A friend of mine, Phil, was in town to promote his new book. We went out to lunch with another friend of ours from this area, Stan, a man who runs a multi-station radio conglomerate. We were talking about this and that when Phil mentioned an experience he had in a church in the Midwest.
Phil goes to church every week. And for awhile the church had speakers from various religions come to speak to them. One week they had a Hindu teacher come speak to the congregation, and the next week it was a Buddhist priest (this is a very open-minded church), and the third week it was a Muslim imam.
Phil said, "I couldn't believe the imam. He scared the old ladies. Every other thing he said was about cutting off someone's head." Phil looked surprised.
Now I hadn't seen either of these guys for awhile and in the meantime I had learned a lot about Islam and I hadn't really talked to many people about what I was learning. I said, "Awhile back I read the Qur'an because I wondered about Islam."
"Wondered?" asked Stan. "What do you mean?"
"Well, I've heard terrorists like Osama bin Laden quoting the Qur'an, talking about the obligation of all Muslims to subjugate the infidel and their responsibility to wage jihad, and then I've heard people like George Bush quoting peaceful passages from the Qur'an and saying Islam is a religion of peace, and I just wanted to know what the real story was. So read the Qur'an cover to cover.
"It's been a real eye-opener," I said. "First of all, the copy I first started reading jumped around and it was hard to follow. Then I found out that the traditional way to print the book — the traditional order of the chapters — is simply from the longest to the shortest chapter. So I found a book (A Simple Koran) that prints it in the order it was actually written, in chronological order, and it is much easier to follow that way."
Stan looked puzzled. He has a curious, inquiring mind. "I wonder why they printed it that way? That seems like an odd order to print a book."
"Yes," I said. "A secretary for one of the caliphs, I think his name was Zayd, decided that's how to arrange the chapters. Even at the time, people criticized his strange arrangement. But he was the secretary and that's the way he wanted it. Now it's just traditional.
"But something is revealed by reading the book in chronological order that I don't think you would see in the traditional chapter order: You see a dramatic change in the kind of revelations Muhammad has over time."
"Muhammad is the main guy, right?"
"Yes, he's the prophet. He's the one who first recited the Qur'an."
"What changed?" Phil asked. "What do you mean?" They were both curious now. They leaned forward, interested.
Glad to be sharing something so important with two people I care about, I said, "The nature of the revelations changed. And the book I read (A Simple Koran) gives you some of the surrounding history too, so you can see why the revelations changed.
"Muhammad originally lived in Mecca and Muslims were a minority. Obviously when he first started, he and his wife were the only Muslims on earth. Everyone else in the city of Mecca already had their own religions. Muhammad went around preaching his new religion and criticizing everyone else's. People didn't like that."
My friends laughed. Of course people didn't like that. "So after about thirteen years of preaching," I went on, "Muhammad had gained 150 converts, but they were still a minority, and the Muslims' relations with leaders of other religions had become increasingly hostile over the years. It was getting pretty hot around there, so Muhammad moved to Medina, where he had some friends.
"And that's when the revelations really started changing," I said. "For the first three-fourths of the book, the revelations were mostly about heaven and hell and how if you are a good Muslim and follow the rules you'll go to heaven and if you don't follow the rules or if you doubt Muhammad is really the Prophet, you'll burn in hell and the only thing you'll have to drink is boiling water, etc.
"But the last fourth of the book is very different. Once Muhammad gets to Medina, his group starts raiding caravans that are going to Mecca."
"Muhammad did that?" Phil and Stan both looked surprised.
"Yes. Muhammad went on some raids himself, and sometimes he just sent some of his Muslim followers on raids. And they would sometimes kill the men and take the women as slaves, and of course take all the valuable goods in the caravan."
Again, both of them looked shocked. Astonished. Surprised. And yet, it looked as if years of accumulated confusion vanished in an instant. Stan said, "So that's where the terrorists got the idea." Stan has a great sense of humor and he was making a joke, and we all laughed, but that's the light bulb I could see go on in these guys' heads.
I went on. "So they started doing pretty well, financially. Muhammad kept a fifth of the booty from the raids and the rest of the Muslim raiders split up the four-fifths. Muhammad started getting more recruits because this was a pretty sweet gig. He started growing an army. And the revelations changed accordingly.
"Up until this time, Muhammad had been trying to get the Christians and Jews to admit that in their own scriptures, Muhammad's coming had been foretold. His arrival was prophesied in their holy books. He was sure of this, and he wanted the Jews and Christians to say so. He wanted them to validate his legitimate prophethood as one of a long line of prophets (Abraham, Moses, Jesus, etc.) but the Christians and the Jews wouldn't validate him.
"So in the first three-fourths of the Qur'an, the revelations are relatively tolerant of Christians and Jews. He was trying to curry their favor. But once Muhammad had an army, and once he realized they would never acknowledge him as a prophet, his revelations became less and less tolerant, and then they became violent.
"Now here's one of the strangest things," I said. "When the nature of the revelations changed, the Qur'an started accumulating contradictions. It had these tolerant passages earlier and then less tolerant passages later. But the Qur'an itself, conveniently enough, has a passage that tells Muslims what to do about this. In the Qur'an, Allah says, 'If something I say now contradicts something earlier in the Qur'an, the later revelation overwrites the earlier one. The earlier one is null and void, and the newer one is the better one.'
"The bad news is the tolerant passages are earlier and the intolerant, violent passages are later.
"So finally I realized how it was possible to have peaceful quotes and violent quotes, both from the Qur'an. The Qur'an is not like the Christian Bible. It isn't written by different people at different times. There are no vague analogies or symbolic passages given to multiple interpretations. It is written by one man and is very direct, straightforward writing. So how could it contain contradictions? Now I know."
"So, wait a minute." Phil looked concerned. "You're saying the peaceful passages don't count any more?"
"Right. They don't count. They have been overwritten by passages that say things like, 'Kill the unbelievers wherever you find them,' which is a passage from the very last revelation of Muhammad.
"Not only that," I said, my head now swimming with things I've discovered that these guys didn't know, "but they're supposed to follow Muhammad's example. It says in the Qur'an, and says it more than seventy times, that Muslims should follow Muhammad's example. He is the model. He's the one to imitate."
"That's not good," said Stan.
"No, that's not good. Muhammad didn't think well of 'monkery.' He didn't think it was a good thing for devoted religious people to seclude themselves in a monastery. He didn't believe in asceticism. He thought that was the lazy coward's way out. According to Allah, you show your devotion — you demonstrate your faith — in the real world by fighting in jihad, fighting for Allah, doing things you're afraid to do, fighting against the unbelievers, working to make sure all governments follow the law of Allah.
"Muhammad believed anyone could talk a good story or say a good prayer, but jihad is putting your money where your mouth is. Do you really believe? Prove it: Risk your life in combat. If you really believe what the Qur'an says then you know when you die in jihad you will go straight to Paradise without judgment, and all your sins will be instantly forgiven. If you are afraid of fighting, war, or death, it proves your unbelief.
"Fighting jihad is so highly valued by Allah that dying in jihad is the only way to guarantee your passage to heaven. You may have a chance to get into heaven if you do good works and do not sin. But if you die fighting against unbelievers, you are guaranteed passage to heaven."
"Wow," said Stan. They both looked amazed. Stunned, really. These are grown men. They read a lot. Both of them are educated, well-informed, successful people. Both are very bright, intelligent men. And they didn't know any of this.
These guys have known me for a long time, so they trusted what I said. They know I'm not a racist or a bigot, and they know I am not prone to fanatacism and I am not a hater. So they accepted what I said with open minds. And what I told them was accurate, as they assumed. But people who hear about it from someone they don't know well might easily dismiss this kind of information. So I recommend to everyone to just read the Koran themselves. That's really the only way to know for sure.
I'm sure I don't have to remind you that this is deadly serious business. It makes a huge difference what people know about Islam. The Jihadis don't want non-Muslims to be made aware this information (they can go about their Jihadi business with less interference if most people remain ignorant of the political goals of Islam) and they now have an "internet jihad" going on, hacking in and trying to shut down sites that alert people to their plans and methods.
Just the two pieces of information — that later passages overwrite earlier ones and that a good Jihadi will deliberately deceive non-Muslims — is enormously clarifying and damaging to their cause. But they can’t hack into your one-on-one conversations, and that’s really where the rubber meets the road.
So read the Koran and share what you learn. And share articles from this site. Let's have an informed population so we can figure out how to peacefully and effectively protect ourselves from the fundamentalist Muslims without being jerks to the peaceful Muslims. Let's stop listening to everyone's opinions and read the Koran ourselves.