The simple and incomplete answer is that yes, insofar as any book that describes battles or warfare from time to time is violent, the Qur’an is violent. However, the Qur’an forbids aggression and permits only defensive battle. It describes battle in the context of defending Islam in its infancy; it makes clear that pluralism is God’s design for humanity and directs us to compete in good works and come to know one another.
Remember that the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad (peace be upon him) over a period of 23 years in the early 7th Century. At the time of revelation, there were very few individuals living as monotheists in the Arabian peninsula. Muhammad and his message represented an enormous threat to the established political and economic infrastructure, which was all tied up with the dominant paganism of the region. This made Muhammad a target, in much the same way Jesus was. In the course of revelation, Muhammad was not only receiving general instruction for his followers on the nature of God, the universe and life, but also instruction from God in how best to survive and protect the new and vulnerable group of monotheists around him. Most, if not all, of the verses I’m about to discuss are set in this context, the explicit context of Muhammad’s community defending themselves against attack, harassment and assassination attempts.
There are several Qur’anic verses that are often repeated without context and incorrectly for the purpose of stirring up fear and xenophobia. I’m going to do my best to address many of these and contextualize them here. (For purposes of time and readability, I am addressing similar verses with similar contexts only once. Also, parts of quotations from the Qur’an that appear in brackets are where the translator had to add meaning that would have been obvious either by idiom or by grammar in the original Arabic.) Then, I’m going to provide a very brief introduction to the Qur’an as I know it, including the verses that govern how Muslims see and interact with those of other faith traditions. After that, I’m going to explain to you why I shouldn’t have had to justify any Qur’anic verses by showing you several horrific verses from the Old and New Testaments that could easily read as justifying the worst kinds of violence. And finally, I will wish you all a very happy Christmas and a blessed New Year because none of those verses have ever made me think any less of any of you. Continue reading