Sunday, 26 April 2009

Is the Qur'an Hate Speech?

Earlier this week, I wrote a rebuttal to a recent letter in the Daily Mail, which purveyed a lot of politically correct tropes about Islam. Part of that rebuttal centred around the idea of whether there is anything in the Qur'an or mainstream Islamic teaching that teaches Muslims to hate unbelievers, or whether hate preaching can only be achieved by "distorting" the true message of Islam.

In the 1980s, two Indian Hindus were arrested on charges of "insulting Islam" after publishing a poster depicting 24 violent and hateful verses from the Qur'an, with the title: "Why riots take place in this country". They claimed that the Qur'an itself was the primary source of tension between Muslims and Hindus in India.

After a trial, the Hindus were eventually acquitted. The judge who presided over the case concluded: "[A] close perusal of the Ayats [verses] shows that the same are harmful and teach hatred, and are likely to create differences between Mohammedans on one hand and the remaining communities on the other.”

So is the Qur'an hate speech?

First, let us define hate speech. Wikipedia defines hate speech as follows: "Hate speech is a term for speech intended to degrade a person or group of people based on their race, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, language ability, ideology, social class, occupation, appearance (height, weight, hair color, etc.), mental capacity, and any other distinction that might be considered by some as a liability." We may also add to this any speech that advocates applying different standards of treatment to certain people based on their perceived membership of a group identified with any of the above criteria.

According to this definition, the Qur'an is certainly a text that incites to religious hatred.

The overall attitude of the Qur'an is starkly supremacist. Muslims are the best people on Earth: "Ye are the best community that hath been raised up for mankind. Ye enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency; and ye believe in Allah. And if the People of the Scripture [Jews and Christians] had believed it had been better for them. Some of them are believers; but most of them are evil-livers." (3:110) Not only are "most" Jews and Christians "evil-livers", they are also, along with other unbelievers, the worst of Allah's creations: "Lo! those who disbelieve, among the People of the Scripture and the idolaters, will abide in fire of hell. They are the worst of created beings." (98:6)

The Qur'an also dehumanises unbelievers as "the worst of beasts" (8:55). This being the case, they do not deserve the same level of treatment as Muslims: "Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. And those with him are hard against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves." (48:29)

While the Christian God is said to love all people, even sinners, Allah states explicitly that he does not love unbelievers (3:32, 30:45). While the Christian doctrine is inconsistent with the idea that God sends even those He "loves" to Hell, some inventive interpretation and apologetics may be able to get around this problem. In Islam, however, it would be pretty hard for anyone to make the case that Allah is a loving, benevolent God.

Furthermore, Jews and Christians have both been cursed by Allah: "The Jews call 'Uzair [Ezra] a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah's curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!" (9:30) This is reinforced by the Qur'an's opening prayer itself, the Fatiha, which pious Muslims recite up to seventeen times daily: "Show us the straight path, the path of those whom Thou hast favoured; not the (path) of those who earn Thine anger nor of those who go astray.” (1:6-7) Most Muslim Qur'an commentators - such as Ibn Kathir (d.1373), al-Suyuti (d.1505), Ibn Abbas (d.687) and Tabari (d.923) - identify those who have earned Allah's anger as the Jews, and those who have gone astray as the Christians. And remember that these words are the nearest Muslim equivalent to the Lord's Prayer.

Meanwhile, polytheistic religions are not exempted from this hostility - those who attribute partners to Allah and worship them alongside or instead of him are committing the "most heinous" sin anyone can possibly commit (4:48). Perhaps because of this ultimate sinfulness, they are declared to be physically unclean and prohibited from entering the Sacred Mosque in Mecca (9:28).

Finally, this hatred is so deeply embedded in Islamic ethics that the Qur'an explicitly commands Muslims not to even befriend Jews and Christians: "O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for friends. They are friends one to another. He among you who taketh them for friends is (one) of them. Lo! Allah guideth not wrongdoing folk." (5:51, repeated in 3:28 and 4:144)

That all of this is hate speech can be demonstrated by simply reversing the roles. Imagine that the above quotes were not from the Qur'an, but had been said by, say, Geert Wilders. Imagine if he had said that most Muslims were evil-doers, or that Muslims are the worst of beasts, or that non-Muslims are obliged to be merciful to each other but ruthless towards Muslims, or that no one should make friends with Muslims (despite the claims of many Muslims, incidentally, he has never said anything even close to any of this). He would be arrested for hate speech even quicker than he already has been. So why does the Qur'an get a pass?

Silly question. Obviously, we would be the hateful ones if we ever brought any of these facts to light. That's the way multiculturalism works, folks.

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