Jenkins: Bible Far More Violent than Qur’an

Philip Jenkins studied violence in the Bible and in the Qur’an, and found that the Bible is ‘far more violent.’

This conclusion is obvious to anyone who seriously studies the two scriptures. The NPR article quotes someone named Bostom who claims that violence in the Bible has a context but in Qur’an is commanded to be ongoing. This is an extremely ignorant comment and completely untrue.

The passages in the Qur’an that command fighting pertain to the early Muslims’ struggle with the militant pagans (kafirun, kuffar) of ancient Mecca. The mercantile Meccan elite dominate lower Red Sea trade and worshipped star goddesses; they determined to wipe out the new religion of Islam as it gathered converts through the 610s and set up as a city-state in Yathrib/ Medina in the 620s CE. As I have pointed out before, a careful study of the word kafir or infidel in the Qur’an will show that it never is used in an unadorned way to refer to non-Muslims in general. It implies paganism, or alliance with paganism, and often has overtones of militant hostility to Muslims and Islam. In contrast, the Christians are called ‘closest in love’ to the Muslims, and the Children of Israel are repeatedly praised. There is a passage referring to those who commit kufr or infidelity from among the people of the book (i.e. Jews and Christians) [2:105]. But this diction demonstrates that the word for infidel does not ordinarily extend to those groups. The ones condemned probably had allied with the pagans who were trying to destroy Islam and kill all Muslims, against whom the Qur’an advises believers to wage defensive war (“kill them wherever you find them” [2:191]– i.e. defend yourself against the fanatic pagans trying to kill you).

There are fundamentalist Muslims who use the word ‘kafir’ to refer to all non-Muslims, but the Qur’an does not support this usage. Anti-Muslim bigots in the US use these simplistic ideas of fundamentalists to condemn Islam and all Muslims.

All you have to do is look at the fate of the conquered Canaanites under Joshua (who were to be wiped out in a biblical genocide) and the fate of the Meccans when the Muslims overcame them (almost none were killed and they went on to flourish in the Islamic empire despite their earlier attempt at mass murder aimed at the prophet and his followers), to see the difference between the two.

Jenkins goes on to caution that Jews and Christians are not more violent than Muslims, despite the differences in scripture.

Actually I figure Europeans polished off a good 70 million people in the 20th century, whereas Muslims probably killed no more than 2 million (mainly in the Iran-Iraq War and Afghanistan, the latter of which a European power provoked). But this vast difference is not because Christian-heritage Europeans are such worse human beings than Muslim Middle Easterners. Rather, Europe industrialized warfare first, and also had the political independence to launch wars.

My experience is, people are people. They’re all equally capable of the same good and evil, across religions and cultures, and how much of each they commit has to do with both their opportunities and their character at any point in history.

The amazing thing is that the West has managed to convince itself that all its wars and killing were someone else’s fault (even though it was mainly elements of the West fighting other elements of the West that produced the charnel houses of the twentieth century).

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15 Responses

  1. "The amazing thing is that the West has managed to convince itself that all its wars and killing were someone else's fault (even though it was mainly elements of the West fighting other elements of the West that produced the charnel houses of the twentieth century)."

    Please, when you mean US say US not "West", a term that became obsolete with the fall of the Berlin wall and is now not only meaningless but divisive/offensive in relation to Europe, especially for those whose hopes lie in a peaceful Europe united from the Atlantic to the Urals, capable AT LAST of building a future of peace and mutual respect with all its Eastern and Southern neighbours! And of COURSE all Europeans (on both sides of the previous – and highly artificial – dividing line drawn through our continent at Yalta) are all too painfully aware of the fact that European great-power rivalries and war-worship were the root cause of the mutual self-destruction that ravaged our continent and peoples, I've NEVER heard nor read any attempt here to blame the two world wars on others. And re relations with the Islamic world, at least in Italy I can assure you that our historians are very honest not only about the realities of colonialism but also about the Crusades – that festival of hypocrisy, chicanery, petty feudal rivalries and sheer barbaric savagery that made such a mockery of the rhetorical pieties that launched them! – dunno about how they're viewed across the Atlantic though?

  2. It's helpful to know that violence isn't advocated or condoned by the Qur'an but the people who need to know are those who support the belief that it is.

    Isn't the problem here that you, a non-Muslim, are giving your interpretation of the Qur'an? The only thing that matters to Muslims is the interpretation of the Muslim scholars they follow. And Islam doesn't have any mechanism for achieving an orthodoxy of belief. Scholars will always disagree and powerful ones will receive wide support, even when they advocate violence etc. Why did so many Muslims support killing Salman Rushdie and now support killing the Danish cartoonist? Or have we been misled?

  3. Agreed. But only because 1) I spent some time in Muslim countries — especially the Maldives — and 2) I've read both the Bible and the Koran cover to cover.

    There may be another remedy for American's BYOBS, but I don't know what it might be.

  4. 'whereas Muslims probably killed no more than 2 million (mainly in the Iran-Iraq War and Afghanistan'
    – And what about Bangladesh ?

  5. Fortunately for us all, each can say "God is on my side." Makes us feel so much better as we slaughter people identified as "others", often thought of as "racially inferior", but the warfare almost always done for someone's (The Great Oz's) economic gain.

  6. So they're supposed to only hate pagans, not other monotheists. Great. I now have as much respect for them as they have for my religion, Wicca.

  7. "whereas Muslims probably killed no more than 2 million"

    No offense juan but arent you being a bit forgetful, what about the Armenian, pontic greek and assyrian genocides, bangladesh in the seventies and the millions killed by the sudanese government.

    As an atheist i think all the religious books are pretty demented, however from what ive read of each the torah would be the most violent, followed by the slightly schizophrenic koran, i would place the bible third due to the fact that for christians the new testament is the most relevent part and as far as religious books go it is fairly benign.

  8. Although the mystical experience positively rewires the brain, it does not constitute evidence for the existence of supernatural beings.

    Metaphysical speculation + wishful thinking is the basis of all religion.

    To invert Gandhi : all religions are false, all religions have some truth in them.

  9. What about the Bangladeshi war of independence and the Indonesian massacres of 65/66?

  10. People are not all equally capable of good and evil across religions. Religion makes good people do bad things. That it can moderate bad people doesn't mean we should give these religions a pass. Both Christianity and Islam have an eschatology that embraces violence, and rewards the do'er of that violence against non-believers.

    It should not be comforting to rational people that a religion is less violent towards the adherents of similar, if not completely accepted, irrational beliefs in the supernatural. Of course they are going to support fellow monotheistic believers of the same god. Ask them what they think of believers of Ba'al or Thor or Zeus.

    I think it's ignorant to be giving a pass to Islam, or Christianity for their disgusting and violent histories, and present day unquestionably unethical teachings and policies around the globe.

    I would like to see more cartoons. Not less. The contemptible should be treated with contempt. These are treacherous and dangerous beliefs, we should be calling people out on them, not making glittering generalities about how one is more violent than another when both are the most disgusting and perverted uses of human imagination and ingenuity that have ever occurred.

  11. Jenkins is receiving death threats from Christians insisting that the Bible is less violent.

  12. The family of Abraham — Jews, Muslims, Christians — is a dysfunctional family, in all its parts and as a whole: each side of the family claims the alleged right to dominate the world (the 'promised land'), and each slaughters anyone in the way.

    'Pagans' — i.e., those who live on the land, the indigenous villagers — bear the brunt of the Abrahamic dysfunction, but we all suffer.

  13. I think it's worth pointing out that current scholarship doesn't accept the historicity of Joshua's biblical campaign of conquest; the cities named as falling to Joshua appear in reality to have fallen across a span of centuries, and not uniformly owing to military causes.

    The current thinking is that the ancient Israelites emerged from a Canaanite underclass, merged with a small migratory group that is thought to have come into contact with a Yahweh cult in the Sinai, if memory serves. From this perspective, the rationale for the Joshua story would appear to emerge from a cultural and historical context in which taking land by conquest was a surer confirmation of ownership than merely living on it.

  14. It is interesting to observe that through much of Asia Islam has coexisted relatively peacefully with a variety of other religions. Of course the key to that statement is the term 'relatively'.

    There have always been, and likely will always be, tensions between groups based on their differences. Whether the differences are based on religion, culture (and the two are often confused both by the participants in a conflict and by observers), skin colour, economic disparities and on and on and on.

    So they're supposed to only hate pagans, not other monotheists. Great. I now have as much respect for them as they have for my religion, Wicca.

    Generally speaking, when the Qu'ran is speaking of violence or otherwise appearing to be judgemental, it is referring to issues current at the birth of the religion.

    When it denounces the pagans, it is denouncing a specific group who had been persecuting muslims for some time even up to the point of killing those without the protection of powerful families. The Qu'ran isn't referring to the Hindu, Shinto, Wiccan or any other faith either directly or by implication.

    And I suspect most muslims have a sophisticated enough understanding of our religion to understand that.

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