Violence in the Qur’an and the Old Testament-II

This article was written by Connor Attard, a fellow Maltese traditionalist and contributor.

The Contrast

The Qur’an consists entirely of direct speech, and offers very little in the way of historical context or details about Muhammad’s personal life. Verses are loosely organised into chapters by theme, and the chapters themselves are sorted in descending order of length; all except the first chapter. Owing to this rather bewildering format, Muslim scholars are forced to rely on external sources such as the Hadith and the Sira to properly interpret the Qur’an.

The Bible, in contrast, is a collection of Jewish and Christian texts, written by several authors in vastly different historical contexts. As Christians, we believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God, who allowed the human authors to convey His message according to their individual literary talents. Exodus, for example, is considered by many scholars to be a religious epic. It also contains numerous historical accounts, poems, parables and anthems.

On the Violence

Since the Bible flows chronologically for the most part, the violence of the Old Testament is completely overshadowed by the New Testament. Neither Jesus nor His early disciples resorted to violence to spread their influence, despite tremendous persecution. Muhammad, on the other hand, was a political leader who frequently took his followers to battle and demanded a fifth of the spoils of war (Qur’an 8:41).

Furthermore, there is ample literary context to mitigate the Old Testament’s violence. There’s little doubt that these passages are descriptive, rather than prescriptive, so even literal interpretations of these passages are poor justifications for bloodshed.

The Qur’an isn’t quite so lucky. Despite a small handful of peaceful verses in the earlier chapters of the Qur’an, Islamic tradition holds that the chapters revealed in Mecca were abrogated by the more bellicose Medinan ones; revealed after Muhammad’s flight to Medina (The Hijrah). The ninth chapter of the Qur’an happens to be the final chronological chapter, and by far the most belligerent. It contains the infamous Verse of the Sword (9:05) and the divine sanction to collect the Jizya (poll tax) from subjugated Jews and Christians (9:29).

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that all Muslim terrorists are inspired by the Qur’an, much less that all Muslims are terrorists. Christians ought to condemn acts of violence and unjust discrimination against innocent Muslims wherever it may occur. We do believe, however, that interreligious dialogue is ultimately fruitless if built on false pretences and equivalences.

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