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Apologists and propagandists
December 2008
In response to the London bombings on July 7, 2005 more than 500 British Muslim religious leaders issued a fatwa stating that Islam condemns the use of violence and the destruction of innocent lives. Also, British Muslim leaders condemned on July 6, 2007 the two failed car-bombing attempts in London (June 29, 2007) and the failed car-bombing attempt at Glasgow airport (June 30, 2007).

On October 12, 2007, 138 Muslim scholars and clerics of different sects; Shi’ites, Sunnis, Ibadis, Ismailis, and Zaidis sent a twenty-nine-page letter entitled A Common Word Between Us and You to Pope Benedict XVI and to twenty-six other leaders of Christian churches worldwide urging greater understanding between Islam and Christianity in the interest of world peace.

While admirable, these declarations, however, are apologists’ attempts at changing Islam’s image in the West after the atrocities of 9/11 from a religion of violence to a religion of peace. Such declarations will fail to end jihadists violence because they do not address the religious root causes that inspire jihadists’ martyrdom. The signors on these documents would have done a better deed had they, instead,
disassociated themselves from the intolerant and violent verses in the Quran, better yet, issued  a fatwa to abrogate the intolerant and violent verses (see below).  

The signors of the above documents are not the villains. These individuals are enlightened, religiously moderate, and modern thinkers. The villains are the minority of fanatics who invoke those parts of the Quran that are intolerant and violent in order to justify violence against whoever disagrees with their brand of Islam. Saudi Wahhabi clerics are the case in point. For a hundred years, teaching and preaching intolerance, violence, and extreme interpretation of seventh century Shari'a laws have been  the hallmarks of the Islam of the
Saudi state.

The two-day UN Interfaith Conference held on November 12 and 13, 2008 in New York, proposed and attended by the Saudi monarch and more than 50 heads of state and other officials, including the American President George W. Bush, to promote dialogue on religion and culture is a post September 11 propaganda stunt aimed more at softening Saudi Arabia's image abroad as the hot bed of Islamist extremism than to soften Wahhabi extremism at home. If Saudi Arabia were serious about promoting dialogue on religion and culture the place to start is Saudi
school curricula, media, and mosques, not theatrics on the world stage. It is not surprising that the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia and other Wahhabi clerics were conspicuously absent from all of the above mentioned events.

Quranic Readings for the Moderate Muslim, the Islamist, and the Jihadist

Muslims of different persuasions find in the Quran, often on the same subject, the inspiration that suit their inclinations. Moderate Muslims, the great majority among Muslims, choose the peaceful and the tolerant to the exclusion of the violent and the intolerant verses. Islamists, a minority among Muslims, focus on the intolerant verses. Jihadists, a minority among Islamists, concentrate not only on the intolerant verses, but also on the verses that urge jihad and violence.
The following are a few examples of the verses that appeal to moderate Muslims:

In 2:62: “Those who believe, and those who follow the Jewish [scriptures], and the Christians . . .  any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.”

In 2:136: “Say: we believe in God, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob and their progeny, and that which was given to Moses and Jesus, and to all the prophets by their Lord.”

In 2:256: “Let there be no compulsion in religion.”

In 29:46: “Do not argue with the People of the Book [Christians and Jews] unless in a fair way… Our God and your God is one; and it is to him we bow.”

In 5:82, the moderate Muslim would focus on the part that praises Christians and their priests: “You will find . . . nearest . . . in love to the believers are the people who say: ‘we are Christians’ because amongst them there are priests and monks and they are not arrogant.”

Further, Islam recognizes and reveres all Christian and Jewish prophets and messengers. The Quran dedicates Chapter 14 with its fifty-two verses to Abraham, and Chapter 12 with its 111 verses to Joseph. To Mary, the mother of Jesus, the Quran dedicates Chapter 19 with its ninety-eight verses. Muslims believe that God revealed Islam in order to restore the religion of Abraham to its original tenets after Christian priests and Jewish rabbis had corrupted its true message. To Muslims, Islam represents the original, unadulterated religion of Abraham. The Quran refers to Islam in 2:135 as the Religion of Abraham.

The second type of Quranic verse attracts the Islamist. The Islamist chooses to concentrate on the intolerant verses instead of the tolerant. An Islamist would focus, for example, on the remaining segment of verse 5:82, which condemns the Jews: “You will find the Jews and the idolaters strongest in enmity to the believers.” The Islamist concentrates also on those verses that condemn Christians and Jews, along with their priests and rabbis. For example:

In 2:65: “You are well aware of those among you who profaned the Sabbath, and to whom We said, ‘Be as apes despicable.’”

In 2:120: “Never will the Jews or the Christians be satisfied with you unless you follow their form of religion.”

In 5:51: “Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: they are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them is of them.”

In 5:60, in a clear reference to Christians and Jews: “Say: ‘shall I tell you who will receive the worst retribution from God? They whom God has rejected and whom He has condemned, and whom He has turned into apes and swine.’”

In 5:78: “Curses were pronounced on those among the children of Israel who rejected faith, by the tongue of David and of Jesus, the son of Mary, because they disobeyed.”

The third type of Quranic verse is violent. This type urges jihad. For example:

In 2:191: “And slay them wherever you find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter.”
In 2:193: “And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah.”

In 8:60: “Against them make ready your strength to the utmost, that you may strike terror into the enemies of God and your enemies.”

In 9:5: “Fight and slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every likely place; but if they repent, and fulfill their devotional prayers and pay the Zakat tax, then let them go their way.”

In 9:29: “Fight those who believe not in God nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by God and his Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of truth, even if they are of the People of the Book, until they pay the protective tax with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”

God’s description of the great delights of paradise makes a jihadist’s career worthwhile. The Quran tantalizingly describes in more than one hundred verses the eternal bliss that awaits good Muslims in paradise. For example:

In 2:82: “Those who are faithful and do righteous deeds—they are destined for paradise.”

In 18:31: “For them will be gardens of Eden; beneath them rivers will flow; they will be adorned with bracelets of gold, and they will wear green garments of fine silk and heavy brocade, they will recline on raised thrones.”

In 61:12: “Gardens with rivers flowing by and excellent mansions.” Also, “In the midst of gardens and springs (44:52) . . . “Dressed in fine silk and in rich brocade (44:53) . . . “We shall join them to companions with beautiful, big, and lustrous eyes” (44:54).  

In the hands of jihadist leaders, these verses transform their Islamist disciples into walking bombs.

No degree of apologists’ rhetoric or propagandists skill can make the intolerant verses tolerant and the violent verses peaceful. Unless the intolerant and the violent verses are satisfactorily explained or  neutralized, Islamist and other orthodox Muslims will exploit this part of Islam to claim the higher religious grounds, to accuse others of heresy, to energize their political agendas, and to justify violence.
That 58 Catholic and Muslim leaders and scholars at Vatican meetings in early November 2008 vowed to jointly combat violence committed in God's name, to defend religious freedom and to foster equal rights for minority faith groups will not be credible unless the 28 Muslim participants in the meeting disassociate themselves from the intolerant and violent verses.
The Challenge Ahead

The inconsistencies and contradictions in the above listed sample of verses present moderate Muslims, on the one hand, and orthodox Muslims, on the other, with the formidable challenge of claiming the heart and soul of Islam; whether Islam is going to be a tolerant and  peaceful religion; or, whether it is going to be the intolerant and the violent religion? Said differently, whether the  Wahhabi brand is going to hijack Islam; or, whether Wahhabism is going to be limited to Saudi Arabia as a fringe religious cult. The task is not easy. Given the poverty of  the great majority of Muslims outside Saudi Arabia, the deep Saudi purse has been working wonders in buying non-Wahhabi clerics from Egypt and Lebanon to Pakistan and Afghanistan, among others, to propagate the Wahhabi creed and politics in the local media, mosques, and school curricula. It ought to be mentioned that Wahhabism is a rather new invention. It grew out of the political ambitions of Abdulaziz Al-Saud (?1876-1953), the founder (1932) of the kingdom that bears his family name. Accusing the Ottoman Sultan rulers of Arabia of being bad Muslims, Abdulaziz rebelled against Istanbul in partnership with the clerics of the Abdulwahhab clan,  the spiritual founders of Wahhabism.

Chronological dating and abrogation might provide a solution. If the tolerant verses were revealed after the intolerant ones then the tolerant verses should abrogate the intolerant ones. The Quran speaks of abrogation as a matter of fact; stating that God replaced some verses with others (2:106, 16:101) and that Satan tampered with the revelation as the Prophet on occasion forgot certain matters (22:52).

The Quran has 114 chapters, generally organized according to length. The Quranic chapters are also classified according to where they were thought to have been revealed; either in Mecca, the Prophet’s place of birth; or, in Medina, the Prophet’s adopted city. In 622, the Prophet and his followers escaped the hostility of Mecca’s leading families to the new religion in order to live among the Jewish and Arab tribes in Medina. The social, economic, political, and religious conditions that prevailed in Mecca and Medina during the life of the Prophet must have had their imprints on the conduct of the Prophetic mission. During the twelve years in Mecca, the Prophetic revelations dealt mainly with forming the foundations of Islam’s theological, spiritual, and ritual matters, and with theological disputations with the pagan Meccans; hence, the non-political and generally peaceful tone of the Meccan verses. By comparison, during the ten years in Medina, the revelations became concerned with state-building, political affairs, and frequent military battles with enemy forces. Thus, the temporal and fiery tone of the Medinan verses.

An Islamist and a jihadist would argue that, because Chapters Two and Five in the above mentioned sample are classified as Medinan and because some intolerant and violent verses (though not all) are placed after the tolerant verses in Chapter Two (but not in Chapter Five), then the intolerant verses should prevail.

A moderate would retort that the intolerant verses should not prevail because; although, Chapters Two and Five are Medinan they, nonetheless, contain the tolerant verse 2:136, which comes after the intolerant verse 2:65 and the tolerant verse 2:256, which comes after 2:120. Also, the tolerant verse 5:82 comes after the intolerant verses 5:51, 5:60, and 5:78. The moderate Muslim would argue that the scientific historicity of the Quran is far from clear; notwithstanding, the Muslim traditionists’ neat constructions of how, where, and when the Quran was collected. Traditionists teach that it was during the reign of the third caliph Othman (644-656), a generation after the death of the Prophet, that the Quran was collected. No modern Muslim scientific study has been conducted in order to subject the traditionists' accounts to scrutiny. A moderate would argue that although certain intolerant verses are placed after the tolerant verses, the collectors and compilers might have erred in their chronology or they might have deliberately chronicled the verses and decided on the words in such a manner as to serve their personal religious, economic, and political interests of their patrons. A moderate would also argue that the intolerant verses came down to deal with specific, unique, and exceptional events; thus, they should not be made into general rules applicable to all circumstances and ages. A moderate would further argue that the hostility displayed in the intolerant verses was leveled against only those among the Christians and Jews of the seventh century who had purportedly injured or betrayed the Prophet or his followers, and not against today’s Christian and Jews; though, the Wahhabi clerics of Saudi Islam insist that today’s Christians and Jews are identical to their seventh century ancestors and, therefore, they must be condemned.