Two events recently transpired that forced mainstream media to address a question they habitually dodge: Is Islam intrinsically violent? First, on New Year’s Day, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi—a world leader, and a Muslim—did the unthinkable when he publicly asserted that Islamic texts and thinking have made the Muslim world a scourge to humanity. The MSM ignored it until, as if to prove his point, Muslim gunmen shouting “Allahu Akbar” killed a dozen people in its attack on the offices of a satirical newspaper in Paris.
Two separate editorials—by the New York Times and CNN—responded by purportedly tackling the question of whether Islam is inherently violent in the context of the Paris attack and Sisi’s speech. Both quoted me as responding in the affirmative—and both instantly dismissed my partially presented views in “straw-man” fashion.
In “After Paris attacks, 7 questions being asked about Islam,” CNN’s religion editor Daniel Burke writes that ongoing Islamic attacks
have led some critics to argue that Islam is inherently violent. To make their case they point to the “Sword Verse” in the Quran as Exhibit A.
Here’s what the verse says:
“Then, when the sacred months are drawn away, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms, then let them go their way.”
Raymond Ibrahim, an author and frequent critic of Islam, argues that, based largely on that verse, “Islam’s learned officials, sheikhs, muftis, and imams throughout the ages have all reached consensus — binding on the entire Muslim community — that Islam is to be at perpetual war with the non-Muslim world until the former subsumes the latter.”
Many Muslims scoff at that argument, noting that the vast majority of Muslims are clearly not warring with other religions.
Even if “the majority of Muslims are clearly not warring with other religions,” that is not evidence that Islam does not call for it. Since when have the actions of every single member of a religion perfectly mirrored that religion’s teachings? If most Christians do not turn the other cheek, does that mean Jesus never taught it?
In “Raising Questions Within Islam After France Shooting,” New York Times’ Cairo correspondent David Kirkpatrick tersely presents my position only to dismiss it in the same breath:
Raymond Ibrahim, the author of “Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians,” argued in an interview that the passages in the Bible are descriptive but the Quranic ones are prescriptive. But most scholars say such distinctions are matters of interpretation.
Both CNN and the NYT seem to cite me in connection to my 2009 Middle East Quarterly essay, “Are Judaism and Christianity as Violent as Islam?“ (currently viewed almost 100,000 times; CNN even links to it). It is therefore surprising that Kirkpatrick, in the paragraph introducing my position writes:
A handful of non-Muslim researchers in the West—typically outside the academic mainstream—seek to build a case that Islam is inherently more violent than Judaism or Christianity by highlighting certain Quranic verses. But they struggle to explain away approving passages about violence in other religious texts, such as the book of Joshua in the Old Testament, the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, or the statement attributed to Jesus by the Gospel writer Matthew that “I come not to bring peace, but a sword.”
“Struggle to explain away”? My nearly 5,000 word essay is dedicated to doing precisely that; it specifically examines and refutes the notion that violence in the Books of Joshua and Revelation and Jesus’ so-called “sword verse” are similar to Koranic violence and Muhammad’s calls to violence. Anyone interested in seeing how much of a “struggle” it is to show the difference is encouraged to read it.
More generally, anyone interested in learning how to respond to the “all religions have violent texts” argument is strongly urged to read “Are Judaism and Christianity as Violent as Islam?“ Along with addressing that question, I also dissect the writings of those making the exact opposite argument, including Karen Armstrong and academics John Esposito and Philip Jenkins (even as the Washington Post still gushes over the latter’s discredited attempts to portray the Bible as inspiring more violence than the Koran in a recent post titled “The Problem Isn’t Islam … It’s ALL Religious Fundamentalism“).
For those not willing to tackle nearly 5,000 words on the topic, a less comprehensive and shorter version I wrote nearly a decade ago appears here.
(This column will appear on Mr. Ibrahim’s website and is posted here with permission.)