One of the most controversial issues regarding Islam concerns whether or not it is a militant religion. Muslims in the West argue it is peace-loving. Westerners who have experienced it in the Muslim world argue it is inherently intolerant and militant.
The Koran itself preaches intolerance toward other religions. Sura 5 contains the following command: "Take not Jews and Christians for friends... He among you who takes them for friends is one of them... Choose not for friends such of those who received the Scripture before you [Jews and Christians]... But keep your duty to Allah" (verses 51, 55, 57). Extreme intolerance is commanded in Sura 5:33 — "[For those who do not submit to Allah] their punishment is... execution or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet, from the opposite sides, or exile from the land."
The Koran also expresses an intolerant attitude toward any person who decides to reject the Islamic faith or convert to another religion. Such persons are to be executed (Sura 9:12). In the Hadith (the oral tradition of Muhammad's sayings) it says "Whoever changes his religion, kill him" (Hadith 9:57). These commands are practiced in all Islamic Fundamentalist countries today.
With regard to militancy, the Koran not only condones it, it commands it:
"Fighting is prescribed for you, and [some of] you dislike it. But it is possible that you dislike a thing which is good for you, and that you love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knows, and you know not" (Sura 2:216).
"Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war" (Sura 9:5).
"Fight in the way of Allah... and slay them [the unbelievers] wherever you find them and drive them out... and fight them until... religion is for Allah" (Sura 2:190-193).
Muhammad is quoted in the Hadith as saying, "The sword is the key of heaven and hell. A drop of blood in the cause of Allah — a night spent in arms [war] — is of more avail than two months of fasting and prayer. Whosoever falls in battle, his sins are forgiven, and at the day of judgment, his limbs shall be supplied by the wings of angels and cherubim."1
Muslims living in Western democracies try to defend their religion by quoting Sura 2:256 which says, "There is no compulsion in religion."
In evaluating this very lonely verse in the Koran, you need to keep in mind first that it was written before Muhammad was rejected by Jews, Christians and his fellow Arabs — before he fled to Medina and started responding in hatred to all his detractors. But even more important is the fact that Islamic teachers themselves argue that this verse was later abrogated, either by the words or actions of Muhammad.2
- Some argue that the verse was abrogated by Muhammad's later orders for his troops to fight until unbelievers were compelled to surrender to Islam.
- Others argue it was abrogated by Sura 9:73 which says, "O Prophet, struggle with the unbelievers and hypocrites, and be harsh with them."
- A third group argues that the words of the verse do not mean what they seem to say. They argue the words mean that religion cannot be used to force someone to do something evil, but compelling people to accept the truth of Allah is a religious duty.
- A fourth group of Islamic clerics accepts the words to mean what they say, but they argue that they were part of Allah's strategy to advance Islam. While Muslims were weak, Allah spoke through Muhammad and told them to tolerate infidels. But when the Muslims became strong, Allah commanded them to cease being tolerant and attack and subdue the infidels.
The bottom line is that regardless of the explanation, the result is the same — the verse has been abrogated, and infidels must embrace Islam or face death.
Muslims sometimes counter by pointing to the intolerance and violence that have characterized both Jews and Christians at certain times in their histories. They point to the slaughter of the Canaanites when the Jews took the Promised Land under the leadership of Joshua. And, of course, they point to the Christian Crusades in the Middle Ages. Using these examples, they accuse Jews and Christians of being hypocritical in attacking the intolerance and violence of Islam today.
With regard to the Jews, this argument ignores the fact that God used them as an instrument of His judgment against the tribes living in Canaan — just as He later used the Assyrians and Chaldeans to judge the Jews (Genesis 15:16; Leviticus 18:24-25; Deuteronomy 9:5). He never told the Jews to conquer the world for Him, and He provided them with precise instructions as to how they were to treat aliens who might wish to live among them. They were to be treated with dignity and were to be provided with justice (Leviticus 19:17, 33 and Deuteronomy 27:19). Even more, the Jews were commanded to love their neighbors as they loved themselves (Leviticus 19:18).
Regarding the Christian Crusades, they were an aberration in Christian history based upon perverted Catholic doctrine and not upon any biblical injunction. In contrast, the intolerance and violence that have characterized Islam throughout its history are firmly rooted in the Koran.
What a contrast all the ghastly commands of Muhammad are to the loving words of Jesus who told Christians:
"Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).
"Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:39).
"Do not judge, lest you be judged" (Matthew 7:1).
"However you want people to treat you, so treat them" (Matthew 7:12).
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39).
"This is my commandment that you love one another" (John 15:12, 17).
"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).
And what a contrast it is between the admonition of Muhammad to conquer for Allah with the sword and Jesus' exhortation to go forth in peace and appeal to people's hearts through the preaching of the Gospel, relying on the persuasive power of God's Holy Spirit.
- "The Dark Side of Islam," an unsigned article on The Muslim — Christian Debate Website at http://www.debate.org.uk/topics/coolcalm/Dark-Side-of-Islam.htm.
- M. Rafiqul-Haqq and P. Newton, "Tolerance in Islam," an article on the Internet at http://www.debate.domini.org/newton/tolerance.htm.
The next article will explore the truth about the Islamic Holy war, called "Jihad."