The cover of this week’s Time magazine is timely: “Is America Islamophobic?: What the anti-mosque uproar tells us about how the U.S. regards Muslims.”
On p. 24, the cover story explains why some Americans wrongly believe that Islam supports violence: “Since most terrorist attacks are conducted by Muslims and in the name of their faith, Islam must be a violent creed. Passages of the Koran taken out of context are brandished as evidence that Islam requires believers to kill or convert all others” (emphasis mine).
Taken out of context? The Koran does not tell a developing story, as does the Bible, but arranges its chapters by length, from larger to smaller. So unlike the Bible, where it is inappropriate to pull a verse from Leviticus to say that Christians shouldn’t eat Gulf coast shrimp (God gave us common sense for that), there is no such context in the Koran. How can you take something out of context that doesn’t have a context?
When it comes to violence in the Koran, the defining issue is not context but the Muslim reader. Radical Muslims read the Koran literally and come away thinking that Allah commands them to conquer the world. Liberal Muslims reinterpret these troubling passages to accommodate their religion to the modern age of rationality (see Peter Riddell and Peter Cotterell, Islam in Context, p. 182-94). I am a conservative, traditional Christian, so I am inclined to think that traditional Muslims are reading the Koran as it was intended to be read. I believe that they are more faithful Muslims, though I am more thankful for the liberals.
If the media wants to have a constructive dialogue, let’s talk about the difference between conservatives and liberals. But don’t pretend that the problem is that Christian conservatives “brandish” (there’s a scary word) verses that we have wrenched from some non-existent context.