Is the book a genuine attempt to counter the jihadists’ interpretation of Islam? Or is it a cynical exercise designed to deceive Western non-Muslims, keeping them ignorant and complacent about the nature and magnitude of the jihad threat?
Unfortunately but predictably, it’s much more the latter than the former. The Study Quran does not deny the ugly reality of violence and hatred in the Muslim holy book; instead it buries it under mountains of irrelevant commentary. Often, The Study Quran also hides the ugliness in plain sight by not addressing the obviously problematic content of particular verses.
This deflection begins right at the beginning, with The Study Quran’s treatment of the Fatihah. The Fatihah is the first chapter of the Quran, and is also the most commonly recited prayer in Islam. The translators opted for pseudo-King James Bible archaisms, rendering the last two verses of the Fatihah as follows:
Guide us to the straight path, the path of those whom Thou hast blessed, not of those who incur wrath or those who are astray.
Sounds reasonable. But virtually all mainstream and authoritative commentators on the Quran identify “those who incur wrath” as the Jews.
Similarly, “those who are astray” are overwhelmingly accepted to be the Christians.
The Study Quran doesn’t deny this; in fact, it acknowledges it … but only after seven windy paragraphs about what it means to be blessed and other related matters. Anyone who is still reading after all that chloroform in print, to borrow Mark Twain’s phrase, will come to this:
Based upon a saying attributed to the Prophet, though not considered to be of the highest degree of authenticity, one interpretation given by a number of commentators is that those who incur wrath and those who are astray refer to Jews and Christians, respectively (IK, JJ, Q, T, Z).
(“IK, JJ, Q, T, Z” are shorthands for Muslim commentators on the Qur’an: Ibn Kathir; Jalal al-Din al-Mahalli and Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti, “the two Jalals,” author of the Tafsir al-Jalalayn); al-Qurtubi; al-Tabari; and al-Zamakhshari.)
The Study Quran doesn’t offer a single alternative interpretation of this verse (the editors could have invoked al-Nisaburi, to whose commentary they do refer on occasion. He says that “those who have incurred Allah’s wrath are the people of negligence, and those who have gone astray are the people of immoderation”). By introducing the interpretation by claiming it was based on a doubtful statement of Muhammad, and by only mentioning it at all after lengthy commentary about matters of slight import, the authors reveal an agenda of hiding the causes and justifications of “extremism”; of keeping readers from learning the reality of the verse’s historical and present significance.
This pattern continues on throughout The Study Quran. For example, Qur’an 98:6 reads:
Truly the disbelievers among the People of the Book and the idolaters are in the Fire of Hell, abiding therein; it is they who are the worst of creation.
The “disbelievers among the People of the Book” refers to Jews and Christians who do not become Muslims. (For an example, you can find this near-unanimously accepted description in the Tanwir al-Miqbas min Tafsir Ibn Abbas.)
The Study Quran, however, doesn’t want the reader to learn of that.
Instead, it offers a lengthy disquisition into mankind’s “unique place in the cosmos.” It never gets around to pointing out that the Qur’an just called Jews and Christians the “worst of creation,” or explaining the implications of that declaration throughout history, including the current purges and slaughter of Jews and Christians happening today.
The Study Quran is no better when dealing with the Quran’s direct commands to make war against and subjugate unbelievers.
In an article entitled “Conquest and Conversion, War and Peace in the Quran,” Holy Cross professor Caner K. Dagli asserts:
Although it is true that some authorities throughout Islam’s long history have interpreted the Islamic law of war as giving Muslims unqualified permission to conquer and expand into territory controlled by non-Muslims or in extreme cases to bring the entire world under their dominion, this has remained a minority view. The complex history of the first generation of Muslim conquest can be interpreted more plausibly as a stage in the history of Islam when the future existence of the religion was far from certain and when expansion meant survival.
There, you see? Perhaps CNN was right: this book is going to “curb extremism.” The CNN article quoted notorious imam Suhaib Webb imagining a young Muslim being attracted to ISIS or al-Qaeda, but then “opening The Study Quran, and reading scholars’ commentaries on those perplexing verses, and finding that most of them, perhaps all of them, disagree with the terrorists.”
Yes, imagine that: a young man reads The Study Quran, and finds that his dreams of Islamic world conquest are less plausible than its claim that violence is only justified when “the future existence of the religion was far from certain and when expansion meant survival.” Unfortunately, ISIS and other jihad groups today contend that the U.S. and the West do threaten the survival of Islam. So Dagli’s contention that Muslims were ordered to fight when “the future existence of the religion [is] far from certain” does not have the deterrent effect Webb hopes it will; logically, it could actually encourage the opposite.
Further, Dagli’s claim that “expansion meant survival” in the early period of Islam is absurd considering what actually transpired during that early period. Dagli wants readers to believe the early Muslim Arabs — within a century of the traditional date of Muhammad’s death — conquered the Middle East, North Africa, and Persia, and invaded India and Spain … as a matter of self-defense.
These jihad wars were as defensive as Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
The Study Quran is filled with such casuistry, but it will fly by most readers, aided and abetted by CNN and its cohorts as they herald a cynical and deceptive work as a new flowering of Islamic moderation. The Study Quran tells the media establishment exactly what it wants to hear, so you can expect the shower of praise to continue.