Review of the February 6, 2002 Newsweek article by Kenneth Woodward “In the Beginning, There Were the Holy Books”
Kenneth Woodward?s comparison ? with help from Roy Mottahedeh ? in ?logos? terms of the central place of the Qur?an in Muslim belief is generally apt. He could carry it further and reflect that the use of verses of the Qur?an on the cover of Newsweek is like distributing consecrated Eucharists for effect. (For shame, actually.) Woodward is also right about the shirking of scholarly authority in the reading of the Qur?an that typifies terrorists but it would probably be less politically correct to note that this rule also applies with modernist Muslims in general, including feminists. On the whole, Newsweek once again resorts to insensitive sensationalism and Woodward?s piece thrives on inaccuracies and over-simplifications ? unfortunately all-too-typical of a certain Islamophobic press these days.
Woodward says: ?The Qur?an does contain sporadic calls to violence, sprinkled throughout the text?. When Muslims run into opposition, especially of the armed variety, the Qur?an counsels bellicose response.? The Qur? n calls to self-defense, period. If someone slapped Woodward in the face and Woodward then slapped them back instead of turning the other cheek, would Woodward be guilty of ?violence?? Islam encourages pacifism but does not make it its only option.
Woodward says: ?Islam implies ?peace,? as Muslims repeatedly insist. Yet the peace promised by Allah to individuals and societies is possible only to those who follow the ?straight path? as outlined in the Qur?an.? In fact, the Qur?an thoroughly guarantees, and Andalusian and Ottoman history illustrates, an unparalleled and longer-running Bill of Rights to believers and nonbelievers alike inside its polity which no other God-conscious res publica has ever ? even remotely ? achieved. Even if we were to compare the iniquitous institution of human chattel, slavery under Islam (abolished two centuries before the French and three before the Americans) was immeasurably more humane ? by law as well as in fact ? than the vicious transatlantic slave trade and slave life in the colonies ever were.Woodward says: ?Fight them [nonbelievers] so that Allah may punish them at your hands, and put them to shame,? one Qur?anic verse admonishes. Though few in number, these aggressive verses have fired Muslim zealots in every age.? In fact the verses he means, this one included, do not refer to nonbelievers in absolute terms but only to those who violate peace treaties and initiate aggression. And it is mostly deterrence. For Muslims, strong words were enough, no need for elephantine warheads.
Woodward says: ?The God of the early Biblical books is fierce indeed in his support of the Israelite warriors, drowning enemies in the sea. But these stories do not have the force of divine commands. Nor are they considered God?s own eternal words, as Muslims believe Qur?anic verses to be.? This is a case of bad grammar. Stories and commandments are two different things. The stories of Pharaoh?s drowning, the golden calf etc. do not have the force of a Divine command in the Qur?an either. But ask any ?practicing? Jew or Christian if the Decalogue is God?s own eternal words or not. Ask, Mr. Woodward, a devout Jew why he would take deep offense at a cheap weekly distributing a piece of the Torah on its front cover for indiscriminate handling the world over.
Woodward says: ?Israeli commandos do not cite the Hebrew prophet Joshua as they go into battle, ?? Let Mr. Woodward check the motto visible on Israeli Intelligence stationery and photographed at the site http://www.whatreallyhappened.com/ . And review the speeches of Meir, Begin et al. in which they quote the God of the Armies and brag arrogantly of His terrible swift sword.
??but Muslim insurgents can readily invoke the example of their Prophet, Muhammad, who was a military commander himself.? Insurgents against what authority exactly? And how many a Jewish and Christian festival revolve around the theme of military deeds against a Roman or Moorish enemy?
Woodward says: ?And while the Crusaders may have fought with the cross on their shields, they did not?could not?cite words from Jesus to justify their slaughters.? Does not Mr. Woodward?s desk copy of the Gospels contain the phrases, spoken by Jesus, ?I did not come to bring peace but to bring a sword? and ?Whoever does not have a sword, let him sell what he has and buy one?? Furthermore, the word of Popes was enough for the Crusaders and one of them ? was it Pope Urban the Sixth? ? told them verbatim, ?Kill them all, and God will sort them out.? This was not Vietnam, this was Western Christians against Eastern Christians in the Fourth Crusade at Constantinople.
Woodward says about the Qur?an: ?None of its 114 suras, or chapters, focuses on a single theme.? Here is the full English rendering of Sura 112, titled True Monotheism (al-Tawhid): ?In the Name of God, all-Beneficent, most Merciful. Say: He is God, the One. God, the everlasting Refuge, Who has not begotten, and has not been begotten, and equal to Him there is none.? I hope Mr. Woodward can see the single theme through these lines. And yes, they are God?s eternal word, unlike this week?s News.
Woodward says: ?When Muhammad?s recitations were finally written down ? and collected after his death?? Not only was the Qur?an compiled in his lifetime and under his direct supervision, but we actually know the names and detailed lives of the scribes that he selected for that purpose.
Woodward says: ?Readers of the Bible will find in the Qur?an familiar figures such as Abraham, Moses, David, John the Baptist, Jesus and even the Virgin Mary?. But their stories differ radically from those found in the Bible.? Not at all. The story of Joseph and his brothers in the Qur?an, which forms the entirety of the chapter titled ?Joseph? (chapter 12), does not differ one whit from the Biblical version. Woodward himself says, one or two paragraphs later, ?The Qur?anic Moses (Musa) looks much like his Biblical counterpart.?
Woodward says: ?In the Qur?an there is no mention of the Passover rituals, and among the commandments one of the most important for Jews?keeping the Sabbath?is absent.? Mr. Woodward will find the Sabbath mentioned six times in the Qur?an if he only takes a minute to ask an educated Muslim to point out the passages to him. As for Passover, it is the actual title of the fifth Sura, the Table-Spread.
Woodward says: ?Obedience to parents is stressed repeatedly, but as in the Qur?anic story of Abraham, disobedience is required when parents are polytheists.? Not at all, but only when they call upon their son or daughter to recant. Otherwise, obedience to them is stressed *especially* when they are nonbelievers. And was it not Jesus, Mr. Woodward, who said: ?I came to set father against son, son against father, daughter against mother, and mother against daughter?? How do ye judge?
Woodward says: ?The Qur?an?s fluid structure can be confusing, even to Muslims.? It is OK for modern minds to feel confused before a sacred text. But surely inaccuracy, poor research, and over-simplification can only help add to any perceived confusion rather than help dispel it. I have no reason to attribute bad faith to Mr. Woodward whom I do not know, but I can certainly ask him to research his topic a little better next time.
Duly noted also is Newsweek?s choice of three pictures to illustrate Woodward?s piece on the web: two pictures show fierce-looking Muslim men in scowls and daggers, while one picture shows peaceful, smiling Christian prelates and children.