The National Catholic Review
Studying the Quran as a Catholic, part III

Cambridge, MA. I continue here my brief series on the Quran, how the new Study Quran can be an aid to interreligious understanding in the necessary battle against the twin evils of ignorance and violence. One might similarly look at The Jewish Study Bible, which includes the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation, or The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha. We need to be studying each other’s holy books, and we can, and we should.

It is important to remember that my concern here is the study of the holy book itself, rather than all the important contextual issues that must also be addressed. I admit, as always, that the study of the text does not replace other “infinite paths of learning”: the study of one’s own deepest self, the study of the surrounding social and political conditions and, finally, our unending encounter with God. The study of the text is only a small part of the larger wisdom required of us, but it is an irreplaceable part. That it is easy enough to do should shame those who refuse to actually study other religions before judging them. The Study Quran means that this vastly influential holy book is now more easily available for our study, open and ready, and my posts are meant to be examples of this study, by a reader who is not an expert on Islam.

In my last post, I reflected on the God of mercy, the compassionate and merciful Lord of whom we hear again and again in the Quran—and who is very much in the forefront of the consciousness of Catholics during Pope Francis’ Year of Mercy. I did intend now to move on to Mary and Jesus in the Quranic tradition but thought that perhaps skeptical readers would charge that I’d taken the easy path: Who can object to the idea that God is merciful? So I thought it wiser to stop for a moment to ask a difficult question: What then does the Quran say about violence?

One place to start is Caner Dagli’s masterful article in The Study Quran, “Conquest and Conversion, War and Peace in the Quran.” Citing key but disparate texts, Dagli reminds us that at various points in the Quran, the political context makes the teaching seem to incline toward peace or the taking up of arms. Each sura (chapter) and the key verses in each sura, need to be studied and read in context. While at a deep level the Quran is perfectly consistent, one cannot retrieve its teachings by citing just one passage or another.

But here I can consider just two passages. First, consider these verses in the second sura, “The Cow:”

God, there is no god but He, the Living, the Self-Subsisting. Neither slumber overtakes Him nor sleep. Unto Him belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is on the earth. Who is there who may intercede with Him save by His leave? He knows that which is before them and that which is behind them. And they encompass nothing of His Knowledge, save what he wills. His Pedestal embraces the heavens and the earth. Protecting them tires Him not, and He is the Exalted, the Magnificent. There is no coercion in religion. Sound judgment has become clear from error. So whosoever disavows false deities and believes in God has grasped the most unfailing handhold, which never breaks. And God is Hearing, Knowing. God is the Protector of those who believe. He brings them out of darkness into the light. As for those who disbelieve, their protectors are the idols, bringing them out of the light into the darkness (2:255-257).

This magnificent passage will remind us of similarly lofty words in the Psalms or the Prophets of Israel, and we can benefit from meditation on them. Of course, we naturally seize upon the words, “No coercion in religion,” which seems to leave matters of faith and belonging in God’s hands. The children of the light and darkness are allowed to go their own way, by God’s mysterious will, and humans are not to interfere. Yes, the passage is also judgmental, speaking of false deities (any deity but the Lord) and idols (anything one worships as equal to God), and what is needed is a 21st-century Islamic theologies of religions.

The Study Quran’s commentary on the verse, a full page, fills out our understanding. It points us to parallels, for example at 10:99-100 and 18:29. It also explores a variety of traditional interpretations, and asks how the verse was originally applied, even perhaps in the context of “mixed marriages” with Jews or Christians. One needs to go back to the original social and political context to understand how it is to be read, since out of context it can easily be misread, misused. In brief, though, the commentary concludes, “The fighting Muslims carried out was motivated by political circumstances and not the desire to convert.”

My second text, from the ninth sura, “Repentance,” serves to bring out another side of the matter. As the commentary suggests, it might even be taken as superseding the passage we have just read:

And an announcement from God and His Messenger to the people on the day of the great hajj: that God and His Messenger have repudiated the idolaters. So, if you repent, it would be better for you. And if you turn away, then know that you cannot thwart God. And give the disbelievers glad tidings of a painful punishment, save for those idolaters with whom you have made a treaty, and who thereafter commit no breach against you, nor support anyone against you. So fulfill the treaty with them for its duration. Truly God loves the reverent. Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wheresoever you find them, capture them, besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform prayer and give the alms, then let them go their way. Truly God is Forgiving, Merciful. And if anyone of the idolaters seek asylum with thee, grant him asylum until he hears the Word of God. Then convey him to his place of safety. That is because these are a people who know not (9:3-6).

The words are certainly strong: again, judgment is passed on the “idolaters” and “disbelievers;” if they break treaties one must ambush them, capture them, slay them. And yet—there is always more—if they repent of their treaty violations, they can be allowed to go their own way. Idolaters can be granted asylum, safe haven. Here, too, the commentary tells us, we will have to learn about the politics of the early Islamic world, and the Prophet’s efforts to hold his community together, defending it against hostile neighbors; not every word is meant for application in every time and place. My own impression—after preliminary study—is that we find here a sanction of force, but force constrained within the context of diplomacy and treaties, and in the end, ever open to peace, since God, who repudiates idolatry and has no patience with treaty-violators, also “loves the reverent” and is ever “Forgiving, Merciful.”

So what do we conclude? All is in God’s hands; peace is at the core of Islam; there have been and are times when believers have to fight fiercely; people who believe differently are in God’s hands, not ours; divine mercy is never exhausted. All this is very complicated, and perhaps I confuse readers by offering a few insights rather than a full study of such themes. But the point is that further study is needed, not just by the experts, but by you and me. Hence the value of The Study Quran. In the short run, read Caner Dagli’s essay, mentioned above and then, when you have time, start reading passages such as the two I have cited, and then, using the commentary and the index, start flipping back and forth and noting down all the other passages one must read.

To say that all this is complicated is not to evade hard questions, but to insist on hard study. We do not get to judge the Quran without studying it, nor can we walk away from it with some handy verse that suits our friendly or hostile purposes. With any sacred scripture, our own or another, we push back the forces of ignorance and violence if we engage the whole, in all its depth and complexity, insisting on slow study in the face of impatience, fear, anger, and ignorance.

Next: Mary and Jesus in several passages of the Quran.



Tim O'Leary | 12/22/2015 - 9:07am

A very telling story shows us the good an evil of Islam today, as well as reminds us that the Radical Islamist Terrorist movement is much bigger than just a Middle-East affair.

The Somali based Islamic al-Shabab terrorists boarded a bus in Kenya and told the Muslims to leave as they wanted only to kill the Christians. Some Muslims refused, trying to protect the Christians, telling the Islamist gunmen "to kill them together or leave them alone", a local governor told Kenyan media. In the end, two people were killed. (The al-Shabab are the group that singled out Christians in an attack on Garissa University College in April, freeing the Muslims and killing 148 Christians).

Richard Murray | 12/22/2015 - 11:02am

However, Tim, the West has woven many telling stories about the good and evil intent of people who speak in the name of Christianity.
Have we talked about John Hagee, the fundamentalist founder of “Christians” United for israel? He supports the Genocide of the people of Palestine. And his group works with other zionist groups in Washington, and helps force U.S. foreign policy that is cruel to the Muslim world. But Tim, is that very Christian of him?

And George W Bushleagues claims that he’s a Christian, but upon orders from his zionist masters, he, and America with him, destroyed the nation of Iraq recently. Was that very Christian of George?

In no way whatsoever do I want John Hagee, or W, to represent what I understand Christianity to be.
So, Tim, I think that we should not let violent factions speak for an entire religion. Whether that religion is Islam or Christianity.

Tim O'Leary | 12/22/2015 - 11:51am

I don't know too much about Hagee but I haven't heard that he killed anyone, here or in Palestine. Surely, if John Hagee was calling for genocide of the people of Palestine, he would be arrested by the Obama administration or at least denounced by them and the UN. He lives in the US, so there would be no excuse of not arresting him. Unless, of course, your charges have no basis in reality. On the other hand, did you ever complain when the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for the destruction of Israel, stating that the “barbaric” Jewish state “has no cure but to be annihilated.” I think you live in an alternative universe.

Richard Murray | 12/21/2015 - 7:49pm

Mr. Cosgrove,
You forget to mention that the U.S., under our zionist masters and zionist foreign policy, just destroyed the nation of Iraq.

You also forget that we destroyed a democratically elected government in Iran in 1953; the newly formed CIA helped in this fiasco.

You also forget that we supplied bombs and support for israel’s Genocidal murder of thousands of innocent human innocent people in Gaza last summer. Gaza is the largest open-air prison in the history of the cosmos.
In fact, israel used white phosphorous on people, including children. Then they sell even more of their weapons to dictators and oppressors around the globe. And because they have used them to slaughter the captive innocents in Gaza, they call these weapons “battle tested.”
Unfortunately, the U.S. supports the illegal zionist settlers of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, who regularly chant things like “Death to Arabs” and “Death to Palestinians.”

Is your video of ISIS? Remember in 2002 when netanyahu lied and testified before Congress that taking out Saddam would have many positive reverberations around the region? In actuality, the United States completely impoverished and destabilized the region, which is what allowed ISIS to begin in the first place! Additionally, there may have been Western, and zionist, support for ISIS, which intrepid reporters are now researching.

Would you want the KKK to speak for Christianity? Well, don’t let ISIS, which the U.S. created, speak for Islam.

Instead, let’s work for Justice in the Middle East, and for a much better American foreign policy regarding the Middle East.

Richard Murray | 12/19/2015 - 5:12pm

Mr. O’Leary,
In response to your comment below, some reflections:

1) What do Muslims in the Middle East think about violence and Christianity?

The neocon zionists led “Christian” George W Bushleagues by the nose, and the U.S. with him, into the God-Awful War Upon the Human Beings of Iraq. Fascist Ben Netanyahu of the Likud Party (in israel) testified before Congress in 2002 that our intervention in Iraq would have waves of positive reverberations in the region.

But what happened? The region was destabilized, there has been unfathomable human suffering, and ISIS was produced in the chaos we caused. So much for American democracy gathering the world under its wings.

This is why many people in the Middle East, people who love peace, think that Christian America is a violent savage beast.

2) I don’t have time to list them, but the wars fought in the name of Christianity, or by Christian leaders, is probably much longer than your list. This, like your list, is part of a much longer conversation.

3) Would Christians want others to form opinions of Christianity from the KKK?

Something similar happens if we allow our opinions of Islam to be formed by ISIS.

4) The vast majority of the Muslim world loves peace—just like us. Let’s take a moment to learn their Scripture, the Qur’an, which is in deep dialogue with both the New Testament and the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament).

Tim O'Leary | 12/19/2015 - 7:41pm

Richard - not sure I should respond when you stoop to repeating Trump's talking points, but I will try. I know that the vast majority of Muslims love peace, and that Muslims comprise the majority of ISIS victims (not so Bojo Haram, Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, etc.), and Saudi Arabia have just announced a 34-nation coalition against ISIS. Still, there has been an completely insufficient repudiation of the very concept of Jihad from most Muslim leaders. Iran relishes such language, as do Wahhabi madrasa schools, etc.

I linked to the 100 or so criminal violence of Muhammad but only listed to the first 100 years of Islam. No doubt Christians & Muslims have started many wars, as have Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Atheists, Pagans, Democrats, Republicans, etc. The point is that Jihad was advocated by the founder, practiced immediately by his successors, and remains central to Islamic teaching (see here "jihad is the peak of Islam"), even up to today. The KKK were a tiny post-war off-shoot founded 1800 years after the founder, and were anti-Catholic & anti-Jewish as well as anti-Black. Even the Crusaders didn't appear until a millennium after the founder, and only got going after the Turks invaded the Eastern Roman Empire.

Maybe you don't see the distinction I am drawing but my main point is that reform in Islam requires a repudiation of the Founder's crimes, whereas reform in Christianity requires a better imitation of its Founder..

On the terrorist point, maybe you think Christian terrorism is a thing today. I know math is hard, but, perhaps, you could list the terrorist campaigns inspired by a closer walk with Jesus and compare them to what is happening now in Radical Islam. Wouldn't it be a great reform if all Muslim leaders repudiated the crimes of Muhammad and forswore violent jihad?

Richard Murray | 12/20/2015 - 1:58am

Look, Tim, why do you say that I’m repeating Don Trump’s points? That’s ludicrous.

Although you say a tangled bunch of weird things, let me address a big blindness on your part:

You speak of jihad and violence. But after the “Christian” West (led by zionist foreign policy) has devastated the Middle East, repeatedly and repeatedly, isn’t it hypocritical of you to ask the Muslim world to abide by your self-proclaimed rules?

A fundamentalist group, “Christians United for israel” (c.u.f.i.), actively supports the Genocide of the human beings of Palestine. Their leader, John Hagee, who visits Sheldon Adelson, is a believer in some new-fangled version of the Rapture. At Hagee’s Rapture, if I understand it, one-third of all Jews will go to heaven, one-third will go to hell, and one-third will choose which way they go. And the Muslims are in a worse lot, according to John-boy.

Tim, as utterly insane as Hagee’s notions are, he wields huge clout in Washington, and is a part of the zionist forces directing American foreign policy. Shouldn’t bozos like Hagee, who have caused tragically massive suffering in the Middle East, change their ways, rather?

The West has caused the chaos of the Middle East.

We are to blame.

Regarding some other points: Islam and Christianity were born in totally different regions and stations of history. There’s not space here to go into much. But the concept of “Jihad,” however, is not what you think it is. “Jihad,” an Arabic word, means “striving, applying oneself, struggling, persevering.”
Western media has contorted it to mean “whenever a Muslim person engages in disagreement with the West, especially armed battle.” But this is a perversion of what the word actually means.
The good people of the Middle East have a lot of righteous anger towards the West.

Additionally, there are questions about Western involvement in the very formation of ISIS. Some intrepid souls in the media are pursuing this now.

Lastly, who are you to say that Muhammad did criminal things? I’m not aware of the Prophet Muhammad doing anything wrong. He is obviously a great and holy person.

Guillermo Reyes | 12/20/2015 - 8:31am

It is Advent.
We are opening Cathedral doors of Mercy to usher the Jubilee year of Mercy

How are these being reflected by Tim, Richard, you, me, your neighbors, my neighbors, our families, our political candidates on both sides of the aisle?

To him whom much is given, much shall be expected. Is this true or is it not?

We thunder about "x" while procalining "y" as we act like "z"

We can do much better. Or are we no better than the Moors/Hebrews who slaughtered their neighbors?

If there is to be any hope in man, it must spring from an inner radical conversion Pope Francis often mentions. Otherwise violent behaviors will continue to engulf our culture due to violent attitudes clearly seen in our violent words on and off the internet. Is this new information to any ordinary Catholic?

Tim and Richard and the rest of us: step down. Walk the talk. Who cares if the other guy "wins" the arguments? Why lose your witness to prove something? One of you / us has to cede or you'll / we'll continue to propagate violent words against the other which begets violent attitudes

I wrote this for me, by the way. We are in need of Mercy

"You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill. And whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire"

Gospel of St Luke 5:21-23

Richard Murray | 12/20/2015 - 11:13am

Dear Mr. Reyes,

Thank you for your moving eloquence on behalf of mercy.

Almost every Surah of the Qur’an begins with a recollection of the mercy of Allah (God). And the New Testament says, “God is Love.”

In that spirit, I just want you to know, I am not the least bit angry at Tim O’Leary. I just find that his arguments are very, very wrong. While I appreciate Tim’s being a child of God, I also point out the errors, which remind me of zionist tropes, that are in his arguments. Concerned arguments on paper may prevent actual battles in battlefields and cities.

Also, Guillermo, as we discuss mercy, many people in Iraq, which the U.S. recently destroyed, are living in misery. Many people in Gaza, a part of Palestine, are living in misery—because the U.S. has helped our zionist masters in Israel destroy it repeatedly. And many people in the Middle East, and globally, have been suffering the ill effects of ISIS, which the U.S. and zionist policy helped create.

Mr. Reyes, I am a supporter of mercy. Which is why I think it is so important for American foreign policy to change its course, and to take a step in that direction.
Indeed, American foreign policy needs to learn how to “talk the talk” of mercy.
Then, it might be able to, as you say, “walk the talk” of mercy.

But to ignore the huge errors of the U.S., England, France, et al, in the Middle East, while demanding that the Islamic world conform to our expectations of it, is to be duped by liars. And remember, Jesus Christ called out the liars and lying authorities of his day. This too is mercy.

Tim O'Leary | 12/21/2015 - 3:15pm

Richard - I agree with you that to correct a falsehood is an act of Mercy and that resolution of intellectual disagreements can reduce conflict (isn't that what diplomacy is). So, I think your view of western powers is too harsh. Note that America or Europe in the last 50 years have not sought to take any territory in the Middle-East, but to oppose aggressors and invaders. Perhaps, the 2nd battle with Saddam Hussein was wrong, but there is no disagreement that he was a tyrant, that he killed millions in a war of aggression with Iran, used torture and weapons of mass destruction (chemical weapons) on his own citizens, and invaded the Muslim nation Kuwait, and praised the 9/11 attacks, etc., etc. He was a very bad man, by most standards, as is Assad (who also gassed his own people). Iran is also very bad and Al Qaeda and ISIS are even worse (trying to exterminate Yazidis and expel Christians from their ancient homes in Syria & Iraq). But you, like Trump, think all US involvement there is a disaster and want them to go home and leave the innocent to Assad and ISIS etc.

You seem to think that a desire for security of Israel is Zionism. I am for Palestinian and Israel peace and I want a 2-state solution that guarantees security for Israel, and Palestine, (if ever suicide bombing and other terrorist attacks on Israel cease). Do you want Israel to survive?

My deeper issue relates to the topic of Fr. Clooney's article, violence in Islam and the example of the Founder of Islam. You seem to think Muhammad did not behead and kill thousands (some with his own hands), enslave millions, steal property and land, and marry multiple wives (well over the 4 permitted for everyone else), including a 6-year old (all in his older years). the sources for this history is from orthodox Muslim scholars and the most important Muslim documents (Quran and Hadith). Is it your position that all these actions are not sinful or criminal? Or that they never occurred?

The Christian ideal is for everyone to imitate as closely as possible the life of Jesus Christ. Is it an ideal of Muslims to imitate the life of Muhammad?

Richard Murray | 12/21/2015 - 8:45pm

Tim, if anything, I don’t say enough about the Western powers, who are led by zionist foreign policy and who have, for over a century, pulverized and divided the Middle East.

You say, “Perhaps the 2nd battle with Saddam Hussein was wrong.” Well, Tim, I’m glad that you’re awake enough to see that truth, now that we’ve killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people and created ISIS.
Oh, and we also destroyed Iraq, which is far worse than anything that Saddam had been doing to it.
There are many other calamities that we’ve caused in the Middle East.

You speak of israel, which is actually a disaster for world peace. Just when the world was recognizing the evils of colonization, and reversing the action of colonizing, we created an artificial zionist colony, for European zionists, in Palestine. This was heinously wrong.
If you read the Balfour Declaration, you’ll see it’s addressed to “Lord” Rothschild, an arch-zionist. The Rothschilds remain involved in israel, and have many interests there. israel is a fiefdom of the Rothschilds. The Rothschilds also built the knesset building in israel, their capitol building.

Despite the wrongness of the founding of israel, I support its continued existence—but in a form that is much more just for the human beings of Palestine.
israel, if wants to survive, must get all the illegal zionist settlers out of the West Bank, and East Jerusalem; and give the Golan Heights back to Syria. Also, they have made Gaza the largest open-air prison in the history of the cosmos. Gaza needs to return to a humane existence. The Secretary General of the U.N. just said something similar, regarding the wrongness of the occupation of the West Bank, and how this crime fosters violence.
If israel makes the required changes, they will know peace. But the fascist Likud party of netanyahu prefers war. That way, the people of israel remain nervous, and netanyahu maintains his hold on power.

Lastly, you continue trying to attack Muhammad. Why? He is clearly a just and holy person. Life in the desert has different demands, especially back than. People had different ways of living. I’m not aware of Muhammad doing anything wrong. God considered him holy. He is known for his mercy and justice.

Tim O'Leary | 12/22/2015 - 8:56am

Richard - I recount the history of what Muhammad did and you say what he did was good and holy. That explains what your concept of ethics is. See how easy it is for ISIS to recruit people.

Richard Murray | 12/22/2015 - 11:22am

Actually, Tim, I was involved in the making of a Facebook group against ISIS. The group is called "Humanity Against ISIS." We would welcome you if you want to join us. I'm an admin (administrator) of the group.

We need to make distinctions between violent factions that claim a religion: KKK, John Hagee's group, ISIS, George W Bush's government, aipac, and, on the other hand, the true religions of the world, which include Islam and Christianity.

Tim O'Leary | 12/22/2015 - 11:43am

How does it make sense to attack ISIS for beheading, enslaving, force marriages, conquering all around them and say that when Muhammad did it, it was wonderful and holy? Don't you see the contradiction?

William Rydberg | 12/17/2015 - 1:48pm

Speaking as a Catholic who in Christ, is informed and animated by the Gospel, Tradition and the teachings of the Magisterium I find that the discussion of God in the document is as it were from "60 thousand feet". Quite accurate in terms of a global understanding of a monotheist Diety, but only if one allows one to deny knowledge of the first coming of Jesus-God come in the flesh about 700 years prior and all the Good News and the fact of Jesus-God come in the flesh, who is a Divine Person, imminent 2nd coming (we know not when, in an hour, in a decade, in 50,000 years or more, it doesn't matter, but it will happen pursuant to Apostolic teachings)...

The manifest absence of knowledge of and lack of discussion of the existence and the interior life of the Trinity, the One God which is the greatest revelation to the Christian about God that only He could give, through Jesus in the Power of His Spirit leaves me with a feeling of only a partial reveal. That Trinitarian Good News is so immense and so (thrice) Holy that it should animate any Catholic to whom it is revealed.

As monotheists, there is a lot to take in, however the Hebrew Scriptures which we Catholics share with the Jewish people are at variance historically with this document, especially about Issac, Jacob, Moses and David and others.

And, as a Catholic, the Gospel Christian Revelation of Jesus-God come in the flesh as a fulfillment of God's promise to David is missing. What Jesus actually taught that He is God, that He was crucified for declaring and admitting that He is God come in the flesh, that He died (God actually died) and rose again resurrected on the third day, and ascended in to heaven and is now seated at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty as Son and especially about the Love of the Father, and that God is Father, that God sent his Spirit along with Eucharist, to be with us, indeed that the Trinity is Love, sticks out so much...

The fact that at the General resurrection, I can expect to meet the risen Jesus Christ, look in His eyes, smell his breath, shake his hand, and say thank you is beyond words. To talk to him as a friend, as my Lord and my God. That there will be no concupiscence, that we will have resurrected bodies, that we will live as Angels do. Experiencing what no eye has seen or ear has heard again is beyond words. To be empowered as I am as a Christian, knowing that God is Love, not only that I am to love God. That as a Christian, I will be deified, that in the end God will be all in all, is again beyond words. To know that our human Nature in Christ Jesus, is at the right hand side of God, is beyond words. That the glory of God is man fully alive is also beyond words. So much beyond words in the Christian Revelation. Really, this Truth is beyond words, mysterious and absolutely True. All of this accessible through Baptism, and belief in Jesus and the teachings of His Church. So that we can all be sons in the Son...

These, at least, are only a few of the things that come to me off the top of my head. Seems like such a walk back from the beauty and majesty of the Catholic Truth...

Don't these things (at least some of them) inform your review of the Study Quran?

in Christ,

Tim O'Leary | 12/17/2015 - 10:45am

Fr. Clooney - I cannot but think that in your zeal for thinking well of all faiths you have departed from the plain teaching of the Quran, both as it is written and as it was lived by its founder and immediate successors. I too do not interpret your last quote above as killing those who have broken a treaty, but to kill them after the terms of the treaty have expired. In any case, Muhammad justified violence in a way totally different from some modern Islamic scholars. Here is a link to a list of a 100 known violent expeditions in only the last nine years of his life. Each one is worthy of contemplation:

There is nothing remotely like this in the first 10 years of Christianity, nor in the first 100, 200 or 300 years. In only the first 100 years after Muhammad died, the extreme violence continued. Here is a partial list, each event filled with merciless bloodshed, enslavement and religious persecution:
632 Death of Muhammed (Rashidun Caliphate begins (632-661))
636 Syria conquered after the Battle of Yarmouk river
637 Iraq conquered at Battle of al-Qadisiyyah
638 Jerusalem, Palestine conquered
640 Egypt’s Heliopolis & Nokiou conquered
644 Iran conquered, Sassanid Empire falls
645 Massive massacre of Alexandrian Christians
645 Armenia conquered
649 Cypress conquered
650 Tripoli, Afghanistan, & Sind conquered
650 7-year Muslim Sunni/Shiite civil war
652 Failed invasions of Sicily (also 667, 720, 827)
656 Battle of the Camel, Ali wins (Shiite)
657 Battle of Siffin, Ali loses (Shiite)
661 Death of Ali, beginning of the Umayyad Caliphate (661-750): Capital moved from Medina to Damascus
672 Rhodes conquered
672 Arabs besiege Constantinople x 5 years
705 Carthaginian Christians massacred
705 Burning of all Armenian nobles in a church
705 Beheading of all Jewish men (>700) in Medina
707 North Africa conquest complete
711 Spain invaded – conquered in 7 years (718)
713 Indus Valley invaded
717 2nd siege of Constantinople
721 France invaded, siege of Toulouse, freed by the Franks
732 Slaughter of Christians at Battle of River Garonne
732 Muslim defeated at Tours/Poitiers by Frank Charles Martel
735 France 2nd invasion, massive Muslim defeat

The victories of the Franks were the beginning of effective Christian defense, and the slow steady reconquista in Spain (completed only in 1492). The Caliphate continued its jihad into Europe for several more centuries, until it was only temporarily interrupted by the Crusades (called in response to a plea for help by Alexis I, Eastern Roman Emperor, after his territory was overrun by the recently converted Muslim Seljuk Turks after 1071). Bloody war crimes were committed (on both sides) in this long series of wars until the eventual victory of the Caliphate in 1291. The war was again taken into Europe by the Ottoman Turks, who took Constantinople in 1453, then invaded West all the way to Vienna (held there in major sieges in 1529 and 1683).

My point with this brief history is that the violent jihad began at the birth of Islam and is an integral part of the Quran and the Hadith. All societies and religions and ideologies have had violent adherents (most recently atheistic ones like the French Revolution, Nazism and Communism), but Islam is something utterly unique in its idea of jihad. Yes, millions of great Muslims have found ways to expunge or redirect this initial violent interpretation of jihad inward. Yes, there have been great philosophical and spiritual insights from many Muslim thinkers over the centuries. We should welcome all reforms in their communities and religions. But, we do not do justice to our brothers and sisters in those communities who are oppressed by Sharia law, child mutilation, religious persecution. They too are in need of the saving Good News of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Josh Mugler | 12/16/2015 - 2:43pm

You might also look at verse 22:40--"For had God not repelled some people by means of others, cloisters and churches and oratories and mosques, in which the name of God is often mentioned, would assuredly have been pulled down." I take this verse to be key in understanding how the Qur'an sees violence: that it is sometimes necessary to protect people from oppression, as distasteful as it might be.

Jeffrey Nelson | 12/16/2015 - 2:31pm

Here is a "hard question" that you seem to have evaded...(for what reason? Eisegesis perhaps?)

Why do you skip over the core of the central section of Sura 9:3-6 and deal only with disbelievers who, in bad faith, break treaties, rather than paying close attention to the text's instructions on how to behave towards Unrepentant Disbelievers Who Act in Good Faith with regards to treaties... Why do you avoid that case when it is very clearly dealt with?

"And give the disbelievers glad tidings of a painful punishment, save for those idolaters with whom you have made a treaty, and who thereafter commit no breach against you, nor support anyone against you. So fulfill the treaty with them for its duration. Truly God loves the reverent. Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wheresoever you find them, capture them, besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform prayer and give the alms, then let them go their way. "

Given the principles laid out here, 1. If you've made a treaty with Idolators/Unbelievers and they keep it in good faith, Muslims are to keep the absolute letter of that treaty...for the entire time that it is in effect. Then, 2. When the time of the treaty is up, "Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wheresoever you find them, capture them, besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush." Unless they repent... NOT of breaking the treaty (for this is about those Idolators who in good faith kept the treaty) but rather of their Idolatry/Unbelief... That is the clear meaning of this passage, for the Bad Faith/Treaty Breakers have already been dealt with...with a "Painful Punishment" and all of this matter falls under the "Save..." clause dealing with the Good Faith/Treaty-Keeping Idolators/Unbelievers...

Look at it again and see what is to be seen...hear what is to be heard... And ask if that is the True Word of the Divinity that you know, with whom you are acquainted... Honestly, if you say that the Divine would ever Kill, Slay, Slaughter a sentient being...a person...for merely being an "Unbeliever" or "Idolator"...then I know that you are bearing False WItness about the Divine and the Blessed Community.

Richard Murray | 12/16/2015 - 3:05pm

Mr. Nelson,
Why do you avoid that clear fact that the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) is a most genocidal document, more so than any other Scripture of which I'm aware?
It advocates the murder of all the inhabitants of Canaan, without even giving them the opportunity to convert. You can read the Book of Joshua, and Judges, to learn about this.

Fundamentalists abide by the mere letter of the law. We don't blame modern Jewish people for these statements in the Old Testament; It is because they practice exegesis, and are able to see deeper themes in texts that are horrifically violent and genocidal on the surface.

The Qur’an is far more peaceful and non-violent than the Old Testament.

And your last paragraph is especially odd. What is the “Divine and Blessed Community” you mention?

PJ Johnston | 12/16/2015 - 1:17pm

Something worth considering:
Given a superficial, naive reading, the Bible is at least as violent as the Qur'an- maybe even more so. There's even an entire chapter of the Bible (Deuteronomy 20) which commands religiously-motivated genocide against the pagan residents of Canaan. If you are willing to grant that Christians and Jews are reading the text the way it was really intended by God when they choose to ignore violent texts, read peaceful texts as having more importance than violent ones, or radically reinterpret violent texts in non-violent ways, you should be willing to grant that of Muslims or sympathetic non-Muslims reading the Qur'an in a more peaceful fashion.

In case you're interested in how your own blinders might affect the view of Islam you take away from reading violent-seeming texts in the Qur'an, a couple of people in the Netherlands simply highlighted a bunch of violent and objectionable verses in the Bible and swapped the book cover "The Holy Bible" with "The Holy Qur'an" to make people think all the verses were from the Qur'an. Then they asked people their opinion of Islam. You might be interested in seeing what happens when they reveal that the source of the verses was the Bible.

The deal is, we give a pass to our own texts, and don't conclude that we have a violent religion (even though more people in the US have been killed since 9/11 by right-wing Christian domestic terrorists than radical Muslims). We do this because there are powerful anti-Islamic stereotypes fed to us constantly in the media which cause us to see good things about Islam/Muslims as exceptional and not really representing the group while taking every bad thing as reinforcement of the stereotype.

Tony Topisco | 12/16/2015 - 2:33pm

P J Johnston: no, no, no, no. Your statement that "the Bible is more violent than the Quran" is preposterous. It's very simple: while in Det 20 and other places the Bible refers to violent episodes that took place in a very specific time, limited to very specific people, the Quran promotes the active and aggressive conversion of all infidels in the world, ALWAYS, including today.

In addition, while 100% of the current Christian scholars agree that the New Testament TRUMPS the Old one and therefore any violence is clearly eliminated, muslim dcholars have a much wider array of interpretations. If you are able to prove that muslim scholars are unanimously condemning the violence in the Quran, PLEASE let me know. But I don't think you will be.

PJ Johnston | 12/16/2015 - 3:27pm

Muhammad had an audience too. He wasn't talking about how to deal with non-Muslims in general, or at least it would be reading too much into the text to assume that he necessarily was. He was talking about specific groups of people in a particular time and place with whom his followers were in military conflict. See for instance this standard interpretation of the relevant passages:

It would be unreasonable to expect all Muslim scholars to condemn something all Christian scholars have not condemned. I assume you have heard of Christian Dominionism, which advocates using Old Testament Law as the template for secular law, including the death penalty for homosexuals and idolaters? Thinking of Christians as essentially non-violent and tolerant and Muslims as essentially violent and intolerant when their scriptural texts are more alike than different involves cherrypicking examples to support the stereotypes one wishes to make from what is actually a very mixed bag in both cases. Islamophobia needs to end, and it needs to end now.

J Cabaniss | 12/16/2015 - 5:59pm

Is it Islamophobic to ask if there is an Islamic country in the world in which a Christian would be comfortable living? Regarding the question of whose sacred texts are more violent, it would seem that question is answered by considering the actions of their adherents. I have to say I've never been particularly concerned that Southern Baptists will suddenly start shooting up the local mall, or that Mormon's will bicycle off to support a new terrorist organization. If Islam is a religion of peace it would appear that a lot of Muslim's didn't get that memo.

Richard Murray | 12/22/2015 - 4:56pm

Mr. Topisco,
If we limit the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) to the letter of the law, then it is hands down the most genocidal scripture that humanity has. It advocates the utter destruction of the indigenous people of Canaan.

You can read about this in the Book of Joshua, and Judges.

Dr. Johnston is entirely correct in the earlier statement, which I find very illuminating.

Tony Topisco | 12/16/2015 - 5:07pm

Thanks both for your replies. I am catholic, and catholic scholars agree on one single interpretation of the Bible. My main challenge is that within Islam it sounds like scholars are all over the place, and don't seem to reach a consensus on anything, from women's rights to jihad.

PJ Johnston | 12/16/2015 - 6:40pm

Even if all Catholics agreed to a single interpretation of their scriptures and Muslims did not all agree to a single interpretation of their scriptures (not really true about Catholics, by the way; go to a theological conference like the CTSA or read Catholic Biblical Quarterly and you will encounter tremendous diversity of opinion), it's an apple-to-oranges comparison, because "Catholics" are a subset of a larger group, "Christians." When you're talking about "Muslims," you're talking about an entire group of people. Just as you would expect Protestants and other Christians to disagree with Catholics in their interpretation of scripture, you would expect some groups of Muslims to disagree with other groups of Muslims. Within Islam, pretty much all the major terrorist groups are inspired by one sectarian interpretation of Islam, called Salafism. ISIS is Salafist, al-Qaeda is Salafist, etc. Not all Salafists are terrorists, but by and large the terrorists are Salafists. Here's an article by a colleague on the topic:

So really, maybe what we should say here is that if the Christian dominionists don't speak for all of Christianity and make "Christianity" a violent religion, because some groups of Christians disagree, maybe we shouldn't think that "Islam" is violent because there's this one really problematic ideology called Salafism which most Muslims in the world reject...

(By the way, it's Dr. Johnston, and I'm Catholic!)

J Cabaniss | 12/16/2015 - 8:21am

Study is always useful, but in this case it would seems its use has no practical application. Nothing non-Muslims decide about what Islam actually teaches matters: all that is relevant is what Muslims believe it says, and it would seem that their actions are the best indicator of that. In that regard it becomes more problematic to conclude that Islam is a religion of peace.

Francis X. Clooney | 12/16/2015 - 11:04am

Reply: Thanks, but the point is that we need to study each other's traditions. The world, and interreligious relations, will be better off if in our various religions, we take the time to study carefully other people's religions. Hence the value of sorting out the Quran's multi-level, historically-complex, teachings on violence. Fr Clooney

Louis Candell | 12/16/2015 - 6:46am

"The words are certainly strong: again, judgment is passed on the “idolaters” and “disbelievers;” if they break treaties one must ambush them, capture them, slay them. And yet—there is always more—if they repent of their treaty violations, they can be allowed to go their own way. Idolaters can be granted asylum, safe haven. Here, too, the commentary tells us, we will have to learn about the politics of the early Islamic world, and the Prophet’s efforts to hold his community together, defending it against hostile neighbors; not every word is meant for application in every time and place. My own impression—after preliminary study—is that we find here a sanction of force, but force constrained within the context of diplomacy and treaties, and in the end, ever open to peace, since God, who repudiates idolatry and has no patience with treaty-violators, also “loves the reverent” and is ever 'Forgiving, Merciful.' ".

Seems to me that this passage makes clear the Islamic belief that mercy is available only to those who embrace Islam. I believe Fr. Clooney is imposing his own soft interpretation and hope on an otherwise harsh and intolerant Islamic principle. I don't see where Fr. Clooney has any real grounds to dismiss the Islamic belief that all peoples should adopt Islam or suffer the consequences.

Ray Shanahan | 12/16/2015 - 12:29am

Thank you for your ongoing series on the Quran. I have not yet given up the hope that knowledge and understanding will at some point lead to wisdom, and to a better world. I will be joining you in your study of Islam’s sacred book over the next few weeks, and am looking forward to your insights and commentaries. My guess is that studying the texts, interpretations and ideas of other people of the Book will contribute to my efforts to see God in all things.

Chris Sullivan | 12/15/2015 - 5:21pm

I noticed in the second passage, this qualification:

"And give the disbelievers glad tidings of a painful punishment, save for those idolaters with whom you have made a treaty, and who thereafter commit no breach against you, nor support anyone against you."

It would seem that the subsequent violence would only apply to those agressors without a treaty with the Muslims ie at war with them and actively comitting breaches against the Muslims or supporting others against them.

It is significant that the passage continues with a plea for mercy rather than violence, saying that this is the way of God.

Thanks Fr Clooney for this wonderful series on the Study Quran.

God Bless