The crimes committed by Islamic terrorist groups have, for some in the West, transformed the Quran into a book of violence and fear. Western reactionary groups have exploited the crimes to espouse a false narrative against Islam as a religion of terror and brutality.
The narrative will probably be reinforced by the criminal terrorist attacks on a French satirical newspaper, and the murdering of 12 of their staff members, by terrorists who had apparently returned from Syria. The narrative is in fundamental contradiction with the views of the vast majority of Muslims. The evidence for this claim is abundant.
First, the vast majority of Muslims are moderate. In an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria, President Obama also emphasized that most Muslims are opposed to Islamic terrorists.
Second, even if we are to base our judgment on the use of violence, vast statistical evidence indicates that the West has increasingly resorted to violence against Muslims. Even if, for example, people claim that the West's economic sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s, which killed at least 576,000 Iraqi children, was not "violence," saying that "it was worth" doing it to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein, is definitely glorifying violence.
Third, one cannot reduce the Quran to a manifesto for violence. In fact, the Quran is a book of blessing, peace and rationality, and Prophet Muhammad was a messenger of peace. The Quran has mentioned the word "wisdom" 49 times, advocating better understanding and distinguishing the truths from false claims. Moreover, using insults against the Prophet as an excuse to commit a crime has also been rejected by the Quran.
What Does the Quran Say?
The Quran is a text, read by the people. The text is not absolutely neutral. Thus, by reading it, one begins a dialogue with the Quran. The voice of the text is the fruit of the dialogue. The readers and interpreters of the text have a decisive role in shaping the Quran's voice.
No one reads a text with colorless eyes. People's thinking creates a lens, a window, for them. If the lens is blue, the person sees the world blue. And, if it is red, he sees the world red. There is no one without any lens.
All observations are theory-laden, a principle accepted by philosophers of science. There is no naked fact, because human beings view everything through theories. No one's conscience is devoid of pre-suppositions and pre-judgments. The libertarians and leftists look at the same facts, but see two different things, because they view everything through different theories.
The Quran is read, and its voice is heard, by people with such conscience. The pacifists and the terrorists read the same text, but present fundamentally different interpretations. It is important to consider the reader and interpreter of the Quran. The voice of Quran heard by Islamic fundamentalists is not the same as the voice heard by progressive Muslims. If the Quran's voice is heard by the Islamic State, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda, etc., we will not hear anything other than the loud voice for violence, war, bloodshed, rape and aggression.
It is true that there are verses in the Quran in which violence is permitted. Islamic fundamentalists have given such verses a central role in how they interpret the Quran, practically marginalizing the rest. But, enlightened Muslims reject such hermeneutics, and consider such verses as having only a temporary significance for the Prophet's era. Thus, the Quran must be seen in such a light.
In his wonderful poetic book, the Masnavi, the great Iranian Gnostic, Molana Jalal-e-din Mohammad Molavi Rumi (1207-1271), put it this way (volume 6, 4540,4541):
Since prophethood is the guide to freedom, freedom is bestowed on true believers by the prophets.
Rejoice, O community of true believers: show yourselves to be 'free' ( pure and noble) as the cypress and the lily.
Islamic terrorist groups view the Quran as a book for putting chains on people's thoughts and mind, but others consider it as a tool for liberating people from the oppressors, bringing peace, blessings and compassion, and they point to what the Quran says: "There is no compulsion in accepting religion," (al-Baqarah: 256).
God told the Prophet:
And if your Creator and Nurturer had willed, verily, all those who are on Earth would have believed [in Him]; can you [O, Messenger!] compel people against their wish to become believer? (Yunus: 99).
A holy book that rejects compelling people to believe in Islam cannot and does not order execution of the nonbelievers. In fact, not only has the Quran not set any punishment for the nonbelievers, in three Surah (Al-Araf: 88, and 121-124; Ghafir: 26) it has strongly urged against it. As the Quran states (al-Baqarah: 113), differences between people is the bases of life, and the truth will be revealed to them only after death. Thus, no one has exclusive ownership of the truth.
Through Noah, God tells his people that if they did not accept his reasons for believing in Him, Noah is not allowed to punish them (Hud: 28). God also tells Prophet Muhammad:
So [O, Messenger!], remind them since you are the one to admonish, but you are not a compeller over them, (al-Ghashiyah: 21, 22).
We are the Supreme Knower of these pagans say; it is not for you [O, Messenger!] to force them to have faith in the Truth, (Qaf: 45).
We have sent you [O, Messenger!] only as a bearer of glad-tidings and warner, (al-Forqan: 56).
[O, Messenger!] it is a grace of God that you were gentle to those [who disobeyed in Uhud]; had you been tough or hard-hearted, they would have surely dispersed away from around you; therefore, forgive them and seek pardon for them from God and consult them in the affair, (al-e-Imran: 159).
The Prophet was chosen as the messenger of God for moral virtues, described by the Quran: "[O, Muhammad!] verily, you are a man of high characters," (al-Qalam: 4).
The Quran invites people to peace, saying: "Making peace is better," (an-Nissaa: 128).
There are many such verses and voices in the Quran. But, the loud voice of Islamic terrorists has drowned the Quran's voice of peace. They act as if, for example, the Quran suggests stoning as a punishment, whereas this is no such thing in the Quran.
Prophet Muhammad emerged in the tribal society of the seventh century. He invited the people to believe in God, life after death and moral virtues. As Rumi put it, the Prophets came for making people think about death (and its aftermath).
With some changes, Prophet Muhammad ratified and signed on the best traditions of his era devised by the elite. As Jawad Ali argued in his book, Al-Mufassal fi Tarikh al-Arab qabala al-Islam (Comprehensive History of Pre-Islamic Arabs), 99 percent of Islam's teachings are of ratifying type. As the Quran says, the Prophet is the role model for all Muslims (al-Ahzab: 21). This implies that Muslims of our era should do the same as he did in his era, namely, support the best principles and thinking of our era -- democracy, human rights, freedom, pluralism and secularism. It is then that the true voice of the Quran will be heard. Unlike the fundamentalists' claim, the Quran has presented no model for an "Islamic state" and, in fact, as I have explained, I believe Islam is compatible with secularism because it does not have its own model of a state.
Murdering Those Who Insult the Prophet?
Prophet Muhammad said that he was chosen by God to be a messenger of moral values. The Quran has not set any punishment for those who insult the Prophet. The Quran ordered the Prophet to ignore those who insulted him:
O, Messenger! Verily We have sent you [to the human society] as a witness, a bearer of glad-tidings and a warmer, and also as a Cellar to Allah's path by His command, and as a light-spreading lamp; so give glad-tidings to the believers that they will have a great grace from Allah; do not conform to the caprices of the disbelievers and the hypocrites; and disregard their annoying words, and put all your trust in Allah, and His support and Guardianship will suffice you against your enemies, (al-Ahzab: 45-48).
In the same Surah (verse 57), God threatens those who annoy the Prophet with punishment, not in this world, but after they die. God also tells the Prophet that having patience with his enemies is a divine test for him:
[O, Messenger] You shall certainly be tried in your possessions and in your lives and certainly you shall hear much annoyance from those who have been given the Book before you and also from the idolaters; and if you be patient and be pious then verily, that is a matter of great resolution, (al-e-Emran: 186).
Similar to the Bible and the Old Testament, the Quran can be interpreted in various ways, and has multiple voices, depending on who reads it. The Quran speaks about human dignity (al-Israa: 70), and enlightened Muslims emphasize that this is the dignity of all the people, not just Muslims. It also speaks about the equality of all human beings (al-Hujurat: 13) and their dignity in God's view. Human dignity and concepts related to it have been mentioned 47 times in the Quran. The Quran's God is kind and noble (an-Naml: 40; al-Infitar: 6; al-Rahman: 78, and al-Alaq: 3). Modern and enlightened Muslims raise the Quran's voice about human dignity.
But, the Islamic radicals, against what the Quran states explicitly, murder people in the name of punishing those who have insulted the prophet. They use the Quran as a disguise to satisfy their thirst for violence.
The West's Choice
The security and national interests of Western countries require that, in order to have peace and understanding with the Islamic world as well as their own Muslim citizens, the Quran, as the voice of peace, justice, and rationality becomes stronger and louder. But, what we see in the Western media is mostly reports on terrorism of Muslim fundamentalists. They have not been helpful to enlightened Muslims to have their voices heard loud and clear.
This article was translated by Ali N. Babaei.