, Muslims believe that since the Qur’an is eternal there is no need for a chronological order but, on the other hand, as Fazlur Rahman says: “the ‘occasions of revelation’ were recorded [in the Hadith] as a necessary aid for fixing the correct meaning of the Word of God.”[34] Some construction of the chronological order therefore has been undertaken by scholars, which should be supplemented with the “historical traditions containing reports about how those among whom the Qur’an first appeared understood its injunctions and statements.”[35]

The reason chronology is very important for our search for a definition of Qur’anic tolerance is related to the doctrine of abrogation taught therein. Sura 2:106 says: “Whatever communications We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring one better than it or like it.”[36] Zamakshari, a famous Muslim scholar, commenting on this verse, wrote: “To abrogate a verse means the God removes (azala) it by putting another in its place. To cause a verse to be abrogated means that God gives the command that it be abrogated. ... Every verse is made to vanish whenever the well-being (maslaha) (of the community) requires that it be eliminated ... We bring a verse which is better for the servants (of God), that is, a verse through which one gains a greater benefit, or one which is equal to it in this respect.”[37]

In the earlier Meccan period, Muhammad may well have taught that he was to “declare openly ... and turn aside from the polytheists” (Sura 15:94) or to “call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and have disputations with them in the best manner” (Sura 16:125).[38] But when Muhammad went to Medina “it was ... time for a different watchword: ‘... kill the idolaters wherever you find them; take them prisoner, lay siege to them, and wait for them in every ambush’ (9:5); ‘fight in the way of God’ (2:244).”[39] Have the later verses of Medina abrogated the earlier ones in this case to serve better the interests of the Muslim Community? Many commentators think that this is the case, although they disagree about the extent of the abrogation and the specific suras it applies to.[40]

Following some chronological arrangement for the Suras (according to Nöldeke’s listing) that is generally accepted by Muslim scholars, we will now look at some pertinent verses from the Qur’an.[41]

Qur’anic teaching on relating to “religious others”[42]

Although the majority of Surahs (90 out of 114) were recited during the first 13 years of persecution in Mecca, it is interesting to notice that none of them contains commands to fight and kill.[43] It is after the Hijra, the establishing of the first Muslim community in Medina, that the teaching on attacking religious others unfolded. Rev. Richard Bailey, in his study “Jihad,” traces the progression of the attitude toward religious others in four stages: (1) No retaliation (in Mecca), (2) Defensive fighting permitted (in Medina), (3) Defensive fighting commanded (in Medina), and (4) Offensive war commanded (after conquering Mecca).[44] I will follow the same progression but in three phases, linking phases two and three together.

1. No retaliation (toleration)

In the Meccan Sura 67:26 and 22:49 we read: “Say ‘... I am (sent) only to warn plainly in public’” and “Say, ‘O men! I am (sent) to you only to give a clear warning.’”

During this period it is clear that Muhammad did not perceive his role to be that of a ruler and military leader. Another Meccan Sura 17:54, confirms this understanding by saying: “... We have not sent thee to be a disposer of their affairs for them.” At this time in Mecca (A.D. 610 – 622), Muhammad seems to uphold tolerance in the real sense of the term as discussed earlier when he recites: “Repel evil with that which is best ... We are well acquainted with the things they say. And say, ‘O my Lord! I seek refuge with thee from the suggestions of the evil ones. And I seek refuge with thee of my Lord, lest they should come near me’” (Meccan Sura 23:96).

Mecca was the city of the Ka’aba, a cubic structure where 360 idols were presented for worship. Meccans, who profited from being the guardians of Ka’aba, did not welcome the Message of Muhammad. Their economic and religious traditions were threatened, therefore they ridiculed and harassed the little group of Muslims up to the point where they forbade them to go to the Ka’aba for their religious ritual, while all the polytheists could visit the shrine freely. It is difficult to understand why monotheist Muslims would want to worship at the shrine of 360 idols, but whatever the reason, it is in this context of prohibiting them to worship at the Ka’aba that the words “repel evil with that which is best” were recited. These words can give the impression that the virtue of tolerance is being taught in the Qur’an. If this was the whole of the Qur’anic teaching it may well have been the case that it teaches tolerance in the real sense, namely enduring religious others whilst disagreeing with their beliefs. But, in light of future developments, there is another possible interpretation of these verses, which might render this phase of the history of Islam as one of toleration rather than characterizing Islam as tolerant. It could have been simply a strategic position in order to survive since, being such a small number (no more than 150 converts),[45] they would have been obliterated if they had decided to retaliate (Sura 8:26).

2. Defensive fighting (in Medina)

After Muhammad and his followers went to Medina, 13 years after the beginning of the movement, we see a different attitude toward those who didn’t believe the message of Muhammad. The Medinan Sura 2:190-194 says:

Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do no transgress limit; for God loveth not transgressors. And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; But fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith. But if they cease, God is oft-forgiving, most merciful. And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God; but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression ... If then any one transgresses the prohibition against you, transgress ye likewise against him. But fear God, and know that God is with those who restrain themselves. (Emphasis mine.)

In his commentary Yusuf Ali writes: “If they want forcibly to prevent you from exercising your sacred rites, they have declared war on your religion, and it would be cowardice to ignore the challenge or to fail in rooting out the tyranny.”[46] This is in stark contrast to the previous Meccan attitude of bearing with and not retaliating against those who didn’t let Muslims go to perform the ritual at the Ka’aba, forcibly preventing them from exercising their sacred rites and in effect declaring war on Muslim religion as Ali interprets the opposition against Muslims.

The previous attitude of non-retaliation was not considered cowardice before but now the same persecution is considered worthy of war. What has changed in the situation is the strength of the Muslim community in military terms. The verses we have looked at so far present two different responses toward the same situation, namely, no retaliation at one time and retaliation at a more opportune time against opponents of Muslim religion.

In the face of this drastic change in the proposed response of Muslims toward those who oppose them, Rahman says: “... so far as the Prophet was concerned, there was absolutely no change in him from Mecca to Medina, except that in Medina external circumstances were favourable to him, something that he had longed for in Mecca.”[47] We can conclude, therefore, that the first attitude of non-retaliation was not a normative virtue but rather an expedient attitude due to circumstances, which cannot qualify as tolerance toward religious others but merely as expedient toleration.

Rahman referring to Muhammad in Medina says: “... the Prophet turned to the task that was the crux of his Prophetic mission: to bring Mecca to accept Islam and through the religious center of Mecca to spread Islam further. All his efforts thenceforward are directed to this end.”[48] Fleeing for his life after failing to influence Mecca from inside, Muhammad sought to convert the Meccans by force, which was eventually achieved after eight years of fighting.

One clear example from the Qur’an with regard to the unprovoked war by Muslims, is found in Sura 2:216-218, which says:

Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But God knoweth, and ye know not. They ask thee concerning fighting in the prohibited month. Say: ‘Fighting therein is a grave (offence); but graver is it in the sight of God to prevent access to the path of God, to deny Him, to prevent access to the sacred mosque [polytheistic Ka’aba in Mecca prior to its Muslim conquest], and drive out its members.’ Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter. Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith if they can. And if any of you turn back from their faith and die in unbelief, their works will bear no fruit in this life and in the hereafter. They will be companions of the fire and will abide therein. Those who believed and those who suffered exile fought (and strove and struggled) in the path of God, they have the hope of the mercy of God, and God is oft-forgiving, most merciful. (Emphasis mine.)

To understand the significance of the passage one has to know the historical context it refers to. Rahman explains: “The Qur’an ... is referring to a skirmish that took place without the Prophet’s explicit permission between a Meccan caravan and a group of emigrants during the ‘forbidden months’ (when fighting was not allowed by Arab inter-tribal law) in [A.D. 624].”[49] Whatever the “explicit permission” and “a skirmish” means for Rahman, another respected Muslim scholar, Baidawi, explains:

“... the Prophet sent out his paternal cousin ‘Abd Allah ibn Jahsh with an expeditionary force, in order to be on the look-out for a caravan of (the tribe of) Quraish ... they killed ‘Amr, took two of his men captive, and drove away the caravan, which contained the goods of trade from at-Ta’if. This happened at the beginning of (the month of) Rajab, while ‘Abd Allah and his people believed it was (still) the (month of) Jumada l-Akhira. ... This is supposed to have been the first booty in Islam.”[50]

Amazingly, after quoting the Qur’anic verse above, and after saying earlier that the prophetic task was to convert Meccans (implying the use of force), Rahman writes: “It is, therefore, obvious that the Prophet’s measures in terms of militaristic operations from Medina were not unprovoked.”[51] Some things need to be pointed out about this conclusion of Rahman.

If Meccans were going to fight Muslims in Medina it seems strange that they would go in war with caravans of goods. It is obvious that it was Muslims, attacking the Meccan caravans as they were passing to go home, who started the wars between Muslims and Meccans. They broke the customs that pagans themselves didn’t break, namely fighting in the sacred month, considered by the Qur’an itself as “great offense.” W. Montgomery Watt commenting on Sura 2:194 about the holy month, writes: “Though the taboos were originally matters of pagan religion, many were accepted by Islam.”[52] How can one say that the Meccans provoked the Muslims in this situation, except by the lure of goods to be looted from the caravans? There is plenty of testimony in the Qur’an itself that Muslims suffered from the greed of looting (Sura 8:1; 8:67-69; 3:152).

Important to note in this Qur’anic passage is the attitude of distrust toward religious others: the portrayal of them as seeking to convert Muslims to another faith by force and thus motivating Muslims to do the same. Another aspect is the threatening attitude toward a Muslim who may convert to another religion. One hadith makes it more specific with Muhammad saying: “The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but God and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In qisas [retaliation] for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and one who reverts from Islam and leaves the Muslims.”[53]

This prescribed attitude toward a Muslim embracing another religion has implications for tolerance. Moucarry correctly observes what true religious tolerance involves as he focuses on Christians and Muslims: “Christians and Muslims will be genuinely tolerant only when they have accepted the idea that debate, or dialogue, may lead to conversions either to Christianity or to Islam.”[54] Based on the Qur’anic passage above, therefore, we cannot fail to note that the Qur’an does not convey a situation where religious others can co-exist as equals with Muslims. The relationship between people of different religions is seen as between ruler and the subdued.

Another example from the Qur’an regarding this concept of ruling and authentication of the true religion by military victory and political supremacy (the seal of approval from God for the Muslim cause is seen in political dominance), is the passage referring to the battle of Badr,[55] called the “testing” or the “criterion.” Surah 8:38-42 says:

Say to the unbelievers, if (now) they desist (from unbelief), their past would be forgiven them, but if they persist, the punishment of those before them is already (a matter of warning for them). And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God altogether and everywhere. But if they cease, verily God doth see all that they do. If they refuse, be sure that God is your protector – the best to protect and the best to help. And know that out of all the booty that ye may acquire (in war), a fifth share is assigned to God, – and to the Apostle, and to near relatives, orphans, the needy, and the wayfarer, – If you do believe in God and in the revelation we sent down to our servant on the day of testing, day of the meeting of the two forces. For God hath power over all things.

Remember ye were on the hither side of the valley, and they on the farther side, and the caravan on the lower ground than ye. Even if ye had made a mutual appointment to meet, ye could certainly have failed in the appointment, but (thus ye met), that God might accomplish a matter already enacted, that those who died might die after a clear sign (had been given), and those who lived might live after a clear sign (had been given).[56] And verily God is He who heareth and knoweth (all things). (Emphasis mine.)

Commenting on the “day of testing,” which refers to the meeting of Muslim and Meccan forces, Yusuf Ali considers the criterion between right and wrong to be decided by the military victory between two armies: “the forces of faith and of unbelief.”[57] The winning of the physical battle justifies the Muslim cause and to this day this kind of success, namely political rule, is seen as the mark of true, authenticated Islam.

The Muslims obviously didn’t know that Meccans would have an army coming to protect the caravan (that is why the meeting of the armies is considered an appointment of God not foreseen by them) but when they saw the Meccan army, since they were small in number, Muslims decided to deal with the danger of the Meccan army rather than loot the Meccan caravan which was what they originally desired. The Muslims won and that was believed to justify the Muslim cause. The belief that their strategy of asserting themselves as Muslims by waging war had God’s approval continued to cement their confidence and motivate further fighting.

What concerns us at this point is the attitude toward religious others. As far as we can tell, the Qur’an makes the case that fighting was against unbelievers as such. The phrase “Fight them until there is no more oppression” refers to fighting Meccans who still would not allow Muslims to perform the ritual at the Ka’aba. But, the extent of the war, which is to continue until “there prevail justice and faith in God altogether and everywhere” points to the real agenda of imposing Islam as supreme religion. Again, the envisioned environment with religious others, indelible in the Qur’an itself, is not one of equality, i.e. a pluralistic society, but of a victorious religion which subdues the others. This is what is actually said in Sura 8:67-69: “It is not fitting for an Apostle that he should have prisoners of war until he had thoroughly subdued the land.” (Emphasis mine.)

Yusuf Ali’s comment follows: “An ordinary war may be for territory or trade, revenge or military glory – all temporal goods of this world. ... But a jihad is fought under strict conditions under a righteous imam, purely for the defense of faith and God’s law. All baser motives therefore are strictly excluded.”[58] Here we have one definition of Jihad as being a war for God’s cause, to establish the rule of Islam by the use of force. Moucarry presents the Muslim concept of militaristic jihad[59] in this way:

In the event of God’s cause being in danger, Muslims are under an obligation to take up arms and fight the enemies of Islam, even if they are reluctant to do battle (2:216-218; 4:77) ... Indeed, it is preferable to engage in combat rather than to expose the Muslim community to sedition and run the risk of seeing God’s cause defeated (2:191-193; 8:39). Armed combat or holy war is therefore the extreme form of jihad. Its aim is to defend Islam from its enemies.[60]

Muslims love to paint a picture of this being a defensive war in the normal sense of the word “defense,” but one cannot escape another understanding of such a war; that is, one which subdues religious others and establishes Islam as supreme. This is made obvious by expressions like: “[no] prisoners of war until [Muhammad] had thoroughly subdued the land.” The concept of “defense” in the Muslim understanding is related to the Muslim view of the Umma. Bannerman writes: “... followers of Islam ... were required, in pursuit of God’s will, to seek to establish a universal community comprising all mankind in which public order was regulated by the revelation [Qur’an].”[61] Muslims consider the destiny of the world order to be the rule of Islam, which they identify with the rule of God; the Muslim community is what that rightly ruled society will look like.

“The world was divided into dar al Islam (the territory of Islam) and dar al harb (the territory of war: and, by extension, the territory of unbelievers). ... Dar al harb comprised the rest of the world which Muslim rulers were duty-bound to bring under their authority ... Clearly, dar al harb must in due course be transformed into dar al Islam by one means or another.”[62] War against the unbelievers is considered to be defending the cause of God to whom belongs the territory which the unbelievers unjustly occupy simply by existing there. As Bannerman observes,

Al Shafi’i, [787-820 AD] ... held that it was a duty to wage war on the unbeliever simply because he was an unbeliever, whether or not there was any threat to the community ... [this understanding] was re-established later on by Ibn Taymiyya [1263-1328 AD], and appears to be the view of the majority of today’s [Muslim] jurists for whom reality clearly circumscribes the ideal. Al Shafi’i’s reasoning is consistent with the obligation to establish the universal umma ...[63]

3. Offensive war against all religious others

We have to skip over many verses which clearly uphold the same teaching of waging war against the unbelievers during the years in Medina[64] but will now pick up one Sura from the last years of Muhammad’s life, after conquering Mecca in A.D. 630, which establishes fighting not as defensive any more, but aggressive Jihad against all unbelievers. As Bailey writes in the context of this last phase of Qur’anic development, “[S]ince this is the final teaching of the Qur’an regarding Jihad, it is what is still in force today.”[65]

Sura 9:1-6 says:

A (declaration) of immunity from God and His Apostle, to those of the pagans with whom ye have contracted mutual alliances. Go ye, then, for four months backwards and forwards (as ye will) throughout the land, but know ye that ye cannot frustrate God (by your falsehood), but that God will cover with shame those who reject Him. And an announcement from God and His Apostle, to the people (assembled) on the day of the great pilgrimage – that God and His Apostle dissolve (treaty) obligations to the pagans. If, then ye repent, it were best for you. But if ye turn away, know ye that ye cannot frustrate God. And proclaim a grievous penalty to those who reject faith. (But the treaties are) not dissolved with those pagans with whom ye have entered into alliance and who have not subsequently failed you in aught, nor aided any one against you. So fulfill your engagements with them to the end of their term, for God loveth the righteous. But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war). But if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them. (Emphasis mine.)

The list of unbelievers (hence the enemies of Allah) includes Jews and Christians besides pagans as Sura 9 continues in verses 29-31:

Fight those who believe not in God nor the last day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of truth, (even if they are) of the people of the Book [Bible], until they pay the jizya with willing submission, feel themselves subdued. Jews call Uzair [Ezra] a son of God, and the Christians call Christ the Son of God ... God’s curse be on them; how they are deluded away from truth! They take their priests and their anchorites to be their lords in derogation of God, and (they take as their Lord) Christ the son of Mary. Yet they are commanded to worship but One God. (Emphasis mine)

“Those who reject faith” are those who do not want to become Muslims and at this point no more treaties of non-attack are to be observed, since it was decided that they “cannot frustrate God” any longer. The Qur’an clearly establishes an attitude of war toward all those who don’t believe Islam, wherever they may live, until they “repent and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way to them.” Yusuf Ali’s comment is: “when war becomes inevitable, it must be prosecuted with vigour.”[66] This gives you the impression that it is a war not chosen by Muslims but by God, as it is viewed in the context of a mandate to subdue the world for Islam. The inevitability of war is interpreted not as the Muslims’ choice but as something imposed upon them. The time had come to abolish all agreements of peace with religious others and fight them until they become Muslims and follow Islamic laws.

Muslims would say that it is essential that God not to be frustrated, meaning that Islam has to cover the whole earth as the supreme religion. Since nonbelievers reject Islam there is no other alternative left but for Muslims to show that nonbelievers “cannot frustrate God” by waging war and conquering the world for Islam. “But even then there is room for repentance and amendment on the part of the guilty party, and if that takes place, our duty is forgiveness and establishment of peace,”[67] continues Ali.

It seems clear that the guilt of the religious others lies in not embracing Islam and not being ruled by Islam. This is especially clear when Jews and Christians are included in the enemies to be conquered for Islam, even though their religion is considered valid for salvation at the Day of Judgment (Sura 2:62; 5:69). This means that Muslims do make a distinction between being under Islam and being in Islam, just as Moucarry says: “Submission to the political order of Islam does not necessarily imply assent to its doctrinal content [Surah 49:14; 48:11].”[68] This “establishment of peace,” means Muslim political rule of all who either become Muslims or live with “a grievous penalty to those who reject faith” in the form of a poll-tax and other humiliating conditions of the status of the dhimmi (“the protected”).

Conclusion on Qur’anic teaching about relating to religious others

During the Meccan period, Muhammad claimed that his role was to warn people. Later, it seems that all those who don’t believe what he taught and forbade, are not simply warned but are to be fought, cursed and commanded to embrace Islam. Nevertheless, since it is logical (due to the nature of belief formation) that “there is no compulsion in religion” (Sura 2:257), those who choose not to embrace Islam have the alternative to live in submission, paying a tax to be allowed to believe what they had believed before but in such a way that they “feel themselves subdued.”

Compared with the concept of tolerance defined at the beginning of this paper, Qur’anic “tolerance” is nothing less than religious persecution. Muslims would never accept this charge of intolerance but they must remember their own complaint when they were the persecuted ones in Mecca. Rev. Bailey makes a valuable observation at this point:

When the pagans were in control and the small number of Muslims were not permitted to enter the Ka’aba, their persecution was called a ‘sacrilegious act’ and ‘an open declaration of war.’ Brigadier S. K. Malik says, ‘The enemy repression reached its zenith when the Koraish denied the Muslims access to the Sacred Mosque to fulfill their religious obligations.’ Now that the tables are reversed, the denial of the pagans’ right to fulfill their religious obligations is not called ‘repression’ but is excused on the grounds that they must ‘shut out all impurity’ because the pagans ‘are unclean.’[69]

In a late Medinan Surah 9:28 we read: “O ye who believe! Truly the pagans are unclean, so let them not, after this year of theirs, approach the Sacred Mosque.” (Emphasis mine).

The interpretation of Qur’an is a fossilized teaching beyond change

The Qur’anic teaching on how to relate to religious others is normatively exemplified in the life of Muhammad and the first community. Muslims cannot be free to interpret Qur’an differently from Muhammad’s interpretation throughout his life and as shown in the way his earliest followers imitated him. The Qur’an says: “And it behoves not a believing man and a believing woman that they should have any choice in their matter when Allah and His Apostle have decided a matter; and whoever disobeys Allah and His Apostle, he surely strays off a manifest straying” (Sura 33:36).[70] Yvone Yazbeck Hadad writes: “Islam is one as revealed in the Qur’an, and the ideal and perfect Islamic community is that of Medina where the Umma lived under divine guidance through the mediation of the Angel Gabriel and the Prophet Muhammad.”[71]

As said earlier, the flight to Medina in A.D. 622 is the watershed event that marks the emerging of the Muslim community (umma), which would remain the model for the future as a God-ordained model for society. Bat Ye’or, traces several significant events in the life of Muhammad and the first Muslim Community:

In 624 Muhammad, joined by more followers, called upon the Qaynuqa, one of the Jewish tribes of Medina, to recognize his prophetic mission. When they refused, he besieged and overcame them. ... their lives were spared, but they were expelled from the city, their lands and a part of their possessions being confiscated by the Muslims. The following year the Jewish Nadir tribe suffered a similar fate: Muhammad burned down their palm groves and divided all their fields and houses among the community of the Believers.[72]

... In 627 ... guided by the angel Gabriel, Muhammad ... turned his host against the Jewish tribe of the Qurayza. ... Because the Jews refused conversion, Muhammad attacked and overwhelmed them ... six to nine hundred of them ... were led forth in batches and decapitated. ... The Prophet then divided the women, children, houses, and chattels among the Muslims.[73]

... In 628, taking advantage of a treaty of nonbelligerency (Hudaybiya) with the Meccans,[74] he attacked the oasis of Khaybar. ... The assailants came to the oasis at night and in the morning attacked the peasants as they were coming out in the fields, carrying spades and baskets.[75] After a siege lasting a month and a half, the inhabitants surrendered under the terms of a treaty known as the dhimma. According to this agreement Muhammad allowed the Jews to continue cultivating their oasis, on condition that they ceded to him half of their produce; he also reserved the right to break the agreement and expel them whenever he wished.[76]

Based on the dhimma of Khaybar, the relationship between Muslims and conquered peoples everywhere and for all time was held as an example for the future status of peoples under Muslim rule, the status of the dhimmi. When the early successor of Muhammad, Umar Al-Khattab, expelled the Jews and Christians from the Hijaz (Mecca and Medina) in A.D. 640, he referred to what Muhammad had said at the siege of Khaybar: “The land belongs to Allah and his Messenger.”[77] Based also on the Prophet’s advice: “Two religions shall not remain together in the peninsula of the Arabs,”[78] even to this day there are no non-Muslims that can set foot in Mecca.

It is because of such examples left by Muhammad for all of his followers in all times and places, that one is baffled to learn of Muslim scholars like Pickthall who go “to the extent of asserting that Muhammad’s attitude to Jews and the Christians remained tolerant till he died.”[79] Against such a background, it defies understanding to read some evaluations of history by Hassan Al-Turabi who, as of 1983, was Attorney General of the Sudan. He wrote: “The historical record of Muslims’ treatment of Christians and Jews is quite good especially compared with the history of relations between different religions and religious denominations in the West.”[80] After reading the Qur’an, it is surprising to encounter declarations such as Ahmad A. Galwash made: “There is not even a single verse in the Holy Qur’an which directly or indirectly insinuates the alternative of death or Islam for the unbelievers.”[81] Another Muslim claims that: “Mohammad did not merely preach toleration; he embodied it into law. In all conquered nations he offered liberty of worship. A nominal tribute was the only compensation they were required to pay for the observance and enjoyment of their faith.”[82] (Emphasis mine.)

What, then, are the implications of having to pay “compensation” for the “favor” of observing one’s religion? This clearly denies the “fundamental, and inalienable human right – the freedom to reach, hold, freely exercise, or change our beliefs independent of governmental control.”[83]

It is important to clarify that people who lived under Muslim rule didn’t have rights that flow from the mere fact of being a human being, but only as prescribed by a “concessionary charter” (the dhimma) which could be changed at the decision of the Muslim ruler. As Ellul notes: “... In the case of the ‘concessionary charter,’ ... one enjoys rights only to the extent that they are recognized in the charter and only for as long as it remains valid. As a person, by the mere fact of one’s ‘existence,’ one has no claim to any rights. And this, indeed, is the dhimmi’s condition.”[84]

This view of human rights is diametrically opposed to the rights that a liberal democracy envisions for its citizens. Nicholas Wolterstorff gives a definition of what democracy involves: “Equal protection under law for all people, equal freedom in law for all citizens, neutrality on the part of the state with respect to the diversity of religious and other comprehensive perspectives present in society, and equal voice for all citizens within the fair voting schemes.”[85] Weigel says: “Democracy is a way of public life, a way of being a political community,” which will work if it includes people “who have made their own the values, the moral truths, that teach us to be civil, tolerant, respectful – in a word, democratic.”[86] I am fully aware that democracy is a fairly recent phenomenon even in the West but the point here is to see if Islam, with the Qur’an as its defining factor, can ever be compatible with democracy and the religious tolerance democracy epitomizes.

In light of the Muslim concept of the Umma, the status of religious others in Qur’anic Islam is not negotiable. Ellul says that the status of the dhimmi:

... was not the product of historical accident but was that which ought to be from the religious point of view and according to the Muslim conception of the world. In other words, it was the expression of the absolute, unchanging, theologically grounded Muslim conception of the relationship between Islam and non-Islam. ... One must know as exactly as possible what the Muslims did with these unconverted conquered peoples, because that is what they will do in the future.[87]

Given the Muslim view of God as rule-giver, but not relational, tolerance as a concept is understood to be the undeserved and capricious generosity of a ruler toward the ruled. Epistemologically, given the authority of the Qur’an and Muhammad’s example, tolerance is defined according to the regulations of the Shariah law (divine law of the Muslim theocracy) and the normatively interpretative example of Muhammad and the first Muslim Community. Theologically, Muslims view everything in light of the destiny of Islam to rule the world and, therefore, they are committed to what they believe is God’s will, involving jihad (holy war). Moreover, there is the utilitarian dimension of Muslim intolerance, which includes reasoning that the greater good (for the umma) justifies hard measures. The same worldview and understanding of Islam as superior (not only as a religion but also as a form of government with which it is inseparably linked) persists today among Muslims generally. As Watt writes: “... the thinking of the fundamentalist Islamic intellectuals and of the great masses of ordinary Muslims is still dominated by the standard traditional Islamic world-view and the corresponding self-image of Islam.”[88]

The will to deny the obvious

Nothing that is presented in this paper is new or unheard of by those informed on the subject. Nevertheless, even among those who should know better, there is a tendency to behave like the proverbial ostrich, denying the obvious implications of the Qur’anic teaching. Daniel Pipes, who surveyed about 25 experts in religion (professors in Harvard, Georgetown, Duke University, Baylor, Rutgers, University of Wisconsin etc.), found only four of them who considered the term “jihad” to have any military component whatsoever and this, he says “is quite as if historians of medieval Europe were to deny that the word "crusade" ever had martial overtones ... [but rather the term "crusade" actually meant] ‘crusade on hunger’ or ‘crusade against drugs.’”[89] It is also disturbing that, even in post 9/11 America, as Pipes testifies, “one who dares to dissent and utter the truth on the matter of jihad falls under enormous censure ... We have thus reached a point where merely to state a known fact about Islam earns one the status of a hostile bigot.”[90]

The will to believe that Islam is a religion of tolerance may cause some to be convinced that it is; but in reality it doesn’t make Islam a religion of tolerance. After being confronted with the facts of Islamic teaching, some still continue to say: “Please tell me this is not Islam.”[91] Even when one correctly observes that “Islam cannot but be ruling – and ruling on its own terms, and deciding what minorities it will allow and how,” exemplifying the ostrich mentality, the same person still hopes against hope that Muslims will choose “Meccan priority (choose to make normative the Meccan attitude of toleration), in terms of the twenty-first century, [which] must emphasize an Islam that ... tolerates diversity ...”[92] This is just another way of saying, “please tell me this is not Islam.”

We live during the worst time for the West to confront Islam because of the loss of clarity on the nature of truth. The relativistic view of truth explained earlier in relation to tolerance is prevalent in the affluent, sleepy (even if restless) western society. The openness of the West toward third world religions is not because the West has become more tolerant (relativism just stupefies the mind giving the illusion of tolerance), but because it is confused about its own identity; it has educated itself to be ignorant and dismissive of its own heritage; it is embarrassed by colonialism and blows out of proportion the mistakes of the past throwing out the baby with the bath water.

It is as if the West is living the tale of the ugly duckling in reverse. Westerners, for a time, thought the West was beautiful but lured by the “nonconformists” and looking at the exotic “others” they now feel like as if the West is the ugly duckling. There is a need for people like Dinesh D’Souza,[93] who emigrated from the East to the West and can’t be fooled by the hype of criticism against the West, to convincingly declare how beautiful America and the West, still are.

The West built a legacy of religious tolerance because it believed that objective truth existed; because truth mattered and because people should be free to pursue it. As was made clear earlier, in order to have tolerance at all, a view of truth as objective and an attitude of respect for humans (who are endowed by the Creator with dignity and rights that involve the exercise of their free will), is essential. This view of tolerance is part of the glorious legacy the West has bestowed upon the world. Therefore, it is tragic that one can be considered a bigot today in the West because one believes that another view can be wrong. America and the world have an opportunity to overcome this untenable relativistic stance as we face the ugliness of ideologies which result in events such as September 11th 2001.

Contemplating Change: the impossible

At the end of his book Foundations of Religious Tolerance, Newman wants to strike an optimistic note: “... we ... still have a moral obligation to believe that further civilization – further civilizing – is possible. If the prospects for religious tolerance are not bright, then it is our business as human beings to make them bright.”[94] Another hopeful voice was Watt, suggesting that: “... a programme for the correction of the faulty self-image of Islam may seem utopian and unlikely to be realized. [but] ... That at least is the outcome for which the believer in God, Muslim or non-Muslim, should be praying.”[95]

I also wish that such a change in Islam were possible but understanding the nature of Islamic religion, forces one to agree with the incisive words of Ellul who says:

After all, ideas and concepts are known to change. ... But precisely what seems to me interesting and striking about Islam, one of its peculiarities, is the fixity of its concepts. ... Wherever the social organization is based upon a system, it tends to reproduce itself far more exactly. Islam, even more than Christianity, is a religion that claims to give a definite form to the social order, to human relations, and claims to embrace each moment in the life of every person. Thus, it tends toward an inflexibility that most other forms of society have not had. Moreover, it is known that the whole of Islamic doctrine (including its religious thought) took on a juridical form. ... Of course, there can be an evolution (in practical matters, in jurisprudence, etc.), but when there is a text, which is regarded in some way as an “authoritative” source, one has only to go back to that text and recent innovations will collapse. And this is exactly what has happened in Islam. ...

One should be aware that when one is dealing with some Islamic term or institution of the past, as long as the basic text – in this case, the Koran – remains unchanged, one can always return to the original principles and ideas whatever apparent transformations or developments have taken place, especially because Islam has achieved something that has always been very unusual: an integration of the religious, the political, the moral, the social, the juridical, and the intellectual, thus constituting a rigorous whole of which each element forms an integral part.[96]

These words express exactly the thrust of my argument: there is an Islam that is unavoidable, namely the Qur’anic Islam, which can be rediscovered time and again. Just as Kenneth Woodward says: “Israeli commandos do not cite the Hebrew prophet Joshua as they go into battle, but Muslim insurgents can readily invoke the example of their Prophet, Muhammad, who was a military commander himself. And while the Crusaders may have fought with the cross and their shields, they did not – could not – cite words from Jesus to justify their slaughters.”[97] It is the Qur’an that binds Islam to intolerance and since Islam without the Qur’an is not Islam, there cannot ever exist true Islam that is tolerant. Again we may wish to believe that Islam can become tolerant but we will have to live with the consequences, which are inevitable given the hard evidence.

Contemplating change: the possible

If, as I have come to conclude, it is true that the Qur’an ultimately does not teach tolerance but rather intolerance toward other religions in the society it seeks to dominate, I am afraid that there is nothing we can do about it; we cannot change the Qur’an. This doesn’t preclude on the other hand sympathizing with Muslims and seeking to understand where they come from so we may responsibly address the issues of concern.[98] They are fellow human beings, much more similar to us than different. Not every Muslim believes what the unavoidable Islam may suggest, and Muslims can and have changed or converted to another worldview. I am one among unnumbered Christians who come from a Muslim tradition.

Given the content of the Qur’an and the unquestioned place it has in Muslim religion and system, one fails to see how the Qur’anic Islam – the unavoidable Islam can possibly change but a change in its adherents is a different matter. Therefore, we should not get tired of upholding the truth, exposing falsehood, showing the consequences of certain views, seeking to win all people to the truth, and being prepared to stand our ground when the evil hour comes, as people who have hope.[99]


1 Harold Netland, Encountering Religious Pluralism (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), p. 347.
2 Bat Ye’or, The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians under Islam, Revised and enlarged English edition (Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1985), p. 28.
3 Edward W. Said, "Declaring War on Islam," The Progressive, May 1996, as reprinted in Jennifer A. Hurley, ed. Islam: Opposing Viewpoints (San Diego, CA.: Greenhaven Press, 2001), p. 111.
4 Michael Elliot, "Islam’s Prophet Motive. PBS’s Muhammad paints a too rosy picture of a humanitarian faith and its founder" in Time, December 23, 2002, p. 76.
5 Quote taken from Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993, as found in Ibn Warraq, Why I am not a Muslim (New York: Prometheus Books, 1995), p. 172.
6 Jay Newman, Foundations of Religious Tolerance (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), p. 5.
7 Dr. W. Bonar Sidjabat, has a whole chapter devoted to the issue of tolerance in Islam and the very title of the chapter "Tolerance and Intolerance in Islam" confuses tolerance and toleration [Religious Tolerance and The Christian Faith (Jakarta: BPK Gunung Mulia, 1982), pp. 112-167]. Sidjabat says: "... the Qur’an is the primary source of the Islamic doctrine of religious tolerance and intolerance" (Sidjabat, Religious Tolerance, p. 112).
8 Newman, Tolerance, p. 8.
9 Ibid., p. 61.
10 Nicholas Wolterstorff writes: "When it comes to what is required for showing respect, I think we must consider the situation not only from the speaker’s perspective but also from the hearer’s. To show full respect for you, as a free and dignified individual, requires, without imposing any restrictions on the content of your speech, inviting you to tell me how you see the situation and then to listen. To listen with the goal in mind of learning from you. To listen with the goal in mind of discerning how I can communicate to you my own perspective and perhaps persuade you of its cogency. But beyond that, to listen for what I can learn from you. Thus, to make up my own mind in the light of what you say – whatever it is that you say. That, it seems to me, is what is required by showing respect in such matters" [Robert Audi and Nicholas Wolterstorff, Religion in the Public Square. The Place of Religious Convictions in Political debate (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1997), p. 159-160].
11 Fazlur Rahman, Islam, 2d edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 2.
12 Christianity from the earliest times with Jesus rising into heaven and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, through the first three centuries of growth under persecution, has always affirmed an identity apart from the political government although when the emperor chose to become a Christian the state was offered in "marriage" to the Church and a controversial "marriage" continued for many centuries.
13 Fazlur Rahman, Islam, p. 2, (emphasis is mine).
14 I. Faruqi et al., Christian Mission and Islamic Da’wa, p. 48, as quoted in Chawkat Moucarry, The Prophet and the Messiah (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), p. 27.
15 William J. Saal, Reaching Muslims for Christ (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), p. 46.
16 Fazlur Rahman defines the shari’a as including: "all behaviour – spiritual, mental and physical. Thus it comprehends both faith and practice: assent to or belief in one God is part of the Sari’a just as are the religious duties of prayer and fasting, etc. Further all legal and social transactions as well as all personal behaviour is subsumed under the Sari’a as the comprehensive principle of the total way of life" [Fazlur Rahman, Islam and Modernity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), p. 101].
17 Saal, Reaching, p. 42.
18 Sidjabat, Religious Tolerance, p. 126.
19 William J. Saal, Reaching, p. 45 (some emphases are mine).
20 See Fazlur Rahman, Islam, pp. 19-28. Although Rahman as a Muslim seeks to bring Muhammad and Muslims in the best possible light by embellishing things to suit western ears, he cannot escape the facts of history. Therefore, his account of Islam is worth reading critically.
21 Rahman, Islam, p. 30.
22 Charis Waddy, The Muslim Mind (London/N.Y.: Longman, 1976), p. 14, as quoted in Norman L. Geisler, Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), p. 179.
23 Sidjabat, Religious Tolerance, p. 113-115.
24 Ibid., p. 129.
25 Ignaz Godziher, Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981), p. 12.
26 Kenneth Cragg, The Event of the Qur’an. Islam in its Scripture (Oxford: Oneworld, 1994), p.112.
27 Ibid., pp. 112-116.
28 Bukhari, fada’il al-Qur’an 3:VI, p. 477, no. 509 [4603], as quoted in Chawkat Moucarry, Prophet, p. 38.
29 This copy "was not considered at this time [time of its existence] an infallible copy of the Qur’an. ‘Uthman not only ordered his text to be copied but also called for it to be revised at the same time. When he appointed the four redactors mentioned he chose the other three because they were from the Quraish tribe of Mecca while Zaid came from among the ansar of Medina. He said that, if they should differ at any point in respect of the language of the Qur’an, they were to overrule Zaid and write it in the Quraish dialect as it had been originally revealed in it" (Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 4, p. 466, as quoted in John Gilchrist, The Qur’an. The Scripture of Islam [Mondeor, South Africa: MERCSA, 1995], p. 111.)
30 Moucarry, Prophet, p. 38.
31 Rahman, Islam, p. 40.
32 Bukhari, fada’il al-Qur’an 3:VI, p. 478, no. 510 [4604], as quoted in Chawkat Moucarry, Prophet, p. 39.
33 Cragg, The Event, p. 113.
34 Rahman, Islam, p. 41, (emphasis is mine).
35 Ibid., p. 41.
36 Shakir, The Qur’an, p. 14. Arthur Jeffery wrote about this doctrine: "The Qur’an is unique among sacred scriptures in teaching a doctrine of abrogation according to which later pronouncements of the Prophet abrogate, i.e., declare null and void, his earlier pronouncements. The importance of knowing which verses abrogate others has given rise to the Qur’anic science known as Nasikh wa Mansukh, i.e., "the Abrogators and the Abrogated" [Arthur Jeffery, ed., Islam: Muhammad and His Religion (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1977), p. 66].
37 Zamakshari on Sura 2:106/100, as found in Helmut Gätje, The Qur’an and its Exegesis. Selected texts with Classical and Modern Muslim Interpretations (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976), p. 58.
38 Shakir, The Qur’an, pp. 245, 259.
39 Goldziher, Introduction, p. 23.
40 The Muslim scholar Baidawi, writes: "Say: Fighting in it is a heinous thing: that is, a heinous sin. For the most part, in opposition to ‘Ata, it is held that this statement is abrogated by the following words of God: ‘If they do not leave you alone and offer you peace and stop hostilities, then take them wherever you find them and slay them’ (Sura 4:91/93). In this case the more specific (that is, the prohibition against fighting during the month of Rajab) would be abrogated by the general (that is, the general command to kill the unbelievers)" [Baidawi on Sura 2:216f./212-214, as found in Helmut Gätje, The Qur’an and its Exegesis. Selected texts with Classical and Modern Muslim Interpretations (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976), p. 213]. Stanton also observes: "On first entry into Medina the command is that there is no compulsion in religion, and warfare is limited to defense ... (2: 186). Later this is abrogated by "the verse of the sword" (9:5) ..." [H. U. Weitbrecht Stanton, The Teaching of the Qur’an (London: Central Board of Missions, 1919), p. 65].
41 All the following quotations from the Qur’an, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation And Commentary (Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Dar El-Liwaa Publishing and Distributing, 1938.)
42 I will use this phrase as coined by Harold Netland, Encountering Religious Pluralism (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), p. 92, to refer to people of other religions as seen from the perspective of a specific religious group, in this case – those other than Muslims.
43 I am indebted to a study by Rev. Richard P. Bailey for some insights in the development of the Qur’an’s teaching on Jihad (
44 Rev. Richard P. Bailey, "Jihad" (
45 William Campbell, The Qur’an And The Bible In The Light Of History And Science (Upper Darby, PA: Middle East Resources, 1986), p. 96.
46 Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an, footnote 206, p. 76 (italics are mine).
47 Rahman, Islam, p. 19.
48 Ibid., p. 19.
49 Ibid., p. 21.
50 Baidawi on Sura 2:216f./212-214, as found in Helmut Gätje, The Qur’an and its Exegesis. Selected texts with Classical and Modern Muslim Interpretations (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976), p. 213.
51 Rahman, Islam, p. 21.
52 W. Montgomery Watt, Companion to the Qur’an (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1967), p. 38. It is in this context that Baidawi writes: "Say: Fighting in it is a heinous thing: that is, a heinous sin. For the most part, in opposition to ‘Ata, it is held that this statement is abrogated by the following words of God: ‘If they do not leave you alone and offer you peace and stop hostilities, then take them wherever you find them and slay them’ (Sura 4:91/93). In this case the more specific (that is, the prohibition against fighting during the month of Rajab) would be abrogated by the general (that is, the general command to kill the unbelievers)"[ Baidawi on Sura 2:216f./212-214, as found in Helmut Gätje, The Qur’an and its Exegesis. Selected texts with Classical and Modern Muslim Interpretations (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976), p. 213].
53 Bukhari, diyat 6:IX, p. 10, no. 17 [6370]; Bukhari, jihad 149:IV, p. 160, no. 260 [2794]; istitaba 2:IX, p. 45, no. 57 [6411], as referred to by Moucarry, The Prophet, p. 116 (emphasis is mine).
54 Moucarry, The Prophet, p. 20.
55 Yusuf Ali’s comment on Surah 8:38-42 in The Holy Qur’an, p. 425.
56 In his commentary on this verse, Watt writes: "... Badr, ... furqan must be thought of as a ‘deliverance’ compared to that effected by God for the Israelites when they safely passed over the Red Sea while Pharaoh and his army were drowned" (W. Montgomery Watt, Companion to the Qur’an (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1967), p. 98.
57 Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an, footnote 1210, p. 425.
58 Ibid., footnote 1234, p. 432.
59 Daniel Pipes, tells the story of a student at Harvard College who delivered the speech titled "My American Jihad," with the explanation that "in the Muslim tradition, jihad represents a struggle to do the right thing" [Daniel Pipes, "Jihad and the Professors," November 2002, (]. While there is room for "jihad" to mean striving in improving oneself, this is definitely not the main meaning of the word either in the Qur’an or in everyday speech of Muslims.
60 Moucarry, The Prophet, p. 118.
61 Patrick Bannerman, Islam in Perspective (London: Routledge, 1988), p. 83.
62 Ibid., p. 86.
63 Ibid., p. 90.
64 See Bailey’s article "Jihad" for those verses from the Qur’an that teach about jihad – war against non-Muslims.
65 Bailey, p. 15.
66 Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an, footnote 1251, p. 439.
67 Ibid.
68 Moucarry, The Prophet, p. 117.
69 Bailey, p. 17.
70 This quotation is from the translation of M. H. Shakir, The Qur’an (N.Y.: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, Inc., 1999), p. 410.
71 Yvone Yazbeck Haddad, Contemporary Islam and the Challenge of History (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1982), p. 139.
72 This event is recorded in al-Bukhari (d.869), Les Traditions Islamiques (Al-Sahih), trans. O. Houdas and W. Marcais (Paris, 1903-1914), vol. 2, title 41, chap. 6; title 56, chap. 80:3, chap. 154:2. "This compilation of the acts and sayings attributed to Muhammad, completed in the ninth century, constitutes one of the two pillars of Islamic jurisprudence, the other being the contemporary compilation made by his younger disciple, Muslim (d.875)" [Bat Ye’or, The Dhimmi, p. 44. See also footnote 4, p. 50].
73 This event is recorded in Ibn Ishaq, pp. 461-69; M. Gaudefroy-Demombynes, Mohamet (Paris, 1969), pp. 142-46; W. Montgomery Watt, "Muhammad", in the Cambridge History of Islam (Cambridge, 1970), 1:39-49, [Bat Ye’or, The Dhimmi, p. 44, and footnote 5, p. 50].
74 Bukhari vol. 2, title 54, chap. 15, as referenced in Bat Ye’or, The Dhimmi, p. 44, and footnote 6 on p. 50.
75 Ibn Ishaq, p. 511; Bukhari, vol. 2, title 56, chaps. 102:5, 130, as referenced in Bat Ye’or, The Dhimmi, p. 44, and footnote 7 on p. 50.
76 Ibn Ishaq, pp. 524-25; Bukhari, vol. 2, title 41, chaps. 8, 9, 11, 17, and title 57, cap. 19:10. For an example of the treaties between Muhammad and the Jews living in Makna (near Eliat), see al-Baladhuri (d.892), vol. 1, The Origins of the Islamic State (Kitab Futuh al-Buldan), trans. P. K. Hitti (New York, 1916), pp. 93-94, [Bat Ye’or, The Dhimmi, p. 44 and footnote 8 on p. 50].
77 Muslim, Traditions (Al-Sahih), trans. A. H. Siddiqi (Lahore, 1976), vol. 3, chap. 723 (4363); Bukhari, vol. 2. title 57, chap. 1:3, and title 58, chap. 6:1, [Bat Ye’or, The Dhimmi, p. 47 and footnote 9 on p. 50].
78 Ibn Ishaq, p. 525; Bukhari, vol. 2, t. 41, chap. 17; t. 54, chap. 14; vol. 4, t. 89, chap.2; Muslim, vol. 3, chap. 723 (4366), [Bat Ye’or, The Dhimmi, p. 47 and footnote 13 on p. 50].
79 As relayed by Sidjabat, Religious Tolerance, p. 124.
80 Hasan Turabi, "The Islamic State," in Voices of Resurgent Islam, ed. John Esposito, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), p. 250.
81 Ahmad A. Galwash, The Religion of Islam (Cambridge: Murray Printing Company, 1940), p. 84, as quoted in Sidjabat, Religious Tolerance, p. 123.
82 As quoted in Sidjabat, Religious Tolerance, p. 123 (the emphasis is mine).
83 Os Guinnes, "Making the World Safe for Diversity," in Rights of Muslims (Pasadena, CA: Zwemer Institute of Muslim Studies, 1992), p. 18.
84 Bat Ye’or, The Dhimmi, p. 30-31.
85 Robert Audi and Nicholas Wolterstorff, Religion in the Public Square. The Place of Religious Convictions in Political debate (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1997), p. 159.
86 As quoted by M. A. Casey, "Globalization," in First Things, n. 126, October 2002, p. 52.
87 Bat Ye’or, The Dhimmi, p. 29.
88 William Montgomery Watt, Islamic Fundamentalism and Modernity (London: Routledge, 1988), p. 1.
89 Daniel Pipes, "Jihad and the Professors," November 2002, (, p. 1, 5. See also the protest against this article by some of these professors, and Daniel Pipes' response at
90 Daniel Pipes, "Jihad and the Professors," p. 5.
91 Bob Blincoe, "Honor and Shame," in Mission Frontiers, December 2001, p. 20.
92 Kenneth Cragg, "A Tale of Two Cities. Helping the heirs of Mecca to transform Medina," in Mission Frontiers, December 2001, p. 21.
93 Dinesh D’Sousa recently wrote What is so great about America (Washington, DC: Regnery Pub., 2002), where he evaluates and affirms the great values of the Western Civilization in spite of colonialism and other deficiencies.
94 Newman, Tolerance, p. 174.
95 Watt, Islamic Fundamentalism, p. 143.
96 Jacques Ellul, from the preface in Bat Ye’or, The Dhimmi, p. 29-30.
97 Kenneth L. Woodward, "In the Beginning There Were the Holy Books," in Newsweek, 11 February 2002, p. 53.
98 Ellul makes this point in the preface of Bat Ye’or, The Dhimmi, p. 28.
99 The ultimate hope is in Jesus Christ who will return in glory to complete history’s goal in establishing his everlasting kingdom. This hope ultimately rests on knowing God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (John 17:3).



Audi, Robert and Nicholas Wolterstorff. Religion in the Public Square. The Place of Religious Convictions in Political debate. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1997.

Bannerman, Patrick. Islam in Perspective. London: Routledge, 1988.

Campbell, William. The Qur’an And The Bible In The Light Of History And Science. Upper Darby, PA: Middle East Resources, 1986.

Cragg, Kenneth. The Event of the Qur’an. Islam in its Scripture. Oxford: Oneworld, 1994.

Gätje, Helmut. The Qur’an and its Exegesis. Selected texts with Classical and Modern Muslim Interpretations. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976.

Geisler, Norman L. and Abdul Saleeb. Answering Islam. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000.

Gilchrist, John. The Qur’an. The Scripture of Islam. Mondeor, South Africa: MERCSA, 1995.

Godziher, Ignaz. Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1981.

Haddad, Yvone Yazbeck. Contemporary Islam and the Challenge of History Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1982.

Jeffery, Arthur. ed. Islam: Muhammad and His Religion. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1977.

Moucarry, Chawkat. The Prophet and the Messiah. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001.

Netland, Harold. Encountering Religious Pluralism. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001.

Newman, Jay. Foundations of Religious Tolerance. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982.

Rahman, Fazlur. Islam, 2d edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.

Rahman, Fazlur. Islam and Modernity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.

Saal, William J. Reaching Muslims for Christ. Chicago: Moody Press, 1993.

Sidjabat, W. Bonar. Religious Tolerance and The Christian Faith. Jakarta: BPK Gunung Mulia, 1982.

Stanton, H. U. Weitbrecht. The Teaching of the Qur’an. London: Central Board of Missions, 1919.

Warraq, Ibn. Why I am not a Muslim. New York: Prometheus Books, 1995.

Watt, W. Montgomery. Companion to the Qur’an. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1967.

Watt, William Montgomery. Islamic Fundamentalism and Modernity. London: Routledge, 1988.

Ye’or, Bat. The Dhimmi. Jews and Christians under Islam. Revised and enlarged English edition. Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1985.

Translations of the Qur’an used

Ali, Abdullah Yusuf. The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation And Commentary. Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Dar El-Liwaa Publishing and Distributing, 1938.

Shakir, M. H. The Qur’an. N.Y.: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, Inc., 1999.


Os Guinnes, "Making the World Safe for Diversity," in Rights of Muslims, Pasadena, CA: Zwemer Institute of Muslim Studies, 1992.

Said, Edward W. "Declaring War on Islam," in Islam: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego, CA.: Greenhaven Press, 2001.

Turabi, Hasan. "The Islamic State," in Voices of Resurgent Islam, ed. John Esposito, New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

Magazine and Periodical articles

Blincoe, Bob. "Honor and Shame," in Mission Frontiers, December 2001.

Casey, M. A. "Globalization," in First Things, n. 126, October 2002.

Cragg, Kenneth. "A Tale of Two Cities. Helping the heirs of Mecca to transform Medina," in Mission Frontiers, December 2001.

Elliot, Michael. "Islam’s Prophet Motive. PBS’s Muhammad paints a too rosy picture of a humanitarian faith and its founder." Time, December 23, 2002.

Woodward, Kenneth L. "In the Beginning There Were the Holy Books." Newsweek, 11 February 2002, p. 53.

Internet resources

Bailey, Richard P. "Jihad"

Pipes, Daniel "Jihad and the Professors,", November 2002,

Themes of the Qur'an
Answering Islam Home Page