A Netherworldly Fitna!
The anti-Qur’an video by Geert Wilders is the most recent of efforts, albeit a very coarse one, to malign Islam and Muslims. Its attempts to cast aspersions on the Holy Qur’an are based on distortions and mistranslations of some of its verses quoted out of context. In the following, I will try to bring out some of the grotesque character of its allegations.
(1) The first verse (8:60), cited at the opening, is an advice to Muslims of the Prophet’s era to establish an effective defense force to protect the new-born Islamic state from actually or potentially hostile entities, which included the pagan Arab tribes and the empires of Persia and Byzantium. Together with 8:61, it also sets forth a straightforward military policy for the Islamic state: establishment of effective defence to deter present and future enemies and maintenance of peace with non-Muslim neighbors who desire to maintain peaceful relations with the Islamic state:
Prepare against them whatever you can of [military] power and war-horses, awing thereby the enemy of Allah, and your enemy, and others besides them, whom you do not know, but Allah knows them. And whatever you spend in the way of Allah will be repaid to you in full, and you will not be wronged. And if they incline toward peace, then you [too] incline toward it, and put your trust in Allah. Indeed He is the All-hearing, the All-knowing. (8:60-61)
Now read the distorted, truncated version quoted in Mr. Wilders’ film:
“Prepare to destroy ‘them’ with all force. Terrorize Allah’s enemy and your enemy.”
(2) The second verse cited is 4:56, which gives a graphic description of the state of the faithless in hell. Similar graphic depictions of hell abound in Christian literature and art, such as Dante’s Divine Comedy and paintings of Medieval and Renaissance artists (e.g. Hieronymus Bosch’s Last Judgment), and in the art and literature of other faiths.
One would hardly suspect that a verse such as this would provide ammunition for anti-Islamic propaganda. But Wilders is determined to distort the Qur’anic language to fit his own callow and grisly purposes. The Qur’an says:
Indeed, those who defy Our signs, We shall soon make them enter a Fire: as often as their skins become scorched, We shall replace them with other skins, so that they may taste the punishment. Indeed Allah is all-mighty, all-wise. (4:56)
Mr. Widlers offers this translation for the verse:
“Those who are disbelievers will be burned in fire and when their skin is crispy like a turkey’s we will replace it with another skin, so that they will know their punishment. Allah is great and wise.”
There is no mention of “skin turning crispy like a turkey’s” in the Quran.
(3) Verse 47:7 is a general guideline for the conduct of Muslim warfare against the troops of pagan Arab tribes, who were in a league determined to annihilate the emergent Islamic state and religion. Although it is meant as a war directive, there is a resounding note of Divine Compassion even in this passage:
When you meet the faithless in battle, strike their necks. When you have thoroughly decimated them, bind the captives firmly. Thereafter either oblige them [by setting them free] or take ransom till the war lays down its burdens. That [is Allah’s ordinance], and had Allah wished He could have taken vengeance on them, but that He may test some of you by means of others. (47:4)
Mr. Wilders gives the following text as representing 47:7:
“When you have an encounter with a disbeliever, cut their throats (sic) with a sword and spill their blood.”
The accuracy of Mr. Wilders’ rendition and his honesty as a critic of the Qur’an are left to the reader’s judgment.
(4) There was a group of saboteurs and spies amongst Muslims who practiced dissemblance by appearing to be converts, while working secretly for the pagans in their designs to eradicate the newly established faith. They are called Munafiqun (hypocrites) in the Qur’an and in Muslim parlance. Some of these self-styled “Muslims” lived in Mecca with the pagans, and exploited their professed conversion and contacts with Medina to spy on the Muslims. Some Muslims sympathized with them, while others considered them dangerous. Verse 4:89, which relates to these hypocrites, is cited erroneously in the video as an assertion against non-Muslims.
A thorough discussion of the historical and political background of verse 4:89 can be found in detailed works on Qur’anic exegesis. Here, however, we quote verse 4:89, along with its preceding and following verses, to throw light on the exact context:
Why should you be two groups concerning the hypocrites, while Allah has made them relapse (into unfaith) because of their deeds? Do you desire to guide someone Allah has led astray? Whomever Allah leads astray, you will never find any way for him.
They are eager that you should disbelieve like they have disbelieved, so that you all become alike. So do not make friends [with anyone] from among them, until they migrate in the way of Allah. But if they turn their backs [i.e. if they refuse to join the Muslim community in Medina and prefer to continue their residence amongst the pagan Meccans], seize them and kill them wherever you find them, and do not take from among them friends or helpers, excepting those who join a people between whom and you there is a treaty, or such as come to you with hearts reluctant to fight you or to fight their own people.
Had Allah wished, He would have imposed them upon you, and then they would have surely fought you. So if they keep out of your way and do not fight you, and offer you peace, then Allah does not allow you any course [of action] against them. (4: 88-90)
As can be seen, these verses are meant to put an end to security risks arising from suspect external elements pretending allegiance to Islam. Moreover, in them the Qur’an directs Muslims to honor their obligations towards non-belligerent pagan tribes who had peace treaties with the Islamic state.
Mr. Wilders, unconcerned with context and background, renders verse 4:89 as follows, as if it were another item in a string of invectives against non-Muslims:
“They would like to see you become disbelievers, don’t trust these people as long as they don’t follow Allah. When they escape, kill them wherever you find them! Don’t trust them, it will be your grave.”
The Qur’an’s Teaching Concerning Jews and Christians:
Mr. Wilders’ little video is loaded with terrible scenes of bloodshed and terrifying statements from apparently Muslim individuals against non-Muslims, especially Jews. By any civilized standards, every individual is responsible for his own statements and deeds, no other. To transfer the blame for an individual’s words and deeds to an entire community or religion is to yield to barbarism.
The deeds and words allegedly attributed in Mr. Wilders’ video to Muslim individuals relate as such only to their alleged authors, in case such attribution be true. I as a Muslim neither relate to any of those acts and statements, nor do I consider myself or any other Muslim answerable for them.
All I can say here is that the attempt of the video to project such statements and acts as stereotyping Muslim attitude towards non-Muslims, is contrary to Islam and the Quran as practiced and understood by the vast majority of Muslims, Shia and Sunni.
First, the Quran honours all pious and faithful persons regardless of their religious tradition. It declares in clear terms in two places in the scripture:
Indeed the faithful, the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabaeans – those of them who have faith in Allah and the Last Day and act righteously – they shall have their reward near their Lord, and they will have no fear, nor will they grieve. (2:62 & 5:69)
It is true that the Quran does not entertain a very positive view of the Jews as a religious community and is very critical of their conduct (not because of their Jewishness, but because of their human character and failings; many Muslims would see the same criticism to be as pertinent to the conduct of some Muslim communities through the last fourteen hundred years, especially in view of some prophetic traditions which consider Qur’anic descriptions of Jews and Christians as being archetypical of the future conduct of Muslim communities themselves):
Certainly Allah took a pledge from the Children of Israel, and We raised among them twelve chiefs. And Allah said, ‘I am with you! Surely, if you maintain the prayer and give the alms and have faith in My apostles and support them and lend Allah a good loan, I will surely absolve you of your misdeeds, and I will surely admit you into gardens with streams running in them. But whoever of you disbelieves after that has certainly strayed from the right way.’ Then, because of their breaking their covenant, We cursed them and made their hearts hard: they pervert words from their meanings and have forgotten a part of what they were reminded. You will not cease to learn of some of their treachery, excepting a few of them. Yet excuse them and forbear. Indeed Allah loves the virtuous. (5:12-13)
Whenever an apostle brought them that which was not to their liking, they would impugn a part of them, and a part they would slay. They supposed there would be no testing, so they became blind and deaf. Thereafter Allah accepted their repentance, yet [again] many of them became blind and deaf, and Allah sees best what they do. (5: 70-71)
Surely many of them (i.e. Jews) will be increased by what has been sent to you from your Lord in rebellion and unfaith, and We have cast enmity and hatred amongst them until the Day of Resurrection. Every time they ignite the flames of war, Allah puts them out. They seek to cause corruption on the earth, and Allah does not like the agents of corruption. (5:64)
But it also acknowledges that they are not all alike:
Yet they are not all alike. Among the People of the Book (i.e. the Jews) is an upright nation; they recite Allah’s signs in the watches of the night and prostrate. (3:113)
Among the people of Moses is a nation who guide [the people] by the truth and do justice thereby. (7: 159)
The Quran is also very critical of the Christian doctrine of Trinity and rejects Christian theology which deifies Jesus:
They are certainly faithless who say, ‘Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary.’ Say, ‘Who can avail anything against Allah should He wish to destroy the Messiah, son of Mary, and his mother, and everyone upon the earth?’ To Allah belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, and whatever is between them. He creates whatever He wishes, and Allah has power over all things. (5: 17)
It considers the schism and fragmentation of the Christian community as being due to its turning its back on its Divine commitments:
Also from those who say, ‘We are Christians,’ We took their pledge; but they forgot a part of what they were reminded. So We stirred up enmity and hatred among them until the Day of Resurrection, and soon Allah will inform them concerning what they had been doing. (3:14)
Yet it has warm words of appreciation for individual Christians who try to live up to the demands of their faith, considering them to be emotionally and spiritually closer to Muslims:
Surely You will find the most hostile of all people towards the faithful to be the Jews and the polytheists, and surely you will find the nearest of them in affection to the faithful to be those who say ‘We are Christians.’ That is because there are priests and monks among them, and because they are not arrogant. When they hear what has been revealed to the Apostle, you see their eyes fill with tears because of the truth that they recognize. They say, ‘Our Lord, we believe; so write us down among the witnesses. Why should we not believe in Allah and the truth that has come to us, eager as we are that our Lord should admit us among the righteous people?’ (5:82-84)
The Qur’an categorically rejects the idea that any people or nation can be God’s chosen or beloved people merely on creedal, racial or ethnic grounds.
The Jews and the Christians say, ‘We are Allah’s children and His beloved ones.’ Say, ‘Then why does He punish you for your sins?’ Rather, you are humans from among His creatures. He forgives whomever He wishes, and punishes whomever He wishes, and to Allah belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth, and whatever is between them, and toward Him is the return. (5:18)
From the viewpoint of the Qur’an, no one is entitled to Divine favor on mere basis of his creed. Those are nearest to God who have faith in Him and follow His edicts contained in the scriptures.
O mankind! Indeed We created you from a male and a female, and made you nations and tribes that you may identify yourselves with one another. Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most Godwary among you. Indeed Allah is all-knowing, all-aware. (49:13)
Although the Qur’an considers Islam as the most complete and perfect religion, it takes a pragmatic view of religious allegiances and accepts other religions, calling upon their followers to loyally follow their scriptures.
Say, ‘O People of the Book! You do not stand on anything until you observe the Torah and the Evangel and what was sent down to you from your Lord.’ (5: 68)
Let the people of the Evangel judge by what Allah has sent down in it. Those who do not judge by what Allah has sent down—it is they who are the transgressors. (5:47)
For each [community] among you We appointed a code [of law] and a path, and had Allah wished He would have made you one community, but [His purposes required] that He should test you in respect to what He has given you.
So take the lead in all good works. To Allah shall be the return of you all, whereat He will inform you concerning that about which you used to differ. (5:48)
No nation or community has any special relationship with God. The Qur’an does not consider God’s favor towards Muslim communities to be unconditional:
O you who have faith! Should any of you desert his religion, Allah will soon bring a people whom He loves and who love Him, [who will be] humble towards the faithful, stern towards the faithless, waging struggle in the way of Allah, not fearing the blame of any blamer. That is Allah’s grace which He grants to whomever He wishes, and Allah is all-bounteous, all-knowing. (5: 54)
Sayyid Ali Quli Qarai is an Indian scholar. He has published several books, including a phrase-by-phrase English translation of the Holy Qur’an.