This morning an online friend, who shares my curiosity about the human condition, in general, but especially about the behaviors surrounding politics and religion, sent me a link to an article in The Slatest Newsletter . The article discusses a clip from today’s Washington Post which reports that “The founder of one of the country's most prominent tea party organizations said in an interview Wednesday that he stands by an Internet column in which he urged the defeat of U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, because he is Muslim.”
Why does Judson Phillips, the founder of Nashville-based Tea Party Nation, feel that way?
"If you read the Qur'an, the Qur'an in no uncertain terms says some wonderful things like, 'Kill the infidels,' " says Phillips. ”It says it on more than one occasion. I happen to be the infidel. I have a real problem with people who want to kill me just because I'm the infidel."
That word “infidel” has been bugging me every time I hear it recently. What exactly does infidel mean anyway? I know what I think is meant when someone like Judson Phillips uses it in the context of his justification for making a ludicrous political statement. I know it is the root of a more familiar word (unfortunately for me) “infidelity.” But does it really mean what Phillips thinks he is saying?
As I do at least a dozen times every day, I typed words into the Google search engine. First I typed “infidel,” which yielded hundreds of thousands of results. I went to the Online Dictionary first, then to Wikipedia. Here’s some of what I learned:
1. Infidel is an English word, not an Arabic word.
2. Infidel was first used by Christians, not Muslims, to describe non-believers in Christianity; specifically, it was often used to describe Muslims. Later Muslims adopted its use to describe a certain category of non-Muslims.
Next I did a Google search on “kill the infidel passage in the Qur'an.” One of the topmost results was a site called SunniPath: the Online Islam Academy with an article titled Does the Qur'an teach to kill, tax or convert infidels? I will leave it up to the reader to decide whether to read that article in its entirety, but here are some interesting things I learned:
1. The Qur'an recognizes the natural diversity of humanity, "O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)." (Qur'an, 49:13) That certainly doesn’t sound much like a blanket condemnation of anyone who doesn’t follow the tenets of Islam.
2. The Qur'an talks about a group of non-Muslims called "Ahl al-Kitab," or People of Scripture. These are people who have received divine revelation, particularly Christians and Jews. Therefore, the Qur'an automatically recognizes previous Abrahamic faiths and accords special status to the adherents of Christianity and Judaism. What is ironic is that Christian and Jewish doctrine makes no provision for the recognition of Islam; however, Islam recognizes both Christianity and Judaism as divinely-revealed religions.
3. The most misunderstood passage of the Qur'an is one that is usually only partially quoted. It is the one that is used by extremist American conservatives to justify anti-Muslim propaganda. What the Qur'an really says is:
“ "And fight in the cause of Allah with those who fight with you, and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits. And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from where they drove you out and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque (in Makkah) until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the reward of the unbelievers. But if they desist, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. And fight with them until there is no persecution, and religion should be only for Allah, but if they desist, then there should be no hostility except against the oppressors." (Qur'an, 2:190-192)
If one takes the time to actually read the Qur'an passages instead of embracing the malevolent pronouncements of politicians with an agenda, it becomes clear that the message is far from “Kill all non-believers.”
Maybe it is too much to ask the average American to educate himself about things that are readily searchable. Maybe it is easier to just be led around by a nose-ring of calculated misrepresentation of the facts. Surely, there are Christians who make the same stupid mistakes with the Christian Bible; i.e., taking words and phrases out of context to support some misguided belief.
I do not think it is too much to ask. Every person who has children has a responsibility to educate those children. What a disservice it is to instruct our offspring with information that is unfounded or blatantly untrue, especially when the truth is just a few keystrokes away.