THIS IS ANOTHER installment in our series, Answers to Objections. Some day in the near future (if it hasn't happened already), you'll be telling someone what's in the Quran, and they'll respond with something like this: "Well, the Bible has a lot of violent passages too, and people can pretty much read these holy books however they want to read them."
In other words, it's not what is written in those books; the problem is that some people are looking to justify violence and they will pick and choose passages to help their justifications.
The person you're talking with will probably think her or his comment will end your line of reasoning, because for someone who doesn't know much about Islam or the Quran, the comment seems like a legitimate objection.
This is a perfect opportunity to explain a little about the differences between other religious doctrines and Islamic doctrines. Not only is the content different, the way it was written is different too. So here's one possible way to answer:
"The Quran is different in several important ways from any other religious book. Do you know how it was written?"
The person probably don't even know that much, and I think it's important to establish — in this subtle and unoffensive way — just how much your listener doesn't know about Islam. It helps to create a frame of mind conducive to listening to new information.
So when the person says, "No, I don't know how it was written," you can continue:
"The entire Quran was written by one man, Mohammad, over the course of his lifetime. It took him 23 years to write it. Actually he didn't write it, he recited it because he was illiterate. It isn't full of metaphors or obscure stories. It isn't a collection of things written over many years by many different authors like some other religious books. It is mostly graphic descriptions of hell and Paradise, and direct instructions on how a Muslim should behave, dictated to Mohammad directly from Allah (through an angel).
"In other words, you can't really justify anything with it. You may be able to do that with some other religious books, but the Quran says very clearly and directly what a Muslim must do to avoid hell and make it to Paradise. By the way, do you already know about the principle of abrogation?"
The person you're talking to will probably shake his or her head. So you can explain it:
"Well, since the different chapters, or suras, came as revelations periodically over Mohammad's lifetime, and since his circumstances changed so much, the nature of the revelations changed too. So there are conflicting passages in the Quran.
This will catch your listener's interest.
"Some passages encourage Muslims to be tolerant toward other religions, and some passages encourage Muslims to be intolerant and even violent to unbelievers.
"But, oddly enough, the Quran itself has some passages explaining what to do with its own contradictions. The passages say when two passages in the Quran conflict with each other, the one that came later is better than the one that came earlier. This is the principle of abrogation. Unfortunately, all the intolerant and violent passages came later, and they supercede the earlier peaceful and tolerant passages."
And at this point, I would probably try to persuade the person to read the Quran themselves. (Read more about that approach here: Push Them to Read the Quran.)
Another version of this objection is something like, "The Bible is violent too." Read more about how to respond to that here: What About the Violent Passages in the Bible?
So that's how I would answer this objection. How about you? What would you say? Or how could my answer be improved? What would you add to the response? Leave your answers in the comments, or email them to me and I will post them for you: firstname.lastname@example.org (I'll post them anonymously unless you tell me otherwise).
Let's help each other get really good at awakening others to this fascinating and important body of knowledge.