Karen Armstrong and Philip Jenkins, among others, have argued that there’s far more violence in the Bible than in the Koran. Jenkins refers to the Old Testament’s ethnic cleansing, institutionalization of segregation, and hate and fear of other races and religions. F&C review some of these themes they’ve already covered: In terms of ethnic cleansing, what we find in the OT instead is “moral cleansing,” and long-awaited judgment on a wicked people whose time had finally come. And God warns the Israelites will experience the same judgment if they commit the same sins. The OT represents a God whose salvation is intended to affect all the peoples of the world. In terms of segregation, Israel was to be distinct morally and spiritually, but they were repeatedly commanded to care for the alien and sojourner in their midst since they too had been aliens in the land of Egypt. In terms of other races and religions, the charge of hating and fearing other races is clearly false, though the Bible is opposed to idolatry, and God brings judgment on ancient Israel for engaging in idolatry and breaking covenant with him after promising to love, cling to, and obey him.
Biblical and Koranic Texts
We see many Koranic references to warfare, and this warfare is not simply defensive but offensive as well. F&C give copious examples; here’s just one: “And those who are slain in the way of God, He will not send their works astray…. And He will admit them to Paradise, that He has made known to them” (47:4, 6).
Clear differences obtain between the Bible and Koran. First, military events captured in a biblical canon are merely descriptive of a unique part of the unfolding of salvation history. Second, whereas the biblical texts offer descriptions of unique history, the Koranic texts by contrast appear to be issuing enduring commands. Islam has exhibited a militaristic aggressiveness from the beginning, and this aggressiveness has been fed by Koranic texts that many Muslims throughout history have taken as normative or binding, enduring throughout history, and worldwide in applicability. Third, the distinctions between divinely commanded wars in the OT and Islamic jihad are much more pronounced than their similarities.
In addition to being unique and unrepeatable events within scripture itself, these wars are restricted to a relatively small portion of land, and accompanied by widely witnessed miracles. By contrast, the “revelations” to Muhammad were private and not publicly available for scrutiny or reinforced by dramatic signs and wonders. What’s more, Israel was an instrument of divine judgment on wicked people, unlike Muhammad, who attacked and overtook even those who were “People of the Book” (Jews and Christians)—part of the global reach to which Muhammed and his followers aspired.
Consider now Muhammed himself, the supreme human example for Muslims to follow. His goal was “to fight all men until they say, ‘There is no God but Allah.’” He died in AD 632 with his own plans for attacking neighboring nations unfulfilled. In his career, he fought in an estimated eighty-six military campaigns. The first authoritative biography of him covers his battles in 75 percent of its 813 pages, and includes depictions of assassination, rape, and cruelty that met with Muhammed’s approval. In one instance he said, “Kill any Jew that falls into your power.” A number of instances recount his approval of violence. According to the Koran and the traditions about Muhammed (Hadith), he permitted his soldiers to have sex not only with their wives, but also with female captives and female slaves.
The Early History of Islam and Its Ongoing Encounters with the Non-Muslim World
Although the Koran affirms that there should be no compulsion in religion, this verse is contradicted by other passages within the Koran. It’s also contradicted by the example of Muhammed himself. In terms of the word “jihad,” the Koran has a place for an “internal” sense of spiritual struggling or exerting within oneself for Allah, which is called the “greater jihad,” but the Koran also clearly indicates military struggle and connects jihad to physical fighting (the “lesser jihad”). As David Cook indicates in his book Understanding Jihad, there is little support in the Koran and Hadith for the notion of jihad as internal struggle.
Not only did early Islamic history continue the militaristic spirit of its founder; Islam’s history reveals an oppressive stance toward non-Muslims under Islamic rule. F&C adduce several examples.
The claim that the Bible’s warfare texts are “just like” the Koran’s is incorrect. The Hebrew scriptures portray unique, unrepeatable events of Israelite warfare—unlike the ongoing and normative aspect of jihad in the Koran and under the leadership of Muhammed. Unlike the biblical text that stresses God’s judgment against specific people, the Koran and Muhammed placed no such limitations on jihad, as the opponents of Islam are non-Muslims remaining in the “abode of war” rather than the “abode of Islam.” And while the scriptures emphasize a limited geographical area of military engagement, the Koran and Muhammed placed no such limit.
Another point of contrast is the nature of God in the Koran and the Bible. The Koran portrayed a deity who loves only those who love him. Those who reject Islam are “the worst of creatures.” Here God’s love is conditional, depending on the response of human beings. The love of the biblical God is unconditional. He does not merely love those who love him. Rather, God loves all people and even his enemies (cf. Matt. 5:444-48; John 3:16; Rom. 5:6-10; 1 John 2:2). He seeks to make salvation available to all, including the very enemies of his people Israel (e.g., Gen. 12:1-13; Ps. 87:4-6; Isa. 19:23-25; Zech. 9:70).
The contrast between Yahweh war in the OT and Islamic jihad becomes clear when considered are issues of geography, historical length/limit, objects of warfare, objects of God’s love, the standard of morality (God’s loving nature versus Allah’s sheer will that commands indiscriminately), signs and wonders, and the normativity of war.
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