Islam: tolerant? Non-violent? You be the judge
Author: Brig A.S. Apte (Retd)
Publication: Bharatiya Pragna
Date: March 2002
It is understandable when the ignorant and the fanatics try to defend some unpalatable passages in their religious scriptures. Surprisingly, however, even the rationalists too act similarly through their subjective interpretations of such texts or by quoting selectively from them.
The uneducated masses and those who have never read the scriptures believe what the fanatics and the religious leaders tell them. Such lies propagated often enough soon come to be believed as truth. Our politicians too lend a helping hand in spreading such misinformation either because of their ignorance of the scriptures or simply because of the compulsions of their profession – politics – which impels them to ignore the facts deliberately and obliterate history shamelessly.
I am a Hindu, but being a rationalist Hindu, I have no qualms in admitting the existence of some unpalatable passages in some of the Hindu scriptures (and especially in one particular nonscripture, the Manu Smriti). Indeed, I have written articles and letters in the print media exposing such texts. Muslims, however, seem to regard themselves as the sole custodians of the honour of that ONE God even though they accept that he is the God of the entire humanity. This well-known fact got especially highlighted after the Islamic terrorists blasted the WTC towers in New York on 11th Sept 2001 killing thousands of innocent men and women of twenty different nationalities within a couple of minutes giving rise to a surfeit of letters and articles in the media through which the Muslims writers were at pains to announce to the world the non-violent, peaceful, tolerant and perfect nature of their religion.
They had to, for, how could have they challenged the text of this late-Madina Surah (5:3) in their scripture, through which God told Muhammad: “This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed my favour unto you and chosen for you as religion, Al-Islam”.
There is a profusion of verses in the Quran on the subject of idols, idolaters, unbelievers and the holy war (Jihad) which will help any rational reader of that scripture to judge for himself the extent to which Islam can claim to be a tolerant, peaceful, non-violent and perfect religion. For brevity, I shall quote only a few samples which speak of gruesome slaughter of the idolaters and unbelievers, and intolerance of other faiths.
Undeniably, there are many praiseworthy aspects of Islam but they are not exclusive to that faith alone; almost all the other religions have them. That is why I have not quoted them. In any case, I have made it quite clear at the outset that my aim in writing this article is to tell the ignorant people that the claim about tolerance, peacefulness and non-violence attributed to Islam is not true.
Madina surahs: Death to the idolaters and unbelievers
The following samples are from the surahs received by Muhammad at Madina where he had to migrate from his native Mecca:
Through this mid-Madina surah (61:9), God tells Muhammad: “He (i.e., God) has sent His messenger with guidance and religion of Truth, that he may make it conqueror of all religions, however much the idolaters may be averse”.
Here is another mid-Madina surah (3:85) which is clearly indicative of intolerance of other faiths: “Who seeks as religion other than AI-Islam, he will be a loser in the Hereafter”.
This late – Madina surah (9:3) declares: “And a proclamation from Allah and his messenger to all men that Allah is free from obligation to. idolaters and so is his messenger. So, if you do not repent, then know that you cannot escape Allah. Give tidings, O Muhammad, of a painful doom to those who disbelieve”. This theme is continued further: “When the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, take them captive, besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush”
This early-Madina surah (8:67), revealed after the battle Badr, admonishes Muhammad: “It is not for any prophet to have captives until he has made slaughter in the land”.
The Muslims of Madina, encouraged by the Jews, had begun to resent Muhammad’s arrival (from Mecca) since it robbed them of their local influence. These Muslims were termed ‘Hypocrites’. This mid-Madina Surah (33:61) directs the Prophet: “The Hypocrites will be seized wherever found and slain with a fierce slaughter”.
Another mid-Madina surah (33:64-65) announces: “Lo! Allah has cursed the disbeliever and has prepared for them a flaming fire wherein they will abide for ever”.
We learn from this early-Madina surah (22:19-21): “For the disbelievers, garments of fire will be cut out for them, boiling fluid will be poured down their heads whereby that which is in their bellies and their skins too will be melted; and for them are hooked rods of iron”. This theme is briefly repeated in a late-Madina surah (5:36-37).
Through this mid-Madina surah (2:98) God declares: “Lo! Allah himself is the enemy of the disbelievers”.
This late-Madina surah (5:33) declares: “The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and his messenger will be that they will be killed and crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off’.
Meccan surahs: Placatory advice
Muhammad preached against idolatry for thirteen years in his native Mecca but without success. So he migrated to Madina where he had better luck. Any student of the Quran at once notices that the divine directions which he recited at Mecca (where he had to face severe opposition) were extremely mild and conciliatory in nature, while the tone of those at Madina (where he had gathered many followers) changed to threats and stern warnings.
I have already quoted some samples from the surahs received at Madina. Now, here are some samples of the surahs which Muhammad received at Mecca. The stark contrast is at once obvious.
The first sentence of this late-Meccan surah (2:256) announces: “There is no compulsion in religion”, but the next sentence gently admonishes: “The right direction is henceforth distinct from error. And he who rejects false deities and believes in Allah has grasped a firm handhold which will never break”. (Defenders of Islam’s tolerance towards other religions selectively quote only the first sentence in their articles and letters).
The mid-Meccan surah (10:99-100) is exceptionally conciliatory in its nature: “And if thy Lord willed, all who are in the earth would have believed together. Would you, O Muhammad, compel men until they are believers? It is not for any soul to believe except by the permission of Allah”. (There are many examples in the Quran where we find God coming to help Muhammad whenever he faced a problematic situation).
This late-Meccan surah (6:108) is equally soft towards the idolaters: “Had Allah willed, idolaters would not have been idolaters. We (i.e., God) have not sent you, O Muhammad, as a keeper over them, nor are you responsible for them”.
The two surahs mentioned above pose a question: How could have the merciful God divinely directed one section of humanity to kill another section when both are his creations? Hindus are idolaters and Buddhists and Jains are unbelievers. Are we to understand that it is the divine duty of the Muslims to carry out wholesale murder of all of them? The scriptures of no other religion say so.
Several surahs direct the Muslims to destroy the places where idols were worshipped. Let me quote just one sample which has great historical importance: In 630 AD, Muhammad returned to his native Mecca as the Emperor and the Prophet. Witnessing the destruction of the 92 female idols in the Kaba under his supervision, he recited this surah (17:81) which he received from God: “And say, O Muhammad: Truth has come and falsehood has vanished. Lo! It is ever bound to vanish”. That event signified the end of idolatry in Arabia.
When in February 2001 the Taliban destroyed the two ancient and mammoth statues of Buddha of great archaeological value, the so-called rationalists among the Indian Muslims loudly announced: “That was un-Islamic!” The ignorant masses of the other religions actually believed that lie, although what the Taliban did had sanction from the Quran, which the Muslims believe to be God’s word.
Quran’s Criticism of Biblical Passages
Muslims take offence at the slightest criticism of some of passages in the Quran little realising that the very book is highly critical of the Christian scripture and hurtful to the Christian belief. This is evident from numerous surahs through which Allah declares that Jesus was not the son of God. Here are some samples:
This early Meccan surah (18: 4-5) declares: “Warn those who say that Allah has chosen a son, a thing whereof they have no knowledge, nor had their fathers. They speak nothing but a lie”.
Paradoxically, another early Meccan surah (19:20-22) informs us: “Mary said: How can I have a son when no mortal has touched me, neither have I been unchaste? He (i.e., Angel Gabriel) told her: The Lord (i.e., God) said that it is easy for Him. And she conceived him (i.e., Jesus)”.
This early-Meccan surah (19:88, 89, 91,92) declares: “They say god has taken unto Himself a son. Tell them that they utter a disastrous thing, for, it is not meet for God that He should take unto himself a son”.
Here is a mid-Meccan surah (43:81) which directs Muhammad thus: “Say, 0 Muhammad, God has no son”.
The Quran also denies that Jesus was crucified. This mid-Madina Surah (4:157) declares: “They slew him not nor crucified, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! Those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof, they have no knowledge thereof except pursuit of conjecture; they slew him not for certain”.
Such passages in the Quran are just as hurtful to the Christians as are to idolaters and unbelievers, and to the Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. Christians believe the Bible to be the Word of God. Muslims believe the Quran to be the Word of the same God. The point that highlights itself is that Islam is not tolerant of the beliefs of the people of the other religions.
Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism emerged from Hinduism because their founders saw (rightly in my view) some flaws and imperfections in Hinduism the religion of their birth. Yet, the scriptures of those religions (Tripitaka, Samana, Suttam and the Guru Granth Sahib) do not contain even one word against Hinduism! That is what true tolerance means.
Some Muslims, in order to cover up such passages which are offensive to the beliefs of the followers of other religions (idolatry of the Hindus, atheism of the Buddhists and the Jains, and divinity of Jesus Christ as God’s son) offer a rather weak argument that such verses should be viewed ill relation to those times and to that region (Arabia)! They deliberately and conveniently forget that at other times they also maintain that the Quran is God’s Word for the entire humanity, for all time to come. (Did not Allah say so through the late-Madina surah (5:3) which I mentioned earlier? This early Madina surah (2:185) also says that the Quran is guidance for the mankind).
I wonder if the school kids who study at the madrasas recite such offensive passages (like “kill the idolaters; destroy the unbelievers; Jesus was not the son of God; etc) when they memorise the Quran! Now, coming to the meaning of Jihad, the Quran itself amply clarifies that the ‘holy war’ was against the unbelievers and idolaters; there is no room for doubt about it. Besides the surahs which I have already mentioned, there are many others like these samples: This early Madina surah (2:216) was received in the second year of Muhammad’s arrival at Madina, asking him to wage Jihad against his persecutors: “Warfare is ordained for you though it is hateful to you; but it may happen that you may hate a thing which is good -for you and love a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows, you know not”. In the same year, this early-Madina surah (8:65) was also received: “O Prophet! Exhort the believers to fight. If there be of you twenty steadfast, they shall overcome two hundred, and if there be of you a hundred steadfast they shall overcome a thousand of those who disbelieve, because the disbelievers are a folk without intelligence”. Muhammad personally led 25 of the 65 holy wars he fought in compliance with divine commands.
Many such surahs notwithstanding, even the rationalist Muslims attribute totally different meaning to the ‘holy war’ saying that it is a war in our own minds in which we fight the evil and make the good thought and actions to overcome it.
As mentioned at the outset, this write-up restricts itself only to certain highly unpalatable aspects of Islam, which, in sum, simply say: “Kill the idolaters and unbelievers and make Islam the conqueror of religions”. If that is so, why did I have to write so much to express so little? I could have simply said it in a single sentence and quoted merely the reference numbers of the 25 surahs which I have mentioned, couldn’t I? No, I couldn’t, for, in the absence of the exact text of each surah, a single sentence could never have carried any credibility; the ignorant would have remained ignorant and the fanatics among the Muslims would … well! That is not all that unimaginable, is it?