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For decades, critics of Islam have drawn on the fact the Quran supposedly tells its readers to "kill the infidels" in order to support their anti-Islam propaganda. However, anybody who is truly familiar with the Quran and its contents knows that this is not intended to incite Muslims to violence against non-Muslims. Contrary to the belief of most anti-Islamic writers, Islam holds no ill-will towards other religions. In fact, the Quran actively encourages its followers to live in peace with those of other faiths. Similarly, the Hadith - a collection of sayings attributed to the prophet Muhammad - calls for love and understanding towards other religions. In this article, we're going to be taking a closer look at what the Quran and the Hadith have to say about other religions, quoting directly from the sources in order to disprove the myth that Muslims harbor resentment towards those who do not share their beliefs. Let's get started!
In the past, we have looked at the claim that the Quran calls for Muslims to murder all non-believers in great detail. However, we would be remiss if we did not touch upon it briefly in this article. Let's begin by taking a look at the verse itself. Found in Surah At-Tawbah, the controversial verse reads as follows:
"And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the infidels wherever you find them and capture them and beside them and sit in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they should repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, let them on their way. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful."
Looked at without any background, the above text is certainly pretty damning. Clear as day, it tells Muslims to "kill the infidels wherever you find them". Except it doesn't. Let us explain. The use of the word "infidels" in the above Quranic extract is the result of a mistranslation. When read in its original Arabic, the word mistakenly translated as "infidels" is actually closer to "non-believers" or "polytheists". Now, we will concede that telling your followers to kill the non-believers or the polytheists isn't much better than telling your followers to kill the infidels. However, it is important to remember that the Quran was revealed to Muhammad during a time of great tribulation. As well as containing countless timeless truths, the Quran also features numerous messages geared directly towards the first Muslims, who were subjected to mockery and torture by enemies of Muhammad. "Non-believers" and "polytheists" were words used as blanket terms to describe the persecutors of the Muslims. Rather than denoting whether or not a person accepted the message of the Quran, they were used to describe how a person reacted to those who did. If somebody made it difficult for the followers of Muhammad to exercise their religious freedom, they were dubbed a non-believer or a polytheist.
The aggression of the non-believers was so strong during Islam's formative days that the Muslims were forced to flee Mecca and take up refuge in Medina. Quran, 9:5 was revealed to Muhammad after he had successfully lead a Muslim takeover of Mecca several years after the exile of his followers. When searching for answers as to how he should treat the polytheists who had driven him out of Mecca in the first place, Muhammad received revelation that he should give them the option of converting to Islam or leaving Mecca forever. As merciful as this decree was, Allah also exhibited great wisdom. He warned Muhammad that any polytheist who left Mecca and returned later would not be returning to embrace the message of the Quran. Rather, they would come seeking retribution. Allah gave Muhammad and his followers permission to defend themselves in such a situation by killing the non-believers wherever they found them throughout Mecca.
Contemporary Islamic scholars generally agree that Quran, 9:5 refers specifically to the obstacles faced by Muslims at the time of its revelation. It does not mean Muslims can take up arms against non-believers today, nor does it aim to paint those who do not subscribe to the message of the Quran as enemies of Islam.
One of the most common criticisms of the Quran is its apparent anti-semitism. It is a heavy accusation to throw around and those who do so tend to cite passages of the Quran which criticize Jews to support their argument. While it is true that there are verses in the Quran which criticize Jews, it is important to remember that there is a major difference between criticizing a group of people and condemning that group of people. The passages of the Quran which are critical of the Jewish people chastise them for their shortcomings in the past, such as their failure to keep the covenants or their return to idol worship during the absence of Moses. Similar criticisms appear in the Hebrew Bible as well and serve to remind the Jews of the shortcomings of their ancestors. At no point in the Quran or the Hadith is it suggested that Jews or Judaism are inherently inferior. To the contrary, both books affirm Jewish traditions and remind us that Muslims and Jews both trace their beliefs back to Abraham, the father of monotheism. Both books also recognize the right of believing Jews to enter Paradise, just as they recognize the same right of Muslims. In Surah Al-Baqarah, for example, we are told in no uncertain terms:
"Indeed, those who believed and those who were Jews or Christians or Sabeans [before Prophet Muhammad] - those [among them] who believed in Allah and the Last Day and did righteousness - will have their reward with their Lord, and no fear will there be concerning them, nor will they grieve."
In the following verse, the Quran praises the Torah as a work of divine scripture, affirming Jewish beliefs in the process. It reads as follows:
"And [recall] when We took your covenant, [O Children of Israel, to abide by the Torah] and We raised over you the mount, [saying], "Take what We have given you with determination and remember what is in it that perhaps you may become righteous."
Muhammad's own attitude towards the Jews have often been called into question. Now, any argument suggesting anti-Semitism on the part of Muhammad could be derailed by simply pointing out how absurd it is to suggest a prophet of Allah harbored and maintained anti-Semitic views even when being told directly from Allah that the Jews are as legitimate as the Muslims. For the sake of this article, however, let us also remind those who might suggest Muhammad held some sort of disdain for the Jews that the Prophet himself was actually married to a Jewish woman.
The woman in question, Safiyya bint Huyayy, was the daughter of a Jewish tribal leader by the name of Huyayy ibn Akhtab. In the early days of her marriage to Muhammad, many of the Prophet's followers were unsure how they should treat her. Some were of the belief that she should be treated as a slave girl rather than as the wife of their leader, owing to her Jewish origins. There were even those who doubted her loyalty to Muhammad, suggesting she was simply trying to gain inside information on the Muslims in preparation for an attack to avenge a Jewish tribe which had been at war with Muhammad. Muhammad rejected the idea that Safiyya should be viewed as anything other than his wife. He declared that his followers should view her as the Mother of Believers, a title held by each of his wives. He similarly rejected the idea that Safiyya was simply trying to gain dirt on him. He believed her to be a loyal wife and a true believer in the message of the Quran. Were he incorrect, one can assume he would have been warned by Allah. There is nothing in the Quran to suggest such a warning was ever given.
Despite the fact she converted to Islam shortly after her marriage to Muhammad - and despite his constant demands that she should be treated with respect - Safiyya was regularly mocked by the Prophet's other wives. While there is evidence to suggest Muhammad's other wives felt threatened by Safiyya's beauty, their focus in their bullying was her Jewish heritage. She was subjected to cruel taunts for the religious beliefs of her ancestors. Much as he defended her in the face of criticism from his followers, Muhammad defended Safiyya in the face of criticism from his wives. In one particularly well-known story, we are told that Safiyya came to Muhammad in a state of distress. She told him that she had once again been subjected to taunts by his other wives owing to her Jewish heritage. Displaying the wisdom which had made him so famous even before his prophethood, Muhammad instructed his wife to respond to any similar events in the future with the words: "Aaron is my father, Moses is my uncle, and Muhammad is my husband!"
This advice given to Safiyaa by Muhammad is important as it places her on equal ground with the rest of Muhammad's wives, who at their weakest moments considered themselves superior to her. It also has significant value to us in the modern world. Of course, none of our readers can claim that Muhammad is their husband - or, at least, not the prophet Muhammad - but we can all claim to be descendants of Aaron and Moses. As such, Muslims and Jews share a common ancestry and must be mindful of this when interacting with each other.
Christianity and Islam are the two biggest religions in the world at the moment, with both teetering around the 2 billion followers mark. Christianity boasts the larger following of the two, but Islam is projected to become the largest religion in the world by the end of the century. Because of this, a lot of people hold the belief that Islam and Christianity are natural enemies. This is spurred on by the fact Islam steadfastly denies Jesus as the Son of God, with multiple passages in the Quran criticizing those who worship him as such. As we discussed previously, however, criticizing a set of beliefs and condemning an entire group of people are two very different things. Although the Quran does warn against worshiping Jesus as the Son of God, it has largely favorable things to say about those who do so. One of the most noteworthy examples of this occurs in Surah Al-Ma'idah, which includes the following verse:
"You will surely find the most intense of the people in animosity toward the believers [to be] the Jews and those who associate others with Allah ; and you will find the nearest of them in affection to the believers those who say, "We are Christians." That is because among them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant."
Before we delve into the main point of the above Quran extract, let's take a moment to discuss its reference to the Jews. We just spent a couple of hundred words citing examples of Islam's love for Judaism and its adherents. Surely, you might be thinking, Quran, 5:82's labeling of the Jews as aggressors is evidence to the contrary? This is not the case.
In the early days of Islam, Muhammad experienced a great deal of aggression from Jews in much the same way Jesus did. This is owing to how dedicated the Jewish people of these periods were to their traditions. Jewish leaders generally interpreted alien beliefs as a challenge to their authority and sought to destroy those who held them. The above verse warns Muhammad and his followers against angering Jewish authorities, reminding them to be mindful of the intense hatred they faced. But just as ISIS is not a representation of Muslims, the Jews referred to in Quran, 5:82 were not a representation of all of the Jewish people. They were a small number of aggressors concerned with preserving their own power and any suspicions Muhammad had towards them should not translate into suspicions towards Judaism today.
As for Christians, Quran, 5:82 praises them for the kindness and love they were showing towards Muslims at the time of its revelation. In some ways, this could be seen as being in stark contrast to many modern-day Christian churches, which propagate the belief that Muslims are attempting to wipe out Christianity and bring Sharia law to the West. The above verse goes on to praise Christianity for the humility of its priests and monks. This brings to mind a famous story within Islam concerning an encounter Muhammad had with a hermit monk during his early years as a caravan trader. The monk predicted the then-juvenile Muhammad would go on to become a prophet of God. This event both increased the young Muhammad's thirst for spiritual fulfillment while also cementing the Christians as his friends and supporters.
Quran, 5:82 is one of many Quranic verses to praise Christians. Another notable example can be found in Surah As-Saf. It reads:
"O you who believe! Be helpers of God—as Jesus the son of Mary said to the Disciples, 'Who will be my helpers in (the work of) God?' Said the disciples, 'We are God's helpers!' Then a portion of the Children of Israel believed, and a portion disbelieved. But We gave power to those who believed, against their enemies, and they became the ones that prevailed."
Throughout his prophethood, Muhammad went to great lengths to ensure cordial relations between his own followers and the Christians. On some occasions, this went beyond merely maintaining a civil relationship and became a matter of friendship, loyalty, and respect. Take, for example, Muhammad's promise to the monks of St. Catherine's Monastery.
Located at the foot of Mount Sinai, St. Catherine's Monastery is the oldest monastery in the world. Its immense library is home to the second-largest collection of Christian manuscripts in the world, with only the Vatican Library besting it. Similarly, it is home to countless priceless Christian artifacts and has been since it was first established all the way back in 548. For this reason, the 7th-century monks who inhabited the monastery were concerned for the safety of themselves and the building when the unstable political and social climate of the time threatened their way of life. In the year 628, the monks of St. Catherine's Monastery were so fearful for their relics that they decided to seek earthly security rather than relying on the power of God alone. And so they wrote to Muhammad and requested the protection of the Muslims. By this point, Muhammad was deep into his prophethood and his following was growing larger by the day. If anybody was in a position to protect St. Catherine's from Jewish forces, idolatars, and even misguided Muslims, it was Muhammad. Recognizing the bond between Christians and Muslims, Muhammad agreed to protect the monks of St. Catherine's Monastery from their aggressors. A letter - today known as the Ashtiname of Muhammad - was sent in response to the monks' request and was written by Ali and issued by Muhammad. Although it is much too long for us to quote include in its entirety, some key portions of the letter read as follows:
"This letter contains the oath given unto them [the monks of St. Catherine's Monastery], and he who disobeys that which is therein will be considered a disbeliever and a transgressor to that whereunto he is commanded. He will be regarded as one who has corrupted the oath of God, disbelieved His Testament, rejected His Authority, despised His Religion, and made himself deserving of His Curse, whether he is a Sultan or any other believer of Islam. Whenever Christian monks, devotees and pilgrims gather together, whether in a mountain or valley, or den, or frequented place, or plain, or church, or in houses of worship, verily we are [at the] back of them and shall protect them, and their properties and their morals, by Myself, by My Friends and by My Assistants, for they are of My Subjects and under My Protection.
I shall exempt them from that which may disturb them; of the burdens which are paid by others as an oath of allegiance. They must not give anything of their income but that which pleases them—they must not be offended, or disturbed, or coerced or compelled. Their judges should not be changed or prevented from accomplishing their offices, nor the monks disturbed in exercising their religious order, or the people of seclusion be stopped from dwelling in their cells.
No one is allowed to plunder these Christians, or destroy or spoil any of their churches, or houses of worship, or take any of the things contained within these houses and bring it to the houses of Islam. And he who takes away anything therefrom, will be one who has corrupted the oath of God, and, in truth, disobeyed His Messenger."
-Ashtiname of Muhammad
A later portion of the letter forbids Muslim men from forcing Christian women into marriage. Although it does permit Muslim men to marry Christian women, it states clearly that the women must consent to the wedding. It goes on to say that a Christian woman married to a Muslim man must be allowed to practice her religion and pray in Christian churches and is under no obligation to convert to Islam if she does not wish to do so. The inclusion of such decrees in the Ashtiname of Muhammad may have caught the monks of St. Catherine's Monastery off guard as they were simply looking for protection for their building and its contents. However, it speaks volumes about Muhammad's dedication to preserving Christianity even as his own religion gained a mammoth following. He did not wish to see any Christian treated poorly - monk or otherwise - and made sure his followers were aware of this fact.
Muhammad's promise to protect St. Catherine's Monastery, its monks, and the Christians in the area remained intact throughout his life and even after his death. It provided the foundation for what would become a long and fruitful relationship between the Muslims and the Christian monks. It is even said that Muhammad took to visiting the Monastery to break bread with its inhabitants and engage in respectful theological discourse. To this day, numerous certified copies of the Ashtiname of Muhammad remain in St. Catherine's Monastery. The letter itself is regularly referenced by Muslim leaders in order to remind Muslims the world over of their obligation to respect and defend Christians, just as they must respect and defend the followers of any other religion from threat to their religious freedom. In 2019, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan even quoted from the letter when speaking at the World Government Summit.
More than any other religion, Islam puts a great deal of emphasis on the importance of religious freedom. This is largely owing to the immense persecution Muhammad and his followers faced in the early days of Islam. The Quran and the Hadith are both filled with reminders that Muslims should not seek to rectify the persecution they faced once by persecuting people of other religions. Quran, 18:29, for example, declares that a person should not be forced to accept the message of Islam:
"And say, "The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills - let him believe; and whoever wills - let him disbelieve." Indeed, We have prepared for the wrongdoers a fire whose walls will surround them. And if they call for relief, they will be relieved with water like murky oil, which scalds [their] faces. Wretched is the drink, and evil is the resting place."
The idea that one is free to either accept or reject the message of the Quran is repeated throughout the book. Passages which echo the statements of Quran, 18:29 include:
"Indeed, We guided him to the way, be he grateful or be he ungrateful."
"There has come to you enlightenment from your Lord. So whoever will see does so for [the benefit of] his soul, and whoever is blind [does harm] against it. And [say], "I am not a guardian over you."
"Say (to people): Obey Allah and obey the Messenger. But if you turn away, he is responsible for the duty imposed on him, and you are responsible for the duty imposed on you. And if you obey him, you go aright. And the Messenger's duty is only to deliver (the message) plainly."
For the early Muslims, every day was a battle against those who did not share their beliefs. They were mocked, attacked, and even put to death for following the prophet Muhammad and the message of the Quran. Because so much of what had been revealed of the Quran discouraged violence and preached a message of love, these first believers were understandably reluctant to retaliate against their aggressors, even in self-defense. For this reason, it was necessary for Allah to permit Muslims to defend themselves via the only source they would listen to; the Quran. These passages condoning violence when necessary remain in the Quran today, but should not be viewed as a commandment to attack those who do not prescribe to Islamic beliefs. Today, they should be viewed as a reminder of the hardships the earliest Muslims endured as a consequence of their dedication to Allah. Additionally, they should keep Muslims mindful of how horrible it can be to be prohibited from practicing your religious beliefs so they don't force a similar faith on another group of people.