Quote Mining Scriptures

Quote Mining Scriptures

by Sheila Musaji

Some years ago I wrote an article entitled The Use and Abuse of Scriptures and I believe that it responds very clearly to the problem of “quote mining” the scriptures.



Particular verses of the Qur’an are often mentioned as proving some particular accusation against Islam.  Muslims respond with explanations about the context, historical background, poor translation, interpretation that goes against all of Islamic thought, etc.   This is most often a one sided monologue that shuts down dialogue. 

“Strictly speaking, it is no more correct to say that Islam is peaceful than to proclaim that it is violent. The texts and traditions on which any faith’s practice is based are open to multiple interpretations, and, as these interpretations pile up over the course of history, it becomes almost impossible to assert the existence a unique orthodoxy. A liberal humanist Muslim can find enough in the Islamic texts to justify a peaceful view of Islam—-and this is being done with great fervor these days. However, a militant Muslim seeking sanction for violence can also find plenty in the same sources to proclaim holy war on the world. Islam is no more inherently violent or peaceful than Catholicism which, at various times, has found justification for both Torquemada and Mother Teresa in the same tradition. This is the complexity that must not be obscured by simplistic attempts to understand Islam, and Muslims must play a crucial role in this matter. To put it bluntly: It is time for a vocal and successful reformist movement within Islam, and Muslims living in the West are in the best position to lead it.” A Time for Renewal, Ali Ahmed Minai


For commentary on some particular verses often misused to “prove” negative points about Islam, [e.g.:  - 2:65 (pigs and monkeys?) - 2:190-194 - 2:216 (jihad or quital) - 2:224 - 2:282 and [2] (male and female witnesses) - 4:7 (inheritance laws)  - 4:24-25, 23:5-6, 23:6, 24:33 (whom your right hands possess) - 4:25 (slavery)  - 4:34 (beating wives) - 4:76 - 4:91 - 48:29 - 4:89 (apostasy) - 4:95 - 4:157 - 5:33 - 5:51 (non Muslims as friends) - 5:54 - 5:60-64 (anti-Semitism in Qur’an) - 7:163-166 (pigs and monkeys?) - 8:12 (beheading) - 8:55 (world domination) - 9:5 (verse of the sword) - 9:11 (supposed verse of the eagle) - 9:29 (jizya) - 18:86 (does the sun set in a ‘muddy pool’?) - 33:23 (jihad & martyrs) - 47:4 (war of aggression or self-defense) - 48:29 (treatment of unbelievers)].  See Responses to Misinterpretations, Mistranslations, or False Claims Made About the Qur’an for discussion of particular verses.

There are some ignorant Muslims who have made the same sort of claims against Christianity or Judaism, but they are an insignificant minority.  Most Muslims are quite aware of the connections between Christianity, Judaism and Islam, and also quite aware that scriptural verses must be looked at in context.  The claims against Islam are so widespread and widely accepted that they make any dialogue difficult.

As Robin Wright says, “mining the Qur’an for incendiary quotes is essentially pointless. Religions evolve, and there is usually enough ambiguity in their founding scriptures to let them evolve in any direction. If Osama Bin Laden were a Christian, and he still wanted to destroy the World Trade Center, he would cite Jesus’ rampage against the money-changers. If he didn’t want to destroy the World Trade Center, he could stress the Sermon on the Mount.” Even if one doesn’t agree with this view, the point is that every religion-or secular ideology, for that matter-offers the possibility of violence and peace, oppression and liberation, depending on who is interpreting it, how, and in what particular contexts. As I always say, there is little family resemble between modern liberation theology and the Christianity of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Conquest.  ...  And yet, ignoring that every religion is open to multiple interpretations, many people are attacking Muslims for making “it sound like there are two versions of the Koran floating around out there. If so, what is the difference between the Koran that the Terrorists are reading, and the Koran that the rest of the Muslim world is reading? ... I need to have the ‘real’ Islam please stand up.” (This is from an article forwarded to me by a friend with no title or bye-line). ...  The same author-who says he’s a Catholic-also says he doesn’t “want to hear [the] history about the Crusades, or the U.S. foreign policy crap, or . . . comparisons [of Islam] to Christianity and Judaism.” Thus, while wanting Muslims to explain which Qur’an we are reading and which is the real Islam, he himself chooses not to explain the difference between the bible that the Crusaders and Conquistadors were reading and the bible he has been reading, nor to convince others why his Christianity is the “real” one. ...  Such a strategy not only lays upon Muslims a burden that believers in other religions refuse to bear themselves, but it also obscures the fact that the bloodiest conflicts, like the two World Wars, have had secular, not religious roots. Even those conflicts we think of as religious can be shown to be about power and resources, not merely ideology. ... This is no less true of the Crusades, than it is of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, or Jews and Muslims in the Middle East, or even the attacks of September 11th. Interpretation and Exceptionalism, Asma Barlas

This issue of “interpretation” is why Muslims believe so strongly that the only actual Qur’an is the original Arabic Qur’an - all translations are interpretations because the meaning has been interpreted from one language to another by an individual or committee - and every translation is therefore open to some degree of error.  Whether intentional or unintentional the translators own personal bias creeps into the translation.

Any translations of the Qur’an by Muslims will not be called “The Qur’an” but “the meaning of the Qur’an” or “Interpretation of the Qur’an” or “Translation of the Qur’an”, etc. and most often will have two columns of text - one the original Arabic and the second the translation into whatever language.  

That translations vary, sometimes dramatically, is easily observable by comparing the same verse from a variety of translations.  There are also translations that are controversial (like the Hilali-Khan translation which plays into the hands of extremists, or the Saudi sponsored revised version of the Yusuf Ali translation, and there are multiple understandings of some verses.  See our article collection on Qur’an and Hadith

There are verses in the Torah, the New Testament and the Qur’an, and every other scripture on earth that can be abused either through purposeful manipulation of meaning or through ignorance - either to justify actions or to make judgements about the faith of others.


Many are unaware that there are many verses in the Bible that can be misused in exactly the same way as some verses in the Qur’an.  For example:

When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you. However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. When the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given youӅ Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes” (Deutronomy 20:10-17)

“Hymenaeus and Alexander I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” 1 Timothy 1:20

“This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down, and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, Then David ran and stood over the Philistine, and took his sword and drew it out of its sheath, and killed him, and cut off his head with it…. And David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem; but he put his armor in his tent. And as David returned from the slaughter of the Philistine, Abner took him, and brought him before Saul with the head of the Philistine in his hand.” 1 Samuel 17:46

“Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and take off his head.”... And there is also with you Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjaminite from Bahurim, who cursed me with a grievous curse on the day when I went to Mahanaim; but when he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the LORD, saying, I will not put you to death with the sword.’ Now therefore hold him not guiltless, for you are a wise man; you will know what you ought to do to him, and you shall bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.”  2 Samuel 16:9, 1 Kings 2:8

“When they came into the house, as he lay on his bed in his bedchamber, they smote him, and slew him, and beheaded him. They took his head, and went by the way of the Arabah all night, and brought the head of Ishbosheth to David at Hebron. And they said to the king, “Here is the head of Ishbosheth, the son of Saul, your enemy, who sought your life; the LORD has avenged my lord the king this day on Saul and on his offspring.”  2 Samuel 4:7

“That is not true. But a man of the hill country of Ephraim, called Sheba the son of Bichri, has lifted up his hand against King David; give up him alone, and I will withdraw from the city.” And the woman said to Joab, “Behold, his head shall be thrown to you over the wall.” Then the woman went to all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and threw it out to Joab.” 2 Samuel 20:21

“at Jezreel by this time tommorrow…And when the letter came to them, they took the king’s sons, and slew them, seventy persons, and put their heads in baskets, and sent them to him at Jezreel. When the messenger came and told him, “They have brought the heads of the king’s sons,” he said, “Lay them in two heaps at the entrance of the gate until the morning.”. (2 Kings Chapter 10 verse 6) “God has now fulfilled the prophecy of the prophet Elijah. So Jehu put to death all who were left of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, as well as all of his close friends and priests, until he had left not one single survivor.” (2 Kings Chapter 10 verse 10) “He put to death all of Ahab’s house, who were left there and so blotted it out, in fulfillment of the word which YAHWEH had spoken to Elijah.” (2 Kings Chapter 10 verse 7)

“When the LORD your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you. And when the LORD your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them.” (Deutronomy 7:1-2)

“I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.” (Luke 19:26-27)

“Do not think that I have come to send peace on earth. I did not come to send peace, but a sword. I am sent to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Matthew 10:34-35)

“I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee.” (Exodus 23:27)

“And the LORD our God delivered him before us; and we smote him, and his sons, and all his people.  At God’s instructions, the Israelites “utterly destroyed the men, women, and the little ones” leaving “none to remain.” 2:34 And we took all his cities at that time, and utterly destroyed the men, and the women, and the little ones, of every city, we left none to remain.Ӕ   (Deuteronomy 2:33-36)

“Joshua said to the people of Israel, “The Lord has given you the city of the all silver, and gold, and vessels of brass and iron, are consecrated unto the Lord: They shall come into the treasury of the Lord.  The people utterly DESTROYED ALL THAT WAS IN THE CITY, BOTH MAN AND WOMAN,YOUNG AND OLD, AND OX AND SHEEP, AND ASS, WITH THE EDGE OF THE SWORD.Ӕ (Joshua 6:21,23)

“And he should go and worship other gods and bow down to them or to the sun or the moon or all the army of the heavens, .....and you must stone such one with stones and such one must die.” Deuteronomy 17:3-5

“Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” (Romans 1:20-32)

“Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known man intimately. But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves.” (Numbers 31:17-18)


There are many other such verses that can be used maliciously to “prove” that Judaism or Christianity:

Promote slavery (Ephesians 6:5, Deuteronomy 20:10);  require as the punishment for theft being sold into slavery (Exodus 22:1-3); require gender inequality (1 Timothy 2:11, 1 Corinthians 14:34);  Require veiling for all women(1 Corinthians 11:5); Treat women unjustly (1 Corinthians 11:5 and 14:34, 1 Timothy 2:11, Ecclesiasticus 25:18-19 & 33, Ecclesiastes 7:26, Genesis 3:16 & 19:8 & 21:10, Leviticus 27:6, Numbers 27:8-11 & 30, Deuteronomy 21:10-13 & 25:5-10 & 22:13-21, Judges 19:16-30); Admit that texts have been falsified (Jeremiah 8:8);  Demand unquestioning obedience to political authority (Romans 13:1); REQUIRE DEATH SENTENCE FOR A SERIOUS OF VIOLATIONS OF THE LAW -

- working on the Sabbath (Exodus 31:15); cursing ones parents (Leviticus 20:9); being rebellious towards parents (Deuteronomy 21); worshiping other gods (Deuteronomy 17:2-5 and 32:23-25); enticing a friend or family member to worship other gods (Deuteronomy 13:6-10); being a witch, medium, or wizard (Exodus 22:18; Leviticus 20:27); engaging in homosexual acts (Leviticus 20:13); and not being a virgin on oneҒs wedding night (Deuteronomy 22:20-21); sex outside of marriage (Leviticus 20:10-13,1 Corinthians 5:5); violating the Sabbath (Numbers 15:35, 15:36); marrying a foreigner (Numbers 25:6-9); heretics who dissent 1 Timothy 1:20;

  Encourage beheading of enemies (1 Chronicles 10:9; 2 Kings 6:31, 2 Samuel 4:7 and 20:21; 2 Kings 10:6); Advocate suicide (1 Samuel 31:4-5); Allow the murder of civilians in wartime (1 Samuel 15:3 and 15:18, Ezekial 9:4-7, Hosea 13:16, Numbers 31, Isaiah 13:9 and 15-18); promote honor killings (Genesis 34:1-31); Slaughter prisoners of war (Deuteronomy 7:1-2; Encourage killing of enemies - Numbers 33:50-52, Deuteronomy 2:33-36, 3:3-6 and 7:2)Luke 19:26-27); Encourage killing of strangers (Numbers 1:51, 3:10, 3:38, 18:7); Encourage killing non-believers (Numbers 17:2-7, Acts 3:23); Encourage abandoning the sick (Numbers 5:104); Support punishment for the sins of your ancestors (Numbers 14:18); Encourage war (Mattthew 10:34); Promotes blood feuds (Numbers 35:19-21); Allow POLYGAMY ( Exodus 21:10; 2 Samuel 5:13; 1 Chronicles 3:19 and 14:3; 1 Kings 11:3; 2 Chronicles 11:21; Deuteronomy 21:15; Genesis 4:19 & 16:2); Are anti-Semitic (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, Micah 3:1-12, Hosea 8:1-14, Matthew 23:13-39, Acts 2:23, 3:13-15)

The problem is that the misconceptions about the Qur’an are widely believed by a wide cross section of non-Muslim Americans.  When I listen to talk radio, I can be fairly certain that some “expert” will be on explaining why it is that a particular verse of the Qur’an is the reason that there are Muslim terrorists, or than another verse proves that Islam is intolerant.  It seems that vilifying Muslims and Islam has become a “career opportunity!”


We see in the world around us where such demonization of each other leads.  And, it would help to remember that:

They Were Reading the Same Scriptures

Father Damien of Molokai and Dr. Mengele were reading the same Bible.

Abdul Sattar Edhi   and Saddam Hussein were reading the same Qur’an.

Adolph Hitler and Mother Theresa were reading the same Bible.

The Badshah Khan of Afghanistan who raised the first non-violent (of 100,000 men) army to oppose British rule in his country and worked closely with Gandhi was reading the same Qur’an as those who find the only solution to their problems in violence.

Paul Rusesabagina  of Hotel Rwanda fame who rescued as many of his fellow countrymen as he could at great risk to his own life was reading the same Bible as those who massacred 800,000 (these criminals included Christian clergypeople).  (Sidenote: the Muslim population has doubled from 7% to 14% of the population of Rwanda since the massacre partly because the Muslims were not involved in the genocide)

The Bulgarian Christians and Muslims who protected Jews from the Nazi’s were reading the same Quran and Bible as those responsible for the genocide against the Jews in Europe.  And the Albanian Muslims who protected so many Jews that Albania was the only country in Europe after WWII with more Jews than before the war.

Mohamed Chelali, the Algerian born Muslim who saved the life of Jacques Chirac by foiling an assassination attempt in 2002 was reading the same Qur’an as those who take the lives of their political enemies.

The Muslims who blew up the statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan were reading the same Qur’an as Mohammed Yassin Fattah who is working tirelessly to save and restore Hindu Temples near Calcutta

The Serbian Orthodox monks who saved Muslim lives during the genocide in Kosovo were reading the same Bible as those responsible for the genocide against the Muslims.

The Hamas members in Bethlehem who dressed up in Santa suits to give out presents to Christian orphans were reading the same Qur’an as those Muslims who attacked churches in Pakistan.

The Hindu man who rescued a Muslim family from a mob during the riots in Ahmenebad India was reading the same scriptures as those Hindus who killed Muslims at a mosque.

Anwar Khalifa and Rabbi Neil Katz of Texas who work together to help the needy through Habitat for Humanity are reading the same Qur’an and Torah as those who work for division and violence instead of for dialogue and peace.

Hamoud al-Hattar of Yemen’s Religious Dialogue group working against terrorism and violence is reading the same Quran as Osama bin Laden.

The list could go on and on.  Human beings somehow find in their scriptures both the inspiration for greatness and the justification for evil.

In another article that I published sometime ago, Muslim Violence, Christian Non-Violence:  People in Glass Houses Should Not Throw Words,   I said:

This response is to the concept that violence is somehow unique—or even more common to—Islam than to other religious groups. It is currently common to EVERYONE. Addressing the moral and ethical arguments that revolve around the concept of “justified violence” is a separate matter all together. If your response to this article is that some violence is justified, you have missed the point. However, in this author’s opinion, the message of Jesus Christ was correct. Violence is not the answer. Indeed, if people of faith (every faith I can think of) were to follow the actual teachings of their scriptures (not some crazed pastors’ or imams’ distorted agenda), then the current violence would end.  No legitimate representatives of any faith can both follow the teachings of their faith and preach violence.

This is one of the difficult issues to dialogue about, but it is an issue that needs to be dealt with - What was the religious affiliation of:  - Those who enslaved and murdered the Native Americans; - Those who colonized most of what is now the “Third World”; - Those who dropped the atomic bomb; - Those who developed and participated in the political systems of Naziism and Fascism; - Those who carried out the Rwandan genocide?; - Those who participated in torture at Abu Ghraib; - Those who carried out ethnic cleansing against the Bosnian Muslims; - Those who were responsible for the death of millions in Germany’s death camps?  If the answer to any of these questions had been Islam then the criminals would have been identified as “Islamic” .......  This demonizing of the “other” and oversimplification of genuine issues that need to be resolved does a disservice to all of us, and in the current political climate also isolates traditional mainstream Muslims who otherwise might be able to serve as a bridge between cultures.

“The leap from deviant Muslims perpetrating atrocities to a religion being impugned for the sins of its supposed adherents is breath-taking in its audacity. This distinction has become critical ever since the ‘’showdown with Saddam” transmuted into the ‘’war on terror.” With the daily mind-numbing imagery of maniacal Muslim ‘’insurgents” savaging troops and civilians alike, a transformation rapidly took place: The problem was just not Muslim terrorists but an ‘’evil” Islam itself. This is a theme broadcast with malevolent glee by talk shows on a daily basis thereby intensifying suspicion, fear, contempt, and hatred of Islam. Demonizing Islam makes it the enemy in the ‘’war on terror.” ... Ironically, it is us Muslims who have the greatest vested interest in eradicating terrorism. We need to do this to salvage our religion and our self-respect. As long as we are marginalized by the West and taunted by the extremists, we are made to feel as if we were part of the problem rather than of the solution, and our commitment becomes ambivalent. If the so-called war on terrorism has any chance of being won, there needs to be an immediate redefinition of the enemy.” Foe isn’t Islam, it’s Binladenism, Abdul Cader Asmal

Barbara Bradley Hagerty published an article Is The Bible More Violent Than The Quran? in which she discusses Philip Jenkins’ book Dark Passages in which he compares the brutality quotient of the Qur’an and the Bible.  She notes:

... Violence in the Quran, he and others say, is largely a defense against attack.

“By the standards of the time, which is the 7th century A.D., the laws of war that are laid down by the Quran are actually reasonably humane,” he says. “Then we turn to the Bible, and we actually find something that is for many people a real surprise. There is a specific kind of warfare laid down in the Bible which we can only call genocide.”

It is called herem, and it means total annihilation. Consider the Book of 1 Samuel, when God instructs King Saul to attack the Amalekites: “And utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them,” God says through the prophet Samuel. “But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”

When Saul failed to do that, God took away his kingdom.

“In other words,” Jenkins says, “Saul has committed a dreadful sin by failing to complete genocide. And that passage echoes through Christian history. It is often used, for example, in American stories of the confrontation with Indians — not just is it legitimate to kill Indians, but you are violating God’s law if you do not.”

Jenkins notes that the history of Christianity is strewn with herem. During the Crusades in the Middle Ages, the Catholic popes declared the Muslims Amalekites. In the great religious wars in the 16th, 17th and 19th centuries, Protestants and Catholics each believed the other side were the Amalekites and should be utterly destroyed.  ...