Violence: Islam and Christianity
Dr. Habib Siddiqui
There are those who say that lying and deceiving is at the soul of all crime and that Christianity epitomizes these traits more than any other faith.
As proof of their assertion, they often quote Paul of Tarsus, arguably the true founder of Christianity, who is recorded to have said, "But if through my falsehood God's truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? Any why not do evil that good may come? - as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just" (Romans 3:7-8).
While I want to exclude myself as one who would condemn an entire religious tradition based on such statements, I must admit that the temptation is too great when I see how the fanatics of evangelical Christianity, the bigots with their highly bloated ‘holier than thou' notion of moral superiority, often try to set hallmarks of lying and deceptions. To these xenophobic bigots, there is nothing good in Islam, Qur'an, and Muhammad (S) - the religion, the Scripture, and the Prophet of Muslims. Dialogue with Islam is out of question. They think that the mere acceptance of Islam as a "go-between" considering Judaism and Christianity would be "disastrous," especially now that "relations between Jews and Evangelical Christians in America are flowing smoothly." To them, "If Muslims were to join the dialogue, then [Muslims] must leave their holy book far behind them in public, especially in areas of legislation. Islamic law must never be considered in deliberations, for it is too harsh and barbaric."
The above quoted phrases come from a die-hard Christian missionary. Soon after my speech at Vanderbilt University on the subject of "Islam and Coexistence," this activist posted his vehement reaction on the Internet. His 13-page polemical writing and silly propaganda objected to what he calls my ‘errors and omissions' -what ‘I should have said at Vanderbilt' -obviously asserting my speech as a ‘non-speech.' I must admit that I was unaware of the existence of this propagandist before some of my readers pleaded that I should respond. I told them that I try to avoid participating in debates on comparative religion for the mere fact that they often burn more bridges than I can ever afford to build. After realizing that the Christian polemist's writing displays a penchant for anti-Muslim bigotry, I relented.
Some background information on my speech. A few weeks before the event, when the organizers of the Interfaith Coalition of Nashville contacted me to represent Islam, I politely suggested that they should instead contact Dr. Robert D. Crane. Apparently, he turned them down, and I ended up speaking on the subject of "Islam and Coexistence." [See this author's article, "Islam and Coexistence."] Like other speakers, I was allotted only 15 minutes to cover such an important and vast subject, especially in the aftermath of 9/11 when interests are high to learn about Islam. Oddly, none of the other speakers said anything from their own Scriptures, talking only on generalities.
During the question and answer session, when I tried to respond to a question from the audience, some bigots from the rabidly anti-Muslim Jihad-Watch group tried to disturb me. They were arrogant and rude. They wouldn't allow me to respond to the question and instead insisted that I answer their question first. When I provided the answer from the Qur'an, they wouldn't yield because it did not agree with their poisonous and confused ‘learning' about Islam, thanks to Spencer and his ilk. When I challenged them to prove me wrong from the Qur'an, they didn't have anything to say other than rambling that they did not ‘believe' me. I told them that they were entitled to their erroneous opinion and that I must answer the question posed to me first. They stared angrily at me before leaving the conference room.
This incident once again demonstrates what kind of malicious and bigoted sermons and hate literatures many Christians are now fed about Islam. Naturally, the merchants of Christian religion have found that selling the poisonous pills of bigotry and Armageddon is much more lucrative to their coffers than communion breads!
The evangelical Christian missionary was not happy about the selection of verses from the Qur'an that exemplified coexistence with people of other faiths. He would rather have me quote the verses from the Surah at-Tawbah, which were revealed about the anti-Muslim mushriqs of Arabia, so as to prove how intolerant Islam is or its Prophet Muhammad (S) was. As I have explained many times, all the Scriptures have their share of violent passages. The Qur'an does not have a monopoly there. As a matter of fact, its share of violent passages is insignificant compared to those in the Bible. [See this author's article, "Quod licet Iovi non licet bovi: Why a different yardstick for Muslims?" for a sample of violent and demeaning verses in Christian and Jewish religious books.] If such passages in the Qur'an make the Prophet of Islam a violent man, then most of the great personalities in the Bible, from Jacob to Moses to David to Jesus were no less violent individuals.
When Christian zealots shield those Biblical, violent verses from a comparable critique, and yet demand a different set of rules for Muslims, it is intellectual dishonesty. Such a norm is exemplary of the ancient Latin phrase, "Quod licet Iovi non licet bovi," which means, "What is allowed to Jupiter is not allowed to the cattle." Therefore, I am not too surprised to see how these Judeo-Christian fanatics always relegate the role of cattle to others. It is in this pompous vein that the propagandist complains, "But Siddiqui makes some errors and omissions. He assumes, for example, that Jim Jones of the Guyana mass suicide and David Koresh of the Waco incineration were Christians, but they were not. They deviated far from the New Testament and its teaching of love demonstrated by Jesus Christ." How wonderful! Zarqawi and OBL are Muslims, but Jim Jones and David Koresh are not Christians! They might as well be Muslims (for the sake of deceiving missionaries)! So must be Hitler!
How about King Richard, the so-called "Lion-hearted"? Wasn't he a Christian when he killed 3000 Muslim prisoners of war in Accra? [We should not, therefore, be surprised with the killings of POW in Iraq and Afghanistan by Jesus-loving, faithful Christian warlords.] How about all those mass murderers in history who professed Christianity? To those fanatics, genocide, murder, mayhem, rape, and plunder were no predicament, but God's vengeance brought about by faithful upholders of Christianity who were inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit!
I shall have no problem discussing the Qur'anic verses that are violent in nature when my counterparts are willing to wash their dirty laundry in the open. In the meantime, let them reflect on the instruction enunciated in the Gospel according to Matthew (7:1): "Judge not that ye not be judged."
The Jesuit asks, "When did Jesus and his first generation of Christians take up arms to kill people or to impose a dhimmi tax on those who refused to submit?" My question is, "Did Jesus run the affairs of his people? If not, how can he be compared with someone who did? The actions of Muhammad (S) should, in all fairness, be compared with prophets of the Bible who held similar responsibilities -the likes of Moses. [Deut. 18:18 offers a close resemblance.] When we do that, we'll find Muhammad's (S) and his ashab's (Companions') treatment of the conquered people was far superior. In contrast to the Biblical prophets who killed all people, including infant males and unarmed women who had known (sex with) men (see, e.g., Numbers 31:17-18), except virgins, Muhammad (S) instructed his army not to kill any old man, unarmed civilian, child, and woman. [In a celebrated hadith, e.g., Muhammad (S) instructed his army, "Depart in the name of Allah, and be His helper. And kill not any old man, nor young boy, nor child, nor woman. But be good-doers, for Allah loves those who do good."] They were also instructed not to demolish homes, nor to destroy cattle and trees. So, if death is better than life, then the so-called dhimmi tax would be construed as being worse than murder. [It is worth mentioning here that this tax was collected to guarantee protection of lives and properties of the ‘protected' people, who needed not to participate in Jihad. The dhimmis were also exempt from payment of other forms of taxes that were mandatory on Muslims. [See this author's article "Real Islam and Jihad - a Rejoinder" for an understanding on the subject of Jihad.] The Biblical prophets also burned down the cities of the conquered people (see, e.g., Numbers 31:10).
In spite of many leadership shortcomings (e.g., being rejected by his own people), the portrayal of Jesus in the so-called New Testament is not the "love-all" and "forgive-all" kind of personality that the Church would have us believe. He appears rude (John 2:4, Matt. 12:48, Mark 3:33-4), mean-spirited (Matt. 15:26, 17:17, 23:33-5), offensive (John 8:44, Matt. 23:13-29), abusive (Matt. 12:39, 23:23-9, Luke 11:44), disrespectful (Matt. 11:21-3, 16:4, 23:13-9), divisive (Matt. 10:35, Luke 14:26), racist (Matt. 15:26) and prone to violence (Matt. 10:34; Mark 11:15; Luke 12:49-53, 19:27, 22:36). He is even tempted by the devil (Mark 1:13, Luke 4:2). He commands stealing (Matt. 21:1-3, Luke 19:29-34), and may even be a homosexual (Mark 14:49-52, John 13:23). [Na ‘oozu billah!]
The apocryphal Gospel of Thomas puts the following words in Jesus' mouth: "I shall destroy this house and no one will be able to (re)build it." The depiction of Jesus during his second coming is anything but flattering or peaceful [Book of Revelations].
The early history of Christianity in the pre-Constantine era (324-337 CE) is not immune from violence either. It is a history of heresy, riots, torture, torment, extortion, competition/rivalry, excommunications, banishments and assassination. [Ref: The Outline of History by H.G. Wells; The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Gibbon.] It is therefore not difficult to understand the statement of James in the NT: "From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not; ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. .... Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye know that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? .... Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded." (James 4:1-8) [See also Acts 5:1-11.]
The situation did not improve much even after Christianity was adopted as the state religion. The Roman emperor Justinian (332-63 CE) described the "love" of Christians for each other in this way: "I experienced that even beasts of prey are not that hostile minded to human beings than Christian sinners to each other." With state backing, Christianity soon revealed its "my way or highway" type mentality annihilating all competing faiths from vast territories it came to control. There was to be no rivalry, no qualification to the rigid unity of the Church.
During his reign, Catholic emperor Flavius Theodosius (346-395 CE) took severe measures against Arianism and the surviving remnants of paganism. In 388 a prefect was sent around Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor for the purpose of destroying temples and breaking up pagan associations; it was then that the Serapeum at Alexandria was destroyed. He prohibited pagan religion and introduced heavy financial penalties. The imperial decree stated, "We command that those persons who follow this rule shall embrace the name of Catholic Christians. The rest, however, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas; their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retributions of Our own initiative, which We shall assume in accordance with the divine judgment." And later, with regards to pagan houses of worship, he decreed, "We command that all their fanes, temples, and shrines, if even now any remain entire, shall be destroyed by the command of the magistrates, and shall be purified by the erection of the sign of the venerable Christian religion."
These codes resulted in further legislation, culminating in the death penalty for non-Christians in 435 CE. All citizens had to belong to the authorized "Catholic" Christianity, except Jews who were permitted to practice in places isolated from the rest of the population. Between 429 and 439 CE some 150 different laws were enacted defining and defending the "Catholic faith." Church lands were made exempt from taxation and bishops immune to chastisement.
Theological support for repression of religious plurality was formally indoctrinated by St. Augustine (354-430 CE), Bishop of Hippo. As part of his hostility to the Donatist heresies, he formulated his doctrine of Cognite intrare (meaning ‘Compel them to enter'), which was used throughout the Middle Ages to justify the suppression of differences and tyranny against the dissenters. Augustine stated, "The wounds of a friend are better than the kisses of an enemy. To love with sternness is better than to deceive with gentleness.... In Luke 14:23 it is written, 'Compel people to come in!' By threats of the wrath of God, the Father draws souls to the Son." [Ref: Edward Peters, Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe; R. Dean Peterson, A Concise History of Christianity; James A. Haught, Holy Horrors; J.N. Hillgarth, Christianity and Paganism; Malcolm Lambert, Medieval Heresy.]
The interested reader may like to read the book The Dark Side of Christian History by Helen Ellerbe for an account. Excerpt from chapter 8 reads, "The Reformation did not convert the people of Europe to orthodox Christianity through preaching and catechisms alone. It was the 300 year period of witch-hunting from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, what R.H. Robbins called ‘the shocking nightmare, the foulest crime and deepest shame of western civilization,'...that ensured the European abandonment of the belief in magic. The Church created the elaborate concept of devil worship and then, used the persecution of it to wipe out dissent, subordinate the individual to authoritarian control, and openly denigrate women."
So my suggestion to these myopic missionaries who seem to suffer from chronic mental ailment of "cognitive dissonance" is this: Before you nit-pick the Qur'an by cherry-picking violent passages, you ought to study your own Scripture first and make an objective evaluation. Truly, if you are looking for violence, you don't have to go beyond your own Bible. It is arguably the most violent book in the annals of human history.