Does the Quran urge Muslims to kill infidels? Or is it a book of peace? You can read commentary on the Quran all day long, but in the back of your mind you know you may be getting more spin than facts. The only solution is to find out for yourself. And it is easy to do.
Here are some online Qurans in English.
Does the Quran tell Muslims to make war on unbelievers? I originally wanted to check this out for myself because I was skeptical that the villainizing of Islam could be Christian or Jewish or Hindu propaganda.
So I found web sites that have English translations of the Quran online like the ones above. I picked a chapter at random, which in this case was chapter 8, known as Al-Anfal (every chapter has a name) and read through it. Here are some of the verses from that chapter:
57. So if you gain the mastery over them in war, punish them severely in order to disperse those who are behind them, so that they may learn a lesson.
58. If you (O Muhammad ) fear treachery from any people throw back (their covenant) to them (so as to be) on equal terms (that there will be no more covenant between you and them). CertainlyAllâh likes not the treacherous.
59. And let not those who disbelieve think that they can outstrip (escape from the punishment). Verily, they will never be able to save themselves (fromAllâh's Punishment).
60. And make ready against them all you can of power, including steeds of war (tanks, planes, missiles, artillery, etc.) to threaten the enemy of Allâh and your enemy, and others besides whom, you may not know but whom Allâh does know.
65. O Prophet (Muhammad )! Urge the believers to fight. If there are twenty steadfast persons amongst you, they will overcome two hundred, and if there be a hundred steadfast persons they will overcome a thousand of those who disbelieve, because they (the disbelievers) are people who do not understand.
67. It is not for a Prophet that he should have prisoners of war (and free them with ransom) until he had made a great slaughter (among his enemies) in the land. You desire the good of this world (i.e. the money of ransom for freeing the captives), butAllâh desires (for you) the Hereafter. And Allâh is All-Mighty, All-Wise.
On the other side, I did see a hopeful passage in that chapter:
61. But if they incline to peace, you also incline to it, and (put your) trust in Allâh. Verily, He is the All-Hearer, the All-Knower.
But the downside is that this quote is within the context of having defeated an enemy and gained the country. And the peace has lots of stipulations, including a choice of conversion to Islam or death, or for Christians and Jews, a heavy tax and fewer rights.
I recently read a great version of the Quran. One of the things that makes Qurans difficult to read is their strange organization. The chapters are not arranged in the order they were written, but rather from the longest chapter to the shortest. So the events jump around, seemingly at random, and often the reader feels confused about what's going on.
In addition, the passages in the Quran sometimes refer to events in Mohammad's life, but the Quran doesn't tell you what those events were.
And the third thing that makes the Quran difficult for a modern reader is the strange tendency of many English translations to use King James' Bible-style Old English, using "thee" and "thou," for example.
"A Simple Koran" fixes all three of those problems without losing the meaning of the passages. Every passage of the Quran is in "A Simple Koran," arranged in the order it was written. The book fills in the events of Mohammad's life so you understand what the passages are about, and the writing is normal, modern English. This is the best, most readable version I have yet to come across.
An interesting thing comes to light in reading this new version. Because the chapters are laid out in chronological order, you can clearly see the progression from tolerance at first — tolerance of the Jews, and even seeking the approval of the Jews — to rejection of them and their "evil ways," to outright hatred, condemnation, and a call to war against them.
The way the Quran is normally laid out, the chronological order is scrambled, so you would never notice that.
The bad news is that when passages written later in Muhammad's life contradict passages written earlier, the later one overwrites the earlier one. When reading this version in the order it was written, you can clearly see the passages get more and more violent and intolerant as Muhammad got older and more politically powerful.
I wanted to make sure this version said the same thing as the authoritative version I already own (The Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali), so I took specific passages (the Quran is numbered, chapter and verse, just like the Christian bible) from one Quran and compared it to the same passage in the other. And I found the meaning was identical. But "A Simple Koran" was much easier to read.