Why the Quran Protects Against Radicalization: A Rebuttal to USA Today’s Nabeel Qureshi

This article first appeared on Patheos, here.

The dust from the bombs had barely settled in Brussels when the first anti-Islamic articles started appearing in major news outlets. In particular, Christian pundit Nabeel Qureshi was brought out on USA Today to make some rather remarkable claims about the Quran.

They were remarkable, not just for their falsehood but for their total lack of originality. As a reply, I could have just sent him this article, or this one or this one, but I felt compelled to write something with his name on it that would make him sit up and actually read.

Qureshi argues that radicalization occurs when people return to the original sources of Islam and learn of its barbaric teachings. He says, if we want to tackle radicalization, then we need to tackle the roots of terrorism in the Quran. It’s a point that has been made many times before, but does it hold water?

MI5 – the British intelligence service, certainly doesn’t think so. After studying hundreds of cases of Brits who went abroad to join ISIS, they concluded that the more religious you are, the less likely you are to join terrorist groups. Many ISIS recruits, in fact, indulge wholeheartedly in un-Islamic behavior like drug taking, prostitution and drinking alcohol.

Religious illiteracy was one of the only common threads between recruits. Otherwise, the demographic of radicalized individuals ranged widely in terms of education, socioeconomic status and family background.

This tells us that ISIS is in fact only fooling those who aren’t educated in their religion and that knowing the primary source of Islam, the Quran, is protective against radicalization.

It is however, undeniable that ISIS uses Islamic literature to support its bloodbath in Syria and Iraq. In this, Qureshi and ISIS have something in common: The arguments they both use are identical.

Both Qureshi and ISIS claim that the Prophet Muhammad was peace loving during the early part of his ministry and that as he became a political leader, it was then that the “violent” verses of the Quran emerged.

They forget that the declaration “there is no compulsion in religion” came about afterhe attained political rule, as did the teaching that fighting is only permitted against aggressors and that fighting is forbidden against those who seek peace.

Qureshi particularly focuses on chapter 9 of the Quran, claiming that this chapter lays the foundation of violent “jihadism” in the world. The chapter was revealed immediately after the Prophet of Islam had entered Mecca as a victorious conqueror and declared a general amnesty and forgiveness to all, Muslims or not,  — even individuals like Habbar, who had murdered the Prophet’s daughter, and Hind, who cannibalized the Prophet’s uncle on the battlefield.

Can you imagine ISIS forgiving so liberally?

Chapter 9 is its own best defense against allegations of both anti-Islamic pundits and ISIS terrorists alike. The Prophet Muhammad conquered Mecca because the Meccan idolaters violated the peace treaty he had held with them for two years. He had peace treaties with other tribes too — some who had also violated their pacts and some who had not.

Having conquered Mecca after they violated their treaty by mercilessly butchering Muslims for accepting Islam, chapter 9 declared that other tribes who had similarly violated their pacts by aiding and abetting the Meccans had de-facto re-established war on Muslims. Contrary to what Qureshi claims, chapter 9 is emphatic that for their part, Muslims must keep their peace treaties with such idolaters who have been true to their pacts:

“Allah is clear of the idolaters, and so is His Messenger…excepting those of the idolaters whom you have entered into a treaty and who have not failed you in any thing nor aided anyone against you. So fulfill to these the treaty you have made with them till their term. Surely, Allah loves those who are righteous.” (Quran 9: 3-4)

I would challenge Qureshi to show a passage of the Bible that is as emphatic in teaching its adherents to keep to their promises and treaties during times of war.

And that’s the key point. Muslims were at a time of war when verses relating to fighting were revealed. Yes, the early Muslims were commanded by God to fight non-Muslims. This is no secret. The reason for this is not because the latter had not accepted Islam. Were that the case, then the Quran wouldn’t advocate keeping peace treaties with idolaters, as quoted above. The reason is clearly stated alongside the first injunction to fight:

“Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged…those who have been driven out of their homes unjustly only because they said “our Lord is Allah” – and if Allah had not repelled some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down temples, churches, synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft-commemorated.” (Quran 22:40-41)

 Again, I would challenge Qureshi to demonstrate a statement from Jesus’ teachings as emphatic and clear on when the fight for freedom of conscience is necessary. This is perhaps the greatest irony in Qureshi’s piece, for Qureshi claims that as a Muslim, he could not reconcile verses in the Quran calling Muslims to fight in self-defense, with his own conscience, and so he became a Christian.

It is true that Christianity and Islam are not the same. In Christianity, there is no similar statement from Jesus on when a Christian should fight for freedom of religion. Islam on the other hand, claims to be a teaching covering all aspects of human life — whether in peace or in war. For this reason, the Quran teaches Muslims how to conduct themselves in war, whether it be relating to when fighting is permissible to how peace treaties must be honored.

The Quran acknowledges that sometimes good people must stand up for what is right and be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to establish peace on earth.

For this reason, in line with the MI5 report, it is education, not renunciation of the Quran that will defeat the likes of ISIS. This is not just a theoretical claim. It has been practically demonstrated by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community — a community of tens of millions of Muslims, who have not a single terrorist act to their name over their 127-year history. (And it has been practically demonstrated by millions of other Muslims — Shi’a, Sunni and other — as well.)

The reason? Ahmadi Muslims study the Quran from a young age and understand it deeply. Qureshi of all people should understand this best, given that before becoming a Christian, he was an Ahmadi Muslim too.

Tahir Nasser focuses his writing on Islam in the modern world, especially in relation to issues of terrorism, extremism and radicalization. He has served as the national UK President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Students’ Association for three years and has spoken on numerous university campuses on theology and radicalization. Visit his site at www.tahirnasser.com or find him on Twitter @TahirNasser


Is ISIS’s Interpretation of Islam Legitimate? How Top Journalists Cenk Uyger, Julia Hartley-Brewer and Gavin Ashenden All Got it Wrong

This article first appeared in the Huffington Post here. The Qur’an by Phalinn Ooi

Twice in as many days have I come across high profile journalists arguing that ISIS isas Islamic as your run-of-the-mill Muslim neighbourino Ned Flanders, eager just to spread the love.

Are they right?

The first was Cenk Uyger of The Young Turks (who should be applauded on otherwise great political commentary), stating that extremist and peaceful Muslims havedifferent interpretation(s) of their texts and when you read their texts, both interpretations are justifiable. In a similar vein, The Telegraph columnist Julia Hartley-Brewer wrote that:


This is not a new issue. Gavin Ashenden asked the same question in The Times on the 20th March 2015 after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, in his piece ‘Muslims Need to Face Up To The Violence of the Koran’. “Jesus says love your enemies; where is Islam’s restraint?” he asks.

It sounds right doesn’t it? How can all those crazies go around murdering people while shouting “Allahu Akbar!” if their holy text doesn’t advocate it in some way? Is the difference between a “moderate” and “extremist” Muslim, just a question of interpretation?

The Qur’anic answer is, emphatically: No. Why? Because the Qur’an tells you how to interpret it. The Qur’an highlights that it contains two types of verses: the first provide general, timeless principles, while the second are applicable within certain contexts only. The Qur’an goes on to condemn those who apply contextual verses out of context and in contradiction to the general, timeless principles. The Prophet of Islam too forbade this when he said: Thus were ruined those people who have gone before you, for they interpreted certain parts of their scriptures in such a manner as to make them contradict other parts (Musnad).

That’s all very nice in theory, but how does that work in practice with such verses as: kill them wherever you meet them (2:192)? How could such verses ever be justified?

Well, firstly, one could stop cherry picking and read on two more verses, where it commands us to remember…no hostility is allowed except against the aggressors. The other thing to note is that such verses have a context: a war of self-defence thrust upon Muslims. Don’t take anyone’s word for it – the Qur’an itself is explicit on this point: fighting is permitted it proclaims, for those on whom war is made (22:40,41). This is the earliest verse that permitted fighting, and it sanctions it only as self-defense. It goes on to clarify that Muslims have a duty to protect temples, synagogues and churches in addition to their own mosques.

But why does the Qur’an talk about “fighting disbelievers” at all? Well, Muslims took up arms in self-defense after being driven out of their homes by pagan non-Muslims, for accepting Islam. The division of the two armies was of belief, which is why there are verses that speak of “fighting disbelievers”. It’s not a standing order to fight all non-Muslims for all time, in the same way as Winston Churchill’s “we shall fight on the beaches” speech was not a standing order to kill Germans for all times.

As if all that wasn’t enough, the Qur’an categorically commands Muslims to be kind and act fairly to non-Muslims who have not fought against you on account of your religion and who have not driven you out of your homes. Why? Because Allah loves those who are fair (60:9). How much clearer does a religious text have to be?

Some, like Mr. Ashenden, claim that Muslims were peaceful for the sake of expediency while they were the minority in Mecca, and bloodthirsty after establishing themselves in Medina. He ignores the fact that the Qur’anic declaration that there is no compulsion in religion (2:257) and that no aggression is permitted except against the aggressors (2:194) were made when the Prophet of Islam was the ruler of Medina. The Prophet’s example of declaring general amnesty and forgiveness for all when he conquered Mecca further demonstrates that Islam is a religion of peace and reconciliation.

Mr. Ashenden finally argues that Christianity is morally superior to Islam for teaching love of one’s neighbour. He fails to realise that it is from that same love that Muslims are permitted to take up arms to protect the persecuted. What do the Gospels advocate for the likes of ISIS, when they massacred the Yazidis in the mountains? Turn the other cheek? A teaching that claims to be from God and yet gives no guidance as to when the fight for freedom is legitimate is seriously lacking. Islam is not such a teaching.

In short, the Qur’an tells the reader how it should be interpreted, so the notion that “it’s all in the interpretation” is false. Extremists are desperate for all to accept their poisonous narrative as Gospel truth. My message? Don’t believe the hype.

The World’s Obsession With Rights Rather Than Responsibilities Is the Cause of the Syrian Refugee Crisis

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post here. Image by Josh Zakary

In the echoes of our great chambers, from the Houses of Commons to Capitol Hill, we hear of the importance of ‘Human Rights’. They are inscribed in our grand legislature, in our constitutions and in our national guilt. Yet increasingly, when I hear of ‘Human Rights’ I hear of them in the context of their violation. Any news channel on any given day of the year, we are subjected to a bombardment of numbing atrocity, of gross barbarity.

I’m not just talking about the latest villain in our pop-news world, Daesh (ISIS). I’m also talking about kids floating face down in the Mediterranean. I’m talking about Dr. Maria Santos Gorrostieta, the mayor of Tiquicheo in Mexico, kidnapped, burned and murdered. I’m talking about how members of parliament referred to disabled people as “stock”. I’m talking about Untermenschen. Louseous Japanicus. Men referring to women as ‘damaged goods’. I’m talking about parasites, pigs and dogs.

I’m talking about you and me.

Dehumanisation as a psychological phenomenon is likely never to go away entirely.Recent research has demonstrated that this undeniable feature of our species is intimately related to facilitating and promoting aggression against others. Indeed, there are times when dehumanisation of others feels justified. When Daesh burned to death a Jordanian pilot (and filmed it), who was there who did not feel that these people were not truly human? They seemed like grotesque caricatures, more monster than Man. Dehumanisation is not a rare phenomenon, by any measure. In fact, when you look a little closer, you see it everywhere.

You see it in how some leaders describe refugees as a swarm and some newspapers describe them as a horde. You see it in the fourteen-year-old Sudanese boy, arrested for bringing a clock to school; his teachers reducing him to a “terrorist in the making”, unable to see a teenage nerd in a NASA t-shirt. In extreme forms, you see it in the way Daesh describes Yazidi women as their property, to be bought and sold, used and abused. You see it in how, during the Rwandan genocide, Hutus described Tutsis as “cockroaches”, to be stamped underfoot and eliminated.

Dehumanisation acts to deprive an individual of their human status and thus of the rights they are obligated. A society obsessed with rights is, more often than not, a self-obsessed society. This is because we demand our rights from others, but use dehumanization to escape fulfilling the rights of others. So what can be done about this psychological phenomena that stands as a roadblock to peace in the world today?

The answer came to me from what some might consider an unlikely source: a Muslim Caliph, renowned for his advocacy of peace and reconciliation. Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the fifth Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, speaking on this very point, said at the annual UK Peace Symposium that people of the world should not only be concerned for their own rights, but should also look at their own obligations and be concerned for the welfare of others. This principle should apply at an individual level, a national level and an international level… Without this, any effort that takes place will only have a temporary effect, and will not guarantee permanent peace.

Re-framing the rights of others as our responsibilities changes the focus entirely. By linking the welfare of others to the recognition of your own status as a human being, and the responsibilities that entails means that dehumanisation isn’t given a chance to flourish. Why? Because it’s no longer about what other humans deserve from you but about what you owe them, as a human. How you see others becomes an irrelevancy when your focus is on what your responsibilities are.

What was it about Aylan, washed up and breathing sand on a beach in Turkey, that forced David Cameron to change his stance and quadruple the numbers of refugees the UK would take? It was because that dead child tore through the subconscious veils we had erected in which refugees were the ‘other’ – from a different country, ethnicity or religion. Suddenly, it was your child and my child. Suddenly, the refugees werehuman. But it shouldn’t be like that. It shouldn’t take images of dead children to wake people up to their responsibilities.

A charter of Human Responsibilities rather than simply of Human Rights is, I believe, the next stage in establishing peace in society. As Mirza Masroor Ahmad emphasized in another address this year, the ultimate goal should be to reach a point where one sacrifices one’s own rights to fulfill responsibilities owed to others.

Until this becomes the norm in society, we will never achieve such peace as the world is, quite literally, dying for.