Does the Qur’an Advocate Constitutional Religious Freedom?
Patheos recently published (Dec 8, 2015) a blog by Kermit Zarley entitled ‘What is the U.S. “Freedom of Religion”?’ In it, he deplores the extremes that Donald Trump and his Republican supporters have gone to in demonising Muslims; yet he condones the implied infringement on the religious freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. He points out that religious freedom is qualified, the federal government having upheld the banning of human sacrifice by every state and restrictions on polygyny in a ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court. In other words, religions that violate sacred-secular humanism are controlled in practice by legislation.
However, in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, and evoking the memory of 9/11, he then calls upon Islam to change its sacred text, the Quran. He argues that only in so doing, will the religion it underpins qualify for “the freedom of religion” according to the rules set forth by the U.S. Constitution on the subject. He advises Muslims to take heed of President El-Sisi of Egypt in his call for reformation of the Muslim sacred texts.
He claims that the Quran posits extreme intolerance towards other faiths, signified by commands to direct violence against idolaters and infidels. He then cites verse 3:150, in which the word ‘terrorize’ is used, and verse 8:12, which exhorts Muslim fighters to “strike the necks and very tips of the fingers” of the enemy soldiers. The latter also states that He would “instil terror into their hearts” to facilitate the believer’s victory.
What Zarley fails to explain is that these two verses were in context (rather, he postulates they are general), the first concerning the battle of Uhud, the second concerning the battle of Hunayn. In the first, the Muslims lost the upper hand due to disobedience and indiscipline. In contrast, on the second occasion, they recovered from being forced into retreat to taking the victory, but only after God sent down fortifying tranquility the Muslim force (to prevent their flight) and enervating lethargy on the enemy force (to prevent their advantage).
In both these cases, the Qur’an does not tell the Muslims to terrorize the enemy. Rather, it tells them that God would ‘instil terror in their hearts’ as long as the Muslim soldiers showed determination and backbone (to stand up and fight) in defence of Islam without allowing either apparent victory or apparent defeat to phase their obedience to the direction of their commanders.
Zarley also lists the other verses that exhort Muslims to fight for Islam in the struggle to preserve and promote it, putting their bodies and lives on the line. This is the classic martial Jihad enjoined by God, not the weak and cowardly terrorism of self-proclaimed Jihadi movements.
In fact, the Bible also contains such verses, and they are actively used to justify Israeli expansion into the West Bank (Deuteronomy 20:10-15) and the push to exterminate the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip every time they launch a serious ‘counter-terrorism’ attack on those ruled by Hamas (Deuteronomy 20:16-17). When at war against Gaza, the Zionist extremists use the command of Moses to slaughter all the women, children of the Midianites in Numbers 31:14-17 as an excuse to do the same in Gaza.
Does that not mean the Bible is in need of reform? Rather, it needs to be taken in context. Do the rules of war of that time justify the actions of extremists now? Are there any ameliorating sacred texts that modify the rules of engagement set out by God then? In the Quran, those modifying verses exist, and are presented with the rules of engagement. Can the same be said of the Torah, the Tanakh and the New Testament?
In the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him, Muslim terrorists existed. However, the Islamic State led by the Prophet repudiated any connection with them. These outlaws were not part of the Ummah of the Prophet while they operated outside his international agreements.
The Treaty of Hudaybiya specified that any man who deserted or escaped from the polytheists in Mecca and made their way to Medina would be sent back, whereas anyone who deserted the Prophet, peace be upon him, and making his way to the polytheists, would not be returned by them. This meant that even a Muslim man from Mecca was unable to politically join their religious brothers.
In practice, it meant that people who embraced Islam during the period of the treaty among the polytheists had no choice but to form an illegal band of outlaws, belonging neither to Medina nor Mecca. In order to survive, and to show their enmity to the Quraysh, this band of Muslim outlaws terrorised the avenues of commerce in the Hijaz, effectively strangling the economic power of the Quraysh.
Because the Prophet, peace be upon them, excluded them from his Ummah, the Quraysh were unable to cite their existence as breaking the treaty, and the pressure on them built up so much that their allies, who were signatories to the treaty, attacked tribes allied to the Muslims in revenge. This is what broke the agreement, and precipitated the taking of Mecca, and the subsequent battle of Hunayn.
Every exhortation to fight wholeheartedly for the religion against those opposed to it was leavened with Mercy. A polytheist fighter who threw down his arms in surrender became inviolate (4:90). A person with a writ from a Muslims was inviolate (9:6). One who agreed to accept the rule of Muslims and was covered by the payment of tribute (in order to keep his religion) was inviolate (9:28-29). Those who did not want hostile relations, and did not open hostilities against Muslims and their religion, are inviolate (8:61 & 60:8)). Non-combatants, such as women and children, were inviolate (2:190-191 & 5:32).
By inviolate, it means Muslims were forbidden to kill them. The Prophet, peace be upon him, forbade the killing of women and children in war in several authentic reported sayings (of these, some are from the collections: Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim), with the exception of mistaken collateral damage when they were killed because they were not seen to be in the path of danger (i.e. in a night battle). A believing soldier would not be held accountable for the killing of disbelieving women and children by mistake, under such circumstances.
Those who paid tribute, or were ransomed, were free. Even those who were unable to free themselves could be liberated (47:4). Those who were captured and whose rulers neither paid tribute nor whose families could ransom, however, and became booty, were still exempted from being killed, but then became economically and morally dependent on those who had vanquished them (8:67-71).
In every age, non-Muslims have lived under Muslim rule and been free to make a living as they please, free to practice their religion on the payment of Jizya, the tributary tax, and even held important political offices in governmental circles.
How, then, can Kermit Zarley and those who agree with him claim the Quran, or Islam, violates the spirit or the letter of religious freedom enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, especially when the Quran explicitly says, “there is no compulsion in religion – the right way is distinct from error.” (2:256)?