Posted by: Lotfi Frigi | March 22, 2010

John Philip Jenkins, “Jesus Wars”: Bible Far More Violent than Qur’an

Upon reading Professor Cole’s blog yesterday morning, I went out and bought myself a copy of the freshly printed “Jesus Wars” by John Philip Jenkins. Halfway through the book so far, and I tell you, a very interesting and highly informative book.

Allow me to preface this entry by saying first that violence is wrong, no matter the reason. It is a savage and primitive way of settling differences. Second, the frequency or degree of violence meted out by extremist adherents of a particular religion throughout history DOES NOT make one religion any better or any worse than the rest of them. That also applies to intra-religious sects, races, ideologies and social castes. I am not claiming to be presenting groundbreaking revelations by saying that the three major Abrahamic religions have either inspired violence or motivated some of its extremist elements to manipulate their texts to explain and justify violence for reasons often totally unrelated to those religions. Didn’t George H. W. Bush utter the following mind-boggling statement during his presidential campaign in 1987? “No, I don’t know that Atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God.” Whose God, George? And who died and left you in charge? Jesus? Pray tell! Or better yet, Pat Robertson, the Fundamentalist Christian tele-minister saying “You say you’re supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing.  Nonsense. I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.  I can love the people who hold false opinions but I don’t have to be nice to them”. That’s grand, Pat! Just grand! That’s the spirit that God wanted you to pass on to the congregation!

Now, here’s Professor Juan Cole’s entry in Informed Comment on Jenkins’ “Jesus Wars”…

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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