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Does Islamic State's Brutality Really Have Nothing to Do With Religion?

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In his remarks on the brutal execution of James Foley in Iraq, President Obama claimed "no faith teaches people to massacre innocents. No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day." It's a common refrain, the usual condemnation of a brutal act by Islamists inspired by religious ideology, by their own admission, and the flat out refusal by well meaning liberals to even consider that such brutality could be inspired by religion.

How about we consider what these Islamists are trying to tell us repeatedly; that a certain plausible interpretation of Islam might be at the root of all this brutality.

Here is a sampling of the Quranic passages that Islamists fluently quote :

5:33 - The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter.

4:89 - They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing (as they): But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (From what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay them wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks.

9:29 - 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 with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.

So, the Quran does tell its followers to kill those who don't believe in Islam, in certain contexts. Those contexts of course are debatable.

Now I can almost hear the indignation from well-meaning liberals "but the Bible has violent and hateful passages too.."

However, unlike Christians with the Bible, the vast majority of Muslims believe the Quran to be of divine origin and believe in its literal interpretation. To a Muslim, the Quran is God's literal words to mankind, passed on through the angel Gabriel to prophet Muhammed.

This makes the violent and hateful verses a very real problem.

To be fair the Quran has its share of peaceful verses too.

The issue here is that the Quran contradicts itself and in general the chronologically earlier verses tend to be more peaceful while the latter verses tend to be more violent. Now anyone with a decent understanding of the Quran knows the law of abrogation, which basically means that when there is a contradiction, the latter verse takes precedence.

Fortunately, most Muslims are not native Arabic speakers and simply recite the Quran in Arabic instead of reading it in their native language and are not aware of these violent and hateful verses. In any case most Muslims have a better sense of morality than what is laid out in the Quran and are uncomfortable with these violent and hateful verses, on the rare occasions they hear them in their native languages. So they either attribute it to a mistranslation or choose to re-interpret them to suit their own morality and worldview.

Still, a significant number of Muslims, albeit a minority, do treat the Quran as the ultimate moral authority and believe in acting upon the literal interpretation of these violent and hateful Quranic passages. As we've seen in the case of ISIS, a significant minority is all that is needed to create mayhem and destroy entire communities.

And as horrific as it is, given this background it is not surprising that a young British Muslim may have followed a 1400 year old Quranic injunction to behead an infidel American in Iraq.

The argument that ISIS's brutality has nothing to do with religion simply does not hold.

Going by the numbers flocking to Iraq and Syria these days, it is clear that a small but significant number of religious Muslims consider the ideology of ISIS legitimate, honorable and worthy enough to give up their lives for.

We do have a real problem with a very plausible interpretation of the Quran that ISIS cleverly uses to its advantage. It's time we take our blinders off and started openly talking about the connection between ISIS's brutality and Quranic literalism. It has become far too dangerous to be polite and leave religion out of the discussion.

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