I saw a few friends sharing or commenting on the meme I’ve shared here the other day and thought it was definitely worth a response. Here at the start I want to note that I do not condone the image shared here and think it’s deeply problematic for reasons that will become clear in what follows.
I think that we need to be careful when discussing things like this primarily for two reasons: 1) verses quoted out of context can be used to support anything; for example, I often run into atheists quoting from Joshua and arguing that it means that Christianity is inherently violent or has violent roots; 2) the picture itself doesn’t really do much to make me think any effort was made to understand what is being quoted. See below.
I’m not an expert in Islam, but I have taken a graduate level course on the topic. Moreover, there are some basic problems with this meme. One issue with this picture is that it quotes from “Koran chapter:verse” when the proper term would be “Surah chapter:verse.” Saying “Koran” instead of “Surah” is similar to saying “Bible 12:3:15.” The Qu’ran is one book, so this does not cause distortion of where to find the quotes, but in my reading this method of citation seems not quite proper. [Thanks to several readers for pointing out a need to edit here.]
Another issue is that in the Qu’ran, people aren’t referred to as Muslims but rather believers, etc. Again, this is a fairly basic misunderstanding that would be like putting the word “Christian” into the Bible all over the place when it’s not there.
I took the liberty of looking up a couple of these Surahs. Surah 8:65 is quoted in this picture as “The unbelievers are stupid; urge the Muslims to fight them” in fact says, according to the Sahih international version of the Qu’ran, ” O Prophet, urge the believers to battle. If there are among you twenty [who are] steadfast, they will overcome two hundred. And if there are among you one hundred [who are] steadfast, they will overcome a thousand of those who have disbelieved because they are a people who do not understand.” Not only does this not have the word Muslims, but it is also much longer, and doesn’t call unbelievers stupid. In fact, a comparison of the major English versions show that almost every one says “without understanding” or “do not understand.” The closest it comes to “stupid” is “without intelligence.”
The alleged quotation of 22:19 is particularly problematic, because it completely rips the verse out of context. According to the picture, it says “Punish the unbelievers with garments of fire, hooked iron rods, boiling water, melt their skins and bellies.” Not only is this actually a reference to 22:19-20 but it also is not a command at all. The context of 22:19-20 is the day of judgment and this punishment is that described of for those in hell (see Surah 22:16-17 for more context). Quoting this verse to say Islam is violent would be akin to quoting a passage about weeping and gnashing of teeth from the Bible, turning it into a command to Christians without justification from the text itself and then saying it proves Christianity is violent.
I checked a couple more references and they too not only shortened the alleged “quotes” but also largely took them out of context.
Yet another problem with a picture like this is that it doesn’t account for the fact that in actual practice, the overwhelming majority of Muslims are not violent. I’m not sure of the actual number of Muslims in the U.S. alone, but with over a billion Muslims in the world, if every single one were indeed violent, I would imagine that fighting would be occurring in the streets of Dearborn, MI; New York, Minneapolis, etc. Yet I don’t see this happening. Isolated incidents? Yes. A complete totality of violence everywhere? No. I would argue this is because the vast majority of Muslims have a more nuanced approach to the Qu’ran and its interpretation than simply quoting verses out of context allow; just as Christians would argue for nuanced interpretations in much the same way.
I have not entered into a wider discussion of Islam and religious violence, nor is this the place to do so [see some posts in the links]. I conclude simply by noting that the use of memes like this are, I think, deeply problematic. If we as Christians expect to be treated fairly and have real differences among Christian beliefs and interpretations acknowledged, if we think that people unfairly quote our holy texts out of context and that we deserve to have our nuances of thought also conveyed, then we should do the same for those of other faiths.
The Myth of “Religion” – Constructing the Other as Enemy– How has the category of “religion” been used to support the premise of religious violence and making the “other” into an enemy?
Book Review: “The Myth of Religious Violence” by William Cavanaugh– Here is a book which discusses the notion of “religious” violence at length with sometimes startling conclusions.
I am not sure who was the original user that put the image up, so I can’t cite it appropriately. I make no claim to owning the image and use it under fair use.
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