The truth about Islam…and where to find it

It is a matter of increasing importance that non-Muslims should be able to get a clear idea of Islam’s true attitude towards them. The questions are simple enough: Does Islam teach violence, or peace? Does it wish to coexist with other religions, or to dominate them? Do the jihadis represent Islam, or are they just a lunatic fringe? It should be a simple matter to get definitive, authoritative answers to such questions but, in fact, it is far from simple.

For those in politics and the media, the solution appears to be obvious: ask a Muslim theologian. This has been the approach taken, for example, by Ken Livingstone, the present Mayor of London, in his meetings with Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi: “One of the most authoritative Muslim scholars in the world today” [1]. However, this is the worst way to get at the truth. The replies that are received as a result of such approaches will be designed to achieve a different purpose to the one intended by the questioners: they will be framed in such a way as to convince Westerners that Islam does not harbour any hostility to non-Muslims when, in reality, it does.

Am I really suggesting that some kind of deliberate – deception – is taking place? Please read on and judge for yourselves. I am going to start by giving an example of the kind of thing I am talking about, then I shall discuss motivations in a little more detail, then I will present some further examples. All the examples below are genuine and are taken from the IslamOnline website: a site overseen by a committee of major Islamic scholars, headed by Al-Qaradawi himself. Throughout the article, I will contrast the IslamOnline opinions with those of another authoritative source: a Tafsir, or Quran commentary, written by the 14th century Islamic scholar Ibn Kathir. This commentary is required reading for any non-Muslim wishing to know the reality of Islam; I will describe it in more detail at the end of the article.

A classic example

In answer to the question: “What does Islam say about terrorism? “, IslamOnline gives, as part of its reply [2]:

“Islam considers all life forms as sacred. However, the sanctity of human life is accorded a special place. The first and the foremost basic right of a human being is the right to live. Allah says in the Quran (Q5:32): ‘If any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.’

Such is the value of a single human life, that the Quran equates the taking of even one human life unjustly, with killing all of humanity”

which seems to represent as clear a condemnation of unlawful killing as one could wish for. However, look at the very next verse, (Q5:33), the one that is always kept under wraps:

“The recompense of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and do mischief in the land is only that they shall be killed or crucified, or their hands and their feet be cut off on opposite sides”.

Ibn Kathir’s commentary on these verses finally removes the sheep’s clothing from the wolf:

“`Wage war’ mentioned here means, oppose and contradict, and it includes disbelief, blocking roads and spreading fear in the fairways. Mischief in the land refers to various types of evil.”

So, a verse which, suitably filleted, sounded as if it might have been written by Gandhi is just the introduction to a passage which specifies the brutal torture and execution of anyone who opposes (or contradicts, or disbelieves in) “Allah and His Messenger”. Such misrepresentation of the intrinsic hostility of Islam to non-Muslims is commonplace. How apparently friendly, venerable, scholarly Muslims can do this with a clear conscience is discussed below.

Self-deception in Islam

Muslims believe that Islam is not simply a religion practised on behalf of the Biblical God, but one specified in detail by him. As a result, Islam is regarded by Muslims as ‘perfect’ (Q5:3) and the Quran a ‘mercy to mankind’ (Q6:154). Moreover, all the characteristics of society that people regard as desirable, such as justice, peace and freedom are consequently considered to arise automatically from the flawless ideology that is Islam.

A committed Muslim, when asked if Islam is a religion of peace, will therefore reply that it is, because he believes this to be true: any tendency towards violence is the fault of the other’s hostility. In a similar way, ‘justice’ is considered to be automatically achieved by the adoption of Sharia law and ‘freedom’ follows from the removal of the individual from the obligations to other humans, allowing him or her the unhindered freedom to obey God. A trusting non-Muslim may then be reassured, as many have been, by statements made in good faith which are nevertheless blatantly and, at times, absurdly untrue.

The deception of others

Non-Muslims should take time to consider the profound implications of the following central principle of Islamic jurisprudence: [3]:

“ ‘good’ is what the Lawgiver [i.e. God or Muhammad] has indicated is good by permitting it or asking it to be done. ‘Bad’ is what the Lawgiver has indicated is bad by asking it not to be done. Good is not what reason considers good, nor bad, what reason considers bad”.

This implies, without ambiguity, that a Muslim who follows the rules of Islam will be doing ‘good’, even if these rules seem to fly in the face of what is taken as ethical behaviour in all other human societies. Having quoted this principle, we can now introduce the Islamic concept of ‘dissimulation’ or ‘giving a misleading impression’. Again, from ([3], Section r10.0):

“Scholars say that there is no harm in giving a misleading impression if required by an interest countenanced by Sacred Law that is more important than not misleading the person being addressed, or if there is a pressing need which could not otherwise be fulfilled except through lying”.

The act of ‘giving a misleading impression’ means to

“..utter an expression that ostensibly implies one meaning, while intending a different meaning”

with the added clarification that

“It is a kind of deception”

Thank you. It is always easier when the accused pleads ‘guilty’. Ref. [3] helpfully even gives an example (Section r10.2):

“…as when a person asks a householder ‘Is so-and-so here?’, to which the householder, intending the space between himself and the questioner rather than the space inside the house, replies ‘He is not here’”

Islamic dissimulation is, in a satisfyingly self-referential way, also subject to dissimulation. The process, often referred to by the Arabic word ‘taqiyya’, is represented as a Shia-only practice and only permissible in circumstances where one’s life is in danger. Therefore, so the argument goes, it is not practised under other circumstances, nor at all by mainstream (Sunni) Muslims. However, the facts indicate otherwise: Ref [3] is a book of Sunni law (from the Shafii school, to be exact) and indicates a much wider range of permissible use: in support of “an interest countenanced by sacred law”. It is proposed here that the circumstances under consideration in this article: promotion of Islam in the land of the unbelievers, is exactly that.

The conclusion is inevitable: a committed Muslim, faced with the prospect of revealing an aspect of Islam which he knows is unacceptable to a non-Muslim, will conceal this aspect by highly selective quotation from the Quran (see above) or by the use of ambiguity (see below). If the occasion demands it, he will deceive you in order to achieve his goal, because Islamic law says that he should and Islamic ethics tells him that it is good to do so.

Those Westerners whose ideological feelings prevent them endorsing such criticism of non-Westerners should nevertheless accept that committed Muslims, by their own proud declaration (see above), play according to a completely different set of ethical rules. As an aside: those who remain unable to acknowledge this without the palliative of some corresponding accusation against their own kind may be comforted to know that an almost identical attitude to dissimulation is held by the Jehovah’s Witness movement and is known as the ‘Theocratic War Strategy’.

But can we still be friends?

Now for some more examples. A reader of IslamOnline asks the question: “Does Islam Forbid Befriending Non-Muslims?”, presumably basing his concerns on (Q5:51):

“O believers, take not Jews and Christians as friends; they are friends of each other. Whoso of you makes them his friends is one of them. God guides not the people of the evildoers.“

Remarkably, even in the face of this bleak and seemingly unambiguous statement from the Quran, a resourceful Mufti, Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, President of the Fiqh [i.e. Islamic jurisprudence] Council of North America, states, still finds the basis of an alternative interpretation [4].

“The Quran does not say that non-Muslims cannot be Muslims’ friends, nor does it forbid Muslims to be friendly to non-Muslims. There are many non-Muslims who are good friends of Muslim individuals and the Muslim community. There are also many good Muslims who truly and sincerely observe their faith and are very friendly to many non-Muslims at the same time.”

And he further offers the following:

In the verse you quoted, the word “Awliya” is used. It is a plural and its singular is “wali”. The correct translation of the word “”wali”” is not “friend” but it is someone who is very close and intimate. It is also used to mean “guardian, protector, patron, lord and master”.

Now, spot the dissimulation. Despite appearances, Siddiqi’s response actually endorses what the Quran appears to say. Of course it does; Siddiqi is a Muslim scholar. Read the response again and notice the precise use of language: twice, he states that non-Muslims can be friends with Muslims; twice he states that Muslims can be ‘friendly to’ non-Muslims. Now (forgive the implied snobbery): I am ‘friendly to’ the checkout staff at my local Tesco, but I am not ‘friends with’ them. The latter suggests a real relationship, the former, a superficial show of courtesy. I would be the first to admit that the above interpretation was a figment of my imagination were it not for the existence of other examples of dissimulation and for the fact that the response is clearly carefully constructed in order to make the distinction. If you remain unconvinced, consider: if your child asked if he could make friends with the boy next door and you were genuinely happy for him to do so, would you really reply in the type of guarded and convoluted manner chosen by Siddiqi?

Siddiqi also falls back on the classic ‘you don’t understand Arabic’ gambit, implying some subtlety in the original which has exceeded the expertise of the translator to represent it in English (Is it really the case that, in Islamic texts, nothing is ever as it appears?). However, if the Arabic word for ‘intimate friend’ is used in the Quran (Sarwar [5] uses this exact term) then, surely, it is reasonable to suppose that that was what was intended. Otherwise, the author must be considered to be guilty of not expressing himself properly: a conclusion unacceptable to a Muslim. Certainly Ibn Kathir thought this was the intention, because he states, in the commentary to (Q5:51):

“Allah described the deep enmity that the disbelieving polytheists and People of the Scripture, whom Allah warned against imitating, have against the believers, so that Muslims should sever all friendship with them”

and, just to emphasise the point he says, in his commentary to (Q3:28):

“Allah prohibited His believing servants from becoming supporters of the disbelievers, or to take them as comrades with whom they develop friendships, rather than the believers.”

and, to (Q5:53)

“Allah forbids His believing servants from having Jews and Christians as friends, because they are the enemies of Islam and its people…”

adding, in case the sentiments were unclear:

“…may Allah curse them”

In a society in which Muslims live as a minority and mix with the non-Muslim host community, it is clearly unrealistic to advise them not to form friendships. However, one should not blind oneself to the fact that this is precisely what the Quran commands. In fact, it goes somewhat further in (Q4:100), according to Ibn Kathir, who discusses “The Prohibition of Residing Among the Disbelievers While Able to Emigrate”.


Atheists, along with Hindus and assorted Pagan religions, know that they can expect little joy from Islam. As for Jews, well, there does seem to be a certain amount of tension. But what about Christians? Don’t they have a special place within Islam?

The next question selected from the Islam Online website is the following: “Could you please guide me to the domains of Muslim-Christian cooperation and the efforts that should be done from both sides to enhance such cooperation?”. The answer is particularly interesting, since it is given by Yusuf Al-Qaradawi himself. He says that [6]

“There are many common fields that we can work together to widen and to enhance.”

and, under the heading “Focus on Common Factors”, he continues:

“This refers to the focus on common factors between us and people of other divine revelations. This is why Allah says (Q29:46): ‘And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, except with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender.’”

Well, that text from the Quran seems fairly reasonable, especially since the Arberry translation renders the rather odd phrase “in a way that is better” as “in the fairer manner”. However, just for completeness, we had better check the meaning of that innocuous-looking: “except with such of them as do wrong”. Reference to the Tafsir Ibn Kathir reveals that:

“…‘except with such of them as do wrong’ meaning, those who turn away from the truth, turning a blind eye to clear evidence, being stubborn and arrogant. In this case you should progress from debate to combat, fighting them in such a way as to deter them from committing aggression against you.”

And all that inter-faith chumminess disappears down the pan. Christians are treated with respect only as long as they are potential converts. If they refuse to convert (because they are stubborn and arrogant) they may be attacked, not because they have initiated the hostilities but “to deter them from committing aggression”.

Inspection of other verses referring to ‘People of the Book’ (Christians and Jews) indicates that (Q29:46) above is as good as it gets. Consider (Q2:105):

“Those unbelievers of the People of the Book and the idolaters wish not that any good should be sent down upon you from your Lord”

and (Q2:109) states:

“Many of the People of the Book wish they might restore you as unbelievers, after you have believed, in the jealousy of their souls, after the truth has become clear to them.”

Christians may not recognise themselves or their motives in the above, but the following commentary by Ibn Kathir confirms that the intended meaning is exactly as it appears:

“Allah warned His believing servants against following the ways of the People of Book, who publicly and secretly harbor enmity and hatred for the believers, and who envy the believers, while they recognize the virtue of the believers and their Prophet”

Yes, Islam maintains that Christians refuse to convert out of jealousy, even though they recognise that they are wrong and Islam is right. The abuse becomes more acute in (Q3:110):

“…Had the People of the Book believed, it were better for them; some of them are believers, but the most of them are ungodly.”

So now Christians are called ‘ungodly’ (Arberry translation) or, in other representations: ‘perverted transgressors’ (Yusufali), ‘evil-livers’ (Pickthal), ‘trangressors’ (Shakir), ‘perverse’ (Rodwell) ‘evil-doers’ (Sarwar) and, finally ‘disobedient to Allah – and rebellious against Allah’s Command’ (Al-Hilali and Khan). That’s got to hurt.

Qaradawi, having therefore quoted exclusively the single Quranic verse which can be interpreted as being friendly to Christians, then falls back upon rhetorical questions:

“..why would Allah allow us to marry Christians and Jews? Why were the early Muslims sad when the Persians defeated the Romans-the former were magus (worshippers of fire) while the latter were Christians?”

To answer: the ‘us’ refers to Muslim men only. Muslim women are not allowed to marry Christian or Jewish men. The reason for this is, of course, the dominance of the man in the Islamic marriage. A Christian wife is a potential convert to Islam. A Muslim wife of a Christian or a Jew is not only a potential loss to the Religion of Peace, but the future mother of non-Muslim children.

The reference to the comradeship with the ‘Romans’ (actually referring to the Christian Byzantines, whose capital was Constantinople) is an outrageous piece of dishonesty, analogous to citing the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939 as evidence of the Nazism’s enduring kinship with the Russians, while failing to mention the carnage that came later. The Romans’ defeat by the Persians happened around the year 615 (they subsequently rallied and reversed their losses). By 631, Muhammad was mustering an army to attack them. In his commentary on (Q9:29), Ibn Kathir says

“Allah commanded His Messenger to fight the People of the Scriptures, Jews and Christians, on the ninth year of Hijrah [i.e. 631, about a year before Muhammad died], and he prepared his army to fight the Romans and called the people to Jihad announcing his intent and destination.”

Constantinople was not first on the Muslim to-do list, but was eventually besieged (unsuccessfully) by the Arabs in the 670s and later in 717/718 (it eventually fell to the Turks in 1453). So much for the early Muslims being ‘sad’ at the Romans’ misfortunes.

Yusuf Al-Qaradawi is an extremely eminent Islamic scholar, who is reputed to have learned the Quran by heart by the age of 10 (one can only wonder what sort of childhood that must have been). What can we possibly make of his interpretations, given above, which seem to say the precise opposite of what, for centuries, the verses have been understood to mean, other than that they are deliberately deceitful? Moreover, Al-Qaradawi and his colleagues will happily continue with this kind of deception for as long as their assertions remain unchallenged.

Where to find the truth – the Tafsir Ibn Kathir

One of the purposes of this article has been to highlight the ways in which Islamic scholars routinely try to pull the wool over our eyes concerning the way Islam views us. The other purpose is to introduce the antidote to this dissimulation in the form of the Tafsir Ibn Kathir, one of the most widely used interpretations of the Quran, which is available on-line in English (see e.g. [7], [8]). It presents authentic, authoritative mainstream Islamic opinion on the background to, and the intended meaning of all the passages in the Quran, drawing on a range of scholarly views. Because it was written in the depths of the Islamic world in the 14th century, it makes no attempt to hide Islam’s inherent hostility to everything non-Islamic. Readers need not be concerned that its age somehow makes it out of date: Islam remains unchanged and unchanging.

I should point out that the Tafsir Ibn Kathir is monumentally long, discussing each verse of the Quran (which itself is long enough) in minute detail. However, once you get used to its structure, which follows that of the Quran itself, it is not too difficult to find the interpretation of any given passage, though it helps to have a separate Quran handy so you don’t get lost. Each sura (chapter) of the Quran is discussed separately, in the usual order. Verses are also treated in order but are embedded in the text, in parentheses, so you have to search for them by scrolling or paging through (and ignoring the Arabic parts). A discussion follows each group of verses.

For example, the following extract comprises Verses 30 and 31 from Sura 9:

(30. And the Jews say: “Uzayr (Ezra) is the son of Allah,” and the Christians say: “The Messiah is the son of Allah.” That is their saying with their mouths, resembling the saying of those who disbelieved aforetime. May Allah fight them, how they are deluded away from the truth!) (31. They (Jews and Christians) took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides Allah, and (they also took as their Lord) the Messiah, son of Maryam, while they were commanded to worship none but One God, none has the right to be worshipped but He. Praise and hallowed be He above what they associate (with Him).”)

Each group of verses is then followed by Ibn Kathir’s interpretation, normally introduced by a subheading, the one associated with the above verses being:

“Fighting the Jews and Christians is legislated because They are Idolators and Disbelievers”

and then the meaning of the previous verses are discussed, sometimes phrase by phrase. The discussion of the above verses begins:

“Allah the Exalted encourages the believers to fight the polytheists, disbelieving Jews and Christians, who uttered this terrible statement and utter lies against Allah, the Exalted. As for the Jews, they claimed that Uzayr was the son of God, Allah is free of what they attribute to Him. As for the misguidance of Christians over Isa [i.e. Jesus], it is obvious. This is why Allah declared both groups to be liars”

And thus is Islam’s true attitude to unbelievers revealed. Even if Ibn Kathir’s opinions are regarded within Islam as, perhaps, a little hawkish (we don’t know this – he might be considered a hand-wringing liberal), the fact that he formed these opinions in the first place and also that these views are respected within the mainstream must surely be clues to the intolerant and aggressive nature of this ideology. In spite of the soothing words of the Islamic scholars and the denial exhibited by so many in politics and the media, Ibn Kathir’s book confirms that Islam harbours a venomous hostility towards non-Muslims: an eternal hostility based not on modern grievance politics, but on ancient theology.

The enmity of Islam for the non-Muslim world therefore did not begin with the Iraq War, nor with Al-Qaeda, nor with the founding of Israel, nor with the creation of the Muslim Brotherhood. It did not begin in the 14th century with Ibn Kathir. It began with Islam’s founder, Muhammad, in 7th century Arabia and it has remained malignantly consistent ever since.

If you continue to believe that Islam is truly a benign, peaceful religion, or feel that I am exaggerating or quoting too selectively, please take a look at the Tafsir Ibn Kathir. If you have been told that such-and-such a verse in the Quran preaches brotherhood and love, look it up in the Tafsir and see what it really means. If you know any non-Muslim apologists for Islam, show them what the religion they are defending is saying about them behind their backs. The truth about Islam, expressed in Islam’s own words, is out there for everyone to see. The sooner it becomes common knowledge, the better.


[1] Qaradawi Dossier.

[2] Ask a Scholar.

[3] Ahmad ibn Naqib al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, (rev. ed., trans. Nuh Ha Mim Keller, Beltsville, Maryland: Amana, 1994).

[4] Ask a Scholar.

[5] Quran and Hadith.

[6] Ask a Scholar.

[7] Tafsir Ibn Kathir. The Holy Book website.

[8] Tafsir Ibn Kathir.

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