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.



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6 responses to “context”

  1. Well put! I don’t get into this issue very much, but when you look at the countries governed by Sharia law and the thousands of acts of terrorism around the world every year done in the name of Islam, you start to get apprehensive that Islam is a peaceful religion. The Muslims who are peaceful are only peaceful because they are ignoring, re-interpreting, or misunderstanding the actual teachings of Islam. I believe the majority of Muslims are peaceful and I realize that only a fraction of Islam has been involved in taking people’s lives, but the religion itself is not a peaceful religion.

    I think your last point about being a conservative, traditional Christian is interesting. I would imagine that there are a lot of people who are “more thankful for the liberals” in Christianity as well. I’m also conservative so I understand that not everyone appreciates my view that Jesus is the only way to a relationship with God. The difference is, I don’t strap on a bomb and take my own life and the life of others because of my beliefs. So, again I agree with you that the media just doesn’t get religion and need to reframe the dialogue. I don’t see it happening any time soon.

  2. Yooper

    I have difficulty reconciling those “champions of women’s rights” who pose the question if America may be Islamophobic. As usual, it’s about votes and not conviction.

  3. […] one phrase. However, as Mike Wittmer (author of the phenomenal book, Don’t Stop Believing) wrote on the interpretation of the Koran and the Bible recently: The Koran does not tell a developing story, as does the Bible, but arranges its chapters […]

  4. I actually wrote a long essay on Islam a while back that came to the conclusion that while Islam is not a religion of peace, it can be a peaceful religion. (found here:

    Many of my friends lambasted me as intolerant and misunderstanding Islam. Of course, when I asked them to show how anything I said was historically wrong, I was simply met with more criticism.

    Why do you think these traditionally liberal magazines who hate all things Christian bend over backwards for Muslims? They go out of their way to show that evangelical Christians are a threat (biggest threat posed by evangelical community? More corny bumper stickers), but then use the same amount of fervor to show that Islam isn’t violent. I don’t get it.

  5. I bet if someone posted the entire Koran on the web with all of the controversial passages highlighted it would change the minds of many and they would see Islam for what it really is.

  6. Thanks, Mike.

    My concern in this is not so much as an American, but as a follower of Jesus, of God’s kingdom. How are we to approach this? And I mean in a way that can facilitate our mission to Muslims. I think while truth needs to be exposed, we need to do so as those seeking to live out the gospel we are called to proclaim. Which may mean something like loving our enemies, and wanting to avoid alienating them over their religion, while at the same time being open about our own faith.

    On the context issue, I keep putting off reading a translation of the Qu’ran which I have. I need to do so. Though it differs from scripture, can we really say that we can’t read a passage out of context? Don’t we have each passage to the entire text? Or do they all really stand on their own. If so it would not seem one unified text, but maybe some disparate ones. (?)

    Well, you’ve got me really wanting to read it now, with all the news and controversy. Not sure I’ll have much more of an opinion on this, though, when I’m finished.

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