Mustafa Akyol believes that "the main obstacle to Christian religious freedom in Turkey is not Islam but Turkish nationalism and laicite" ("Render Unto Ataturk," March). And regarding the "verses of the sword" in the Qur'an, Akyol suggests "it is possible to argue that these verses refer only to those non-Muslims who have been belligerent toward Muslims in the first place." I am not so sure.
As Akyol knows, almost all these numerous verses appear in the suras dictated after Muhammad had left Mecca, where he had been trying to compromise with hostile parties, and had arrived at Medina, where he became a powerful chieftain gaining booty from battles and demanding unquestioning fidelity. The bellicose verses he dictated there are taken by Muslims as the direct word of Allah relayed to Muhammad, and they cannot be subjected to interpretation. When a devout Muslim reads Sura 5:51, telling the faithful never to take Jews or Christians as friends, or Sura 2:61, decreeing an eternal curse of humiliation and wretchedness on Jews, or the numerous passages (for example, Suras 2:191, 9:5, 47:4) enjoining believers to slay unbelievers wherever they can be found and to continue to fight until "religion should be only for Allah" (Sura 8:39), one may vainly hope that there are not many Muslims who read their scriptures literally.
Christians who commit acts of violence against those of other faiths cannot point to the New Testament for justification of their actions, but unfortunately Muslims can.
Howard P. Kainz
Mustafa Akyol replies:
Thanks to Howard Kainz for his criticism. It has become an oft-repeated dictum that the later verses of the Qur'an are less tolerant than the earlier ones, but the reality is more complex. Of course, all the...