Quoting the Quran
Beware sensational translations of holy verse, torn out of context
By HUSSAM AYLOUSH
Editor’s note: When a reader recently wrote to us with a provocative question about the nature of Islam, we sought a response from a Muslim leader from the Inland region. The query and answer are published here.
Parvez Ahmed’s commentary (“Blame Islam game misguided pastime,” July 15) states that the bombings in London were committed by “Islamic extremists” and were universally condemned by major Muslim groups throughout the world as being totally against the precepts of Islam.
I have a simple, straightforward question and I’d like a simple, straightforward answer. The Quran, sura 47:4, states, “When you meet the unbelievers, strike off their heads; then when you have made wide slaughter among them, carefully tie up the remaining captives.”
How do Parvez Ahmed and the others reconcile their statements with the command of Allah as recorded in the inerrant word of Allah by Muhammad, His prophet?
WALTER MARTIN CLARK, Riverside
Imagine a letter to the editor asking Christians or Jews to reconcile Christianity or Judaism in light of an out-of-context verse from the Bible, such as: “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” (1 Samuel 15:3)
Or this verse: “The people of Samaria must bear their guilt because they have rebelled against their God. They will fall by the sword; their little ones will be dashed to the ground, their pregnant women ripped open.” (Hosea 13:16)
This is certainly not a fair or scientific way to understand the Bible nor the peaceful message of Christianity or Judaism. The Quran, like all other scriptures, cannot be understood except within its context. Taking a verse out of its theological or historical context can lead to misinterpretations, often the hallmark of extremists. Just as the Bible has been abused by fanatics to justify slavery and holocaust, so have Muslim fanatics abused the Quran to further their murderous agenda.
The verse that the writer referred to, verse 4 from chapter 47, specifically refers to Muslim armies involved in a battle encounter. Here is a more authentic — and less sensational — translation:
“So when you meet in battle those who disbelieve, then smite the necks until when you have overcome them, then make (them) prisoners, and afterward either set them free as a favor or let them ransom (themselves) until the war terminates.”
Islam forbids wars of aggression and, like Christianity, sets strict conditions for just warfare. Those conditions are limited to self-defense or removing injustice against other people, as stated in the following verses in the Quran.
“Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loves not aggressors.” (2:190)
“And why should you not fight in the cause of God and of those who, being weak, are ill-treated and oppressed? Men, women, and children, whose cry is: ‘Our Lord! Rescue us from this town, whose people are oppressors; and raise for us from You, one who will protect; and raise for us from You, one who will help.’ ” (4:75)
Moreover, Islam imposes strict rules and ethics on adherents involved in just wars. For example, the Prophet Muhammad said: “Do not kill women or children or non-combatants and do not kill old people or religious people (he also mentioned priests, nuns and rabbis). Do not cut down fruit-bearing trees and do not poison the wells of your enemies.”
The Prophet also said: “Whoever unjustly harms a Christian or a Jew will not even smell the scent of paradise.”
Islam’s core message is to foster good relationships among all people, regardless of race, color or religion. The Quran teaches Muslims to revere all prophets, including Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Moses, John the Baptist and Jesus, and to respect their followers.
The murderous acts of a few, whether Muslims or others, should not shake our eternal faith that we, as human beings or believers in God, can live in harmony.
Hussam Ayloush is the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Southern California (for more information, see http://www.cair.com). He is a resident of Corona.