There are all sorts of false accusations against the Islamic faith being circulated these days, in order to produce fear of and hatred for this religion. One of the most common accusations is that Islam teaches that Muslims have a duty to kill all ‘infidels’ – that is, unbelievers; those who do not submit to the Islamic faith. Below is the text of an e-mail which has been forwarded all over the Internet, which is an example of such accusations:
By Rick Mathes
Last month I attended my annual training session that’s required for maintaining my state prison security clearance. During the training session there was a presentation by three speakers representing the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Muslim faiths who explained their belief systems. I was particularly interested in what the Islamic Imam had to say.
The Imam gave a great presentation of the basics of Islam, complete with a video. After the presentations, time was provided for questions and answers. When it was my turn, I directed my question to the Imam and asked, “Please, correct me if I’m wrong, but I understand that most Imams and clerics of Islam have declared a holy jihad [Holy war] against the infidels of the world and, that by killing an infidel, which is a command to all Muslims, they are assured of a place in heaven. If that’s the case, can you give me the definition of an infidel?”
There was no disagreement with my statements and without hesitation he replied, “Non-believers!”
I responded, “So, let me make sure I have this straight. All followers of Allah have been commanded to kill everyone who is not of your faith so they can go to Heaven. Is that correct?”
The expression on his face changed from one of authority and command to that of a little boy who had just gotten caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He sheepishly replied, “Yes.”
I then stated, “Well, sir, I have a real problem trying to imagine Pope John Paul commanding all Catholics to kill those of your faith or Pat Robertson or Dr. Stanley ordering Protestants to do the same in order to go to Heaven!”
The Imam was speechless.
I continued, “I also have problem with being your friend when you and your brother clerics are telling your followers to kill me. Let me ask you a question! …would you rather have your Allah who tells you to kill me in order to go to Heaven or my Jesus who tells me to love you because I am going to Heaven and wants you to be with me?”
You could have heard a pin drop as the Imam hung his head in shame.
Chuck Colson once told me something that has sustained me these 20 years of prison ministry. He said to me, “Rick, remember that the truth will prevail.”
And it will!
This was forwarded to me in December of 2009 by a friend. At that time, though I was inclined to think the author probably misunderstood Islam, I didn’t really have sufficient knowledge to say for sure. Recently though I decided to do some investigation into Islam by means of the Yahoo search engine, and I quickly discovered that indeed this e-mail presents a very distorted view of Islam and Qur’anic teaching. The idea that Muslims are exhorted to kill all ‘infidels’ is so easily disproven, that I had to wonder whether the e-mail was a fake. I simply couldn’t imagine a Muslim Imam being unable to demolish the accusatory questions of Mr. Mathes. So I did a Yahoo search on Rick Mathes, to give him the benefit of the doubt, and found out the text of the e-mail is legitimate. Rick Mathes did publish that as a supposedly true account. I found, though, that Snopes checked into the story, and came up with a somewhat different account of what happened at the training session which Mr. Mathes wrote about. At the very least, the Muslim representative was not an Imam (as I had suspected), but was a prisoner who was Muslim but apparently considerably ignorant of the Qur’an and Islamic faith. There is some question about whether or not any such questions and answers as Rick Mathes relates actually took place. The Snopes article gives a very interesting recast of the text of the e-mail, in the form of a Muslim questioning a Christian minister, to make the point that it’s very easy to attack a religion when one rips verses out of their context and time frame. It’s well worth reading!
At his web site, though, [beginning about 1/3 of the way down the page] Mr. Mathes sticks by his story, maintaining everything happened just as he said it did, and that he was certainly under the impression that the Muslim man was an Imam. At his own website, he made clear that he realizes not all Muslims believe they are called to kill all infidels. But that should have been stated in the e-mail; as it stands, the clear intention of the e-mail was to give the impression that all Muslims do believe that is the command of Allah in the Qur’an, and so it would be easy to contrast the love of Jesus with the (supposed) viciousness of Allah. In other words, by failing to acknowledge in the e-mail that the supposed ‘Imam’ was ignorant of his own scriptures, he was able to build a straw man which was easy to demolish.
[Note on 11/13/2011: apparently Rick Mathes has taken down the above linked site, or at least that page on the site.}
As to the supposed ‘deafening silence’ of the good Muslims who oppose violence against unbelievers, Mr. Mathes just needs to take the ear plugs out of his ears. With one brief Yahoo search, I was able to find many Muslim sites which outspokenly oppose the violence and terrorism committed by impostors ‘in the name of’ Allah. These Muslims’ protests don’t get much attention in the mainstream media, but they are easily located. (See this site for instance).
Regardless of how accurately the e-mail presents the story, the Muslim representative was clearly not an Imam, and was just as clearly rather ignorant of the teachings of the Qur’an. To show this, I’ll refer to a few passages in the Qur’an. I am using an English interpretation of the message of the Qur’an (found here). You can refer to it to verify what I say, and see the immediate contexts. (There are also plenty of footnotes at the end of each Sura [or chapter] to help in understanding the text).
First of all, Sura (chapter) 2, verse 256 speaks clearly and unequivocally: “There shall be no coercion in matters of faith. Distinct has now become the right way from [the way of] error: hence, he who rejects the powers of evil and believes in God has indeed taken hold of a support most unfailing, which shall never give way: for God is all-hearing, all-knowing.” The ways of truth and error are clear and distinct; there is a clear choice to be made. But there must be no compulsion in that choice. In the same way, chapter 18 verse 29 says: “And say: The truth [has now come] from your Sustainer: let, then, him who wills, believe in it, and let him who wills, reject it.” The verse goes on to speak of a horrific retribution which Allah has in store for those who reject the ‘truth’; but it is clear that the retribution is in the hands of God in the Afterlife – it is not man’s right to inflict any retribution for such unbelief. Consider also chapter 10, verses 99 and 100: “[10:99] And [thus it is:] had thy Sustainer so willed, all those who live on earth would surely have attained to faith, all of them: dost thou, then, think that thou couldst compel people to believe, [10:100] notwithstanding that no human being can ever attain to faith otherwise than by God’s leave, and [that] it is He who lays the loathsome evil [of disbelief] upon those who will not use their reason?” In keeping with this, an article at The American Muslim (number 7 in a series of articles on Muhammad, peace be to him) contains this instance from Muhammad’s life: “In the Qur’anic commentaries it is written that an Ansar Companion came to the Prophet (S). Before accepting Islam, he was a polytheist. He had two sons who had become Christians. He asked: “O Messenger of Allah! What can I do to these two sons of mine that have become Christians? Do you give me permission to force them to leave their religion and become Muslims?” The Prophet (S) said: “No! There is no compulsion in religion.” [Jihad by Morteza Mutahhari, translated by Mohammad Salman Tawheedi]”
Second, chapter 2 verses 190-194 give instructions concerning those whom Muslims were allowed to fight. “[2:190] AND FIGHT in God’s cause against those who wage war against you, but do not commit aggression – for, verily, God does not love aggressors. [2:191] And slay them wherever you may come upon them, and drive them away from wherever they drove you away – for oppression is even worse than killing. And fight not against them near the Inviolable House of Worship unless they fight against you there first; but if they fight against you, slay them: such shall be the recompense of those who deny the truth. [2:192] But if they desist – behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace. [2:193] Hence, fight against them until there is no more oppression and all worship is devoted to God alone; but if they desist, then all hostility shall cease, save against those who [willfully] do wrong. [2:194] Fight during the sacred months if you are attacked: for a violation of sanctity is [subject to the law of] just retribution. Thus, if anyone commits aggression against you, attack him just as he has attacked you – but remain conscious of God, and know that God is with those who are conscious of Him.” Here, it is emphatically stated that those who submit to God (which is the meaning of the word “Islam”, by the way – submission to God) must not commit acts of aggression. They must fight only when attacked, and cease fighting when their enemies cease and leave the Muslims alone to worship the One God in peace.
Third, in chapter 4, verses 89-91, there is another statement about those whom Muslims may and may not fight: “[4:89] They would love to see you deny the truth even as they have denied it, so that you should be like them. Do not, therefore, take them for your allies until they forsake the domain of evil for the sake of God; and if they revert to [open] enmity, seize them and slay them wherever you may find them. And do not take any of them for your ally or giver of succour, [4:90] unless it be such [of them] as have ties with people to whom you yourselves are bound by a covenant, or such as come unto you because their hearts shrink from [the thought of] making war either on you or on their own folk – although, if God had willed to make them stronger than you, they would certainly have made war on you. Thus, if they let you be, and do not make war on you, and offer you peace, God does not allow you to harm them. [4:91] You will find [that there are] others who would like to be safe from you as well as safe from their own folk, [but who,] whenever they are faced anew with temptation to evil, plunge into it headlong. Hence, if they do not let you be, and do not offer you peace, and do not stay their hands, seize them and slay them whenever you come upon them: for it is against these that We have clearly empowered you [to make war].” Once again, so long as the unbelievers do not take hostile action against the Muslims, the Muslims must not take any hostile action against them. There is to be no ‘preemptive warfare’!
Fourth, in chapter 8, verses 56-61, reference is again made to warfare: “[8:56] AS FOR THOSE with whom thou hast made a covenant, and who thereupon break their covenant on every occasion, not being conscious of God – [8:57] if thou find them at war [with you], make of them a fearsome example for those who follow them, so that they might take it to heart; [8:58] or, if thou hast reason to fear treachery from people [with whom thou hast made a covenant], cast it back at them in an equitable manner: for, verily, God does not love the treacherous! [8:59] And let them not think – those who are bent on denying the truth – that they shall escape [God]: behold, they can never frustrate [His purpose]. [8:60] Hence, make ready against them whatever force and war mounts you are able to muster, so that you might deter thereby the enemies of God, who are your enemies as well, and others besides them of whom you may be unaware, [but] of whom God is aware; and whatever you may expend in God’s cause shall be repaid to you in full, and you shall not be wronged. [8:61]BUT IF THEY INCLINE TO PEACE, INCLINE THOU TO IT AS WELL, and place thy trust in God: verily, He alone is all-hearing, all-knowing!” Here, the Prophet (peace to him) spoke of unbelievers with whom the Muslims had a covenant of peace. So long as the unbelievers maintain the peace, so should the Muslims. If there is some reason to fear treachery from the unbelievers, the Muslims are told to “cast it [the covenant] back at them in an equitable manner”. This means that the unbelievers should be reminded of the terms of the covenant into which they willingly entered, and given time to reflect and repudiate the intended treachery. If the unbelievers break the covenant and actively attack the Muslims, then the Muslims themselves are no longer bound by the terms of the covenant and should fight back. If the unbelievers are inclined toward peace, the Muslims must also resume the peace. Muslims are never to break the covenant themselves, or undertake a war of aggression.
Finally, there’s a verse in chapter 9 which is popularly quoted to prove that the Qur’an requires believers to kill the unbelievers (verse 5): “And so, when the sacred months are over, slay those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God wherever you may come upon them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every conceivable place. Yet if they repent, and take to prayer, and render the purifying dues, let them go their way: for, behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.” That sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? Kill them unless they convert! For the sake of space, I won’t actually quote the entire context – I’ll just ask you to check it out to confirm what I am about to say. This verse is in a context that fits in with the preceding section in chapter 8 to which I just referred. These are unbelievers who had a covenant of peace with the believers, but who had either violated the covenant or had given reason to believe that they were intending to violate it. 4 months were given to the unbelievers to reconsider and resume the covenant. If, after the end of those 4 months they were still hostile and violent, then the Muslims were commanded to counter attack in self defense. But verse 6 makes clear that if any of the idolaters who did not wish to fight sought the protection of the Muslims, the Muslims were to grant them protection and conduct them to a place of safety (where they wouldn’t be endangered by the fighting). That way they would have further opportunity to hear the ‘truth’ of God, because perhaps they only sinned against God out of ignorance. Such noncombatants were not to be harmed, but were rather to be protected. And remember, that verse in 8:61 applies here: “BUT IF THEY INCLINE TO PEACE, INCLINE THOU TO IT AS WELL”. Concerning repenting, taking to prayer, and rendering the purifying dues: that would be the desired result of ceasing hostilities and resuming the covenant, but it is not required. The Muslims would be expected to keep in mind other parts of the Qur’anic ‘revelation’ which forbid compulsion in matters of faith.
That this is the meaning of this passage in chapter 9 is made clear in verses 12 and 13: “[9:12] But if they break their solemn pledges after having concluded a covenant, and revile your religion, then fight against these archetypes of faithlessness who, behold, have no [regard for their own] pledges, so that they might desist [from aggression]. [9:13] Would you, perchance, fail to fight against people who have broken their solemn pledges, and have done all that they could to drive the Apostle away, AND HAVE BEEN FIRST TO ATTACK YOU? Do you hold them in awe? Nay, it is God alone of whom you ought to stand in awe, if you are [truly] believers!”
Muhammad (on whom be peace) is himself an example of these teachings. For 13 years after his initial ‘revelation’ from the Angel Gabriel, he and those who followed him in Mecca were severely persecuted, tortured, and many were killed. When he and his remaining followers were finally granted a safe haven in Medina, the Meccans continued to harass them in every way possible. Finally, after 8 years in Medina, Muhammad and 10,000 followers marched to Mecca. The Meccans, realizing they were no match for the 10,000 Muslims, surrendered without a fight. The Meccan leaders, knowing very well how they would have treated the Muslims if the Muslims had surrendered to them, were in fear for their lives (knowing they deserved it after the way they had treated the Muslims all of those years). But Muhammad informed them that he would treat them as the Old Testament Joseph had treated his brothers in Egypt: he let them go in peace, without even requiring them to ‘convert’. The Meccans were so overwhelmed by this generosity that they voluntarily converted to the worship of the One God!
In later years, after the death of Muhammad, when Muslim armies defeated other towns and nations (and I haven’t yet figured out how they reconciled such aggressive warfare with the Qur’an), they proved their warfare was not religious in nature by the fact that the conquered peoples were allowed to continue their own religious practices unhindered. For quite a long time, the Muslim conquerors did not even live together with the natives in their cities. Instead, they built their own forts outside of the towns, and did not even encourage the natives to convert to Islam, much less compel them! The natives were considered to be under the protection of the Muslims, and their ‘rights’ were respected. They only had to pay a protection ‘tax’ to their new governors. Other than that, they were left alone to live just as they had lived previously.
What then can we conclude about those today who, in the name of Islam and Allah, aggressively attack ‘infidels’ and commit terrorist atrocities? They are not Muslims at all! They are impostors, false prophets, and ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’! In keeping with the concepts of Islam, Muhammad himself, his companions, and all true believers, will condemn such impostors in the presence of Allah on the Day of Judgment! THAT is how the Qur’an and true Islamic believers view such people. The condemnation of such men will be exactly the same as what Jesus (peace be upon him) is reported to have said concerning those who call him “Lord” but refused to do the things he taught: they would be condemned in the Day of Judgment. Let those who ignorantly believe that Osama bin Laden and those like him represent Islam be aware of this. Islam is very truly a religion of peace, justice, and equity. I myself am not Muslim, as I believe I have both a right and obligation to discern what is true in the Qur’an from what is false (if I choose to read it at all – and I have so chosen). But I have come to have a great deal of respect for that religion, as I see so much truth in it; and I cannot any longer sit quietly when it is misrepresented and ‘blasphemed’ – particularly when I imagine such misrepresentation is done out of ignorance.