by Tahir Nasser
With true polemical gusto, Gavin Ashenden in ‘The Times’ asked the question whether a violent interpretation of the Qur’an that promotes bloodshed is just as legitimate as a peaceful one (Muslims Need to Face Up To The Violence of the Qur’an, 20 March).
The Qur’an’s answer to this is, emphatically, no, and for the simple reason that the Qur’an tells you how to interpret it. The Qur’an highlights that it contains two types of verses: context-independent verses and context-dependent verses. It explains that context-independent verses provide general, timeless principles and which govern context-dependent verses. The Qur’an goes on to condemn those who ignore, or abrogate (Naskh), such timeless principles and pursue their own perverse interpretations, creating contradictions in the Qur’an that in reality do not exist. The Prophet of Islam forbade this when he said: Thus were ruined those people who have gone before you, for they interpreted certain parts of their scriptures in such a manner as to make them contradict other parts (Musnad).
That’s all very nice in theory, but how does that work in practice with such verses as: kill the idolaters wherever you find them (9:5)? How could such verses ever be justified?
The first thing to note is that such verses are context dependent: they are dependent on a war of self-defence having been thrust on Muslims. Don’t take anyone’s word for it – the Qur’an itself is explicit on this point: fighting is permitted it proclaims, for those on whom war is made...only because they said ‘Our Lord is Allah’ (22:40,41). This is the earliest verse that permitted self-defense against religious persecution. It goes on to clarify that Muslims have a duty to fight to protect temples, synagogues and churches, as well as to defend their own mosques. Regarding those who have not fought against you [Muslims] on account of your religion and who have not driven you out of your homes, God enjoins that you be kind to them and act fairly, for surely, Allah loves those who are fair (60:9). Muslims took up arms in self-defence after being driven out of their homes on account of their religion by pagan non-Muslims. Thus the division of the two sides was of belief, which is why there are verses that speak of “fighting disbelievers”. As an aside it would be interesting to hear what Mr Ashenden would consider is the right response to the ISIS massacres, would he advocate self-defence or ‘to turn the other cheek’?
But perhaps this is all posturing. Is it not true, as claimed by Mr. Ashenden, that the Qur’anic verses were peaceful for the sake of expediency while Muslims were the minority in Mecca, and bloodthirsty after Muslims had migrated and established themselves in Medina? Again the answer is a clear no. The Qur’anic declarations that there is no compulsion in religion (2:157) and that no aggression is permitted except against the aggressors (2:194) were made when the Prophet of Islam was established as the ruler of Medina.
The example of the Prophet of Islam when he forgave all his persecutors when he conquered Mecca, demonstrates that the Prophet of Islam understood the Qur’an better than anyone else – be they a Middle-Eastern extremist or a Western orientalist. The likes of Al-Qaeda and ISIS are desperate for all to take their distorted and poisonous narrative as Gospel. My message to Mr Ashenden and all others is simple: don’t believe the hype.