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Garry Wills: ‘The Religion of the Qur’an Is a Religion of Peace’

Outside of specialists and seekers, the only reason why there is general interest in the Qur’an among non-Muslims is to seek an answer to the question of whether or not it justifies and encourages Islamic terrorism. With What the Qur’an Meant: And Why It Matters, religion author Garry Wills is here to reassure us:

What did the scripture of Islam tell me about the duty to kill infidels? Some people are sure it is there, though it isn’t. Then what does it say about Shari’ah law? Not a thing (p. 7).

That would be good to know, were Wills a reliable witness. Unfortunately, he proves to be just the opposite: Wills laments “Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch calling for a ban on the Qur’an” (p. 58). I have never called for such a ban, and oppose in principle the banning of any book. Wills, not surprisingly, does not offer any quotation from me to back up his false claim. His manifest unreliability on this point casts a shadow on his primary assertions about the Qur’an.

Wills seems determined to put the best possible face on the Qur’an, which requires him to ignore a great deal of Qur’anic incitement and hatred. For example, he quotes 5:51 -- “You who believe, do not take the Jews and Christians as allies” (p. 114) -- but he nonetheless concludes, after ten pages of tu quoque arguments and other legerdemain, that “the Qur’an is fraternal in its treatment of other faiths” (p. 124). Wills never mentions Qur’an 9:29, which commands Muslims to wage war against Jews and Christians and subjugate them as inferiors under the rule of Sharia.

Wills is no more trustworthy when he deals with the question of violence in the Qur’an. He renders one key passage in this way: “Fight then until there is no more persecution, and worship [at the shrine] is devoted to God” (2:193; p. 133). Whence the bracketed interpolation “at the shrine”? Wills doesn’t give any source for it; apparently it comes from none other than Garry Wills himself. By adding “at the shrine” to this verse, Wills restricts the call to fight to the area around the Sacred Mosque in Mecca. He ignores the fact that some Islamic authorities see this passage as calling for nothing less than unlimited warfare against non-Muslims.

The prominent Twentieth Century Indian Islamic scholar Muhammad Ashiq Ilahi Bulandshahri explains the passage this way:

The worst of sins are Infidelity ( Kufr) and Polytheism ( shirk) which constitute rebellion against Allah, The Creator. To eradicate these, Muslims are required to wage war until there exists none of it in the world, and the only religion is that of Allah.

Wills doesn’t mention the existence of such interpretations, even to dismiss them. Likewise, when he claims that the Qur’an has “not a thing” to say about Sharia, he appears unaware that the Qur’an is one of the sources of Sharia.