Timothy R. Furnish, Ph.D., is a recovering college professor and current writer, researcher and analyst specializing in Islamic history, sects, eschatology, ideology and Mahdism. He learned Arabic at taxpayers' expense while in the U.S. Army and, later, studied Farsi, Turkish and Ottoman while a doctoral student at Ohio State University. He blogs at Occidental Jihadist.
A current tactic favored by Muslim apologists is to posit perfect harmony between Islam and Western (particularly American) civilization, or between Islam and the other two monotheistic faiths. In an example of the former, last month Imam Feisal Abdul Ra'uf, mastermind of the Ground Zero/Cordoba/Park 51 mosque, gave a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in which he argued that "90 percent of Sharia [sic] law is fully compatible with…American laws." Exemplifying the latter, several months earlier the director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware, Muqtedar Khan, had published a blog article in the Washington Post claiming that "Sharia [Islamic law] is based on [the] Ten Commandments." Of the two claims, the religious one is more insidious, and in fact the political one to a large extent derives from it—thus, ripping the veil off shari'a's alleged compatibility with Judeo-Christian teachings is the higher priority.
Khan was responding to a statement by former Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin that American law "should be based on the God of the Bible and the Ten Commandments." Since Americans "are beginning to think of Islamic religion as something to be feared and rejected," thanks to "the profound ignorance about Islam among American politicians and commentators," Khan believes we need to be reassured that shari'a is really just an Arabic version of the Decalogue—and, as such, compatible with American civilization. Khan and Ra'uf are the latest, but by no means the only, North American Muslims to argue in this vein. Robert Crane, a former Nixon administration advisor and convert to Islam, has argued Islamic law focuses like a laser beam on justice and human rights more than any other belief system. Anver Emon, a law professor at the University of Toronto, has written that sharia, properly understood and applied, is just as rational as Anglo-American Common Law. And the University of Michigan's Sherman Jackson, at a conference on "Re-thinking Jihad" (which I attended last year in Edinburgh, Scotland) contended that "Islam is a religion of peace toward non-Muslims who do not harbor it ill-will"—taking this position from the influential, modern Sunni theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
Khan makes the standard-issue academic charge that a negative view of Islam stems from ignorance; but, if anything, uninformed Americans tend to err on the side of understating the Islamic basis of global violence. Recent statements about jihad-means-never-having-to-say-holy-war by Obama administration officials are a case in point. But despite such misinformation coming out of Washington, there are many good reasons to view mainstream Sunni Islamic teachings with a healthy dose of wariness. Khan may chalk up Islam's problems to just a few "egregious fatwas," but even some Muslims are worried about the proliferation of them promoting violence. Over half the world's terrorist organizations (64, by one count) are Muslim—yet only two are Christian (and one is Jewish). This despite the fact that Christians make up about one-third of the world's population, far more than the one-fifth that is Muslim. If there were truly nothing to "fear" or "reject" about Islam, why do so many terrorist groups claim that particular religion as their motivating ideology?
The first thing to note about alleged Decalogue-sharia parallelism is that the Qur'an lacks any discrete, emphasized list of moral mandates analogous to that in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:1-21. Khan has to ferret though at least a half-dozen suras (chapters) of the Qur'an to piece together the ayas(verses) allegedly corresponding to the Ten Commandments. This cut-and-paste exegesis makes his claim suspect from the beginning—for if the Qur'an indeed stressed the same moral code, why is it presented so scattered and piecemeal?
There is no denying similarities between the Bible's first four commandments (no gods but God, no idols, no taking His name in vain, a holy day for rest and worship) and some Qur'anic teachings. Yet in his adduction of the alleged Qur'anic equivalents to the last five commandments Khan misleads so egregiously that he appears to be practicing taqiyya—intentional Islamic deception. For example, he claims that the "Quran forbids the taking of life except as justice for crimes." At the risk of sounding post-modern, if not downright Clintonian, "that depends on what the definition of 'crimes,' is." Suras 47:3 and 8:12 enjoin the beheading of "those who blaspheme" in battle—and decapitation is normally fatal. Sura 9:5 orders Muslims to "kill those who join other gods with God wherever you find them; seize, besiege, ambush them, unless they convert…." And according to mainstream, Sunni literalist Islam—not merely "extremists"—Christians are often deemed such mushrikun (polytheists) due to their Trinitarian doctrine, which holds that God is three Persons in One substance: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Khan himself implies this by saying that that Christians "often talk of God's unity in terms of trinity and idols and images of Jesus and Mary; you will find none of Allah." (One wonders whether he is reassuring fundamentalist Sunni readers that he knows the real score with those heretical Christians.) Also regarding Qur'anic crime and punishment, Sura 5:32ff states "the penalty for those who war against God and his messenger [Muhammad] and spread fasâdân across the land shall be killing [by] crucifixion or cutting off alternate hands and feet or banishment." Fasâdân literally translates as "corruption, depravity, immorality" and, while some Islamic commentators have equated this with homosexuality, it has also been interpreted as simply "undermining Islamic law."
Khan's allegation that the Qur'an only allows killing "criminals" conveniently camouflages the reality that in many passages Islam's holy book declares non-Muslims ipso facto guilty and deserving of death for any opposition to Islam—a verdict still in effect today, alas, in the minds of too many Muslims (and one which effectively demolishes the Jackson-Qaradwi myth of defensive jihad as the only allowable mode of Islamic violence). Also, Khan's claim that "Islam forbids unlawful sexual intercourse" just like the Decalogue is dishonest. The Qur'an allows a man as many as four wives (Surah 4:3)—which even Anver Emon concedes—as well as married women who have been taken as captives (Sura 4:24). Yet despite the occasional toleration for polygyny in Old Testament times, it was notsanctioned by the Ten Commandments.
The last two commandments proscribe false testimony and coveting one's neighbor's belongings. The very existence of a doctrine such as taqiyya, which allows Muslims to deceive non-Muslims, proves the incompability of sharia with the ninth commandment. And permitting the seizing of married women as sexual property undermines both the spirit and letter of the tenth commandment, to put it mildly. But it is in his risible assertion that the Qur'an "advocates repeatedly that Muslims must cherish and support their neighbors" that Khan is most untruthful, echoing Robert Crane in his loquacious apologias for Islam. This is the same propaganda—"Islam teaches the Golden Rule"—repeated by President Obama in his Cairo andNobel acceptance speeches. The Qur'an does teach love and respect for neighbors—just as long as they are Muslims! No such toleration is mandated for followers of other religions. If the aforementioned Qur'anic citations do not suffice to demonstrate this, look at Sura 3:28 ("let not believers [Muslims] take infidels for their friends rather than believers"), 3:118 (O believers! Do not become intimate with other than yourselves"), and 48:29 ("Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, and his comrades are vehement against the infidels but full of tenderness among themselves"). Those are not the same teachings as Jesus gave in Matthew 7:12: "in everything, treatpeople the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets."
Unquestionably, the Ten Commandments and Islamic sharia teach different moral codes in many important ways. And what of that other section of the Bible, the one rather relevant to adherents of the world's largest religion—the New Testament? Muslim apologists and "ecumaniac" Christians love Khan's claim that "the message and the law revealed to Moses and Jesus was…the same as that revealed to Muhammad," but the Christian scriptures, to borrow Sarah Palin's recent neologism, "refudiate" that allegation. The Islamic Jesus is contradicted not only by His own Gospel-recorded teachings, such as "turn the other cheek" (Matthew 5:38) and "he who lives by the sword will die by the sword" (Matthew 26:52), but by His entire life, death and, most importantly, resurrection (Matthew 27:33-28:10; Mark 15:22-16:20; Luke 23:33-24:12; John 19:16-21:25)—clearly contra the Qur'an (sura 4:157). Furthermore, unlike Muhammad who led armies in battle, married at least 11 wives (one of whom, Aisha, was only nine years old when the founder of Islam had sex with her) and ordered the slaughter of almost one thousand Jews who refused to convert to Islam, Jesus Christ was a lifelong celibate who eschewed political power and never hurt anyone (except for running a few loansharks out of the Temple courtyard). Clearly, far from being compatible with American civilization, Muhammad's shari'a is a sullen, hostile camel whose nose should not be allowed under our Judeo-Christian tent.