Was Muhammad a Man of Peace? A Detailed Response to Nabeel Qureshi

This article first appeared on Patheos, here

With greater scrutiny on Islamic teachings in the wake of terrorism committed by Muslims, a raft of pundits, not least of the Christian evangelical strain, like Nabeel Qureshi, have emerged.

In his latest piece in the Huffington Post, his misrepresentation of Islam follows two steps:

Firstly, he argues that when studying Islam, preference should be given to oral traditions, first written down more than two centuries after the death of the Prophet of Islam, rather than the Qur’an, of which we have copies dated to the life time of the Prophet of Islam himself, such as the Birmingham manuscript. There is perhaps no better endorsement of the Qur’an’s peacefulness than his earnest efforts to ignore it completely. Secondly, having discarded most of the Qur’an, he goes on to focus on oral traditions, yet only selects such oral traditions as present Islam as barbaric and inherently violent.

By ignoring the Qur’an – the earliest window into Islamic history that we have, and then by selectively quoting historical sources, Qureshi white-washes the entire history of seventh century Islam so as to serve the evangelical purpose of portraying Islam as a violent religion and Christianity as its peaceful counterpart.

As regards Qureshi’s first step, the Qur’an refutes him at every turn. Indeed, he ignores the fact that the Qur’an adamantly states that taking up arms is only permissible in self-defense, that hostility is only permitted against aggressors, thatpeace treaties must be kept irrespective of the religion of others, that peace must be preferred over conflict if the aggressor inclines to peace, and that non-Muslims must be treated with kindness and equity if they have do not persecute Muslims for their faith.

Ignoring all this, Qureshi focuses entirely on 9:29, claiming that it is a standing order for Muslims to kill Christians, Jews and others, until they pay money. Why? Because apparently Muslims were hard up due to the loss of trade after the idolatrous tribes who had butchered Muslims for 23 years were expelled from Arabia. This is an astonishing act of historical revisionism, when we consider that the Jews and Christians referred to were those who had actively plotted with the Byzantine empireto attack the Muslims, had attacked Muslims in the Battle of the Trench as well asencouraged other tribes to renounce their peace treaties with Muslims. He also ignores the fact that they had hired soldiers from the tribe of Ghatafan to kill Muslims. Despite all this, the Prophet reaffirmed his treaty they had broken and warned them against future breaches. That the Prophet did not force them to convert nor did he expel them from Arabia despite their persistent hostility, gives the lie to Qureshi’s statement that the Prophet fought them on account of religious differences. If that was the case, then why didn’t the Muslim empire attack the Abyssinian empire on its doorstep? The Abyssinian kingdom, despite being a bastion of Christendom, was not invaded because the kings of Abyssinia did not amass armies against the Muslims, as the Romans and Persians did, but instead welcomed Muslims into their country and permitted them freedom of religion. Indeed, Qureshi would have us believe that Muslims went all the way to Tours in France in a bid to convert Christians and Jews on pain of death, yet forgot to invade the Christian Abyssinian kingdom at their feet.

Qureshi goes on to cite another a-contextual tradition in support of his interpretation of 9:29, in which the Prophet of Islam is quoted to have said that he will fight people until they convert to Islam. He ignores the fact that such statements were made only in relation to those who had waged a war against Muslims, for their faith, butchering innocent people, forcing people from their homes and looting their properties. The Prophet of Islam stated that such people who deserved capital punishment for their crimes against humanity, were only to be given pardon if they became Muslim, as this was the only way that, de-facto, persecution against Muslims would end. Their pardon was an exception, despite their deserving capital punishment. Had Qureshi paid attention to the Qur’an, he would have known that as regards those who have not fought against you on account of your religion and not driven you forth from your homes, Muslims must be kind to them and act equitably (Qur’an 60:9). Indeed, if the Prophet was killing people of different faiths, then why did he not kill or harm Musaylimah, who openly renounced Islam and indeed, formulated a new religion with himself as its prophet, after the revelation of 9:29? Musaylimah did however meet his end after the Prophet’s death, when he raised an army and began butchering Muslims in an attempt to seize power in Arabia.

Therein lies the rub: in his second step, Qureshi conveniently ignores or omits all evidence demonstrating that the individuals or groups against whom the Prophet of Islam fought, always instigated war against him first and that he was always the instigator of peace treaties.

Using this technique, Qureshi’s misrepresentation reaches astonishing heights. He claims that the Prophet of Islam invoked curses on others, forgetting that all prophets of God, including Jesus, prophesy an evil end for their opponents. He claims the Prophet assassinated Ka’b Bin Ashraf, ignoring the fact that Ka’b instigated the tribes of Mecca to wage war against Muslims and himself tried to murder the Prophet of Islam. He claims that the Prophet encouraged deceit to kill Ka’b, ignoring that the earliest and most authoritative traditions make no mention of this. He claims the Prophet assassinated Abu Rafi in his sleep, ignoring the fact that Abu Rafi was an arms dealer, supplying weapons to tribes actively killing Muslims for their faith. He claims that the Prophet of Islam had his enemies’ eyes gouged out as a punishment, ignoring the fact that the earliest tradition sources deny that he blinded anyone and that they were not simply his “enemies” as Qureshi misrepresents, but criminals who had themselves gouged out the eyes of innocent people in addition to robbing, killing and decapitating civilians and raping women. He further claims that the Prophet of Islam ordered the killing of an entire Jewish tribe’s male population, despite the fact that this was not ordered by him but by another who was appointed by the Jewish tribe themselves as an arbiter, Sa’d ibn Mu’adh, who had judged in accordance with the Jewish teachings, not Islamic teachings, against the tribe, for their treachery against the Muslims in wartime. He further omits that the Prophet granted security to any of the Jewish men who sought it, and protected them from being killed. He claims further that the Prophet of Islam led armies against unarmed cities, referring to the city of Khaybar, which was one of the most heavily fortified and armed cities in Arabia and which has already been spoken of as attacking the Muslims at the battle of the Trench and encouraging other tribes to renounce peace treaties with Muslims.

The above are a few examples of how Qureshi white-washes history. Given that such facts have been presented to him time and time again, and yet he continues to misrepresent these events so as to serve his own evangelical ends, indicates that it is not ignorance but dishonesty that drives him.

In my last article, I challenged Qureshi to provide a statement from the Bible that is as clear as this Qur’anic one, teaching the importance of maintaining peace treaties, as well as on the fact that fighting is only permitted as self-defence. He has failed to provide anything, indicating that he has no reply. The reality is that Islam, being a complete guidance, provides teachings on when the fight for freedom is legitimate. Those of other faiths, especially Christianity, have had to look outside their religion for guidance on when to fight and how to behave in wartime, since neither Jesus nor any of his immediate successors had to go to war. The Prophet of Islam however provided guidance on all aspects of life, since he was confronted with both times of peace and times of war.

Qureshi and others like him who deliberately spread such misinformation about Islam are the best allies of terrorists like ISIS or Al-Qaeda. Misinformed Muslims, seeing extremists on one hand and Christian evangelicals posing as historians of early Islam on the other, are led to the wrong conclusion that Islam is a religion of violence. Qureshi’s false argumentation leads to a self-fulfilling cycle of extremism where Islam is misrepresented, leading to further radicalisation and further terrorism, resulting in the further misrepresentation of Islam.

Then again, that might just be precisely what he wants.

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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