Out of Context

One of the things that happens after a terrorist bombing committed by those who claim to be Muslim is that Islamophobes start quoting the Qur’an out of context saying that Islam is a violent religion dedicated to taking over the world and enslaving everyone else (yes, it is the Protocols of the Elders of Zion revisited).

I’m waiting for the day when some Islamophobe says the proof that Islam is Judeophobic is that Muslims revere a prophet named Isa who entered a synagogue and flipped over tables and drove people out claiming that they were practicing a false religion. It is in fact an event recorded in the Injil in John 2:13-16, Matthew 21:12-13, and Mark 11:15-17. For those of you still unsure, Isa is the Arabic name for Jesus and Injil is the name of the Gospels.

I digress. In the spirit of acontextual citation, below are some verses from the Qur’an about people of other faiths. Translations are pulled from several sources, mixed in with my own work. When I quote directly, I will give the reference.

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Be prayerful. Give charity. Pray with [all] others who pray to God.

Do you encourage others to do good and not do so yourself? You too have read the scriptures, so why do you not understand?


Remember, O Children of Israel, the favours I bestowed on you, and made you exalted among the nations of the world.

“Al-Qur’an” (Ahmed Ali)


Truly, those who have faith (in this Qur’an), as well as those who follow the Jewish (faith), and the Christians and the Sabians – all who believe in God and the Last Day, and do righteous deeds, shall have their reward with their Sustainer; they have no fear, neither shall they grieve.

“Soul of the Qur’an: Inspiring Prayers to Kindle Heart and Mind” (Saniyasnain Khan)


We have sent revelation to you [Muhammad] as We sent

revelations to Noah and the prophets

(who came) after him;

and We sent revelations to Abraham

and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob, and their offspring,

and to Jesus and Job,

and to Jonah and Aaron and Solomon,

and to David we gave the Book of Psalms,

And to many an apostle We have mentioned before [eg. John, Joseph],

and to many other apostles We have not mentioned to you;

and to Moses God spoke directly.

“Al-Qur’an” (Ahmed Ali)


All praise be to God who bestowed on me Ishmael AND Isaac in old age. Verily my Lord listens to prayer.

(Abraham’s prayer, emphasis mine)

“Al-Qur’an” (Ahmed Ali)


Commemorate Moses in the Book.

He was a chosen one,

both an apostle and a prophet.

“Al-Qur’an” (Ahmed Ali)


These are the ones blessed by God:

The prophets of the progeny of Adam,

Those in the ark with Noah,

The children of Abraham and Israel,

Those whom We guided and whom We chose,

for they fell weeping in adoration

when the revelation of The Merciful

was recited to them.

16 thoughts on “Out of Context

  1. Look, I’m a Muslim, and I think it is self-evident that Islam is not a religion of violence, or that Muslims are a violent people. I wouldn’t be a Muslim otherwise. But let’s cut the BS that the peculiar theology of al-Qaeda (and the people inspired by them) has no textual or intepretative basis in the Qur’an and Sunna. It does, even if we describe the basis as “out of context” or perverse, both true. Heretical, yes. Sui generis, no.
    In fact, al-Qaeda’s brand of violent, puritan Islam has antecedents in repeated, heretical eruptions of intolerance in Islamic history, ie. the Khawarij, the Almohads (at least in the beginning of their movement), Abd al-Wahab, etc. The more we assert that al-Qaeda’s motivations have nothing to do with Islam, rather than presenting the theological counter-argument as you have, the more our enemies (people who assert that al-Qaeda’s theology is the essence of Islam) will pound us on the head.
    The truth is that the jihadi mission — the dream of the Khalifah — is indeed to take over the world and enslave the rest of us. They call it “God’s government”. A manifesto of this jihad is Qutb’s “Milestones,” a book as scary as you can read when you consider it from the perspective of a jihadi true believer (although Qutb himself does not develop what form God’s government would take, ie. Khalifah or something else). Indeed, a fair survey of monotheism illustrates something grotesque in people’s understanding of the meaning of One God that makes them slaughter other people who view that One God differently. Islam is not exempted from that disaster.

  2. Thanks for putting this post out there, islamoyankee. I’m reading the Koran now but don’t know it well enough to cite it; I’m glad to see these quotes supporting interreligious harmony, especially between the three Abrahamic faiths.

  3. Rachel,
    If you’re reading the Qur’an in translation, whose translation are you using?

  4. Tony, right on! Right on! I too am tired of the same old re-hash that “this is not Islam”. Islam is more than what was revealed 1400 years ago. It is what is practiced today and how it is interpreted today. There are many passages in the Qur’an that are difficult to come to grips with and require more than faith to understand, they require reason and intellect. These are in short supply these days. Saw your post on Muslim Wakeup and once again agree wholeheartedly.
    Rachel, be sure to get a proper translation of the Qur’an. There are many Saudi funded ones around that are dubious. islamoyankee can probably recommend some that are decent.

  5. Great site, really important debate. My horror at the witch-hunt is no less because it seems so inevitable since Thursday. You – we – need to get the message of this thread out there!

  6. Hi
    I would very much like to ask some questions about Islam if possible?
    Marc from emergent uk media arts.
    Please mail me if possible?

  7. I really appreciate the discussion here and think that more of these types of talks need to be out there so that the crisis in the world does not escalate but rather can lead to an opening of faith and trust in God, not in religious interpretations.

  8. Islamicate,
    If you have any recommendations as to a good translation of the Qur’an, I would appreciate it.
    I was given one translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali at our local mosque recently – we’re lucky to live in a town with a very active and welcoming group of Muslims who go out of their way to invite interested non-Muslims into the mosque to learn a little about Islam – and likewise contribute to non-Muslim groups.
    Just wondered what you made of the Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation – is it a good one, or is there better?

  9. Not in the Name of Peace – Muslims’ e-demo against misguided minority
    London, July 14th, 2005 – Following the London bombings on the 7th July 2005 and the identification of the perpetrators of the crime, attention has yet again been drawn to the role of Islam in providing both an ideological and spiritual basis to “terrorist bombings”. Sadly, yet perhaps naturally, a backlash against Muslims is being witnessed. A new website, Not in the Name of Peace, has been established to present a worldwide united Muslim front against both the terrorists and those that paint all adherents to the religion with the same brush.
    New York, Bali, Madrid, Iraq, Morocco and now London have all experienced the slaughter of innocents by the hands of a warped, politically motivated and religiously naïve minority existent within the umbrella of Islam. As a result of these actions, Muslim and non-Muslim have lost lives and loved ones, community relations have been strained and ultimately the public perception has shifted to seeing Islam as a religion of confrontation and terror.
    Exasperated with the impact of these heinous crimes, a new website seeks to demonstrate to the world and to those that sympathise with this minority of murderers that Muslims across the globe do not, shall not and will not ever support these actions.
    “We need to show these maniacs that none of us think what they are doing is right, justified or Islamically based. Islam has very clear guidelines as to what is right and what is wrong. Of course we all feel aggrieved by actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine but this does not give anyone the right to kill further innocent people” explains the site’s creator Muhammad Ridha Payne.
    The apolitical site aims to become the focus point for one large and continuous e-demonstration against the killing of innocent people in all circumstances.
    Muhammad Payne hopes that Muslims from around the world will contribute photos, comments, poems and any other means of expression to show their disgust with such actions plus show people what Islam is actually about. “The name ‘Not in the Name of Peace’ was agreed upon because we feel that ultimately as Muslims our role in this life and on this earth is to bring peace. This is done through submitting to the will of Allah (God) and the way of our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). We should be carrying out all actions in life in the name of Allah – the one who is peace and brings peace.”
    To visit the site please go to http://www.notinthenameofpeace.com – contact to the site’s organisers can only be made through email for security reasons. peace@notinthenameofpeace.com

  10. What about these passages? I’m all for efforts by Muslims to promote a moderate ideology but I think it has to be done with reference to the Koran. There has to be- as Tony said- a theological counter argument.
    Qur’an 4:74 “Let those who fight in the Cause of Allah sell the life of this world for the hereafter. To him who fights in the Cause of Allah, whether he is slain or gets victory—soon shall We give him a great reward.”
    Qur’an 8:73 “The infidels aid one another. Unless you do the same there will be anarchy in the land. Those who accepted Islam and left their homes to fight in Allah’s Cause are good Muslims.”
    Qur’an 8:12 “I shall terrorize the infidels. So wound their bodies and incapacitate them because they oppose Allah and His Apostle.”
    Qur’an 8:39 “Fight them until all opposition ends and all submit to Allah.”
    Qur’an 9:29 “Fight those who do not believe until they all surrender, paying the protective tax in submission.”
    Qur’an 5:51 “Believers, take not Jews and Christians for your friends. They are but friends and protectors to each other.”
    Qur’an 9:28 “Believers, truly the pagan disbelievers are unclean.”
    Believe me, I’m not trying to have a go or stir up trouble- I’m genuinely interested in how these passages are explained by moderate Muslims.

  11. Jay.Mac,
    So where did you get that translation of the Qur’an? Not to be nit-picky, but it’s not an unimportant point.
    Example: Muhammad Asad translates 9:28, in relevant part, as “Those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God are nothing but impure”. Asad’s tasfir explanation of the verse indicates that the Arabic “najas” occurs in the Qur’an only in this one instance, and carries an exclusively spiritual meaning. Maulana Muhammad Ali translates the same verse as “the idolators are surely unclean” and explains in his notes that the there were “unclean” because “they indulged in evil practices and went naked round the Ka’bah”. Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s take is “Truly, the Pagans are unclean” and in his notes, indicates that the verse has both a physical and metaphorical meaning. Quite different from the import of your translation, no?
    The very next line of the verse says “and so they shall not approach the Inviolable House of Worship [the Ka’bah] from this year onwards.” In English at least, the use of “they” and a temporal reference to “this year” suggests to me that the “impure” or “unclean” reference is directed to specific people at a specific time. And I haven’t even referred to the countless pages of ink over 1400 years that discuss this verse.
    Might you find Muslims who disagree with that conclusion and argue that the verse condemns all non-Muslims as “unclean” — a conclusion that I’m guessing is how you read it? Surely so, most likely including the publishers of your translation of the Qur’an.
    Qur’anic interpretation is an exceedingly painstaking undertaking, not because the original Arabic is particularly abstruse (although in many instances, it is — I am not a native Arabic speaker). The premise, after all, is that the reader is purporting to determine God’s message so due care is careful indeed.
    For example, the Qur’an includes verses that focus both on historicity and spirituality. How does that affect the application of these verses today, if at all? My own view is that traditional Qur’anic exegesis and the development of Islamic law, or fiqh, in large measure incorporate the Arab imperial — and from their perspective, civilizing — project. I’ve complained somewhere on this blog previously about the sacralization of Arab tribal history, which is what I think Salafism is (which is why I’m so unhealthily fascinated by non-Arab converts to the Salafist project — talk about negating self!).
    But I hasten to add that a similar observation can be made about Western political and theological development which is part of my cultural swimming pool. Both were developed by men (almost exclusively) who were in many ways the product of their time and civilization — as we are. In other ways, their ideas were transcendent. What does that mean for me, a reasonably secular, rational, evolution-believing, non-Arab professing Muslim? How do I extract an inclusive, pluralist understanding of the Qur’an and Hadith that builds civilization instead of destroying it? I wish I knew, but I’m working on it.

  12. Okay, so your argument boils down to- it was only suggesting that infidels are unclean at that time and place. Exactly why then is there so much fuss and, dare I say it, hysteria about the infidel American soldiers at Gitmo touching the Koran? Isn’t that because infidels are unclean? Perhaps I’m mistaken.
    Also I think you need to work on the logic of your argument- the verse says essentially- infidels are unclean and so they shall not approach the house of worship from this year onwards. Plainly, that means that infidels are unclean and so from this point on they shall not approach the house of worship. It doesn’t mean that they are unclean right now and never again, it simply means “they are unclean”. To suggest otherwise does not seem to make sense in any way. “Impure” by the way is not so different from unclean so I fail to see how this verse can be assumed to mean anything other than the translation I quoted with some very suspect mental gymnastics. Also, I find the argument that “it needs to be read in the original Arabic” to be patently absurd- if that were the case then it would be impossible to translate any Arabic into any other language and still retain its meaning. We can be confident in translations into English from any other language- so why not Arabic?
    As for your other translations- they all say the same thing- the “pagans” or “infidels” (surely to a Muslim both are the same?) are impure or unclean. Spiritually or physically both are offensive to non-Muslims and imply that they are therefore on a lesser level than Muslims.

  13. Jay.Mac,
    “Exactly why then is there so much fuss and, dare I say it, hysteria about the infidel American soldiers at Gitmo touching the Koran? Isn’t that because infidels are unclean? Perhaps I’m mistaken.”
    You are.

  14. Which bit am I mistaken about? The desecration turned out to have been commited by inmates themselves but there were incidences of US Army soldiers “mishandling” the Koran- i.e. touching it wothout first putting on gloves, or not carrying it in a “respectful” manner.
    Perhaps you’d be so good as to explian it to me? Are infidels permitted to touch the holy book? If not, why not?

  15. Jay.Mac, I’m still researching the specific passages you’ve put up, as well as putting together a post on interpretation. However, in the interim, the issue at Gitmo was the desecration of the Qur’an. Current official SOP is, in my opinion, far more respectful of the Qur’an than most Muslims are of it. However, there are instances, not of mishandling, but of desecration. After Newsweek backed off their story, other evidence emerged that lent credence to the story. (Please see these two earlier posts for additional links: https://islamicate.com/islamicate/2005/05/imperium_quran_.html | https://islamicate.com/islamicate/2005/05/its_credible.html).
    In addition, I think this Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guantánamo_Bay_Qur'an_desecration_allegations) covers the details quite well, including reports of Muslim abuses of the Qur’an.

  16. “there are instances, not of mishandling, but of desecration.”
    Okay, from Wikipedia.
    “According to the report, a soldier intentionally kicked a Qur’an; an interrogator intentionally stepped on a Qur’an; a guard’s urine came through an air vent, unintentionally splashing a detainee and his Qur’an; water balloons thrown by prison guards at one another unintentionally caused a number of Qur’ans to get wet; and a two-word obscenity was written in English on the inside cover of a Qur’an (whether US personnel were responsible for this act, however, could not be confirmed).”
    “Hood’s investigation also turned up 15 incidents in which detainees mishandled Korans between Nov. 19, 2002, and Feb. 18, 2005. Many of the cases involved detainees ripping up their own Korans, throwing the Koran or its pages out of their cells, or trying to deface a Koran belonging to another detainee. One detainee used his Koran as a pillow, one used pages from it to cover the air vent in his cell, and another ripped up his Koran and handed it to a guard, stating that he had “given up on being a Muslim.” Three of the detainee cases involved spitting or throwing urine on Korans, and in one case, on Jan. 19, 2005, a detainee allegedly “tore up his Koran and tried to flush it down the toilet,” according to the report. Four days later, a detainee ripped pages from the book and tried to flush them down the toilet as a protest, because he wanted to be moved to another part of the camp.”
    According to this there were a total of two incidents of “desecration”- kicking and standing on a Koran. Whether or not this is a valid form of rattling a prisoner in order to get them to talk is for another thread altogether. However, I believe that we’re getting away from the point of the discussion.
    I appreciate that I gave a lot of quotes and that it takes time to give a reasoned response. Perhaps we’d be better served staying focused on the issue and keeping Gitmo out of it for now.

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