There are certain statements that ANY discussion of Islam will elicit from apologists, and one of them is always trotted out when one person mentions (correctly) that the Qur'an instructs Believers to do violence to non-believers.
(I was going to cite the actual ayas and verses here, but I'll just repeat what I say to non-Muslims all the time: READ THE QUR'AN....and while you're reading, remember that hundreds of millions of people see it as the LITERAL word of God.)
Anyway, the knee-jerk response to Qur'anic violence is: "So what? The BIBLE contains a lot of violence, too!"
Yes, it does. But does it recommend violence as a way of life, or as the basis of a legal system?
[This essay is written from a Roman Catholic persepective; a practicing Jew would have to explain the Qur'an's parallels to the Torah. And may I say, "Good luck with that, Mr. Jewish Person!" Because I haven't come across too many self-described Muslim scholars who would engage in that sort of discourse.]
So, here are my points:
1. The Qur'an should ONLY be compared to the Gospels.
The Qur'an and the Bible are both holy books, and they are both considered to be the word of God by adherents of Islam and Christianity, respectively.
The Bible is a collection of many different literary genres (including history, law, genealogy, poetry, letters, proverbs, and--from a contextualist view--mythology) compiled by many different authors over thousands of years. The Qur'an is one literary form transmitted by one person within the span of one lifetime. This is not exactly like comparing apples to apples--or, for that matter, apples to oranges. It's like comparing apples to an entire fruit basket!
So let's toss out the bananas and the grapes and the strawberries, and let's make a reasonable comparison between the message of the Bible and the message of the Qur'an.
The heart of Christianity is expressed in the Gospels: the Gospels describe the life of Jesus, and preserve his teachings, as a narrative to instruct one how to live one's life in accordance to God's plan.
The Qur'an is a narrative that instructs one how to live one's life in accordance to God's plan.
2. According to the Gospels, violence should be avoided.
If we look at the Qur'an vis-a-vis only the Gospels, a lot of Biblical examples of violence have thus been removed: they were historic experiences, and did not necessarilly set precedent and bear repeating over and over. David slew Goliath, the battle was won: Jesus did not recommend that His followers seek out and murder any descendants of the Philistines.
But even sticking to the New Testament, Herod slaughtered all the baby boys in Palestine in the vain hope that the Messiah would be eliminated--this example is hardly a Christian recommendation to commit infanticide if you suspect that a political rival has been born. It merely shows the cruelty and ruthlessness of Herod.
The only example of "Christian" violence, that I can think of, is when one of the disciples used his sword to cut off a Roman soldier's ear, when Jesus was about to be arrested in Gethsemene. (Here I use "Christian" loosely: he was a follower of Christ, although the formal religion had not yet been established, and the disciples were essentially a Jewish sect at that point) Was the response of Jesus to applaud what the young man did? No: he admonished him, and he reattached the unfortunate soldier's ear.
3. According to the Qur'an, the death penalty is warranted in many cases: for anti-Islamic actions AND ideas.
Again, I don't want to lead anyone by the hand through the entire Qur'an, except to advise that you get a copy and read it yourself. But you will find verses that instruct Muslims to "slay the unbeliever wherever you find him."
Now, there are also verses that imply a sort of tolerance: "There is no compulsion in religion." These seem to directly contradict the harsher instructions, and you may say, "Well, the Bible is full of contradicitons, too--even if you stick to only looking at the Gospels!"
Even with our Gospel-only limit, there were several authors, and the Gospels were transmitted orally before they were written down. And even so, the contradictions are minor: Sermon on the Mount? Sermon on the Plain? Who cares? It's the same message.
This is NOT the case with the Qur'an, according to Muslims. ONE source, INFALLIBLY given. If you accept that, then there is no excuse for contradictions. But even Muslims describe Mohammad as an illiterate, and he did have to trust that the followers who actually wrote what he told them to write were doing a good job. Human error would have allowed some mistakes to creep in, by accident. But Muslims are adamant on this point: there are no mistakes in the Qur'an, until it gets translated out of the original Arabic, and that makes it NOT the Qur'an....
That's always been an interesting caveat. You have to be fluent in Arabic to really understand the Qur'an? So much for God being smart enough to convey what Muslims describe as a "simple" message. Maybe God should have told Mohammed to learn Esperanto!
Recently--and I blogged about this--a person posted the comment (on another site) that her Bible contained many examples of Christian violence AND terrorism. Clearly, this woman is unfamiliar with the Bible--or likely, only "knows" it insofar as what someone (probably a "Muslim scholar") told her.
I would welcome anyone reading this to give me specific examples of Christian violence in the Bible.
And don't forget terrorism! I promise to post any citations regarding the disciples using suicide belts.