Do critics actually read the Koran?

Ramadan is upon us – a time of fasting, charity, prayer…and fighting off Sergey Ponomarev AP Libyan children study Koran … Continued

Ramadan is upon us – a time of fasting, charity, prayer…and fighting off

Sergey Ponomarev


Libyan children study Koran inside the mosque during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in the rebel-held town of Benghazi, Libya, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011.

Islamophobia. Norweigian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik killed 76 innocent people in a demented campaign to destroy Islam. Comedian Bill Maher recently called the Koran a “hate-filled holy book.” Evangelical atheist Sam Harris insists, “on almost every page the Koran instructs observant Muslims to despise non-believers .” And Peter King continues his anti-Muslim campaign to become the 21st century Senator McCarthy.

And in case I missed these public events, my readers remind me with private emails.

“The Koran contains much anti-Jewish language,” explained Leonard. “The true lovers of the Koran show their kindness by butchering non-Muslims,” added Angel. A tenured preacher in Richmond, Virginia (who asked to remain anonymous) wrote to me admitting, “I don’t know much about the Muslim doctrine, but your holy book certainly does not teach peace or pluralism.” For someone who admittedly ‘didn’t know much’ about Islam, he banked pretty confidently in his conclusion.

So here’s the $1 million question: Do critics actually read the Koran?

Well, I couldn’t find any reports indicating Bill Maher has actually ever read the Koran. That’s not to say that he hasn’t. Though, even during his recent interview of Congressman Keith Ellison, Maher largely quoted what Sam Harris told him to believe about the Koran, but never actually mentioned he read it himself. And Sam Harris, well he had to have actually read it. How else could he so effectively pick and choose parts of verses to successfully develop his argument? It’s not like he’s making money off it…oh, right. Does Peter King actually know any Muslims? As for Breivik, he and bin Laden now share two characteristics — mass murdering and Koranic illiteracy.

But stay with me, I promise to address the criticism and not just criticize the critics. First things first, critics aside, why should non-Muslims in general even care to read the Koran?

Well, consider our American leaders as an example. On the surface, Thomas Jefferson, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama might seem vastly different in policy. But, these presidents have each read the Koran. Jefferson, a Founding Father, valued his personal Koran. Bush, a conservative Republican, called the Koran “a very thoughtful gift.” Obama, a Democrat who is not a Muslim, studied the Koran, even as a child. Jefferson, Bush, Obama—why not follow their example?

But the problem runs deeper. Pew reports the American Muslim approval rating is well below 50 percent. Pew also reports that less than half of Americans surveyed even know a Muslim personally. And, at least 17 states have proposed legislation to ban Shariah Law, i.e. the law of the Koran. For as much as we don’t know about the Koran, one-third of our nation’s states are banking it doesn’t promote peace and pluralism…sound familiar?

In a time of soaring unemployment, international strife, and plummeting public education, and a debt-ceiling crisis from…a very hot place, one out of every three states is spending tax dollars on what basically amounts to a Koran ban. I wonder, then, how many have bothered to read the Koran to learn about Islam firsthand? The optimist in me believes this is due to a lack of access, not promotion of malice. But the realist in me asks, ever heard of Google? In fact, here’s a free pdf copy.

And if nothing else, long live the Golden Rule. Muslims read the Bible and the Torah and Islam proudly testifies that previous scriptures contain truth. (I personally own—and study—a copy of each). Let us do unto Muslims…

But unfortunately, all we hear from the critics is that the Koran is a “hate-filled holy book” and that “Muslims are dangerous” are verse excerpts like this: “And kill them wherever you meet them…” (2:192). While critics scoff at the “you’re taking it out of context” argument, any judge in any court in any country in any era will explain the uncompromising importance of context when interpreting laws. And that is one thing the Koran is — a book of laws.

The verse previous to 2:192 states: “And fight in the cause of God against those who fight against you, but do not transgress,”—specifying that fighting is defensive, not preemptive. The rest of 2:192 adds: “and drive them out from where they have driven you out; for persecution is worse than killing,”—explaining the right to reclaim rightful property. While the aforementioned verses permit Muslims to fight defensively, the subsequent verses (2:193-94) demand Muslims desist fighting immediately when their opponents desist, “But if they desist, then remember that no hostility is allowed except against the aggressors.”

This principle is re-iterated throughout the Koran. In fact, 22:40 establishes the rules of war, “Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged.” Then, 22:41 commands Muslims to protect all houses of worship—cloisters, churches, synagogues, and mosques—to secure universal religious freedom. Such intolerable hatred, no?

This Ramadan, look at the first word of the Koran ever revealed, iqra. (96:2) Iqra, which also means - you guesed it – read, and go from there. Each of the verses critics cite as [insert negative attribute here] has a clear and logical explanation, surely understood, but only once we actually iqra the Koran.

And that, you can bank on.

Qasim Rashid is an American-Muslim human rights activist, writer and a frequent lecturer on American-Islamic issues.

Qasim Rashid
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  • WmarkW

    Another reason I haven’t read the Koran is that I don’t believe it’s history is true, and would need more historical context to understand the points it’s trying to make.

    I’m tempted to believe the thesis of Professor John Wannsbrough, who thought that Muhammed of Medina wasn’t really the same individual as Muhammed of Mecca (and might not have existed). In rough outline, Muhammed of Mecca synthesized Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism with Arab polytheism. A few decades later, a military alliance of Arab city states conquered the Arab peninsula, and needing something to culturally unify their territory, re-wrote their tales of conquest with Muhammed of Mecca as the central character of them.

    I admit I believe this partly because I want to. But it is rather difficult to reconcile the two decades as being the life of the same individual.

  • aidehua

    If Osama Bin Laden was mislead about the true meaning of Islam, why has there never been a fatwa imposed on him? Why did numerous Pakistanis and others shield him from American justice? I would suggest the reason is that Osama Bin Laden was a very good Moslem and certainly quite popular among the ummah.

  • tony55398

    Jesus came to heal the sick, gave sight to the blind, raised the dead to life, hearing to the deaf, condemned the greedy rich, listen up wallstreet and you who refuse the poor and said that their would come after Him those who would claim to be the Messiah and those who whould kill claiming to do Gods will and most of all Jesus said He was Gods son. What did Mohammed do and claim? I know that there are bad Christians and bad Muslims who bring condemnation upon those who are trying to live a good life, so until the time of fulfillment we must live a life of Love for one another, and than you shall know who is the true Messiah.

  • Stublore

    You say muslims ” Muslims read the Bible and the Torah and Islam proudly testifies that previous scriptures contain truth. “, so how come I cannot bring a bible into Saudi Arabia? Could I bring in a Torah, I doubt it!
    Are you a spokesperson for ALL muslims, if not perhaps you should use qualifiers like “some muslims” etc.

    As I am sure you know islam also consists of the Hadith and Sira, or are you of the opinion that the koran is the only reading required to be a muslim? If not why did you not mention them in the article?

    Can you tell me what Abrogation is and how it’s used?

  • QamarAhmad

    I don’t know if you can or you can’t bring non-Quranic scriptures into Saudi Arabia.

    In any case, Saudi Arabia is far from being the ideal for Muslims.

    Quran is the primary source, actions and sayings of Muhammad are subservient to it. Lets start with Quran and if it piques your interest, you can move on to other subjects. As you may have noticed, others have a difficult time with reading Quran itself!

    There is no abrogation in the Quran. It should be taken and understood as a whole.

  • QamarAhmad

    It is a thing of wonder indeed that under the changing circumstances, how little Muhammed changed.

    Rev. Boswell Smith agrees with this aspect of Muhammed’s life:

    Head of the state as well as the Church, he was Caesar and Pope in one, but he was Pope without the Pope’s pretensions, and Caesar without the legions of Caesar, without a standing army, without a body guard, without a palace, without a fixed revenue. If ever a man had the right to rule by a right divine, it was Muhammad for he had all the power without the instruments and without its supports. (Muhammad and Muhammadanism )

    On the whole, the wonder is not how much but how little, under different circumstances, Muhammad differed from himself. In the shepherd of the desert, in the Syrian trader,in the solitary of Mount Hira, in the reformer in the minority of one, in the exile of Madinah, in the acknowledged conqueror, in the equal of the Persian Chosroes and the Greek Heraclius, we can still trace substantial unity. I doubt whether any other man whose external conditions changed so much, ever himself changed less to meet them.

  • wri7913

    Ahmad –

    Surah 2:106 states “None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that Allah Hath power over all things?”

    “And when We exchange a verse in place of another verse —
    and God knows very well what He is sending down —
    they say, ‘Thou art a mere forger!’ Nay, but the most of them have no knowledge.”
    — Sura 16:101

    But abrogation does exist in the Quran. Unless you want to tell us that Allah is wrong? If as you claim the concept of Abrogation does not exist, do we accept all the verses even when they contradict each other?

    I am interested to hear your reply, and yes I will refrain from giggling.

  • wri7913

    Ahmad – as I understand it, Ahmadiyya Muslim Community are considered herectics by most Muslims and are persecuted in places like Indonesia, Malaysia and various other places where there are large enough numbers of this community. While your community may be less violent, the Islamic Doctrine itself is not. Since the Ahmadiyya community does not consist of one of the two larger communities (Sunni or Shia) it is not widely accepted or practiced. Your version of things might sound all nice and friendly but they are not followed by the majority of Muslims worldwide. Abrogation is an accepted concept in the Quran by many Muslim Scholars and in particular by those who wish non-believers harm. It is hard to ignore this fact and pretend it doesn’t exist.

  • Olsonic

    LOLOLOL you obviously haven’t read Sam Harris… Oh, the Irony.


    Read the full context of 2:106. It’s clearly speaking of previous scriptures. Same with 16:101. Read the tafseer by Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmood Ahmad. It explains it in detail and is available at

  • Olsonic


    I’m just wondering if you appreciate how much of a non-sequitur this statement is: ” And Sam Harris, well he had to have actually read it. How else could he so effectively pick and choose parts of verses to successfully develop his argument? It’s not like he’s making money off it…oh, right”

    What does it matter if he is making money off it or not? Does profit it make his arguments less true? Does the willingness of people to support Mr. Harris financially make his purpose less important? Certainly, if profitability is negatively correlated to truth, the bible and the Koran must be completely filled with nonsense. The fact is, you dismissed Dr. Harris arguments without meeting the burden of actually addressing them.

    An even greater irony is, you don’t seem to have read “the end of faith”, “the moral landscape, or heard Sam Harris speak publicly at all. For you to say “ignore all the bad parts” is an example CHERRY PICKING, a behavior that Sam Harris has devoted immense effort into questioning

    I dunno. You’re an amateur.

  • wri7913

    Runmad – is an Ahmadiyya Muslim website? No wonder all of you guys responding on this site are referring to it.

    Just for everyone else, Ahmadiyya is but one Muslim sect. It is considered a “herectic” sect in many other parts of the world. In other words, most Muslims consider Ahmadiyya’s to be apostate or not true practicioners of Islam. Despite their more outward peaceful tendencies, they still follow the same Islamic Doctrine that calls for adherents to subdue disbelievers and not take them as friends.

  • YEAL9

    Some observations about the koran and the book of mormon:

    If the flaws of Mormonism were removed i.e. all references to Moroni and his revelations and if the flaws of Islam were removed i.e. all references to Gabriel and his revelations, there would hardly be anything left in either religion other then some version of the Commandments. Finally the start of the Utopia of Religious Convergence!!!!

    Hmmm, what shall we call this potential joining? Musmors? Morms? Musmos? M&Ms? Ismors? Moisls? or Islamorms?

  • Muslimsforpeace

    no not at all, Ahmadi Muslims don’t believe in any such thing like subdue non believers. There is no compulsion in religion and Ahmadi Muslims have motto of ” love for all hatred for none” without discrimination.

    What’s the point if Ahmadis are not liked in some part of world ? Does it suggest Quran should not be read ?

  • Muslimsforpeace

    Ahmadiyya Muslim community totally rejects violence in any form. And it’s so because Quran teaches it , and that’s the point. We are talking about Quran not some Muslims

  • QamarAhmad

    A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.

    Mark Twain

  • WmarkW

    Very true.

    How many Muslims read skeptical historical or archaeological critiques of the Quran’s authorship? Are they even interested in alternative ideas of who wrote it and why? The Judeo-Christian tradition has many secular books by authors like Israel Finkelstein, Richard Friedman and Bart Erman about the Bible as a purely human literary document. How many Muslims study equivalent histories of the Quran?


    WmarkW – I agree with you that not enough Muslims do so. Really, I agree. I’m a Muslim who actively does read such perspectives. After all, how else can one know if what one believes holds any waterwhen put to the test? It’s a part of my regular routine. Otherwise my view would be just as myopic as the ones who don’t objectively study the Qur’an but criticize anyway. I like to think it’s slightly less myopic (sarcasm )

  • WmarkW

    RunMad, good to hear that.

    I suspect you’re an American. The Muslims who are in America skew educated. So, yes, the Muslims who are likely to read this thread are more likely to be interested in secular history than those in native Islamic lands are.

  • geoff_periakis1

    “Do critics read the Quran?” What a question.

    It always impresses me the serial ad hominem that an apologist will descend to. It’s an endless list: critics of Islamism don’t read their sources. They have ties to monsters. They have no credentials. The critics are racist, or sexist, or whatever-ist will distract the masses. The critics are impugning everyone who is Muslim. The critics have no discernment. The critics are un-American. Un-British. Illiberal. Atheist. The author of the above “couldn’t find any reports that Bill Maher read the Quran”. Because, you see, if he had…well, surely there should be some public record of something so colossally important, you see? And if there isn’t, well…you know, with a wink and a nudge. Robert Spencer is a bad man. Sam Harris makes money. And so on, and so on, ad nauseam.

    But the author wants us all to know that the Quran proclaims the truth of the other two Abrahamic religions. Well, sure, under its own terms. It could hardly do otherwise without imploding. And yes: the number of Americans who know a Muslim is a plurality rather than a majority.

    But one wonders: is there any scenario in which it is permissible to criticize Islamism, at all? Even when one makes the distinction – and many do not; then again, most people criticizing Christianity make no such distinction either, and it does not render their comments worthless a priori – it seems that moderate Muslims, such as the author above, are more than willing to drag the entirety of their faith into the accusation. Object to sharia law and its implicit failure to separate church and state, which leads in turn to vicious humanitarian failure, which I in my naivety had thought was something of an American ideal? Well, then, you must be guilty of…something. Something important. I’m sure Orwell would have a name for it that could be misapplied in this scenario. Mr. Rashid himself equates Sharia with the Quran, which strikes me as a little alarming. In order to avoid this

  • wri7913

    WmarkW –

    Runmad is also part of a small sect of Muslims called Ahimidiyya. They hardly consist of a large enough group to influence Muslims worldwide and they are considered Herectics by Sunni and Shia Muslims. In other words, because of their teachings they are considered apostate, herectic or non-muslim for not following the Quran properly.

    Understand that I am not putting them down, just pointing out that the authoritativeness is in question. In other words, its like the Westboro Baptists Church claiming to speak for all Christians worldwide. Ahmidiyya Muslims are a small group with vastly different teachings than the mainstream.

  • wri7913

    The point is that Ahmadi’s don’t speak for the majority muslims if their teachings are not followed.

    It would be similiar to claiming that Westboro Baptists speak for all Christians when they constitute a small group whose teachings are quite different from majority Christians.

  • ThomasBaum


    Concerning your reply of 8-9-11 6:43 PM

    You wrote, “I will preface my answer by repeating Marcello Truzzi: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof””

    I not only do not have to provide “proof” but as I have said before, I can not provide proof but God will in due time, God’s Time.

    I wrote, “Abraham was the first Jew.”

    You replied, “I think you have it backwards. This distinction didn’t exist when Abraham was around, eh.”

    As I said, Abraham was the first.

    You then wrote, “I have discussed all these topics with Christians before with the intention that if satisfied, I’ll go along and consider Christianity as a religion for myself.”

    I am not here to convince anyone or to get anyone to consider “Christianity as a religion for” themself, I am here to tell the world that God’s Plan is for ALL, ultimately, to be with God in God’s Kingdom.

    Christianity is not a religion anyway, it is a relationship with God that God created thru the Incarnation.

    You then wrote, ” It is one thing to make comments and quite another to be serious about your pursuit of God.”

    Actually it was God Who pursued me, it is written: “Remember, it was I (God) Who chose you, it was not you who chose Me (God)”.

    I am serious about trying to do the “job” that God chose for me to do.

    As I have said before, I used to believe in God until I met God and now I know that God Is and that God is a Trinity and is a Being of Pure Love.

    Lots of people attempt to put limitations on God, one of which is who can and can not be in God’s Kingdom, but the only limitations on God are Self-imposed and for the duration of that Self-imposition.

  • ender3

    Do Muslims actually read the koran? I have. It is every bit as intolerant as the old testement of the xtian bible. The infidels can be allowed to live amongst you as long as they pay a tax for being non-believers and are people of the “book”. The rest of the “infidels”, convert or die.

  • spamdump2718

    MR. RASHID, please see my various comments below. IF YOU ARE SO CONFIDENT ABOUT YOUR RELIGION, WHY DON’T YOU ASK THE WASHINGTON POST to allow you to print a written debate between yourself (with the help of EVERY Imam, Islamic studies professor, sheikh, mullah, ayatollah, and allah you can come up with) and people like Robert Spencer, Wafa Sultan, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ibn Warrag, etc. on the other side?? LIMIT THE DEBATE TO FACTS IN ISLAMIC SCRIPTURES AND HISTORY, without name-calling by either side. MR. RASHID, ARE YOU AFRAID? ARE YOU AFRAID? ARE YOU AFRAID?

  • Liz4176

    To directly quote Christopher Hitchens: “{t}he Quran repeats and plagiarizes many passages of the New Testament, including some of the most fantastic and mythical ones.”

    Also, Mr. Rashid, “human rights activist” and eminent scholar that you seem to be (it can’t be good for business to have prospectives discover one of the top Google hits for your own name is ‘Qasim Rashid, A Charlatan and Liar’…yiiikes!), you may want to reintroduce yourself to historical fact and see how things seem to go from there (i.e., Jefferson’s reasons for owning a copy of the Qur’an had absolutely everything to do with trying to figure out the warped ideologies of the Barbary pirates and their rulers, and absolutely nothing to do with its ‘personal value’ in the sense you imply WHATSOEVER.

    However unfortunate it may be that dhimmis such as myself actually have read the Qu’ran in its entirety, I’ll merely suggest to the denizens of Honest Reporting here at WaPo two words:

    Higher. Standards.

  • Kingofkings1

    The worst critics of the quran (pipes, dershowittz, spencer, geller, etc) don’t really need to read the quran. It’s like asking the KKk to read an article titled “The benefits of a multicultural society”.

  • Secular1

    Qamar, what you wrote above is absolute nonsense. MO of Mecca was way different in his demeanor and personality, compared to the MO of Yatrib. He was somewhat conciliatory in Mecca, and all the universalst verses of Koran were written during his Meccan period. Whereas the Yatrib verses were all very very xenophobic and intolerant.

    And about your claim of him without wealth is all BS. He always had the larger share of the war booty, & the best pick of the nubile young things. So enough of your nonsense about MO the hapless.