Islam’s persecution of Christianity has reached a grotesque crescendo in the past few months. Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan, Egypt—the list goes on and horribly on. There is much that can be said—and I will not refrain from saying it—but if there is to be honest debate and discussion about the issue we have to admit what the Quran, the holy text of Islam, states about Muslim attitudes toward Christians.
In a previous column I briefly mentioned one or two Quranic references to followers of Jesus, but let us go further.
In the Quran, Christians are generally referred to as “people of the book” and then in the various suras and ayahs (or chapters and verses) a number of references are made. In 2:120, “Never will the Jews nor the Christians be pleased with you till you follow their religion. Say: ‘Verily, Islamic Guidance is the only Guidance. And if you were to follow their desires after what you have received of Knowledge, then you would have against Allah neither any protector nor helper.”
In 3:56: “As to those who disbelieve, I will punish them with a severe torment in this world and in the Hereafter, and they will have no helpers.” In 3:85: “And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he will be one of the losers.” In 3:118: “O you who believe! Take not as your helpers or friends those outside your religion since they will not fail to do their best to corrupt you. They desire to harm you severely. Hatred has already appeared from their mouths, but what their breasts conceal is far worse. Indeed we have made plain to you the verses if you understand.”
3:178 states: “And let not the disbelievers think that our postponing of their punishment is good for them. We postpone the punishment only so that they may increase in sinfulness. And for them is a disgracing torment.” Hardly encouraging for the basis for a peaceful co-existence and a comfortable pluralism.
Sometimes the Quran changes emphasis or flavor, but it must be remembered—and this it vital—that the parts of the book written later supersede and abrogate those composed earlier; not necessarily those that come later in the Quran itself but those written earlier even if listed later in Islam’s holy book. This means that the Quran can be quoted to appear more liberal and progressive than it is intended to be.
Regarding Christianity, however, the approach seems to remain static and constant. For instance, 5:14: “And from those who call themselves Christians, We took their covenant, but they have abandoned a good part of the Message that was sent to them. So we planted amongst them enmity and hatred till the Day of Resurrection, and Allah will inform them of what they used to do.” Soon after, 5:51 has: “O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as friends, they are but friends to one another. And if any amongst you takes them as friends, then surely he is one of them. Verily, Allah guides not those people who are the wrongdoers.” And then 5:73: “Surely, disbelievers are those who said: ‘Allah is the third of the three (in a Trinity).’ But there is no god but Allah. And if they cease not from what they say, verily, a painful torment will befall the disbelievers among them.”
Matters don’t improve for Christians, and as we move forward we read 8:39, which says: “And fight them until there is no more disbelief in Islam and the religion will all be for Allah Alone…” and then 9:23: “O you who believe! Take not for supporters your fathers and your brothers if they prefer disbelief to Belief. And whoever of you does so, then he is one of the wrong-doers.”
Similarly, 9:29 says: “Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allah, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger (4) and those who acknowledge not Islam as the religion of truth among the people of the Scripture, until they pay the Jizyah [religious tax] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued,” And 9:30 states: “And those Jews (who came to you) say (as did some Jews who lived before): ‘Ezra (‘Uzayr) is God’s son’; and (as a general assertion) the Christians say: ‘The Messiah is God’s son. Such are merely their verbal assertions in imitation of the utterances of some unbelievers who preceded them. May God destroy them! How can they be turned away from the truth and make such assertions?”
9:34 tells Muslims: “O you who believe! Verily, there are many of the Jewish rabbis and the Christian monks who devour the wealth of mankind in falsehood, and hinder men from the Way of Allah. And those who hoard up gold and silver, and spend it not in the Way of Allah — announce unto them a painful torment.” Finally, 9:123: “O you who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are close to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who are the pious.”
It’s an intolerant, aggressive language that calls directly for violence and oppression by Muslims against Christians. The common, usual reaction by Muslim apologists to these references is to argue that the Bible also calls for violence and intolerance. The truth is that while there are certainly descriptions of violence in Christian scripture—the crucifixion is hardly a gentle scene—there are no direct calls for violence. In the New Testament, the founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, is a man of ultimate and supreme peace who reprimands his followers when they consider (or in one case commit) violence. When Jesus is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, Simon Peter draws a sword and slashes off the right ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest. Jesus condemns the action and heals the man, even though he knows the result of the arrest will be his own execution.
Christ demands from those who will accept him an unbounded mercy, a total forgiveness, a complete gentleness, and a commitment to turning the other cheek and loving one’s enemy. He does on one occasion tell his followers to carry a weapon when they walk the roads in case thy are attacked and he does, at the Jerusalem Temple, overturn the tables of men selling bruised animals for sacrifice to God, but this is largely symbolic and, anyway, never directly violent. Indeed many Christians have embraced complete pacifism due to their faith in Jesus and their reading of the New Testament.
The point is that any Christian who hurts or kills an innocent person is doing so in spite of and not because of the teachings of Christ. Religions simply do not teach the same things any more than political movements teach the same thing and such a claim is an insult to both specific religions and to common sense.
Unlike the founder of Christianity, the founder of Islam—Mohammad—was not a man of peace but at least in part a warlord. He spent the final decade of his life, from 622 to 632, as the leader of Medina and in command of its war with the then pagan city of Mecca. He and his men attacked other tribes and communities, raided caravans, and eventually triumphed in armed conflict. Often these battles and raids were, it has to be said, in response to provocation, as warfare was by no means unique in seventh-century society among all religions and cultures. But in all this Mohammad was clearly a radically different person from Jesus.
If the Catholic Church is to have a meaningful relationship with Islam and if Islamic radicalism is to stop persecuting Catholics—and victimizing moderate Muslims—we have to speak truth to Muslim power, even at the risk of offending.