Misrepresenting Islamic scripture is not the way to reform Islam.
Muslims have been persecuting Christians ever since the time of Muhammed. But in the wake of the so-called “Arab Spring,” such activity seems to be on the rise throughout much of the Islamic world, now that Muslims in several countries are enjoying greater freedom to do things they felt more restrained from doing before. Christians are being beaten and murdered, churches attacked and destroyed.
If there is a positive side of this terrible development, it is this: if there's more such persecution going on, more attention is finally being paid to it in the mainstream Western media. Yet even as some of the media are daring to report on these events, there remains a strong disinclination to suggest that this pattern of persecution has anything whatsoever to do with Islam.
Last Thursday, USA Today ran an op-ed which did a splendid job of presenting the persecution of Christians as un-Islamic. The author of the op-ed, a Muslim named Qasim Rashid, chided his coreligionists for persecuting Christians, and quoted the Prophet Muhammed against them: “Christians are my citizens, and by God, I hold out against anything that displeases them.” And: “We defend Christians. … No Muslim is to disobey this covenant until the Last Day.”
Rashid went on to catalog various horrendous punishments that have recently been meted out in Muslim countries to Christians, blasphemers, apostates, and so on. In response to these acts, Rashid insisted that all of them were at odds with the dictates of Islam, because, he insisted, “the Quran commands Muslims to protect churches from attack,” “Islam requires equal rights and protection for minorities,” “the Quran forbids punishment for blasphemy,” “the Quran forbids punishment for apostasy,” “Islam does not sanction the mixing of mosque and state,” “the Quran protects the rights of women and children, condemns rape, forbids inheriting women (let alone children) against their will, and forbids compulsion in religion,” and “Islam demands absolute justice in all affairs.” Islam, in short, is not the problem – it is the solution.
To be sure, Rashid is an Ahmadi Muslim – a member of a sect that really does believe in all these good things. Describing the Ahmadi movement as being “at the forefront of taking Islam back from the corruption of such 'Muslim' nations” as Pakistan and Iran, he explains that “Ahmadi Muslims believe in absolute justice, reject religious compulsion, are loyal to their nations of residence, uphold the absolute sanctity and equality of human life, believe in gender equity and spiritual equality, condemn religious aggression, and champion universal religious freedom.” Rashid identifies these as Islam's “founding principles.”
Alas, Ahmadi Muslims represent a tiny minority of Muslims around the world. Other Muslims do not even consider them Muslims, and in many Islamic countries they are persecuted and punished for identifying themselves as members of the Muslim faith. While Ahmadis, moreover, consider these “nice” passages from the Koran to be at the center of their faith, mainstream Muslim theologians overwhelmingly disagree. For them, it is not just the Koran but also the Hadith, or sayings of Muhammed, that are legitimate sources of Islamic law. Also, there's the question of which parts of the Koran you prioritize over the others. Like those who prefer Woody Allen's earlier, funnier movies, Ahmadi Muslims tend to stress the older, more humane portions of the Koran, while virtually all other Muslims consider those benign passages to have been abrogated by the more violent and intolerant material that came along later.
If Rashid wants to influence the conduct of Christian-baiting Sunni and Shi'a Muslims, he will have to wrestle with some of the harsh Koranic passages by which they live, such as the following:
* “O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends. They are friends one to another. He among you who taketh them for friends is (one) of them. Lo! Allah guideth not wrongdoing folk.” (5:51)
* “Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.” (9:29)
* "O ye who believe! Lo! many of the (Jewish) rabbis and the (Christian) monks devour the wealth of mankind wantonly and debar (men) from the way of Allah. They who hoard up gold and silver and spend it not in the way of Allah, unto them give tidings (O Muhammad) of a painful doom.” (9:34)
* “O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty (unto Him).” (9:123)
There's a lot more where these came from, of course.
Rashid means well. His goal is a reformed, humane Islam. The faith he outlines is the one he actually believes in. But newspapers like USA Today have no business publishing a piece like Rashid's without asking that he make it clear that his interpretation of Islam is that of a minuscule minority of believers. The premise of Rashid's piece is that the Muslims who are tormenting Christians are betraying the Koran – and he supports this argument by purveying a highly selective account of that book's contents. This is no way to persuade any fierce jihadist to cease and desist – for the jihadists, quite simply, know better.
No, those anti-Christian and anti-Jewish passages, and all the other brutal precepts found in the Koran, need to be acknowledged and dealt with – because the people who are burning down churches and tormenting Christians have read their Koran, and they're doing no more or less than what they think their God wants them to do.