Critics of Muslims, Quran showing their ignorance


A debate has recently erupted at the University of

North Carolina over the requirement that incoming

freshmen read a book about the Quran, the book that

Muslims believe to be the revealed word of God. Like

most issues of the day, the television talking heads

have monopolized the discourse -- if that is what you

want to call self-declared experts on everything

screaming at one another.

Of particular interest were the observations of the

biggest head of them all, Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly

allowed as how students should not be required to read

or to learn about the Quran because "these people are

our enemies." 

Comments such as O'Reilly's reflect not only an

intolerance that is reprehensible, but they also

betray considerable ignorance regarding the Muslim

faith and Islam. I am not Muslim; I don't even think I

could be called religious, but that is no excuse for

ignorance or bigotry regarding one of the most widely

practiced faiths in the world.

Before classifying Muslims as enemies because of their

faith, O'Reilly and others who share his views should

read the Quran, or at least read an analysis of the

book. Most Americans probably would be stunned to see

that the Quran advises Muslims to "be courteous when

you argue with People of the Book [Christians and

Jews], except with those who do evil. Say 'We believe

in that which is revealed to us and that which is

revealed to you.' Our God and your God is one." (Quran


This and other language from the Quran reveals that

freedom of thought and conscience are, among rational

thinking Muslims, highly regarded Islamic values.

Although Islam is often depicted in Western thought

and popular culture as "a religion of the sword," the

Quran condemns war and violence. The Quran instructs

the followers of Islam to take up arms only to defend

themselves, but not to initiate hostilities: "Fight

for the sake of Allah those that fight against you,

but do not attack them first. Allah does not love the

aggressors." (Quran 2:191)

Mohammed observed these tenets in leading his people.

In 622 AD, the Muslims led by Mohammed left Mecca and

settled in Medina. In spite of the tradition of that

time of religious intolerance, there was no attempt on

the part of the Muslims to convert others because to

do so would intrude upon the freedom of thought and

conscience that was so highly prized in Islam.

No doubt many readers will find it impossible to

reconcile these teachings with the savagery we have

witnessed in the name of Islam. True enough, but such

savagery is hardly unique to Islamic fundamentalists.

Indeed, Jews have, and still do, make war in the name

of God. Likewise, Christians have, and still do, make

war in the name of God. 

Soon after his death, Mohammed's successors began to

spread Islam through conquest in manner that was

inconsistent with Islamic teaching. But holy wars are

hardly an Islamic innovation. Holy wars have been

vogue since Joshua led the Israelites. Nor is

brutality an Islamic invention. In Joshuan times, when

a town or settlement was conquered, each and every

man, woman, child and even animal was exterminated,

and all structures were reduced to rubble. 

Christian society expressed its religious fanaticism

through holy war in the time of the Crusades. From

1096 through 1291, Christian armies, heeding the call

of popes and prophets, marched off to slaughter and to

be slaughtered in wars that killed millions. All of

this, of course, was done in the name of God. The fact

that crusaders justified their brutality by reference

to the Bible does not make the Bible evil or wrong,

just as the crimes against humanity perpetrated by

Islamic fundamentalists do not make the Quran evil or


As with every religious group, Islam has fanatics. And

like most other religious groups, the madmen attract

the most attention. 

Today, radical Muslims have perverted the teachings of

the Quran to serve and support their own twisted view

of the world. But that does not make the Muslim world

our enemies. The radical factions of Muslim society no

more define modern Islam than Timothy McVeigh defines

Christian values. 

If we are to avoid the suffering and inhumanity that

intolerance breeds, we need to be more careful and

thoughtful in who we declare to be our enemies. Being

a Muslim does not make you a terrorist or an enemy any

more than being a Christian makes you a good person or

an ally.


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