Ramadan is upon us -- a time of fasting, charity, prayer ... and fighting off Islamophobia.
Norweigian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik killed 76 innocent people in a demented campaign to destroy Islam. Comedian Bill Maher recently called the Quran a "hate-filled holy book." Evangelical atheist Sam Harris insists, "on almost every page the Quran instructs observant Muslims to despise non-believers." And Peter King continues his anti-Muslim campaign to become the 21st century Senator McCarthy.
And in case I missed these public events, my readers remind me with private emails.
"The Quran contains much anti-Jewish language," explained Leonard. "The true lovers of the Quran show their kindness by butchering non-Muslims," added Angel. A tenured preacher in Richmond, Virginia (who asked to remain anonymous) wrote to me admitting, "I don't know much about the Muslim doctrine, but your holy book certainly does not teach peace or pluralism." For someone who admittedly 'didn't know much' about Islam, he banked pretty confidently in his conclusion.
So here's the $1 million question: Do critics actually read the Quran?
Well, I couldn't find any reports indicating Bill Maher has actually ever read the Quran. That's not to say that he hasn't. Though, even during his recent interview of Congressman Keith Ellison, Maher largely quoted what Sam Harris told him to believe about the Quran, but never actually mentioned he read it himself. And Sam Harris, well he had to have actually read it. How else could he so effectively pick and choose parts of verses to successfully develop his argument? It's not like he's making money off it ... oh, right. Does Peter King actually know any Muslims? As for Breivik, he and bin Laden now share two characteristics -- mass murdering and Koranic illiteracy.
But stay with me, I promise to address the criticism and not just criticize the critics. First things first, critics aside, why should non-Muslims in general even care to read the Quran?
Well, consider our American leaders as an example. On the surface, Thomas Jefferson, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama might seem vastly different in policy. But, these presidents have each read the Quran. Jefferson, a Founding Father, valued his personal Quran. Bush, a conservative Republican, called the Quran "a very thoughtful gift." Obama, a Democrat who is not a Muslim, studied the Quran, even as a child. Jefferson, Bush, Obama -- why not follow their example?
But the problem runs deeper. Pew reports the American Muslim approval rating is well below 50 percent. Pew also reports that less than half of Americans surveyed even know a Muslim personally. And, at least 17 states have proposed legislation to ban Sharia Law, i.e. the law of the Quran. For as much as we don't know about the Quran, one-third of our nation's states are banking it doesn't promote peace and pluralism ... sound familiar?
In a time of soaring unemployment, international strife, and plummeting public education, and a debt-ceiling crisis from ... a very hot place, one out of every three states is spending tax dollars on what basically amounts to a Quran ban. I wonder, then, how many have bothered to read the Quran to learn about Islam firsthand? The optimist in me believes this is due to a lack of access, not promotion of malice. But the realist in me asks, ever heard of Google? In fact, here's a free pdf copy. (With English translation of course)
And if nothing else, long live the Golden Rule. Muslims read the Bible and the Torah and Islam proudly testifies that previous scriptures contain truth. (I personally own -- and study -- a copy of each). Let us do unto Muslims ...
But unfortunately, all we hear from the critics is that the Quran is a "hate-filled holy book" and that "Muslims are dangerous" and verse excerpts like this: "And kill them wherever you meet them ..." (2:192). While critics scoff at the "you're taking it out of context" argument, any judge in any court in any country in any era will explain the uncompromising importance of context when interpreting laws. And that is one thing the Quran is -- a book of laws.
The verse previous to 2:192 states: "And fight in the cause of God against those who fight against you, but do not transgress," specifying that fighting is defensive, not preemptive. The rest of 2:192 adds: "and drive them out from where they have driven you out; for persecution is worse than killing," explaining the right to reclaim rightful property. While the aforementioned verses permit Muslims to fight defensively, the subsequent verses (2:193-94) demand Muslims desist fighting immediately when their opponents desist, "But if they desist, then remember that no hostility is allowed except against the aggressors."
This principle is re-iterated throughout the Quran. In fact, 22:40 establishes the rules of war, "Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged." Then, 22:41 commands Muslims to protect all houses of worship -- cloisters, churches, synagogues, and mosques -- to secure universal religious freedom. Such intolerable hatred, no?
This Ramadan, look at the first word of the Quran ever revealed, iqra. (96:2) Iqra, which also means -- you guessed it -- read, and go from there. Each of the verses critics cite as [insert negative attribute here] has a clear and logical explanation, surely understood, but only once we actually iqra the Quran.
And that, you can bank on.
This article originally appeared here in the Washington Post on August 8th, 2011.