By —Razi Azmi
As to the Quranic verses calling for jihad, they must be read in the context of Arabia of the first half of the 7th century. Only crackpots will read or understand them otherwise
Let us now look at some specific issues that agitate non-Muslims regarding Islam and Muslims:
Violence in the Quran:
It is an almost universal belief among non-Muslims that the Quran promotes violence, and that it is the source of the current spate of terrorist attacks perpetrated by Muslims. I recommend readers to make a google search for violence in the Old Testament and the New Testament or the Hindu and Buddhist scriptures. They will be surprised at what they find. Conversely, it might also be instructive to look for references to peace, compassion, tolerance, charity, good works, human dignity, human life and the rights of women, children, orphans, destitute and widows in the Quran and compare them with the other scriptures. Again, Islamophobes may be surprised at what they read. As to the Quranic verses calling for jihad, they must be read in the context of Arabia of the first half of the 7th century. Only crackpots will read or understand them otherwise. And 99.9999 percent of Muslims are not crackpots.
Spread of Islam:
It is a widely held belief that Islam was spread through forced conversions. Muslim hordes marched with the ‘sword in one hand and Quran in the other’, offering their ‘unfortunate victims’ a choice between war and conversion. In an age when defeat in war could mean being put to the sword, giving the choice of conversion was probably a humane idea, revolutionary for its time. But if you really believe this sword in one hand and Quran in the other propaganda, ask yourself which Muslim army ever invaded Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, composed of islands, all separated by vast oceans from the Arabian Peninsula. It also bears mention that Islam is now arguably the fastest-growing religion in some Western countries, if not the whole world. Surely, these non-Muslims are not converting to Islam to save their necks from present or future Muslim invaders!
It also merits reminding that in the ancient world and into the early Middle Ages all religions were spread either by invasion or through the conversion of the ruler, who left no choice for his hapless subjects except conversion.
While it is true that the Quran permits four wives, a fact every Tom, Dick and Harry of every religion seems to know, what they don’t know or overlook is that in the same verse the Quran qualifies and limits a man’s right to multiple wives with these words: “And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry of the women, who seem good to you, two or three or four; and if ye fear that ye cannot do justice (to so many) then one (only) or (the captives) that your right hands possess. Thus it is more likely that ye will not do injustice” (4:3). And further down, it categorically rejects this conditional ‘right’ by saying: “Ye will not be able to deal equally between (your) wives, however much ye wish (to do so)” (4:129).
Most Muslim countries do not permit polygamy. In those that do, very few actually practice polygamy. Polygamy among South Asian Muslims is rare and among South East Asian Muslims it is virtually non-existent. Many non-Muslim societies are polygamous, particularly in Africa. The president of South Africa and the King of Swaziland have many wives, as does the former king of Bhutan. The Mormons in the US have been known to be polygamous. Not all polygamists are Muslims and very few Muslims are polygamous.
Status of women:
Islam has not prevented four Muslim women from serving as prime minister or president in the three Muslim countries with the largest Muslim populations, namely, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Women have been ministers, ambassadors, vice chancellors, lawyers, magistrates, judges, etc, in perhaps all Muslim countries, barring Saudi Arabia and a few Gulf countries. Their numbers may not be high, but, by the same token, women are underrepresented in jobs and high positions in all countries.
In all underdeveloped countries, there is a significant gap between male and female literacy. In India, this gap is nearly 17 percent, in Nepal 27 percent and in Ethiopia 20 percent. The first two are Hindu-majority Asian countries and the third a Christian-majority African country. On the other hand, in four Muslim countries, it is 5.9 percent (Indonesia), 8.6 percent (Bangladesh), 8.6 percent (Iran) and 28.3 percent (Pakistan).
New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the vote, and this happened as recently as in 1894. Still, women could vote but not stand for election. In the US, no woman has yet been elected as president or vice president; only three have ever been appointed as secretary of state. UK has had but one female prime minister in its long history.
The full veil (burqa or niqab) causes some genuine concern among Western believers in women’s rights. But it has also become the battlecry of Islamophobes. It will be sobering to ask how many Muslim women wear the full face veil. As to the headscarf (hijab) or some kind of head covering for women, it is common in many parts of the world, from Russia and Eastern Europe to India to South America.
And many Muslim women wear the full face veil not because they are compelled to do so by their fathers or husbands but for different personal reasons, including religious, although there is a great deal of controversy as to the true meaning of the Quranic verses on this issue. The relevant verses are the subject of different interpretations, which is why the number of Muslim women who choose to wear the full veil is so few as to be negligible. Estimated to total 2,000 in France, they comprise 0.04 percent of the five million Muslims in that country. And the millions of Muslim women who do not even wear the headscarf, let alone the face veil, do so without considering themselves to be sinners, without any feeling of guilt and without compromising their faith.