A mass beheading of 21 Egyptian/Coptic Christians by ISIS militants is the latest outrage perpetrated by those who claim to represent accurately the teaching of Islam (“Video Purports…,” 2015). Despite insistence from several sources that such atrocities do not represent Islam, the Quran contains a number of passages that clearly advocate violent action against those who reject Islam.
For example, within months of the Hijrah, Muhammad claimed to receive a revelation that amply clarifies the issue (Pickthall’s translation):
Now when ye meet in battle those who disbelieve, then it is smiting of the necksuntil, when ye have routed them, then making fast of bonds; and afterward either grace or ransom till the war lay down its burdens. That (is the ordinance). And if Allah willed He could have punished them (without you) but (thus it is ordained) that He may try some of you by means of others. And those who are slain in the way of Allah, He rendereth not their actions vain (Surah 47:4, emp. added).
In his popular translation of the Quran, Muslim scholar Abdullah Yusuf Ali offered the following comment on this verse: “When once the fight (Jihad) is entered upon, carry it out with the utmost vigour, and strike home your blows at the most vital points (smite at their necks), both literally and figuratively. You cannot wage war with kid gloves” (1934, p. 1315, parentheses and italics in orig.). ISIS Muslims are simply following the teaching of the Quran regarding both their practice of beheading their enemies as well as their warfare.
In a section dealing with, among other subjects, jihad, the Quran is equally forthright in its sanction and promotion of violence:
Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors. And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers. But if they desist, then lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrongdoers. The forbidden month for the forbidden month, and forbidden things in retaliation. And one who attacketh you, attack him in like manner as he attacked you. Observe your duty to Allah, and know that Allah is with those who ward off (evil) (Surah 2:190-194, emp. added).
Later in the same surah, Muhammad is chided by Allah for not fully embracing the necessity of warfare:
Warfare is ordained for you, though it is hateful unto you; but it may happen that ye hate a thing which is good for you, and it may happen that ye love a thing which is bad for you. Allah knoweth, ye know not. They question thee (O Muhammad) with regard to warfare in the sacred month. Say: Warfare therein is a great (transgression), but to turn (men) from the way of Allah, and to disbelieve in Him and in the Inviolable Place of Worship, and to expel his people thence, is a greater with Allah; for persecution is worse than killing. And they will not cease from fighting against you till they have made you renegades from your religion, if they can (Surah 2:216-217, emp. added).
These, and several additional verses (see Miller, 2005), from the Quran verify that the ISIS militants are merely following their reading of the Quran. Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi even called upon ISIS followers to unleash “volcanoes of jihad” (Cunningham, 2014). In view of such facts, and in light of the fact that Islamic armies over the centuries conquered nations across North Africa, into Europe, east to India, Southeast Asia, and Indonesia, north to Turkey, and northeast deep into Asia and Russia, one must engage in considerable theological and hermeneutical gymnastics in order to whitewash Islam as a “religion of peace.” [NOTE: We are not implying that everyone who calls himself a Muslim is a terrorist. In reality, there are many kind, peaceful people around the world who consider themselves Muslims. However, peaceful Muslims are not following the Quran faithfully, because the Quran teaches its adherents to take up the sword and fight and kill non-Muslims.]