The Cool Water of the Koran:

Dear Sir: 
You ask me political questions and not questions about faith. You do not ask what Islam means to me as a person and others of my persuasion who embrace its teachings as part of the family of Abraham’s faith traditions, Judaism and Christianity.¬† This is a common conflation. It is from this present perspective, one that makes politics dominate¬† faith that causes Islam to be seen as a “political” religion.¬†¬†


Islam is practiced  as a politicized faith by  a majority of Muslims.  This practice shapes writings about Islam in the media and the resulting disdain or abuse directed towards it.  Since Muslims have made Islam into politics (and hence are responsible for perverting Islam as a faith-tradition), non-Muslims cannot be blamed for understanding and assessing Islam politically. Neither can they be blamed for seeing Islam as being predisposed to violence. Muslims, particularly jihadi Muslims (those who consider making war as one of the core tenets of Islam), have made Islam inseparable from their politics while Muslims who disagree remain mostly silent.
The Koran – Muslims believe as a matter of faith that the Koran is God’s Words revealed to Muhammad – is as infinite in its meaning (so does Koran describes itself) as is the infinity of God in all His attributes by which we, fallible humans, in our finitude¬†struggle to comprehend Him.¬†
To quench their thirst a bird and an elephant drink water from the same pool. Their thirsts are quantitatively, perhaps even qualitatively, different and they remain different despite the fact they drink from the same pool.
Muslims drink for their needs from the same spiritual pool of life-giving water, the Koran. Still, any two Muslims – jihadi Muslims on the one hand and myself on the other – might not have anything in common in Islam except for¬† the belief that the Koran is God’s Words and Muhammad was a prophet in the long line of prophets from Abraham to Jesus.¬† The problem with Islam is not the Koran, but Muslims and their respective understandings of the Koran that result in their differing conduct.¬†
There are verses and chapters in the Koran that speak about violence done or the violence that comes about in resisting and defeating evil.  There are verses in the Koran that speak of justice, mercy, peace, beauty, charity, love, patience, devotion, prayers, and good conduct that redeems an individual on the Day of Reckoning. 
The Koran as God’s Words is analogous to nature containing the beauty of the rose and the violence of tsunami. Neither nature nor God is to be blamed for the most sublime sunset followed soon after by a Katrina-type hurricane.¬† Those who do not understand this can no more be faulted than faulting a deaf man for failing to appreciate Beethoven’s ninth symphony.
The verses speaking about wars and the necessity to defeat unbelievers – these should only be read as instructions and guidance for Muhammad to defeat those who made war with him so that God’s Words would prevail.¬† They are not instructions for al Qaeda leaders and jihadi Muslims.¬† Irrespective of how they read these verses as guidance and justification for their demented politics, the Koran nullifies this over and over again by its universal instruction to follow the path of mercy, justice, forgiveness, repentance, charity and to trust in the eventual reckoning of¬† the merciful God.¬†
Moreover, the Koran’s instruction to resist and defeat infidels begs the question about who are “infidels.”¬† A majority of Muslims, in particular jihadi Muslims, take anyone who opposes them and their view of Islam as infidel.¬† It might be said, on the contrary, infidels are those people who engage in evil that is life-denying, who wage war against freedom and democracy in our time. It might also be said that those who spread terror indiscriminately are infidels and need to be resisted and defeated. In other words infidels are fascists, communists, tyrants of all sorts. Given the politics they espouse and the violence they engage in by despoiling God’s name and those of His prophets this list would include jihadi Muslims .
The Koran instructs individuals to choose the right path.¬† Because human beings, in contrast to angels and all other members of God’s creation, are endowed with free will it instructs them to choose among alternatives.¬† It is in our freedom to choose we become fully human, and freedom means responsibility and accountability for choices made and acts committed.¬† The Koran reminds us over and over again that we are responsible for the consequences of our conduct.¬†
Most Muslims, perhaps a majority, might now be practically deaf to the Koran’s message and its majesty, and can only pick up the very limited sound of what suits their preferred needs as do the jihadi Muslims.¬† Such Muslims, needless to add, will never find poetry in the morning dew or evening stars, will never comprehend the beauty of creation where sun spots have a place in the face of the sun.



I could cite innumerable verses from the Koran that jihadi Muslims -¬†and non-Muslims who view Islam as it is reflected in the conduct of Osama Bin Laden – do not comprehend or will not acknowledge, and so my effort will be as barren as trying to help a deaf man listen to Beethoven’s ninth symphony.¬†
I end this letter citing one verse from the Koran for you.¬† It is taken from Chapter 5 in A.J. Arberry’s translation:

“O believers, be you securers of justice, witnesses for God. Let not detestation for a people move you not to be equitable; be equitable – that is nearer to godfearing.¬† And fear God; surely God is aware of the things you do.”

The Koran is overflowing with such instructions and admonishments.¬† The Koran’s message is not directed for Muslims only -¬†a Muslim in terms of belief and conduct, according to the Koran, is inferior to a Mumin (a believer in God be he a Jew, a Christians, or of any other faith-tradition and this belief is evident in his conduct) – but to anyone and everyone who will read and comprehend its universal message of peace and tranquility that comes with faith in God’s infinite mercy and compassion.¬†¬†

To suggest the Koran preaches violence, as jihadi Muslims do by their conduct, or it’s message is reserved for a particular people, as understood by non-Muslims influenced by jihadi conduct, is a travesty against God of all creation, of Abraham and Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, of prophets known and unknown, and against the Koran.¬†
I am reminded of what the wonderful friend and Rabbi Abraham Heschel would say to his students that if “my God is not your God and is uncaring about others then he is merely an idol.” ¬†The God of Islam is not an idol, nor caring only about Muslims. The God of Islam and of Muhammad is the God of Abraham. That many Muslims have forgotten this simple reality the Koran announces is evident in their bigotry and violence directed against others.¬† Their misery is proportionate to their forgetfulness.
But then to the blind the Koran is as¬†closed a book as Beethoven’s ninth symphony is inaudible to the deaf.
Salim Mansur


Salim Mansur is a professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario and a syndicated columnist in Canada and the United Kingdom. A Muslim native to Calcutta, India, and a noted Islamic scholar, Prof. Mansur has written extensively on Islamic extremism and the challenges facing contemporary Islam.


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