A Defending Crusader…

The best defense is to be good and offensive…or something like that.

Open Letter Deconstruction

Posted by Godefroi on October 18, 2007

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,

And may Peace and Blessings be upon the Prophet Muhammad


In this opening of the letter, the signatories have already shown their hand. They use the term “God”, instead of Allah, in order to show the commonality they’re proclaiming…this may be honest, or it may be an attempt at disarming the reader. In any case, the subsequent sentence about Muhammad shows that their contention remains that Islam is superior to other beliefs.


In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,

Do not contend with people of the Book except in the fairest way (The Holy Qur’an, al-Ankabut, 29:46)


The whole verse is (Arberry): Dispute not with the People of the Book save in the fairer manner, except for those of them that do wrong; and say, ‘We believe in what has been sent down to us, and what has been sent down to you; our God and your God is One, and to Him we have surrendered.’


Notice that the authors of the letter left out the rest of the verse. Who’s cherry-picking? By definition, since we are Christians rather than Muslims, we are doing wrong. And of course, this verse was abrogated by the infamous sura 9:29 (Yusuf Ali): Fight those who believe not in God nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and His Apostle, 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.


There is no compulsion in Religion (sura 2:256)

You mention that “according to the experts” the verse which begins, There is no compulsion in religion (al-Baqarah 2:256) is from the early period when the Prophet “was still powerless and under threat,” but this is incorrect. In factthis verse is acknowledged to belong to the period of Quranic revelation corresponding to the political and military ascendance of the young Muslim community


This is true, except that this is in the first of the Medinan suras, when Muhammad was still trying to ingratiate himself with the Jewish tribes. This, again, was overridden by 9:29, which is in the last (or possibly second-to-last) of the suras written.


There is no compulsion in religion was not a command to Muslims to remain steadfast in the face of the desire of their oppressors to force them to renounce their faith, but was a reminder to Muslims themselves, once they had attained power, that they could not force another’s heart to believe.


While this is true, the statement is misleading. Of course one can’t be forced into believing something (unless one considers the enormous power of incessant propaganda, a la Hamas in Palestinian schools and children’s television shows), but one CAN coerce another into a behavior. As Hugh Fitzgerald explains here:

…in the lands conquered by Muslims they offered, as Qur’an and Sunnah tell them to offer, only three possibilities to non-Muslims: death, conversion, or the status of humiliation, degradation, and physical insecurity known as that of the “dhimmi.”

That third option was open, of course, only if the conquered people happened to be ahl al-kitab, People of the Book, that is Christians or Jews, or came to be treated as such at some point, as happened to Zoroastrians and, after some 60-70 million of them had been killed, even the Hindus — so as to keep the Jizyah flowing.

Isn’t that a form of “compulsion” in religion? If one is forced to pay a burdensome tax, forbidden from suing Muslims at law, forbidden from repairing or building new houses of worship, forbidden from marrying a Muslim woman without converting to Islam first, forbidden from all kinds of things that add up to a condition that in many cases was nearly unendurable, isn’t that compulsion in religion?


The history of Islamic conquest shows that there has been, from Spain to the East Indies in space, and from the seventh century until now in time, a great deal of “compulsion in religion” by Muslim rulers on the non-Muslims they conquered. And there is to this day, with intolerable pressures put on the most helpless, such as the Mandeans in Iraq, or to a lesser extent, the Copts in Egypt, the Christians in Lebanon and in the “West Bank,” and the Chaldeans and Assyrians of Iraq.

Of course in Islam there is “compulsion in Islam.” It’s all over the place, and not only in the Middle East. When Christian schoolgirls are decapitated in Indonesia, and thousands of churches burned, or Buddhist villagers decapitated all over southern Thailand, or Hindus beaten to death in Bangladesh, or attacked in Pakistan, or driven out by the hundreds of thousands from Kashmir, when if they converted to Islam they would be left alone, surely over time that has its effect. Not everyone can heroically withstand such persecution and threat of murder and actual murder.

That may be defined as “compulsion in religion.”

Whether or not Muslims are permitted in Islamic jurisprudence to coerce adherence in others to Islamic practices and laws, the esteemed signatories of this letter should be advancing this understanding VOCIFEROUSLY in the Muslim world if they are interested in showing how we can all live in peace together with our Abrahamic-tradition faiths. Note: I’m not saying “go ahead and subvert or subjugate the Hindus and Buddhists”, but since this letter was addressed to Christian leaders and is based supposedly on the shared heritage, the Abraham reference seems appropriate.

Muslims are also guided by such verses as Say: The truth is from your Lord; so whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve. (al-Kahf 18:29); and Say: O disbelievers! I worship not that which ye worship; Nor worship ye that which I worship. And I shall not worship that which ye worship. Nor will ye worship that which I worship. Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion (al-Kafirun: 109:1-6).


It’s interesting (to me at least) that the verses quoted here ARE from the early (Meccan) period of Muhammad’s military and political weakness.


God’s Transcendence


My only comment on this section refers to the last line: Is it not self-evident that spilling innocent blood goes against mercy and compassion?


As has been noted many times, the definition of “innocent” as far as Islamic reasoning is concerned is a subject of great debate, ranging from the traditional Western (Christian) view – which I expect any reader won’t need explained – to the idea that no non-Muslims are innocent since they commit the crime of disbelief against the Muslim god.


One can point to numerous verses in the Qur’an that belie the assertion in the letter, which is the idea that for a Muslim to spill the blood of an “innocent” non-Muslim is forbidden. The hang-up, of course, is in the terminology. Again, are these scholars broadcasting their interpretations among the Muslims in general so that they can engender peace in the world? Have they contacted the leaders of Islamic Jihad, Al Qaeda, et al, and taught them that the approach they’ve been using for years is wrong?


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