A friend of mine, Phil, was in town to promote his new book. We went out to lunch with another friend of ours from this area, Stan, a man who runs a multi-station radio conglomerate. We were talking about this and that and then Phil mentioned an experience he had in a church in the Midwest.
At the church, for awhile they had a speaker from a different religion come speak to them. One week they had a Hindu teacher come speak to the congregation, and the next week it was a Buddhist priest (this is a very open-minded church), and the third week it was a Muslim imam, and Phil said, "I couldn't believe the imam. He scared the old ladies. Every other thing he said was about cutting off someone's head." Phil looked surprised.
Now I hadn't seen either of these guys for awhile and as you can imagine, I had a lot to tell them. I said, "Awhile back I read the Koran because I wondered about Islam."
"Wondered?" asked Stan. "What do you mean?"
"Well, I've heard terrorists quoting the Koran, talking about the obligation of all Muslims to subjugate the infidel and their responsibility to wage jihad, and then I've heard people quoting peaceful passages from the Koran and saying Islam is a religion of peace, and I just wanted to know what the real story was. So I read the Koran cover to cover.
"It's been a real eye-opener," I said. "First of all, the copy I first started reading jumped around and it was hard to follow and then I found out that the traditional way to print the book — the traditional order of the chapters — is simply from the longest to the shortest chapter. So I found a book (A Simple Koran) that prints it in the order it was actually written, in chronological order, and it's much easier to follow that way."
Stan looked puzzled. He has a curious, inquiring mind. "I wonder why they printed it that way? That seems like an odd order to print a book."
"Yes," I said. "A secretary for one of the caliphs, I think his name was Zayd, decided that's how to arrange the chapters. Even at the time, people argued with his strange arrangement. But he was the secretary and that's the way he wanted it. Now it's just traditional.
"But something is revealed by reading the book in chronological order that I don't think you could see in the traditional chapter order: You see a dramatic change in the kind of revelations Muhammad has over time."
"Muhammad is the main guy, right?"
"Yes, he's the prophet. He's the one who first recited the Koran."
"What changed?" Phil asked. "What do you mean?" They were both curious now. They leaned forward, interested.
Glad to be sharing something so important with two people I care about, I said, "The nature of the revelations changed. And the book I read (A Simple Koran) gives you some of the surrounding history too, so you can see why the revelations changed.
"Muhammad was originally in Mecca and he was in a minority. Obviously when he first started, he and his wife were the only Muslims on earth. Everyone else there in the city of Mecca already had their religions. Muhammad went around preaching his new religion and criticizing everyone else's. People didn't like that."
My friends laughed. Of course people didn't like it. "So after about thirteen years of preaching," I went on, "Muhammad had gained 150 converts, but they were still a minority, and the Muslims' relations with leaders of other religions had become increasingly hostile over the years. It was getting pretty hot around there, so Muhammad moved to Medina, where he had some friends.
"And that's when the revelations really started changing," I said. "For the first three-fourths of the book, the revelations were mostly about heaven and hell and how if you are a good Muslim and follow the rules you'll go to heaven and if you don't follow the rules or if you doubt Muhammad is really the Prophet, you'll burn in hell and the only thing you'll have to drink is boiling, stinking water, etc.
"But the last fourth of the book is very different. Once Muhammad gets to Medina, his group starts raiding caravans that are going to Mecca."
"Muhammad did that?" Phil and Stan both looked surprised.
"Yes. Muhammad went on some raids himself, and sometimes he just sent some of his Muslim followers on raids. And they would sometimes kill the men and take the women as slaves, and of course take all the valuable goods in the caravan. But sometimes they held the people for ransom."
Again, both of them looked shocked. Astonished. Surprised. And yet, on their faces it looked as if years of accumulated confusion vanished in an instant. Stan said, "So that's where the terrorists got the idea." Stan has a great sense of humor and he was making a joke, and we all laughed, but that's the light bulb I could see go on in these guys' heads.
"Up until this time, Muhammad had been trying to get the Christians and Jews to admit that in their own scriptures Muhammad's coming had been foretold. He thought his arrival was prophesied in their holy books. He was sure of this, and he wanted the Jews and Christians to say so. He wanted them to validate his legitimate prophethood as one of a long line of prophets (Abraham, Moses, Jesus, etc.) but the Christians and the Jews wouldn't validate him.
"So in the first three-fourths of the Koran, the revelations are relatively tolerant of Christians and Jews. He was trying to curry their favor. But once Muhammad had an army, and once he realized they would never acknowledge him as a prophet, his revelations became less and less tolerant, and then they became violent.
"Now here's one of the strangest things," I said. "When the nature of the revelations changed, the Koran started accumulating contradictions. It had these tolerant passages earlier and then less tolerant passages later. But the Koran itself, conveniently enough, has a passage that tells Muslims what to do about this. In the Koran, Allah says, 'If something I say now contradicts something earlier in the Koran, the later revelation overwrites the earlier one. The earlier one is null and void, and the newer one is the better one.'
"The bad news is the tolerant passages are earlier and the intolerant, violent passages are later.
"So finally I realized how it was possible to have peaceful quotes and violent quotes, both from the Koran. The Koran is not like the Bible. It isn't written by different people at different times. There are no vague analogies or symbolic passages given to multiple interpretations. It is written by one man and is very direct, straightforward writing. So how could it contain contradictions? Now I know."
"So, wait a minute." Phil looked concerned. "You're saying the peaceful passages don't count any more?"
"Right. They don't count. They have been overwritten by passages that say things like, 'Kill the unbelievers wherever you find them,' which is a passage from one of the last revelations of Muhammad.
"Not only that," I said, my head now swimming with things I've discovered that these guys didn't know, "but they're supposed to follow Muhammad's example. It says in the Koran, and says it 91 times, that Muslims should follow Muhammad's example. He is the model. He's the one to imitate."
"That's not good," said Stan.
"No, that's not good. Muhammad didn't think well of 'monkery.' He didn't think it was a good thing for devoted religious people to seclude themselves in a monastery. He didn't believe in asceticism. He thought that was the lazy coward's way out. According to Allah, you show your devotion — you demonstrate your faith — in the real world by fighting in jihad, fighting for Allah, doing things you're afraid to do, fighting against the unbelievers, working to make sure all governments follow the law of Allah.
"Muhammad believed anyone could talk a good story or say a good prayer, but jihad is putting your money where your mouth is. Do you really believe? Prove it: Die in combat. If you really believe what the Koran says, if you really believe Muhammad is the Prophet then you will have faith that when you die in jihad you will go straight to Paradise without judgment, and all your sins will be instantly forgiven. If you are afraid of fighting, war, or death, it proves your unbelief.
"Jihad is so highly valued by Allah that dying in jihad is the only way to guarantee your passage to heaven. You may have a chance of getting into heaven if you do good works and don't sin. But if you die fighting against the infidels, you are guaranteed passage to heaven."
"Wow," said Stan. They both looked amazed. Stunned, really. These are grown men. They read a lot. Both of them are well-informed, successful people. Both are very bright, intelligent men. And they didn't know any of this.
More of these kinds of conversations need to happen. I would love to hear about your experiences (and your listener's reactions to what you say). Leave them in the comments so we can all benefit from your trials and successes.
I'm sure I don't have to remind you that this is deadly serious business. It makes a huge difference when people know about it. Just the two pieces of information — that later passages overwrite earlier ones and that a good Jihadi will deliberately deceive infidels — is enormously clarifying and damaging to their cause. Plenty of Jihadis are hacking websites to stop this kind of information from spreading, but they can't hack into your one-on-one conversations, and that's really where the rubber meets the road.
Share what you learn. If you want to curb the spread of jihad, if you want Jihadis to run into the impenetrable wall of an informed population, share what you know. The sooner the better.
For those peace-loving Muslims who don't like what I've said here, please read the article: A Message to Peaceful Muslims.
This article was excerpted from the book, Getting Through: How to Talk to Non-Muslims About the Disturbing Nature of Islam.