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What you see isn't What you get

Reader comment on item: [The Issue of Compulsion in Religion:] Islam is What Its Followers Make of It

Submitted by Raymond Lull (Saudi Arabia), Sep 29, 2004 at 15:03

When Dr Pipes states that "There are few limits; and there is no 'right' or 'wrong' interpretation" (of the Koran), he is addressing a Western, non-Muslim audience who will have no trouble understanding or agreeing with this argument. A Muslim audience would react quite differently to his statement, however.

The vast majority of Muslims, especially when speaking to a non-Muslim, would instead say that indeed there is no right or wrong interpretation because there can't be. There is only ONE interpretation and that is the one that appears in the Holy Text itself. To a Muslim, this is a logical, and self-evident and complete answer, requiring no further commentary. To a non-Muslim, the issue has simply been avoided.

But this is an extremely common way for Muslims to approach questions asked by non-Muslims in almost every sphere of life.

It is true that Western-educated Muslims, especially those holding some sort of public position in the West, would tend to cater to a Westerner's expectations for a "logical" reply in a more round-about way. For example, to the question of what does "jihad" really mean, the answer most likely given would appear to explain that the word could mean "anything" depending on the circumstances, all the way from an "inner struggle" to "holy war against the infidel". But what he's really saying is that since "jihad" can mean several things, then (now get this) any one of the interpretations is equally valid....and......since they are all equally valid, (now get this also), they are really various "aspect" of the same thing so that "jihad" *really* only has one meaning.

Ipso facto, Bin Laden's interpretation of "jihad" is as equally valid as the one held by your neighborhood Sufi mystic; they are really only different manifestations of the "same" thing.

It is this type of logic that confounds Westerners yet it is the one that determines the thought patterns of most Muslims. It also explains, for example, the nearly muted response to 9/11 by most Muslims around the world. To have negated or condemned Bin Ladin's interpretation of "jihad" and its results, would in effect mean that you are condeming "jihad" itself. You would have, in effect, been at variance with the Holy Text itself, an unthinkable proposition.

The Koranic phrase "There is no compulsion in religion" (Arabic: la ikrah fi'ddeen) discussed by Dr. Pipes is also worthy of comment. It cannot be interpreted standing alone as is usually done. The entire "stanza" (Arabic: baab) has to be read. The stanza goes on to say: "Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects Evil and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy Handhold that never breaks.......".

That is to say, *if* you believe in Allah (the Muslim God, not the Christian or any other God), you cannot help but be, become or remain a Muslim. This is another astounding example of the elusive "logic" of the Muslim mind. Witness the amazing statements by Muslim leaders throughout the Muslim world that Islamic terrorists and so on have simply "strayed from the right path".

But the point is, the phrase really has nothing to do with the question of converting non-believers to Islam, either by persuasion or by force. It has to do with the "clarity" and "obviousness" of the Koranic message.

Plenty of other Koranic phrases (as pointed out by Dr. Pipes) and Sunnas have no problem whatsoever legitimizing the forced conversion of non-believers to Islam or their elimination and so on.

For those seeking a Koranic phrase which more clearly shows that the Prophet had no problem "accepting" other religions - a phrase which I've never seen used in this context - read the short Chapter 109 - and especially the last line: "You have your religion and I have mine." (Arabic: Lakum Deenukum wa Leeya Deenee).
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