I have been a Muslim all my life. Westerners in general love to take the verses of the Quran out of their historical context and just blindly accuse Islam and the Quran of violence. For your information, many of the "violent" verses were revealed to prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) when he was at state of war with the pagans of Makkah. So read the reason of revelation very carefully. Then you will understand what those verses were intended for.
I posted several responses, and I thought they might give you some good ideas of how to approach this objection. Here is part of my response:
I'm going to answer you in several ways, not because I believe I will change your mind, but because everyone who comes after you to read these comments may learn something from our interaction.
First of all, I have gotten many comments like yours. In fact, I've gotten so many that I wrote a "standard" answer which you can read here:
My more specific response to what you're saying is this:
1. According to mainstream Islam since the time of Mohammad, the Quran is the perfect, unalterable, eternal word of Allah.
2. It says in the Quran 91 times a Muslim must follow the example of Mohammad.
3. Mohammad was intolerant and violent toward non-Muslims, repeatedly and consistently, as soon as he had the power to do so. He ordered the assassinations of those who insulted him or Islam. He ordered and personally oversaw the beheading of his political prisoners. He raided and plundered and conquered for the last ten years of his life. This is not history as told by his enemies, but history as told in the Sira and the Hadith, written by devout Muslim believers.
4. There are not many peaceful passages in the Quran, but what few exist have all been abrogated by more intolerant and even violent verses revealed to Mohammad later in his prophetic career. Read more about that here: Definition of Abrogation.
My next response quotes from an excellent article entitled, Are Judaism and Christianity as Violent as Islam?:
"[Although] Islam's original enemies were...historical (e.g., Christian Byzantines and Zoroastrian Persians), the Qur'an rarely singles them out by their proper names. Instead, Muslims were (and are) commanded to fight the people of the book—'until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled' and to 'slay the idolaters wherever you find them.'
"The two Arabic conjunctions 'until' (hata) and 'wherever' (haythu) demonstrate the perpetual and ubiquitous nature of these commandments: There are still "people of the book" who have yet to be 'utterly humbled' (especially in the Americas, Europe, and Israel) and 'idolaters' to be slain 'wherever' one looks (especially Asia and sub-Saharan Africa). In fact, the salient feature of almost all of the violent commandments in Islamic scriptures is their open-ended and generic nature: 'Fight them [non-Muslims] until there is no persecution and the religion is God's entirely.' Also, in a well-attested tradition that appears in the hadith collections, Muhammad proclaims:
"I have been commanded to wage war against mankind until they testify that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God; and that they establish prostration prayer, and pay the alms-tax [i.e., convert to Islam]. If they do so, their blood and property are protected."
And my final response to the objection was this:
And finally, whether you believe the Quran commands you to be intolerant or violent towards non-Muslims, many Muslims do obviously believe it, and they are using the Quran to justify their violence against non-Muslims all over the world, and they have been doing so for 1400 years.
It has been such a consistent theme, a web site keeps track of all the violence committed in the name of Islam around the world, and has been doing so since 9/11. As of today, September 2nd, 2010, fifteen thousand, nine hundred and sixty-six attacks on non-Muslims have been committed since 9/11, and most of these attacks have killed and wounded many people.
Citizen Warrior is a web site devoted to helping non-Muslims understand where this perpetual hostility against them is coming from and figuring out what to do about it. If you'd like to start a web site for Muslims that would convince them of what you're trying to convince me of, I would applaud your efforts.
But if you're trying to convince me that because you don't believe the Quran encourages violence against non-Muslims then none of the rest of the Muslims do either (or that the Quran really doesn't encourage intolerance and violence toward non-Muslims), I think your task is hopeless. I have read the Quran cover to cover.
So that's how I handled this particular objection. I would love to hear what you have done, or how you might answer it, or if you have anything you could add. Either post it right into the comments, or email me and I can post your response for you.