[By Raymond Ibrahim. 2009. Abridged.]
The military conquest of the land of Canaan by the Hebrews in about 1200 B.C.E. is often characterized as "genocide" and has all but become emblematic of biblical violence and intolerance.
… After breaching the walls of Jerusalem in 1099, for example, the Crusaders reportedly slaughtered almost every inhabitant of the Holy City. According to the medieval chronicle, the Gesta Danorum, "the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles."
Bible versus Qur'an
…. The fundamental error is that Judeo-Christian history—which is violent—is being conflated with Islamic theology—which commands violence. ..
Old Testament violence is an interesting case in point. God clearly ordered the Hebrews to annihilate the Canaanites and surrounding peoples. Such violence is therefore an expression of God's will, for good or ill. Regardless, all the historic violence committed by the Hebrews and recorded in the Old Testament is just that—history. It happened; God commanded it. But it revolved around a specific time and place and was directed against a specific people. At no time did such violence go on to become standardized or codified into Jewish law. In short, biblical accounts of violence are descriptive, not prescriptive.
This is where Islamic violence is unique. Though similar to the violence of the Old Testament—commanded by God and manifested in history—certain aspects of Islamic violence and intolerance have become standardized in Islamic law and apply at all times. Thus, while the violence found in the Qur'an has a historical context, its ultimate significance is theological. Consider the following Qur'anic verses, better known as the "sword-verses":
“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.”
“Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day, and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden – such men as practise not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book – until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled.”
…. Based on Qur'an 9:5, for instance, Islamic law mandates that idolators and polytheists must either convert to Islam or be killed; simultaneously, Qur'an 9:29 is the primary source of Islam's well-known discriminatory practices against conquered Christians and Jews living under Islamic suzerainty.
In fact, based on the sword-verses as well as countless other Qur'anic verses and oral traditions attributed to Muhammad, 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. Indeed, it is widely held by Muslim scholars that since the sword-verses are among the final revelations on the topic of Islam's relationship to non-Muslims, that they alone have abrogated some 200 of the Qur'an's earlier and more tolerant verses, such as "no compulsion is there in religion." Famous Muslim scholar Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) admired in the West for his "progressive" insights, also puts to rest the notion that jihad is defensive warfare:
“In the Muslim community, the holy war Jihad is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force ... The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense ... They are merely required to establish their religion among their own people. That is why the Israelites after Moses and Joshua remained unconcerned with royal authority [e.g., a caliphate]. Their only concern was to establish their religion [not spread it to the nations] … But Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations.”
Modern authorities agree. The Encyclopaedia of Islam's entry for "jihad" by Emile Tyan states that the
"spread of Islam by arms is a religious duty upon Muslims in general … Jihad must continue to be done until the whole world is under the rule of Islam … Islam must completely be made over before the doctrine of jihad [warfare to spread Islam] can be eliminated."
Iraqi jurist Majid Khaduri (1909-2007), after defining jihad as warfare, writes that
"jihad … is regarded by all jurists, with almost no exception, as a collective obligation of the whole Muslim community…. And, of course, Muslim legal manuals written in Arabic are even more explicit.”
When the Qur'an's violent verses are juxtaposed with their Old Testament counterparts, they are especially distinct for using language that transcends time and space, inciting believers to attack and slay nonbelievers today no less than yesterday. God commanded the Hebrews to kill Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites—all specific peoples rooted to a specific time and place. At no time did God give an open-ended command for the Hebrews, and by extension their Jewish descendants, to fight and kill gentiles. On the other hand, though Islam's original enemies were, like Judaism's, historical (e.g., Christian Byzantines and Zoroastrian Persians), the Qur'an rarely singles them out by their proper names. Instead, Muslims were (and are) commanded to fight the people of the book—"until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled" and to "slay the idolaters wherever you find them."
… In fact, the salient feature of almost all of the violent commandments in Islamic scriptures is their open-ended and generic nature:
"Fight them [non-Muslims] until there is no persecution and the religion is God's entirely.”
Also, in a well-attested tradition that appears in the hadith collections, Muhammad proclaims:
“I have been commanded to wage war against mankind until they testify that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God; and that they establish prostration prayer, and pay the alms-tax [i.e., convert to Islam]. If they do so, their blood and property are protected. ”
…. One wonders what Jenkins has in mind by the word "canonized" [i.e., Jewish & Christian violence is canonised]. If by canonized he means that such verses are considered part of the canon of Judeo-Christian scripture, he is absolutely correct; conversely, if by canonized he means or is trying to connote that these verses have been implemented in the Judeo-Christian Weltanschauung, he is absolutely wrong. Yet one need not rely on purely exegetical and philological arguments; both history and current events give the lie to Jenkins's relativism. Whereas first-century Christianity spread via the blood of martyrs, first-century Islam spread through violent conquest and bloodshed. Indeed, from day one to the present—whenever it could—Islam spread through conquest, as evidenced by the fact that the majority of what is now known as the Islamic world, or dar al-Islam, was conquered by the sword of Islam. This is a historic fact, attested to by the most authoritative Islamic historians. Even the Arabian peninsula, the "home" of Islam, was subdued by great force and bloodshed, as evidenced by the Ridda wars following Muhammad's death when tens of thousands of Arabs were put to the sword by the first caliph Abu Bakr for abandoning Islam.
... In Sudan, too, a jihadi-genocide against the Christian and polytheistic peoples is currently being waged by Khartoum's Islamist government and has left nearly a million "infidels" and "apostates" dead [in 2009]. That the Organization of Islamic Conference has come to the defense of Sudanese president Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, is further telling of the Islamic body's approval of violence toward both non-Muslims and those deemed not Muslim enough. .. Yet, unlike the near daily headlines emanating from the Islamic world, there are no records of practicing Christians, Buddhists, or Hindus crashing explosives-laden vehicles into the buildings of oppressive (e.g., Cuban or Chinese communist) regimes, all the while waving their scriptures in hand and screaming, "Jesus [or Buddha or Vishnu] is great!" Why?
… Aside from the divine words of the Qur'an, Muhammad's pattern of behavior—his sunna or "example"—is an extremely important source of legislation in Islam. Muslims are exhorted to emulate Muhammad in all walks of life: "You have had a good example in God's Messenger."]And Muhammad's pattern of conduct toward non-Muslims is quite explicit.
Sarcastically arguing against the concept of moderate Islam, for example, terrorist Osama bin Laden, who enjoys half the Arab-Islamic world's support per an Al-Jazeera poll, portrays the Prophet's sunna thusly:
"Moderation" is demonstrated by our prophet who did not remain more than three months in Medina without raiding or sending a raiding party into the lands of the infidels to beat down their strongholds and seize their possessions, their lives, and their women.”
In fact, based on both the Qur'an and Muhammad's sunna, pillaging and plundering infidels, enslaving their children, and placing their women in concubinage is well founded. And the concept of sunna—which is what 90 percent of the billion-plus Muslims, the Sunnis, are named after—essentially asserts that anything performed or approved by Muhammad, humanity's most perfect example, is applicable for Muslims today no less than yesterday. ..
…. the way Al-Qaeda, for example, justified its attacks on 9/11 where innocents including women and children were killed:
“Muhammad authorized his followers to use catapults during their siege of the town of Ta'if in 630 C.E.—townspeople had refused to submit—though he was aware that women and children were sheltered there. Also, when asked if it was permissible to launch night raids or set fire to the fortifications of the infidels if women and children were among them, the Prophet is said to have responded, "They [women and children] are from among them [infidels]."
Jewish & Christian Ways
Though law-centric and possibly legalistic, Judaism has no such equivalent to the Sunna; the words and deeds of the patriarchs, though described in the Old Testament, never went on to prescribe Jewish law. Neither Abraham's "white-lies," nor Jacob's perfidy, nor Moses' short-fuse, nor David's adultery, nor Solomon's philandering ever went on to instruct Jews or Christians. They were understood as historical acts perpetrated by fallible men who were more often than not punished by God for their less than ideal behaviour.
As for Christianity, much of the Old Testament law was abrogated or fulfilled—depending on one's perspective—by Jesus. "Eye for an eye" gave way to "turn the other cheek." Totally loving God and one's neighbor became supreme law. Furthermore, Jesus' sunna—as in "What would Jesus do?"—is characterized by passivity and altruism. The New Testament contains absolutely no exhortations to violence.
Still, there are those who attempt to portray Jesus as having a similarly militant ethos as Muhammad by quoting the verse where the former—who "spoke to the multitudes in parables and without a parable spoke not"—said, "I come not to bring peace but a sword." But based on the context of this statement, it is clear that Jesus was not commanding violence against non-Christians but rather predicting that strife will exist between Christians and their environment—a prediction that was only too true as early Christians, far from taking up the sword, passively perished by the sword in martyrdom as too often they still do in the Muslim world.
…. At any rate, how can one conscionably compare this handful of New Testament verses that metaphorically mention the word "sword" to the literally hundreds of Qur'anic injunctions and statements by Muhammad that clearly command Muslims to take up a very real sword against non-Muslims?
… John Esposito is therefore right to assert that "Jews and Christians have engaged in acts of violence”. He is wrong, however, to add, "We [Christians] have our own theology of hate”. Nothing in the New Testament teaches hate—certainly nothing to compare with Qur'anic injunctions such as:
"We [Muslims] disbelieve in you [non-Muslims], and between us and you enmity has shown itself, and hatred for ever until you believe in God alone."
Reassessing the Crusades
… That a former nun [Karen Armstrong]rabidly condemns the Crusades vis-à-vis anything Islam has done makes her critique all the more marketable. Statements such as this of course ignore the fact that from the beginnings of Islam, more than 400 years before the Crusades, Christians have noted that Islam was spread by the sword. Indeed, authoritative Muslim historians writing centuries before the Crusades, such as Ahmad Ibn Yahya al-Baladhuri (d. 892) and Muhammad ibn Jarir at-Tabari (838-923), make it clear that Islam was spread by the sword.
The fact remains: The Crusades were a counter-attack on Islam—not an unprovoked assault as Armstrong and other revisionist historians portray. Eminent historian Bernard Lewis puts it well,
“Even the Christian crusade, often compared with the Muslim jihad, was itself a delayed and limited response to the jihad and in part also an imitation. But unlike the jihad, it was concerned primarily with the defense or reconquest of threatened or lost Christian territory. It was, with few exceptions, limited to the successful wars for the recovery of south-west Europe, and the unsuccessful wars to recover the Holy Land and to halt the Ottoman advance in the Balkans. The Muslim jihad, in contrast, was perceived as unlimited, as a religious obligation that would continue until all the world had either adopted the Muslim faith or submitted to Muslim rule. … The object of jihad is to bring the whole world under Islamic law.”
Moreover, Muslim invasions and atrocities against Christians were on the rise in the decades before the launch of the Crusades in 1096. The Fatimid caliph Abu 'Ali Mansur Tariqu'l-Hakim (r. 996-1021) desecrated and destroyed a number of important churches—such as the Church of St. Mark in Egypt and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem—and decreed even more oppressive than usual decrees against Christians and Jews. Then, in 1071, the Seljuk Turks crushed the Byzantines in the pivotal battle of Manzikert and, in effect, conquered a major chunk of Byzantine Anatolia presaging the way for the eventual capture of Constantinople centuries later.
…. However one interprets these wars—as offensive or defensive, just or unjust—it is evident that they were not based on the example of Jesus, who exhorted his followers to "love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you." Indeed, it took centuries of theological debate, from Augustine to Aquinas, to rationalize defensive war—articulated as "just war”. Thus, it would seem that if anyone, it is the Crusaders—not the jihadists—who have been less than faithful to their scriptures (from a literal standpoint); or put conversely, it is the jihadists—not the Crusaders—who have faithfully fulfilled their scriptures (also from a literal stand point). Moreover, like the violent accounts of the Old Testament, the Crusades are historic in nature and not manifestations of any deeper scriptural truths…