A Dialogue with a Saudi Muslim (5)

Soliman al-Buthe (or al-Buthi) wrote an Open Letter to Congress in 2005. Then he initiated a dialogue with me, so we decided on this sequence.

1. In 2005, I commented and asked questions about the Open Letter (in blue).

2. In that same year, months later, Mr. al-Buthe answered my questions and challenged me on various issues (in green). He sought the advice of Saudi scholars, as well.

3. Finally, in 2006, I reply to his challenges and questions (in black). Sometimes I embed this part in our 2005 dialogue. I too receive help from colleagues.

Open Letter to Congress (continued):

Fundamentalism Defined

Religious fundamentalism is not unique to Saudi Arabia; it is a worldwide phenomenon. Just as many Christians are turning to their religion for guidance in the modern world, likewise so do many Muslims. Although the distinction has been lost, Islamic fundamentalism no more equates with extremism or violence than does Christian or Jewish fundamentalism. The fundamentalist lives his life within the strictures of his religious laws, whereas the extremist transgresses them. If Christian fundamentalism is tolerated at the highest echelons of the US government, then it is hypocritical to attack that the fundamentalism of Saudi Arabia. Unlike some of the fundamentalist movements in the Christian world, Saudi fundamentalism is not based on a dispensationalist theology that seeks Armageddon, nor does it involve attacks on Jesus or Moses – both of whom Muslims revere and love.

Today, millions of non-Muslims reside in the Kingdom where they live unmolested and are rewarded handsomely for the many services they provide. In stark contrast to the frequent claim that "Wahhabis" deny "non-Wahhabis" equality and justice, the government of Saudi Arabia affords all citizens their rights under the law.

JA: I have seven questions or concerns:

1. One of the hallmarks of modernity is religious freedom. Does the Saudi government permit the Shi’ite minority in your country to publicly and openly commemorate Ashura, by which they honor the martyrdom of Hussein, Muhammad’s grandson?

2. Mosques flourish openly and publicly here in America. Why are not Christian churches allowed to flourish openly and publicly in Saudi Arabia?


First, There is no, and there can be no absolute freedom of anything anywhere in the world. We all set limits to human freedom; the only difference is about the extent and nature of the limits. This depends on the nature of the political system. A secular political system does not allow religion to encroach upon what it deems to be the prerogative of secularism. Here are a few examples:

  1. "From military psychological-operations teams and CIA covert operatives to openly funded media and think tanks, Washington is plowing tens of millions of dollars into a campaign to influence not only Muslim societies but Islam itself." (Please see Hearts, Minds and Dollars, David E Kaplan).
  2. "[Former Alabama Chief Justice] Moore was suspended for refusing to remove the Ten Commandments monument after a federal court mandated him to have it taken down. He faces several judicial ethics violation charges in a trial before the Alabama Court of the Judiciary on November 12." (please see Justices won't hear 10 Commandments appeals) [He was subsequently removed from office and is now threatening to run for governor of his state.]
  3. "When France's 577-member National Assembly approved the head-scarf ban last month, only 36 legislators voted against it. The margin was just as one-sided when the Senate gave it final approval Wednesday, 276-20. Top French officials, including President Jacques Chirac, have said the ban will help preserve France's secular national character. Even Germany's Green Party, for 20 years the best line of defense for immigrant communities there, is backing a head-scarf ban."(please see Matthew Schofield, Europe Battles Islam’s Rise, Via Headscarves).
  4. A day after a special meeting between Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Muslim leaders, Muslims who do not respect secularism and law were told Wednesday, August 24, to leave the country. (please see Anti-Secularism Muslims Told to Leave Australia)


You write in your Open Letter that "in stark contrast to the frequent claim that ‘Wahhabis’ deny ‘non-Wahhabis’ equality and justice, the government of Saudi Arabia affords all citizens their rights under the law." These words prompted my question about the religious freedom of the Shi’ites and their ritual of honoring Hussein’s death. Though you do not answer my question directly and specifically about their rights, you refer to the vague concept of "absolute freedom" and its limitations. Then you cite four examples (a-d) where freedom does not exist absolutely in the West.

To begin my comment on your four examples measured against "absolute freedom," one reporter, John R. Bradbury, describes the repression of the Shi’ites from 1916-1928. They were "brutally suppressed by the Wahhabi forces backing Ibn Saud. It was an orgy of mass killing of mostly innocent victims, women and children. A staggering 7,000 people in Najran alone may have been put to the sword." Then in April 2000 "government-backed religious police stormed a major Ismaeli [a sect of Shia Islam] mosque, seized many of its religious texts, and arrested three clerics." Bradbury goes on to describe a secret meeting in the Eastern Province in which both Saudi and foreign Shi’ites met to mourn Hussein’s death. "In the past, hundreds were ‘caught’ observing such religious rites . . . They were arrested, and the foreigners among them were deported while Saudi Shiites faced jail terms and torture" (Source: Saudi Arabia Exposed: Inside of Kingdom in Crisis; see Bradbury’s chapter "Shia Fear," pp. 73-85).

In light of these examples of violent repression of Shia Muslims who may not agree with hyper-strict interpretation of Islam, we are now ready to contrast them with freedom in the West, even if it does not attain an "absolute freedom" (whatever that means).

In your first example (a), you cite a report that says the CIA tries "to influence not only Muslim societies, but Islam itself." These reports about the mammoth CIA circulate around the domestic and world media. Millions in the Arab world believe that the CIA and Mossad (Israel’s secret service) planned the attack on September 11. If "Islam itself" is influenced by this agency, then how strong is this religion?

Further, Islamic lobbying organizations try to influence policy in the USA, the European Community, the United Nations, and elsewhere. The lobbies are given that freedom. So why should not non-Islamic organizations try to influence Islamic institutions and governments? One mark of freedom is that people of different convictions are allowed to (try to) influence people of other convictions. That is the competition of ideas.

In fact, your very letter to Congress is an attempt to influence the American perception of Wahhabi Islam. Why should Americans not try to influence Muslim convictions?

All of this is, however, a completely different issue from suppressing and oppressing people from celebrating their religious festivals like Saudi Arabia does to its Shiite minority. If Saudi Arabia would seek to convince the Shiites by verbal persuasion that they are wrong and Wahhabi Islam is true, nobody would object. What is reprehensible is that they are oppressed and threatened, even killed, when they try to celebrate their religious festivals.

Your second example (b) is about Judge Moore who wanted to place the Ten Commandments on government property. His opponents argued (right or wrong) that this placement favored one religion over all the others, so this denied the equality of all religions. Moore’s actions, so his opponents argue, also violated the First Amendment’s "Establishment" clause (see below). It says that Congress (extended to include all levels of government, according to a broad interpretation) shall not establish any religion. Thus, Moore’s opponents wanted to protect all religions. The government should not favor one religion over another. Whether Moore or his opponents are right or wrong about their interpretation of the Constitution is open to debate. But how does any of this compare with the denial—brutal repression—of a simple Shi’ite ritual, which the Wahhabis interpret as shirk (associating anyone or anything with Allah) and therefore un-Islamic? If Moore were to hold a public ritual honoring a Christian martyr, then he would not have been attacked or arrested.

Any religious ritual that someone does in this nation is legally protected, provided the ritual does not harm anyone else physically or materially. Even Satanists may march down the street peaceably or open a "church" or shop peddling their beliefs and practices. Christians may pray for them and preach the gospel to them, but these concerned Christians should not harass or threaten them with violence, nor, especially, should the government do this.

In your example c, you cite France’s ban on the Muslim head-scarf worn in public schools. Germany’s Green Party supports the ban, as well. The French government also banned open displays of large religious symbols, such as the cross. Though I do not like the ban (because the scarf or other symbols harm no one materially or physically), the students are minors. No student is allowed to wear whatever he or she wants at school. But if a Muslim girl willingly wears a scarf out in the open public off of school property, then she is free to do this. However, viewing France’s policy from a distance, I believe it is misguided, unless the government concluded that other students felt threatened by Muslim youth, as seen later in the 2005 riots, which were surprisingly organized. But the policy of denying mere symbols is quite different from the Saudi government’s violent suppression of a harmless ritual honoring a Muslim "saint," done in public by adults in a minority sect.

In your fourth example (d) you link to a news article that reports that the Administration of Australia’s Prime Minister John Howard says that there will not be two sets of law, a free one and shariah. The article shows that the context of these remarks came shortly after the London bombings in July 2005. The Administration was defending freedom, even religious freedom, so that Muslims may worship as they want, peaceably. Shariah denies complete religious freedom. For example, hard-line Muslims in Australia were seeking to suppress freedom of speech that criticizes Islam. But the Administration wants to preserve it, and the way to do this is to deny oppressive shariah.

To wrap up this section, you bring up "absolute freedom" and the limits on it. Then you cite four examples of western limits. But the differences between these limitations do not rise (or sink) to the level of the violent suppression of a Shi’ite ritual. The West starts any discussion about freedom from a long history of tolerance, learned from earlier centuries of bitter intolerance. Does Saudi Arabia have the same starting place? Does any other Islamic nation? Personally, I hope that Afghanistan and Iraq will enjoy such freedom.

Second, When the West allows mosques and other places of worship to be built and give Muslims and adherents of other religions some freedom, Westerners do not do this as a favor to Saudi Arabia or any other Islamic country; rather, they do it because it is something that the Western political system demands. Westerners believe that this is good for the country.

Third, Saudi Arabia, and all the rest of the Arabian Peninsular constitute a special case according to the Islamic religion. There are relatively more churches in some Islamic countries like the Sudan than there are in some Western countries.

Fourth, This question is as valid as asking why the Vatican does not open its city to allow the propagation of Satanism, Atheism, or any other idea that is anathema to the ideas of the people of that community.

Fifth, remember that our society and culture is not secular, it is religious. It therefore takes religious matters very seriously.

JA: In your second major point in this section you assert that western political systems "demand" that mosques be built. I do not speak for all western political systems, but this word does not fit an American context (and I am confident that it does not fit in other western nations). The First Amendment to the American Constitution reads in its entirety, as follows:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (Source)

Thus, nothing in this Amendment comes close to a "demand." Modernity must allow freedom of religion, including the right of "the people peaceably to assemble," even if they are Shi’ites celebrating Ashura.

In your third major point you seem to say that Saudi Arabia is a special religious case or exception. Then you cite Sudan as an example of allowing more churches there than in some western countries, relatively speaking.

In reply, the sacred exceptionalism of Arabia presumably comes from the prophet of Islam himself. This hadith from Sahih Muslim says:

It has been narrated by 'Umar b. al-Khattib that he heard the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) say: I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslim. (Muslim 4366; see a hadith in Bukhari that says Umar expelled the Jews and Christians from the Hijaz or western Arabia.)

However, Jews and Christians lived in the Peninsula for centuries before Muhammad came, but his military power forced them out. This happened in the seventh century, but now this violence and intolerance is no longer compatible with modernity. What would happen if Israel were to claim that the Temple Mount is a sacred exception and precinct? Could not the government correctly argue that the mosque on the Temple of the Jews is the ultimate symbol of Islamic imperialism? Let us imagine that Israel asked Muslim governments willingly to dismantle the al-Aqsa mosque and move it near the Mount, not on it. Or maybe Israel would inform Muslim governments that it would move the mosque unilaterally, as Muhammad and Umar expelled Jews and Christians unilaterally. But back to reality. The Israeli government does not demand this. But what if Saudi Arabia allowed Christianity and Judaism to return to their historic home in the Peninsula (perhaps excluding the Hijaz)? If Judaism is unacceptable, then what about Christianity? At the very least, the authorities should permit visiting Christians to carry Bibles and wear crosses and attend specially located churches without fear of arrest. What is the harm in all of this, if it is done outside of mosques and outside of Mecca and Medina? Most important, the authorities should no longer block the internet from non-Muslim religious sites, like answering-islam.org. Are certain parts of the worldwide web sacred exceptions?

Now what about Sudan? Is it really the best example of Arab tolerance? This summary from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies says that violence erupted in 1983 because radical Muslims pressured the government to impose Islamic law on the entire nation. The summary says:

Jihadist government is waging [genocide] against non-Muslim blacks.

Next, in your fourth point you say that the Vatican would not allow the propagation of Satanism and atheism in its city. In reply, however, Christianity and Judaism are not equivalent to Satanism or atheism, and neither is Shia Islam. Moreover, I quickly researched a World Atlas, and Saudi Arabia covers 1,960,582 square kilometers, whereas the Vatican is only 0.44 sq. km. Surely there is room for other religions in Saudi Arabia in regions other than the Hijaz and cities other than Mecca and Medina. How about on the worldwide web?

Finally, in your fifth point, it is legitimate to take a religion seriously, and Saudi Arabia does this. But sometimes I have the feeling that Muslim governments that suppress freedom of religion are actually frightened of other ones. But if Islam is the Best Religion, then it should be easily able compete in the marketplace of ideas, in a free and open debate. The power and winsomeness of the Final and Superior Revelation would keep Muslims in and draw members of other religions to it, freely and voluntarily and without harassment if Muslims were to leave Islam.

3. You compare Islamic fundamentalists with Christian ones, both of whom want to return to the origins of their religions, to their respective founders and sacred texts. What are the differences between the life of Jesus and of Muhammad and between the New Testament and the Qur’an, in terms of the violence or absence of violence inhering in their lives and sacred books?


First, we believe that all true Prophets of God from Adam to Jesus and Muhammad were exemplary human beings. God sent them to teach people by word of mouth and example how to live a life that He loves. None of them therefore advocated any kind of violence or aggression against innocent people. Muhammad in particular was very clear on this point; he instructed that God sent him as a mercy to humanity and he warned us against expressing ourselves violently.

Second, as to sacred books, although Islam advocates peace it is not a pacifist religion. God knows that some people will not only reject the truth but will stand against it and commit acts of aggression against those who uphold it. Such people must be physically stopped even if it means fighting and killing them. (For a brief account of this matter read, Islam, a Peaceful but not Pacifist Religion, in Saudis and Terror By Dr. Jaafar Sheikh Idris: Cross-Cultural Views, Ghainaa Publications, 1426 H / 2005. pp. 247-60, www.ghainaa.com). This concept is not foreign to Christians or to Americans; indeed, all societies recognize the right of self-defense as well as the right of the state to defend its constituents and interests. Like St. Augustine’s notion of a ‘Just War’ in Christian theology, Islamic law constrains and regulates the circumstances under which Muslims are permitted to wage war and the manner in which warfare is conducted.

JA: Much (not all) of what you write in your first and second points agrees with Christian ethics and the acceptable rules of war. However, I have written my articles to expose all of Islam to the uninformed public. It is wrong to leave out the unpleasant parts in the origins of your religion, which are too often applied to today’s world. For example, in the last sentence after my comments here, you write (below): "Long before current notions of environmentalism and organizations such as the United Nations, Muhammad told his followers not to cut down [sic, trees?] in warfare." But this is simply untrue, for some of the Islamic rules of war are questionable by today’s standards, before or after the United Nations was founded.

Here follows a list of rules taken from the Quran and the sound hadith collections of Bukhari and Muslim. The article linked at the end of the list provides the historical contexts for each one. Except for the first point, I select a translation (Hilali and Khan) that is supported by the Saudi royal family. All of the parenthetical comments are theirs.

(1) Women captives are sometimes forced to marry their Muslim masters, regardless of the marital status of the women. That is, the captors are allowed to have sex with the enslaved, married or not, in most cases. The Quran in Sura 4:24 says:

4:24 And forbidden to you are wedded wives of other people except those who have fallen in your hands (as prisoners of war) . . . (Sayyid Abul A’La Maududi, The Meaning of the Quran, vol. 1, p. 319).

Maududi, a highly respected Sunni commentator, says in his comment on the verse that it is lawful for Muslims to marry women prisoners of war even when the prisoners’ husbands are still alive. But what happens if the husbands are captured with their wives? Maududi cites a school of law that says Muslims may not marry the women, but two other schools say that the marriage between the captive husbands and wives is broken (note 44). But why is any of this a debate in the first place?

The next hadith casually talks about disrobing a captured woman, but Muhammad takes her for himself. "Give me that girl!" he shouts at a Muslim raider returning from a raid. Why does he want her?

. . . When on the next day, the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) again met me in the street, he said: O Salama, give me that girl, may God bless your father. I said: She is for you. Messenger of Allah! By Allah, I have not yet disrobed her. The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) sent her to the people of Mecca, and surrendered her as ransom for a number of Muslims who had been kept as prisoners at Mecca. (Muslim 4345; see two other hadiths (and there are many) about Muslim captors having sex with women captives, here and here)

(2) Muhammad gets twenty percent from his raids, and his jihadists get eighty. Does this explain, to a large degree, why he went out on or sent out so many raids? The Quran in Sura 8:41 says:

8:41 And know that whatever of war-booty that you may gain, verily one-fifth (1/5th) of it is assigned to Allh, and to the Messenger, and to the near relatives [of the Messenger (Muhammad SAW)], (and also) the orphans, Al-Maskin (the poor) and the wayfarer, if you have believed in Allh and in that which We sent down to Our slave (Muhammad SAW) on the Day of criterion (between right and wrong), the Day when the two forces met (the battle of Badr)

The following hadith, though specifically talking about the conquest of the Jewish tribe of Nadir, explains what the prophet of Islam does with the spoils, part of which was plowed back into preparations for further jihad:

It has been narrated on the authority of Umar, who said: The properties abandoned by Banu [tribe] Nadir were the ones which Allah bestowed upon His Apostle for which no expedition was undertaken either with cavalry or camelry. These properties were particularly meant for the Holy Prophet (may peace be upon him). He would meet the annual expenditure of his family from the income thereof, and would spend what remained for purchasing horses and weapons as preparation for Jihad. (Muslim 4347)

(3) Fruit trees may be destroyed. The Quran in Sura 59:5 says:

59:5 What you (O Muslims) cut down of the palm-trees (of the enemy), or you left them standing on their stems, it was by Leave of Allh, and in order that He might disgrace the Fsiqn (rebellious, disobedient to Allh).

This hadith supports the revelation’s "legality":

Narrated Ibn Umar:
Allah's Apostle had the date-palm trees of Bani Al-Nadir burnt and cut down at a place called Al-Buwaira. Allah then revealed: "What you cut down of the date-palm trees (of the enemy) or you left them standing on their stems. It was by Allah's Permission." (59.5) (Bukhari; see a parallel hadith in Bukhari here)

This revelation in the Quran and support in the hadith contradicts your earlier assertion that Islam forbids cutting down trees. However, if modern Islam has improved on original Islam, then this is a welcome change. If this is so, then I hope the change is broadcast far and wide.

(4) Three options are forced on the People of the Book: (1) Fight and die; (2) convert; (3) keep their religion, but pay a tax, the jizyah. Muslims argue that it was no more than a "protection" for the "privilege" of living under Islam (read: not be attacked again). The Quran in Sura 9:29 says:

9:29 Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allh, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allh and His Messenger (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islm) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.

(5) Some sound hadiths say that Muhammad disapproved of killing women and children. But in several traditions, pagan women and children may be killed at night in war.

Narrated As-Sab bin Jaththama:
The Prophet passed by me at a place called Al-Abwa or Waddan, and was asked whether it was permissible to attack the pagan warriors at night with the probability of exposing their women and children to danger. The Prophet replied, "They (i.e. women and children) are from them (i.e. pagans)." I also heard the Prophet saying, "The institution of Hima is invalid except for Allah and His Apostle." (Bukhari; Hima)

Sahih Muslim agrees:

It is reported on the authority of Sa'b b. Jaththama that the Prophet of Allah (may peace be upon him), when asked about the women and children of the polytheists being killed during the night raid, said: They are from them. (Muslim 4321, and read the one below)

To conclude, this short list of rules of jihad has been taken from this article, which provides more rules and the historical context of each one. It also has a section on jihad in Islamic law. One law says that old men and Christian monks may be killed (click on the article and scroll down to "Classical legal opinions," no. six).

Third, Many Westerners often quote, out of context, some Qur’anic verses relating to Jihad and fighting. In doing so they appear to want to give the impression that, unlike Christianity and Judaism, Islam is an aggressive religion. As Muslims we do believe that your present sacred books contain some of God’s words; we do not, however, believe (as your fundamentalists do) that every word in them is the word of God. There are many verses in various books of these books of the Bible that are held out as sacred seem far worse than any quote that might be taken out of context from the Qur’an. Here are some examples:

Numbers 31: 1-18 "The LORD said to Moses, 'Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites…. The Israelites captured the Midianite women and children and took all the Midianite herds, flocks and goods as plunder. They burned all the towns where the Midianites had settled, as well as all their camps….’ (Moses ordered) ’Now kill all the boys. And kill every women who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.’"

Luke 19:27 (Jesus said) "But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them - bring them here and kill them in front of me."

Compare this with the following Qur’anic verses and sayings of Prophet Muhammad:

Qur'an 002:190-193 "Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loves not, aggressors. And slay them wherever you find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers. But if they desist, then lo! God is Forgiving, Merciful. And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for God. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrongdoers."

Qur'an 008:59-61 "And let not those who disbelieve suppose that they can outstrip (God's purpose). Lo! They cannot escape. Make ready for them all you can of (armed) force and of horses tethered, that thereby you may dismay the enemy of God and your enemy, and others beside them whom you know not. God knows them. Whatsoever you spend in the way of God it will be repaid to you in full, and you will not be wronged. And if they incline to peace, incline you also to it, and trust in God. Lo! He is the Hearer, the Knower.

Qur'an 005:8 5:7-10 "Remember God's grace upon you and His covenant by which He bound you when you said: We hear and we obey; and keep your duty to God. God knows what is in the breasts (of men). O you who believe! Be steadfast witnesses for God in equity, and let not hatred of any people seduce you that you deal not justly. Be just: that is next to piety, and fear God. Lo! God is informed of what you do. God has promised those who believe and do good works: Theirs will be forgiveness and immense reward. And they who disbelieve and deny Our revelations, such are rightful owners of Hell."

The Prophet teaches Muslim soldiers the ethics of war: to avoid killing non-combatants, women, children, and the elderly. Long before current notions of environmentalism and organizations such as the United Nations, Muhammad told his followers not to cut down in warfare.

My comment on this section comes in two long parts.

The first part is subdivided into a list. You cite Numbers 31:1-18. This is a common strategy of Muslim missionaries. They refer to severe verses in the Old Testament and assume that they should be carried out today. This is a misinterpretation of the older sacred text.

Islam does in fact command and initiate wars against peaceful people. At the time of the revolt of Arab tribes during Abu Bakr’s caliphate and during Umar’s conquests of peaceful peoples outside of the Arabian Peninsula, the Caliphs subdued tribes and cities and peoples who wanted to be free of Islam or who never attacked it to begin with. Further, the differences between the wars in the Old Testament and in the Quran and early Islam are profound. Here are at least six, which I edit from a previous article, linked below the list. In this list, "God" means the Deity of the Bible, and "Allah" means the deity of the Quran.

(1) The historical span of time

The Old Testament books covers around 1,400 hundred years before Christ, and God did not send out leaders to wage war in most of these years. For example, the Book of Judges alone says that ancient Hebrews enjoyed many decades of peace between each judge who was raised up in order to fight off aggression, sometimes as long as eighty years, longer than Muhammad’s twenty-two years of being a warner and messenger (Judges 3:11, 30-31; 5:31; 8:28, to cite only these examples).

In Islam, Muhammad lived in Medina for only ten years (AD 622-632). In this brief time, he either sent out or went out on seventy-four raids, expeditions, or full-scale wars. They range from small assassination hit squads to eliminate anyone who insulted him, to an Islamic Crusade during which Muhammad led a large number of jihadists against Byzantine Christians (See no. four, below).

(2) Hope of conversion

In the Old Testament, sometimes God commands all the inhabitants of a region or town to be wiped out entirely, like Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16-19:29). The Quran also approves of this destruction (Suras 7:80-84; 11:77-83; 15:61-77; 26:165-173; 27:54-58; 29:28-30). This is the big lesson of the Genesis passage. If God had found even only ten righteous in those cities, then he would not have destroyed them. But he did destroy them, so Sodom and Gomorrah did not have even ten righteous, except Lot and his family, who were forewarned and escaped.

In contrast, Allah never commanded Muhammad to wipe out all the inhabitants of a region or town in Arabia at first. Rather, Allah and his prophet killed some and let others live. Later, however, he forces them to convert or die (Sura 9:1-6). Evidently, the pagans of Arabia were not beyond hope, but some people in the ancient world were, long before Christianity or Islam arrived on the world stage.

So what is the difference between over 1,000 years BC (Old Testament wars) and 600 years AD (Islamic wars)? Jesus Christ came with the message of good news, and the church penetrated into Arabia. Christianity may have "softened up" the pagans in Arabia, which could not have happened one or more millennia before Jesus came.

(3) The enemy

In the Bible God orders warfare only against specific Canaanites who were too far gone in their decadence. Let us assume, contrary to fact, that a nation neighboring Israel was made up of ethical monotheists. Would God decree that a war should be waged against them? To reason deductively, Deuteronomy 20:10-15 says explicitly not to attack nearby pagans outside of Canaan. Also, Jonah preached to Nineveh, hundreds of miles away, and the inhabitants of this city were neither degraded Canaanites nor monotheists. So how much more would God not attack a nation if it were made up of monotheists?

In contrast, Allah commands warfare against monotheists (Sura 9:29, quoted above, point no. four in the list of rules of jihad). Muhammad embarked on an Islamic Crusade against the Byzantines in AD 630. They never showed up, according to the best of western scholarship, so he believed a false rumor that they were mustering a large army to invade Arabia. But along the way he extracted agreements and "protection" money from Arab Christians (and Jews) so that they would not be attacked again. Allah ordained wars of conquest in order to spread Islam by military force.

For a history of the conflict between Muslims and Jews during the lifetime of Muhammad, see this article.

(4) Geography

God told the ancient Hebrews to cleanse the land of Canaan, but not to do this to surrounding nations (Deuteronomy 20:10-15). God did not ordain the conquest of large regions far beyond Israel, in order to spread the Hebrew religion. Little Israel was at times about twice the size of New Jersey (one of the smallest states in the US), or other times roughly the same size as this American state. How does this limited conquest compare to the gigantic Assyrian, Babylonian, or Egyptian Empires in the ancient world? How does it compare to the Islamic Empire within only a few decades after the death of Muhammad in AD 632?

On the other hand, Muslims could claim that Allah told Muhammad to cleanse only Arabia of polytheists (though this is a huge land mass, much larger than New Jersey), but the prophet of Islam and his successors expand beyond this large region to conquer vast territories.

Thus, ancient Israel had a completely different calling that is related specifically to their land, which is small geographically. Islam waged war on peoples of distant lands, far beyond Arabia, and it still seeks worldwide religious and political conquest, if it could.

(5) Descriptive vs. prescriptive

From our point of view today, the Old Testament wars in the ancient world are merely descriptive; but the Quran prescribes or commands wars today.

Sam Shamoun writes:

The wars and violence found within the OT are descriptive, not prescriptive. They are describing events as they occurred, commandments God had given a specific people for a specific purpose. These instructions are not prescriptions for followers today, which is unlike the Quran. The Islamic injunctions are binding on all Muslims for all times, making it mandatory that all the faithful wage war against the infidels till the end of the age. (Source)

(6) A Christian perspective

For Christians, this debate over wars in the Old Testament and in the Quran is academic, because they believe that the first coming of Jesus Christ (600 years before Muhammad) ushered in a new era of salvation, a way to God that excels the one offered in the Old Testament, and much better than the one offered in the Quran.

Christians honor the Old Testament, regard it as inspired, and receive great benefit from it. But at the same time they acknowledge that it was written for its own times. They also believe that Christ fulfilled it, and hence they must rise above such commands as animal sacrifices, diet restrictions, and wars over geopolitical holy sites like Jerusalem. (What the Emperor Constantine and the Medieval Crusaders did is not foundational to Christianity; only Christ is.) With that said, no Christian should ever believe that the God of the Old Testament and the New Testament are different. They are not. The same God who purified the specific land of Canaan through Joshua by military warfare is now purifying the whole world through Jesus (the Hebrew name is Joshua) only by spiritual warfare, that is, only by preaching the gospel and praying.

For more information on how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament, click on this article.

This edited list is taken from this article.

As for the second part of my comments, you say that Westerners quote the Quran out of context, but you have done this to Luke 19:27. Jesus was telling a parable. It is true that he said the words, "But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them - bring them here and kill them in front of me." But you omitted the fact that he actually put those words in the mouth of an anonymous king. I explain all of this in the article Torture in the Quran and Early Islam. I wrote:

In . . . [this] parable, Jesus says that a nobleman went off to become king of another land (Luke 19:11-27). But his future subjects hated him and did not want him to be king, so they sent a delegation to inform him of this. But the nobleman went anyway, and he returned as the new king of that land. After he settled his investments done by his servants while he was away, he called his enemies to stand before him and commanded his servants to kill them in front of him. This parable is discussing the end times and judgment.

Every freshman [first-year] Bible student is taught to determine the genre or kind of Scripture passage that he is analyzing. If it is a parable, then the students must not take the details literally. In this case, both parables [Luke 12:35-48 and 19:11-27] relate the events at the end time, during God’s judgment (note the key theme of "return"). Islam and Christianity agree that disobedient unbelievers will be punished for their actions, in the Last Day. In these parables, Jesus is simply using the stereotypical king that had evolved over the centuries (see Daniel 2:5), so that the original listeners could catch the degree of sinfulness of the disobedient persons’ affront to God. The details of a parable must not be overinterpreted, but the essentials are what matter. And the essential message is this: The severity of the punishments in the literary world of the two parables indicates the severity of the punishments at Judgment. But the punishments in the parables about the Last Day are not to be carried out down here on earth, here and now. They are left in God’s hands in heaven when he calls for the ending of the world.

However, down here on earth, can any Muslim polemicist point out a passage in the Gospels that clearly and literally and physically shows Jesus cutting people into pieces or summarily executing someone in real life?

Part Six completes James Arlandson’s seven questions and Soliman al-Buthi’s answers and challenges in the section "Fundamentalism Defined" (above) of the Open Letter to Congress.

Articles by James Arlandson
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