In the Ideas section of today's Globe, Penn State humanities professor Philip Jenkins takes a look at accusations that the Koran is filled with violent language, and compares it to the Bible. An excerpt:
"Some Westerners argue that the Muslim scriptures themselves inspire terrorism, and drive violent jihad. Evangelist Franklin Graham has described his horror on finding so many Koranic passages that command the killing of infidels: the Koran, he thinks, "preaches violence." Prominent conservatives Paul Weyrich and William Lind argued that "Islam is, quite simply, a religion of war," and urged that Muslims be encouraged to leave US soil. Today, Dutch politician Geert Wilders faces trial for his film "Fitna," in which he demands that the Koran be suppressed as the modern-day equivalent to Hitler's "Mein Kampf."
Even Westerners who have never opened the book - especially such people, perhaps - assume that the Koran is filled with calls for militarism and murder, and that those texts shape Islam.
Unconsciously, perhaps, many Christians consider Islam to be a kind of dark shadow of their own faith, with the ugly words of the Koran standing in absolute contrast to the scriptures they themselves cherish. In the minds of ordinary Christians - and Jews - the Koran teaches savagery and warfare, while the Bible offers a message of love, forgiveness, and charity. For the prophet Micah, God's commands to his people are summarized in the words "act justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). Christians recall the words of the dying Jesus: "Father, forgive them: they know not what they do."
But in terms of ordering violence and bloodshed, any simplistic claim about the superiority of the Bible to the Koran would be wildly wrong. In fact, the Bible overflows with "texts of terror," to borrow a phrase coined by the American theologian Phyllis Trible. The Bible contains far more verses praising or urging bloodshed than does the Koran, and biblical violence is often far more extreme, and marked by more indiscriminate savagery. The Koran often urges believers to fight, yet it also commands that enemies be shown mercy when they surrender. Some frightful portions of the Bible, by contrast, go much further in ordering the total extermination of enemies, of whole families and races - of men, women, and children, and even their livestock, with no quarter granted."
(Photo, by Shah Marai/AFP, shows students reading the Koran in Afghanistan on 3/23/06.)