Our missionaries working in Islamic countries are often shocked at some of the ideas being promoted in the West about Islam. What we hear in the press is a confusing mix of relativistic propaganda and wishful thinking, so I thought I'd clear the air with some information explained to me by my friends working with Muslims in the Middle East.
First, there are 1 billion Muslims in the world--not 2 billion--as many reporters have falsely reported. The most generous estimate is 1.2 billion.
Second, most Muslims interpret the Quran by the principle of nasikh, which essentially means that the later passages supercede the earlier passages and totally negate them.
The Quran was written over a 22-year period. In the early years, when Muhammad's following was small and he was militarily weak, he wrote the 114 verses that speak of living peacefully with others. By the end of his writing, when he was militarily strong and had a larger following, he penned verses that declare that all infidels must be destroyed or submit to being totally subjected and humiliated.
Sura 9 appears at the beginning of the Quran, but it is one of the last texts written. It declares that all infidels should be killed or completely subjugated. These later verses, which overrule the 114 peaceful verses, are what drive the current jihad movement.
According to Muslim scholars, the Arabic words nasikh and mansukh are both derived from the same root word nasakha, which carries meanings such as "to abolish, to replace, to withdraw, to abrogate." The word nasikh (an active participle) means, "the abrogating," while mansukh (passive) means "the abrogated." In technical language, then, mansukh refers to certain parts of the Quranic revelation that have been "abrogated" by the others. In other words, for fundamentalist Muslims, the most virulent passages of their sacred text have priority.
So, when we Westerners talk about Islam by quoting the early "revelations," we are not communicating the truth about fundamentalist Islam and the Quran but are actually inoculating and misleading those within our spheres of influence against the true nature of Islam. No doubt, a few Muslim scholars have tried to negate the "annihilate the infidel" passages, but their arguments are weak, convoluted, unconvincing and considered non-mainstream to the most vocal and influential fundamentalist Muslim scholars throughout the world.
These scholars are the equivalent of those in liberal Christianity who try to manipulate the Bible to make a case for homosexual marriage or "save the whales" instead of "save the people" ideologies. These liberal interpretations are, to most of us, easily identifiable distortions of the biblical text. Likewise, many Muslims view the peace-loving Muslim clerics the way we would view our own liberal theologians.
Al-Hazar University in Egypt, the highest regarded Muslim theological seminary, teaches the nasikh principle and its inevitable application to jihad. Most of the radicalized leaders have been trained there, including Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman, the blind cleric who is imprisoned in Minnesota for his role in the World Trade Center bombing in 1993.
Simply put, it's time for all of us to learn more details about Islam. As we do, we'll discover that the sinister spirit of violence and hatred that inflames so many fundamentalist Muslims is indeed the attitude taught in the Quran.