Sofia Answers (2): Is the Qur’an Inherently Violent?


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 → Sofia Answers (2): Is the Qur’an Inherently Violent?

Dear Non-Muslim Allies (2)….

Dear Non-Muslim Allies (2),

I am writing to say thank you. A lot of amazing things have happened since I wrote to you last. You probably know by now that the first letter I wrote to a couple of hundred of you while sitting at my dining room table went viral. Many of you have started saying asalam ‘alaykum and making the hearts of the Muslims in your path soar. Some of you have written to tell me the stories that emerged from those first simple greetings of peace. Those of you who own or manage shops have begun to put signs of welcome in your windows, and many of you have participated in activism to end hate speech and discrimination.

There are a couple of stories in particular I want to share. One is the story of a woman who said asalam ‘alaykum to her cashier, who then asked where she was from. She replied, “right here!” to the great surprise and pleasure of the cashier. The other is the story of one of my dearest friends on the planet, who hesitated to share the letter until many days after it had gone viral, out of concern that it would raise the ire of her rural, Southern community. And then when she did, she found that the voices that responded were ones of support.

Words of wisdom from my mentors have come tumbling back to me in this past week, and as I learned of both of these stories, I thought of this: Suzanne Pharr, a lifelong civil rights and LGBTQ activist from the South, once told me that the most important thing a straight person could do for LGBTQ rights is to not be afraid to be mistaken for gay or lesbian. That is, no LGBTQ person could feel safe in this country until a good many of their allies were willing to be seen with them, to be ridiculed, to be, sometimes, unsafe. She suggested that by standing with a target of hatred, we might be mistaken for the target ourselves, but that if we do it in large numbers and often enough, the original target becomes hard, and then impossible to recognize and separate. By saying asalam ‘alaykum and by sharing the letter, you have made yourselves lightning rods, and are slowing the momentum of hatred in this country. Continue reading → Dear Non-Muslim Allies (2)….

Sofia Answers: Why Don’t Muslims Condemn Extremism/Terrorism/Violence?

1) We do! Look at the websites of every major American Muslim organization. The Council on American Islamic Relations, Muslim Public Affairs Council, Islamic Society of North America and Islamic Circle of North America are several of the big ones. Every one of them has several items, usually on the front page, condemning specific violent acts committed by folks who purport to be Muslim, and violence in general. And that’s a tiny fraction of possible examples of us going around condemning violence. Think about it, we make up 1% of the adult population in this country. Would you even hear it if each of us were shouting from our rooftops? No, you wouldn’t; you would have no idea. Which leads me to my next point.

2) Even though we’ve been condemning our hearts out, the fact is, _our condemnation won’t do a darn thing to stop violent extremists._ Violent extremists, whatever their religious affiliation, are not actual people of faith. They clearly don’t display any concern that a just God will judge their actions, and they have no interest in what actual people of faith think of them. They are not interested in faith, they are interested in power. Which is why we need to stand united and not give them more power by repeatedly insisting that they represent all of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims!

If we insist on diverting the resources of well-intentioned Muslim organizations to condemning every single violent act perpetrated by a ‘Muslim’, those organizations can’t do the important work of building strong social and political Muslim networks that could help identify and prevent future threats.

3) Let’s talk about empathy and practicality. Say you’re Christian and some guy who purports to be Christian shoots up a Planned Parenthood killing 3 people. Or wait, say a guy who purports to be a devout Lutheran goes into a black church and kills 9 people after reading the Bible with them. Or wait, say a guy who is a member of a “Christian identity hate group” starts shooting up downtown Austin and ends up terrorizing lots of folks and killing himself. How about if you’re Christian and people who say they’re Christians in the Central African Republic are killing thousands of Muslims causing “a Muslim exodus of historic proportions.” (as reported by Amnesty International) Or a purportedly Christian army in Uganda, which reads Bible passages before battle, is using child soldiers, committing massacres, abductions, mutilations, torture, and forcing children into sexual and other forms of slavery? Continue reading → Sofia Answers: Why Don’t Muslims Condemn Extremism/Terrorism/Violence?

Dear Non-Muslim Allies


Dear Non-Muslim Allies,
I am writing to you because it has gotten just that bad. I have found myself telling too many people about the advice given to me years ago by the late composer Herbert Brun, a German Jew who fled Germany at the age of 15: “be sure that your passport is in order.” It’s not enough to laugh at Donald Trump anymore. The rhetoric about Muslims has gotten so nasty, and is everywhere, on every channel, every newsfeed. It is clearly fueling daily events of targeted violence, vandalism, vigilante harassment, discrimination. I want you to know that it has gotten bad enough that my family and I talk about what to keep on hand if we need to leave quickly, and where we should go, maybe if the election goes the wrong way, or if folks get stirred up enough to be dangerous before the election. When things seem less scary, we talk about a five or a ten year plan to go somewhere where cops don’t carry guns and hate speech isn’t allowed on network television. And if you don’t already know this about me, I want you to know that I was born in this country. I have lived my whole life in this country. I have spent my entire adult life working to help the poor, the disabled and the dispossessed access the legal system in this country. And I want you to know that I am devoutly and proudly Muslim.

I am writing this in response to a non Muslim friend’s question about what she can do. Because there is much that can be done in solidarity:

-If you see a Muslim or someone who might be identified as Muslim being harassed, stop, say something, intervene, call for help.

-If you ride public transportation, sit next to the hijabi woman and say asalam ‘alaykum (That means ‘peace to you.’). Don’t worry about mispronouncing it; she won’t care. Just say “peace” if you like. She’ll smile; smile back. If you feel like it, start a conversation. If you don’t, sit there and make sure no one harasses her.

-If you have a Muslim work colleague, check in. Tell them that the news is horrifying and you want them to know you’re there for them.

-If you have neighbors who are Muslim, keep an eye out for them. If you’re walking your kids home from the bus stop, invite their kids to walk with you.

-Talk to your kids. They’re picking up on the anti-Muslim message. Make sure they know how you feel and talk to them about what they can do when they see bullying or hear hate speech at school.

-Call out hate speech when you hear it—if it incites hatred or violence against a specified group, call it out: in your living room, at work, with friends, in public. It is most important that you do this among folks who may not know a Muslim.

-Set up a “learn about Islam” forum at your book club, school, congregation, dinner club. Call your state CAIR organization, interfaith group or local mosque and see if there is someone who has speaking experience and could come and answer questions about Islam and American Muslims for your group. They won’t be offended. They will want the opportunity to do something to dispel the nastiness.

-Write Op Eds and articles saying how deplorable the anti-Muslim rhetoric has gotten and voice your support for Muslim Americans in whatever way you can.

-Call your state and local representatives, let them know that you are concerned about hate speech against your Muslim friends and neighbors in politics and the media, that it is unacceptable and you want them to call it out whenever they hear it, on your behalf.

-Out yourself as someone who won’t stand for Islamophobia, or will stand with Muslims—there is an awful lot of hate filling the airways, and there are an awful lot of people with access to the media and/or authority stirring the pot about Muslims. Please help fill that space with support instead. Post, write, use your profile picture or blog to voice your support.

Ask me anything. Really. Engage the Muslims in your life. Make sure you really feel comfortable standing for and with your Muslim friends, neighbors, coworkers.

I can tell you that in addition to the very real threat to their civil and human rights that Muslims are facing, we are dealing with a tremendous amount of anxiety. While we, many of us, rely on our faith to stay strong, we are human. This is not an easy time. What you do will mean everything to the Muslim Americans around you.

Thank you for reading and bless you in your efforts.  Please share freely.

Sofia Ali-Khan

media inquiries to:  540.315.1823