This blog was sparked by a graphic that has been circulating on Facebook, asking the simple question—is coexistence possible with Islam. . .or is it a religion bent on world domination?
I read the Qur’an a number of years ago trying to establish some form of context for what I was being told about it in the days following 9/11. Taking a simple read of the translation since I don’t read Arabic–yet, combined with the notes and commentary of Abdullah Yusuf Ali, what I found was a book that could be taken to provide easy justification for war and conquest, despite some of what I had previously read having been taken out of context.
One such verse can be found in the fifth sura, often quoted without context, yet changing little when context is provided:
“On that account we ordained for the children of Israel that if any one slew a person–unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land–it would be as if he slew a whole people: and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them our Apostles with clear signs, yet, even after the many of them continued to commit excesses in the land. The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His apostle, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land, is: execution or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land. That is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the hereafter; except for those who repent before they fall into your power: in that case, know that Allah is oft-forgiving, most merciful.”
Nowhere is the conflation of religion and state found more clearly than in A. Yusuf Ali’s notes on this passage, speaking of the double crime of treason against the state and God–and the references to “spreading mischief” have frequently been interpreted to preclude freedom of conscience in Islamist countries.
Certainly the example of the Prophet himself was one of militancy, who is quoted in the hadiths of Sahih al-Bukhari as saying:
“I have been commanded to fight the people until they testify that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and establish the prayer, and pay the zakat. If they do that, their lives and property are protected from me except for the right of Islam, and their reckoning is up to Allah”, a saying which was expanded upon later by Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, the companion of the Prophet, who added, “By Allah! I will fight whoever differentiates between prayers and Zakat as Zakat is the right to be taken from property (according to Allah’s Orders). By Allah! If they refused to pay me even a kid they used to pay to Allah’s Apostle, I would fight with them for withholding it.”
Casting about for an interpretation to the above hadith, I find a number of websites who seem to attempt to tell me that I’m not reading what I think I’m reading (and I know many Muslims who would not believe that this was their commandment) but over the last millennium, the dominant interpretation of the Prophet’s words has been clear, whether you turn to Abu Bakr or Salah ah-Din, who proclaimed shortly before his death that, “I shall cross this sea to their islands to pursue them until there remains no one on the face of the earth who does not acknowledge Allah.”
This consistent interpretation was echoed in more recent years in statements by both the Shiite Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the Sunni/Wahhabi Usama bin Laden.
There are, of course, sects of Islam which would disagree with this–last I checked the Sufi had never made any attempts at local, let alone world, domination. Unfortunately, the fact that Sufism has been persecuted almost since its founding by its “co-religionists”, with a couple hundred Sufis having been killed as apostates in Pakistan alone during the last eight years does not give me a great deal of hope for their interpretation of Islam becoming the dominant one.
As I walk through this life, do I find individual Muslims who desire nothing more than peace? Yes, many. Do I find those who desire peace–yet are willing to fight in the name of individual liberty and freedom of conscience against an Islamic state? Yes. . .but far fewer–and I am honored to call such people my friends, however much I may disagree with the roots of their faith or the example of their Prophet.
As to whether coexistence is possible? That will be a question for Muslims to decide.