Islam and the Context Argument

by Richard Butrick (December 2014)

Beheadings? How utterly un-Islamic. How utterly un-representative of any faith and least of all Islam.

The White House, upon the beheading of Peter Kassig, issued a statement which included the following:

ISIL’s actions represent no faith, least of all the Muslim faith.

Islam, then, above all religions, must have the least doctrinal basis for ISIS type violence. Less than Christianity or Hinduism or Buddhism (granted it can be argued that Buddhism is not a religion, per se). Moreover, it must be that no “real” doctrinal basis exists in any of them.

Yet take the Old Testament for example:

Samuel 15:3. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.

Or Psalm 137.

 8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
       happy is he who repays you
       for what you have done to us-

 9 he who seizes your infants
       and dashes them against the rocks.

As Julia M. O’Brian notes in an interesting HuffPo article regarding different takes by Biblical scholars regarding violent passages in the Bible:

Historically, interpreters disturbed by passages like this have tried to “fix” them. The church father Origen, for example, read the psalm allegorically: when Psalm 137 says happy are those who bash the enemy’s infants against the rocks, he claimed that it meant to dash your sins against the rocks of reason. (italics added)

There are many ingenious “fixes” to this and other passages. For instance it has been pointed out – and rightly so – that the passage is descriptive rather than prescriptive. By contrast the Koran is not an account or testament but the actual word of God and prescriptive – an instruction manual.

That is one of the great differences between the Bible and the Koran. Even for dedicated fundamentalists, inspired Bible passages come through the pen of a venerated historical individual, whether it’s the Prophet Isaiah or the Apostle Paul, and that leaves open some chance of blaming embarrassing views on that person’s own prejudices. The Koran gives no such option: For believers, every word in the text – however horrendous a passage may sound to modern ears – came directly from God. [link]

As such the “fix” for the beheading passages in the Koran cannot rely on the distinction between prescription and description or testimony. The fix, as such, is a context argument. Here is a prototypical passage and the fix:

Quran 8:12. When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.

The explanation from Muslim apologists is that the background for this command is within an actual battle situation. The Battle of Badr in the year 624 is the time and place where Muslim warriors were called to defend their people.

So, indeed, context is everything. And context follows the historical development of Islamic power:

Context 1. The go-along-get-along stage in which Muslims have little power typified by the following passages:

Koran 6:151. “… and do not kill a soul that God has made sacrosanct, save lawfully.”

 Koran 5:53.  “… whoso kills a soul, unless it be for murder or for wreaking corruption in the land, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and he who saves a life, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind.”

Context 2. The don’t-tread-on me stage in which Muslims are beginning to be force to be reckoned with:

Koran 2:190.  “Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loveth not aggressors.”

Context 3. The submit-or-else stage in which Muslims begin to sense they have the power to subjugate. After Muhammad’s death Muslims developed overwhelming power across the Mid-East and North Africa and were threatening Christendom and it is not to context-1 that Koranic justification for genocidal brutality to which appeal is made.

Koran 9:29. “Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture – [fight] until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled.”

This is further backed up by the Hadiths:

Sahih al-Bukhari 6924—Muhammad said: “I have been ordered to fight the people till they say: La ilaha illallah (none has the right to be worshipped but Allah), and whoever said La ilaha illahllah, Allah will save his property and his life from me.”

Sahih Muslim 30—Muhammad said: “I have been commanded to fight against people so long as they do not declare that there is no god but Allah.”

The final jihad to make Islam dominant uber alles  –  by infiltration, subterfuge and ultimately military force – has no real counterpart in Christianity. The dream of the Christian Caliphate with jizya and dhimmitude for non-Christians simply has no scriptural basis even in the Old Testament.

This is all pithily summarized in the eighth-century biography of Muhammad by Ibn Ishaq who explains the contexts of various verses of the Qur’an by saying that Muhammad received revelations about warfare in three stages: first, tolerance; then, defensive warfare; and finally, offensive warfare in order to convert the unbelievers to Islam or make them pay the jizya.

And, amazingly enough, the progression of the severity of God’s commands from tolerance to subjugation of all those who don’t accept Allah is countenanced in the Koran itself:

Qur’an 2:106—Whatever verse we shall abrogate, or cause [thee] to forget, we will bring a better than it, or one like unto it. Dost thou not know that God is almighty?

Qur’an 16:101—When We substitute one revelation for another—and God knows best what He reveals (in stages)—they say, “Thou art but a forger”: but most of them understand not.

The context argument reveals the Koran is a playbook for Muslims regarding how to proceed to gain eventual ascendency depending on the situation. If Muslims are in a context-1 situation then use the go-along-get-along strategy and appeal to context-1 verses. And so forth for context-2 and context-3.

ISIS has probably mistakenly assessed its situation as a context-3 situation. Sensing the premature nature of ISIS strategy, Muslim clerics from 80 countries have now (11/23) assembled in the Holy City of Qom for damage control to distance Islam from “extremist” elements:

“Military attacks against this deviant group (IS) are necessary but insufficient. The roots of their violent ideology must be dried up. This is the job of Muslim scholars, to preach the true, moderate face of Islam and expose the ugly face of IS ideology,” said Shirazi, a prominent Shiite cleric who has a large following in Iran and abroad. (link)

The Obama-Kerry mantra about ISIS type brutality representing no faith should be in the optative mood and claiming that genocidal violence has no basis in any religion and by implication that Islam is ahead of other religions in renouncing passages of gruesome violence is simply insultingly stupid. Why the stupid pretense that neither religion has passages which taken at face value advocate genocidal violence? And is it not the case that the New Testament has largely supplanted the Old? The abrogation in Islam is backwards as far as violence is concerned.

But then, with the trusted Muslim Brotherhood as their advisors (dunning masters?) in all things Islamic, one can only expect the Obama-Kerry team to continue to dance the taqiyya and romance the context-1 Koran as they join the exalted ones in the pantheon of Islam’s useful idiots. Hyperbole? Would that it were so.



Dr. Richard Butrick is an American writer who has published in Mind, Philosophy of Science, Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic, International Journal of Computer Mathematics among others.


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