NON-MUSLIMS IN THE QUR’AN
The attitudes of modern Muslims toward non-Muslims are rooted, of course, in the Qur’an, which Muslims believe to be the eternal words of Allah dictated to the prophet Muhammad through the angel Gabriel. The Qur’an occupies an influence in the Islamic world that is far greater than that of the Bible in the West, even during the heyday of Christendom; it exerts a dominant and formative influence on the Muslim mind and culture.
Proponents of the myth of Islamic tolerance point to verses such as this one: “Those who believe [in the Qur’an], and those who follow the Jewish [scriptures], and the Christians and the Sabians, any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve” (sura 2:62; cf. 5:69 and 22:17). Muslim spokesmen in the West like to quote such verses and to stress, as in the Council on American Islamic Relations ad, the commonality between Islam and Christianity—and sometimes even between Islam and Judaism.
However, the preponderance of Qur’ anic testimony favors not tolerance and harmony between Muslims and non-Muslims, but just the opposite. A fundamental component of the Qur’an’s view of non-Muslims is the often repeated and implacable belief in its own superiority: “The Religion before Allah is Islam” (sura 3:19), or, as another translation has it, “The only true faith in God’s sight is Islam.” Muslims, accordingly, are also superior to others: “Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah.” By contrast, most Jews and Christians (“People of the Book”) are wrongdoers: “If only the People of the Book had faith, it were best for them: among them are some who have faith, but most of them are perverted transgressors” (sura 3:110).
According to orthodox Muslim belief, the Qur’an is the final and perfect revelation from Allah, the one true God. It confirms earlier revelations—a fact of which Muhammad was evidently so sure that in the Qur’an he has Allah telling him that if he is harboring any doubts about the veracity of his experiences with Gabriel, he need only check with those who received scriptures before Muhammad’s time—that is, Jews and Christians: “And if thou (Muhammad) art in doubt concerning that which We reveal unto thee, then question those who read the Scripture (that was) before thee. Verily the Truth from thy Lord hath come unto thee. So be not thou of the waverers” (sura 10:94).
Yet the testimony that the earlier scriptures were supposed to bear to the coming of Muhammad has been obscured by Jews and Christians. In a lengthy passage in a late sura (chapter) of the Qur’an, “al-Baqara” (the Cow), Allah castigates the Jews and Christians for rejecting Muhammad when they know better:
We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of messengers; We gave Jesus the son of Mary Clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the holy spirit. Is it that whenever there comes to you a messenger with what ye yourselves desire not, ye are puffed up with pride? Some ye called impostors, and others ye slay! They say, “Our hearts are the wrappings (which preserve Allah’s Word: we need no more).”
Nay, Allah’s curse is on them for their blasphemy: Little is it they believe. And when there comes to them a Book from Allah, confirming what is with them, although from of old they had prayedfor victory against those without Faith, when there comes to them thatwhich they (should) have recognised, they refuse to believe in it but the curse of Allah is on those without Faith. Miserable is the price for which they have sold their souls, in that they deny (the revelation) which Allah has sent down, in insolent envy that Allah of His Grace should send it to any of His servants He pleases: Thus have they drawn on themselves Wrath upon Wrath. And humiliating is the punishment of those who reject Faith.
When it is said to them, “Believe in what Allah Hath sent down,” they say, “We believe in what was sent down to us”: yet they reject all besides, even if it be Truth confirming what is with them. Say: “Why then have ye slain the prophets of Allah in times gone by, if ye did indeed believe?”
There came to you Moses with clear (Signs); yet ye worshipped the calf (even) after that, and ye did behave wrongfully. And remember We took your covenant and We raised above you (the towering height) of Mount (Sinai), (saying): “Hold firmly to what We have given you, and hearken (to the Law).” They said: “We hear, and we disobey.” And they had to drink into their hearts (of the taint) of the calf because of their Faithlessness. Say: “Vile indeed are the behests of your Faith if ye have any faith!”.. .
Say: Whoever is an enemy to Gabriel—for he brings down the (revelation) to thy heart by Allah’s will, a confirmation of what went before, and guidance and glad tidings for those who believe—whoever is an enemy to Allah and His angels and messengers, to Gabriel and Michael, lo! Allah is an enemy to those who reject Faith. We have sent down to thee Manifest Signs (ayat); and none reject them but those who are perverse. Is it not (the case) that every time they make a covenant, some party among them throw it aside? Nay, Most of them are faithless. And when there came to them a messenger from Allah, confirming what was with them, a party of the people of the Book threw away the Book of Allah behind their backs, as if (it had been something) they did not know! . . . If they had kept their Faith and guarded themselves from evil, far better had been the reward from their Lord, if they but knew! (sura 2:88-103)
By the evidence of this passage and others in the Qur’an, the Jews and Christians who remain in the world after the time of Muhammad are renegades who have rejected this final revelation out of corruption and malice and who have exchanged truth for falsehood: “The Jews call Uzair [Ezra] a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say” (sura 9:30). Nor is that remotely all. The Jews “have incurred divine displeasure): in that they broke their covenant; that they rejected the signs of Allah; that they slew the Messengers in defiance of right; that they said, ‘Our hearts are the wrappings (which preserve Allah’s Word; We need no more)’; nay, Allah hath set the seal on their hearts for their blasphemy, and little is it they believe . .” (sura 4:155). They even misrepresent the scriptures: “There is among them a section who distort the Book with their tongues: (As they read) you would think it is a part of the Book, but it is no part of the Book; and they say, ‘That is from Allah,’ but it is not from Allah. It is they who tell a lie against Allah, and (well) they know it!” (sura 3:78). They blasphemously doubt Allah’s power: “The Jews say: `Allah’s hand is tied up.’ Be their hands tied up and be they accursed for the (blasphemy) they utter” (sura 5:64).
The Qur’an also frequently censures Christians for believing in false doctrines—including beliefs that are central to the faith as it had been understood and practiced for as long as six centuries before Muhammad began preaching. Apparently misunderstanding the nature of the Christian Trinity, one verse has Allah quizzing Jesus: “0 Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah?” Jesus answers: “Glory to Thee! Never could I say what I had no right (to say)” (sura 5:116).
In the book Allah frequently insists that he has no son—a fact Muslims believe to be an essential component of true monotheism. “Say: ‘Praise be to Allah, who begets no son, and has no partner in (His) dominion: Nor (needs) He any to protect Him from humiliation: yea, magnify Him for His greatness and glory!'” (sura 17:111).
Finally Muhammad weaves his charges against Jews and Christians together by condemning Christians for believing that Jesus was crucified, and Jews for believing that they crucified him: “They said (in boast), ‘We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah’; but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not” (sura 4:157).
Because of the cavalier, self-serving, and underhanded ways in which they have treated Allah’s message, both Jews and Christians live under the curse of Allah: “Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!” (sura 9:30).
The idea that Jews and Christians are accursed recurs several times in the Qur’an. Both have rejected Allah and his messenger Muhammad:
Allah did aforetime take a covenant from the Children of Israel, and we appointed twelve captains among them. And Allah said: “I am with you: if ye (but) establish regular prayers, practice regular charity, believe in my messengers, honor and assist them, and loan to Allah a beautiful loan, verily I will wipe out from you your evils, and admit you to gardens with rivers flowing beneath; but if any of you, after this, resisteth faith, he hath truly wandered from the path of rectitude.”
But because of their breach of their covenant, We cursed them, and made their hearts grow hard; they change the words from their (right) places and forget a good part of the message that was sent them, nor wilt thou cease to find them—barring a few—ever bent on (new) deceits: but forgive them, and overlook (their misdeeds): for Allah loveth those who are kind.
From those, too, who call themselves Christians, We did take a covenant, but they forgot a good part of the message that was sent them: so we estranged them, with enmity and hatred between the one and the other, to the day of judgment. And soon will Allah show them what it is they have done.
0 People of the Book! There hath come to you our Messenger, revealing to you much that ye used to hide in the Book, and passing over much (that is now unnecessary): There hath come to you from Allah a (new) light and a perspicuous Book, wherewith Allah guideth all who seek His good pleasure to ways of peace and safety, and leadeth them out of darkness, by His will, unto the light, guideth them to a path that is straight. (sura 5:12-16)
All this leads directly to the Qur’an’s notorious verses of jihad, such as this one from later in the same sura: “And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith” (sura 2:190). Many Western Muslim spokesmen today deny that this verse applies to Jews and Christians of this age or any other, as they are in the Qur’an “People of the Book” and not idolaters. However, it is clear from the long passage above that Jews and Christians are indeed counted in the Qur’an among those who “suppress faith” and thus must be met by Muslims not with talk of tolerance and peaceful coexistence but with jihad warfare: “And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is all for Allah. But if they cease, then lo! Allah is Seer of what they do” (sura 8:39).
Indeed, the sura that most Muslim scholars believe to have been the last one revealed—and hence the portion of the Qur’an that takes precedence over any contradictory passage revealed earlier—is sura 9, at-Tauba (“Repentance”). It explicitly enjoins Muslims to wage war against the People of the Book until they either convert to Islam or are subdued as second-class dhimmis: “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya [a special tax on non-Muslims] with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued” (sura 9:29).
In the end it is the will of Allah that Islam will triumph over all other religions: “He it is Who bath sent His messenger with the guidance and the Religion of Truth, that He may cause it to prevail over all religion, however much the idolaters may be averse” (sura 9:33).
This is tantamount to a declaration of war, and its spirit pervades the entire Muslim holy book. So far is the Qur’an from modern notions of tolerance and peaceful coexistence that it even warns Muslims not to befriend Jews and Christians—apparently including those who “feel themselves subdued” and are paying the jiyza: “0 ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors. They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust” (sura 5:51).
It is ironic in light of all this that the Qur’an also criticizes Jews and Christians for being intolerant. Allah warns Muhammad that “never will the Jews or the Christians be satisfied with thee unless thou follow their form of religion. Say: ‘The Guidance of Allah, that is the (only) Guidance.’ Wert thou to follow their desires after the knowledge which hath reached thee, then wouldst thou find neither Protector nor helper against Allah” (sura 2:120; cf. 2:135).
This is the Qur’an that pious Muslims cherish and memorize in its entirety; it is for them their primary guide to understanding how they should make their way in the world and deal with other people. It is nothing short of staggering that the myth of Islamic tolerance could have gained such currency in the teeth of the Qur’an’s open contempt and hatred for Jews and Christians and incitements of violence against them—and a testimony to the ease with which one can convince himself of the truth of something in which one wants to believe, regardless of evidence to the contrary.
NON-MUSLIMS IN THE HADITH
The Hadith, the traditions of the sayings and doings of the prophet Muhammad, are second in authority only to the Qur’an for most Muslims. In fact, Sunni Islam, the sect of 85 to 90 percent of Muslims worldwide, takes its name from the Sunnah, the Traditions, which Sunnis follow in contradistinction to Shi’ite Islam, which from the days of its great imams and in a different way thereafter invested more authority than do Sunnis in religious leaders. Sunnis rely instead, at least according to the theory, on the teachings of Muhammad as recorded in the Hadith and explicated by Islamic jurists.
The Hadith is voluminous, and much is of doubtful authenticity. But in the early centuries of Islam six collections were identified by Muslims as being substantially authentic and therefore trustworthy: those known today as Sahih Sittah (“reliable collections”): Sahih Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, the Sunan of Abu Dawud, the Sunan of Ibn Majah, the Sunan of an-Nasai, and the Jami of at-Tirmidhi. These, as applied and interpreted by jurists from the four principal Sunni madhhabs, or schools of jurisprudence (Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki, and Shafi’i) form the primary source for the innumerable regulations of Islamic law, which governs virtually every aspect of life—from personal hygiene to macroeconomics. Although it is likely—and Western scholars have established in many cases—that many of these traditions that are revered as reliable are just as tenuous and inauthentic as many of those that are universally rejected, this fact has had little impact thus far in the Islamic world. Many of them enjoy normative status as principal sources for religious beliefs and practices. Critical analysis of both the Qur’an and Hadith has been slight and furtive among Muslims—largely owing to the fact that Islamic tolerance, both in history and today, does not generally extend to a willingness to allow the words of Allah to be examined and prodded. To allow this would be tantamount to admitting that the Qur’an is a human book, which few pious Muslims have been prepared to do ever since the comparatively rationalist Mutazilite sect was vanquished centuries ago and the idea that the Qur’an was uncreated was raised to the level of an unquestionable dogma. In any case, since these traditions are regarded as authentic by orthodox Muslims, they play a key role in the elaboration of Islamic intolerance and were accordingly muted in the era of the imposition of the myth of tolerance.
The Traditions’ message regarding non-Muslims consists primarily of an amplification of that of the Qur’an. The Qur’an’s inconsistent statements about whether or not Jews and Christians will enter paradise are resolved: “It is narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) observed: By Him in Whose hand is the life of Muhammad, he who amongst the community of Jews or Christians hears about me, but does not affirm his belief in that with which I have been sent and dies in this state (of disbelief), he shall be but one of the denizens of Hell-Fire.” So once again we see that if there is any tolerance in Islam at all, it is only provisional, in anticipation of the great Day on which Allah will make it manifest to all that “the Religion before Allah is Islam” (sura 3:19). Another Hadith has Muhammad saying:
On the Day of Resurrection, a call-maker will announce, “Let every nation follow that which they used to worship.” Then none of those who used to worship anything other than Allah like idols and other deities but will fall in Hell (Fire), till there will remain none but those who used to worship Allah, both those who were obedient (i.e., good) and those who were disobedient (i.e., bad) and the remaining party of the people of the Scripture. Then the Jews will be called upon and it will be said to them, “Who do you use to worship?” They will say, “We used to worship Ezra, the son of Allah.” It will be said to them, “You are liars, for Allah has never taken anyone as a wife or a son. What do you want now?” They will say, “0 our Lord! We are thirsty, so give us something to drink.” They will be directed and addressed thus, “Will you drink,” whereupon they will be gathered unto Hell (Fire) which will look like a mirage whose different sides will be destroying each other. Then they will fall into the Fire. Afterwards the Christians will be called upon and it will be said to them, “Who do you use to worship?” “They will say, ‘We used to worship Jesus, the son of Allah.'” It will be said to them, “You are liars, for Allah has never taken anyone as a wife or a son,” Then it will be said to them, “What do you want?” They will say what the former people have said. Then, when there remain (in the gathering) none but those who used to worship Allah (Alone, the real Lord of the Worlds) whether they were obedient or disobedient.
Of course, consigning other groups to hellfire doesn’t necessarily mean that one will not consent to live in peace as equals with them on earth. But Islam in its totality attempts an audacious recasting and, in a real sense, appropriation of Judaism and Christianity—a kind of theological imperialism that can serve as a useful analogy and paradigm for the true nature of the tolerance that Islamic jurists envision for this world.
For Muhammad did not hesitate to appropriate the central figures of Judaism and Christianity and to claim that they were Muslim. Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus appear in the Qur’an and Hadith as Muslim prophets (see suras 2:87, 2:136, 3:84, 33:7, 42:13, etc.). Their religion was Islam—until it was corrupted by their wicked followers (who were, of course, the ancestors of the Jews and Christians, who remained outside the fold of Islam). In the Christians’ case, Jesus will set this right in the latter days, returning to end the dhimmi status of non-Muslims in Islamic soci-eties—not by initiating a new era of equality and harmony, but by abolishing Christianity and imposing Islam upon everyone:
Allah’s Apostle said, “By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, surely (Jesus,) the son of Mary will soon descend amongst you and will judge mankind justly (as a Just Ruler); he will break the Cross and kill the pigs and there will be no Jizya (i.e., taxation taken from non Muslims). Money will be in abundance so that nobody will accept it, and a single prostration to Allah (in prayer) will be better than the whole world and whatever is in it.” Abu Huraira added, “If you wish, you can recite (this verse of the Holy Book): `And there is none of the people of the Scriptures (Jews and Christians) But must believe in him (i.e., Jesus as an Apostle of Allah and a human being) before his death. And on the Day of Judgment He will be a witness against them”‘ (4.159)
To drive the point home, another tradition adds that Muhammad said: “How will you be when the son of Mary (i.e., Jesus) descends amongst you and he will judge people by the Law of the Qur’an and not by the law of Gospel?”
Still, while all this and similar material is useful to refute the pseudo-multicultural posturing of contemporary Muslim advocacy groups (particularly in the United States), it doesn’t add up in itself to anything particularly intolerant. Theological absolutism of a similar kind can be found in virtually all sects of Christianity, as well as in other religious traditions. But although sura 109 of the Qur’an—often quoted today—envisions a live-and-let-live attitude between Muslims and non-Muslims, that is far from the last word on the subject in either the Qur’an (as we have seen) or the Hadith. The Hadith expand upon verses 9:5 and 9:29 of the Qur’an with accounts of Muhammad’s battles against unbelievers. One of the most notable of these records not a battle but an epistolary encounter between the Prophet of the new religion and the leader of the old empire, Heraclius of Byzantium. The account in Sahih Bukhari is full of unlikely details, including the assertion that Heraclius was mightily impressed by Muhammad and all but acknowledged his prophethood. To the dismay of courageous Muslim apostates through the centuries, the Heraclius of this hadith burbles to one of Muhammad’s men: “I asked you whether there was anybody who, after embracing [Muhammad’s] religion, became displeased and discarded his religion; your reply was in the negative. In fact, this is the sign of True Faith, for when its cheerfulness enters and mixes in the hearts completely, nobody will be displeased with it.”
But most noteworthy is the brief, easy-to-overlook threat lobbed into the letter from the holy man: “Embrace Islam,” he exhorted Heraclius, “and you will be safe.” No guarantee of safety or offer of truce is made in the event that Heraclius declines to accept Islam.
The imperative was to invite non-Muslims to become Muslim—as Muhammad did Heraclius and Osama bin Laden did the United States in the late 1990s—and then fight those who refuse. This hadith delineates these choices, in accord with sura 9:29’s mandate to fight Jews and Christians until they pay the non-Muslim poll tax (jizya)—or, of course, convert to Islam. Says Muhammad:
Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war; do not embezzle the spoils; do not break your pledge; and do not mutilate (the dead) bodies; do not kill the children. When you meet your enemies who are polytheists, invite them to three courses of action. If they respond to any one of these you also accept it and withhold yourself from doing them any harm. Invite them to (accept) Islam; if they respond to you, accept it from them and desist from fighting against them. . . . If they refuse to accept Islam, demand from them the Jizya. If they agree to pay, accept it from them and hold off your hands. If they refuse to pay the tax, seek Allah’s help and fight them.
When speaking of non-Muslim dhimmis, the sahih ahadith are primarily concerned with the collection of the jizya—which constituted the “source of the livelihood” of the Muslims. The traditions say little about the way in which Islamic societies are soon going to ensure that non-Muslims “feel themselves subdued,” in accordance with sura 9:29. But Muslims from the earliest ages seem to have been intent to fulfill this command and devised numerous ingenious ways to do so. This resulted in an elaborate system of regulation for the treatment of dhimmis that enforced their humiliation and inferiority on a daily basis—and that remained constant in the Islamic world, although they were enforced with varying degrees of ferocity in different regions over the ages. These regulations, as intolerant as they are, remain part of the Sharia to this day. Radical Islamic terror organizations around the world have repeatedly declared their intention to impose the Sharia wherever and whenever they can. This stands as an enduring threat to non-Muslims in nations with Muslim majorities and elsewhere.
Robert Spencer, Ed., The Myth of Islamic Tolerance: How Islamic Law Treat Non-Muslims (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2005), 39-48. (For footnotes/references of quotes, buy the book.)