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    Posted: 15 November 2006 at 7:43am


"(The truly virtuous are) those (who) fulfill their vows, and stand in awe of a Day the woe of which is bound to spread far and wide, and who give food - however great be their own want of it - to the needy, the orphan and the captive, (saying, in their hearts): 'We feed you for the sake of God alone. We desire no recompense from you, nor thanks.'" The Holy Quran, 76:7-9

Experts say 'kill infidels' quote taken out of context

By TONY MARRERO [email protected]

11.13.2006 -- BROOKSVILLE — Mary Ann Hogan, wife of former county commissioner Tom Hogan Sr., is right about one thing. The Koran, the Muslim holy book, does include passages about, as Hogan put it, “killing infidels.”

Take this line, for example: “Now when you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks until you overcome them fully...”

Or this oft-cited, so-called “Verse of the Sword: “...lay the pagans where you may come upon them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every conceivable place.”

But, according to experts on Islam and members of the Muslim community, Hogan and the many Americans who share her opinion err when they make a blanket statement about the religion based on excerpts from the book written in the 7th century — or on the actions of radical extremists who interpret the Koran’s words for their own violent purposes. The words that seem so brutal must be taken in the context of Muslim defending their faith from aggressors, experts say. The verses were written in a military context exhorting the besieged Muslims to defend themselves.

Despite a bloody beginning, Muslims say their faith is based on peace and self-improvement, and does not allow or sanctify the killing of any innocent person regardless of his or her religion. According to the Koran and Hadith, the sayings of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, life is sacrosanct.

In a world changed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, that is lost on many Americans who equate the religion with violence, said Ahmed Bedier, executive director of the Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “We understand it’s rooted in ignorance,” Bedier said.

The Hogans are different, Bedier said. As prominent Republican activists with a long history of civic involvement, they should be better informed.

But most Americans hostile to Islam are that way because they associate the religion with negative geopolitical events, from the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979 to the Sept. 11 attacks and recent beheadings of captives in the Middle East, Bedier said.

In Mary Ann Hogan’s letter, which her husband supported, Hogan calls Islam “hateful and frightening.”

“The stated goal of the Islamic faith is to kill us, the ‘infidels,’” Hogan wrote. She penned the note, which her husband supported, to criticize the county for using personnel and equipment to assist a recent Ramadan festival at a local mosque. The sentiments about Islam in the letter drew the condemnation of Gov. Jeb Bush, the state’s Republican Party and both Florida gubernatorial candidates.

While many letter writers to local newspapers also denounced the Hogans’ views, others defended them for, in one Brooksville resident’s words, “having said what many of us think but have not had the courage to say in an open and public forum.”

The Rev. Jerry Waugh, senior pastor at Northcliffe Baptist Church in Spring Hill, said he does not agree with the Hogans’ sentiments. However, Waugh added, “I do understand why it was said. (Sept. 11) was not the first time and will likely not be the last time that people affiliated with the Muslim religion have killed Americans. The Muslim track record with Americans has not been a good one.”

The key word in the discussion, though, should be “extreme,” Waugh said. “It is unfair to paint all Muslims a certain way based on the actions of some radical extremists,” he said. “Likewise, I hope people don’t evaluate all Christians by the actions of a few Christians.”

Violence in self-defense

Religious and political tension boiled over on the Arabian Peninsula during the 7th century. The region had been populated mostly by polytheists, with a smattering of Christians and Jews. Muslims believe that God, or Allah, revealed himself to Muhammad, a merchant-turned-prophet who lived near Mecca, starting at about 610 A.D. The revelations would last more than two decades and are known as the Koran.

The polytheists saw Muslims as a threat to not just their faith but to their power and control of the region, said Kathleen O’Connor, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of South Florida. War ensued. Muslims at that time “were in a life and death struggle,” O’Connor said. “They were just a few folks filled with commitment trying to hang on with their lives.” It was in this context that Allah, through the Koran, told Muslims they had the right to fight to defend themselves, O’Connor said.

However, the Koran “also says peace is the most desirable goal,” she said. “Do not take life, which Allah has made sacred, except for a just cause,” intones one verse.

What is a “just cause,” however, is open to interpretation. Muslim extremists angry with Western nations’ foreign policy in the Middle East — Osama Bin Laden chief among them — have hijacked the Koran’s passages to justify terrorism, O’Connor said. “They take that and turn it into, ‘Our current enemies are oppressing us and we should fight them any way we can,’” she said. “This tiny minority with political and religious agendas takes the public stage.”

Fear of the unknown?

After Sept. 11, Islamic leaders from around the globe condemned the actions of the 19 hijackers, all of whom were Muslim members of Bin Laden’s terrorist group, al-Qaeda. Since then, Muslim leaders have worked to educate the world about their religion, Bedier said, but five years later, many of America’s roughly 7 million Muslims still contend with open hostility.

A poll by the Pew Research Center in 2005 might help explain why. The poll, conducted after last year’s subway bombings in London, indicates that tolerance of the Islam is connected to a person’s party, faith and familiarity with the religion. The poll asked 2,000 adults about their impressions and knowledge of the Islamic faith. Though the survey showed some improvement in those impressions in the last few years, 36 percent of respondents said they believed Islam “encourages violence.”

When asked to describe their opinion of Islam, 36 percent replied “unfavorable,” up from 34 percent in 2003. And one in four said their opinion of Muslim-Americans is unfavorable.

Roughly twice as many conservative Republicans as liberal Democrats — 49 to 25 percent — said Islam is more apt than other religions to encourage violence. About half of white Evangelicals said the same. At the same time, however, a majority of respondents said they felt unfamiliar with Islam: 36 percent said they knew “not very much” about the religion and 30 percent said they knew “nothing at all.” Those numbers have stayed relatively static since 2001, according to the poll.

Bedier blames pundits such as Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage and prominent church leaders, whose comments Mary Ann Hogan seemed to echo.

In 2002, with the wound of the Sept. 11 attacks still fresh, evangelist Pat Robertson caused an uproar when he said Islam, “is not a peaceful religion that wants to coexist,” and that Muslims, “want to coexist until they can control, dominate and then, if need be, destroy.”

“They’re very misinformed, but unfortunately those people are adding fuel to the fire,” Bedier said. “If that’s all people hear, they’re going to start believing these perceptions.”

As a professor, O’Connor sees that all the time. Students “are absorbing the ignorance of the adult population” when it comes to Islam, she said. “I have to undo most of what (students) think they know before I can build any kind of historical reality,” she said.

Requiring a religious studies class in high school would help give students a comparative view, O’Connor said. “Unless the next generation is exposed to new ideas, they’re going to carry on where their parents left off,” she said. “If Americans can see (Muslims) as neighbors and not strangers, that would be something to herald the millennium, something to look forward to.” Hernando Today

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