Therefore, before condemning the Qur’an and the historical words and deeds of Islam’s prophet Muhammad for inciting violence and intolerance, Jews are counseled to consider the historical atrocities committed by their Hebrew forefathers as recorded in their own scriptures; Christians are advised to consider the brutal cycle of violence their forbears have committed in the name of their faith against both non-Christians and fellow Christians. In other words, Jews and Christians are reminded that those who live in glass houses should not be hurling stones.
But is that really the case? Is the analogy with other scriptures legitimate? Does Hebrew violence in the ancient era, and Christian violence in the medieval era, compare to or explain away the tenacity of Muslim violence in the modern era?
Violence in Jewish and Christian History
Along with Armstrong, any number of prominent writers, historians, and theologians have championed this “relativist” view. For instance, John Esposito, director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, wonders,
How come we keep on asking the same question, [about violence in Islam,] and don’t ask the same question about Christianity and Judaism? Jews and Christians have engaged in acts of violence. All of us have the transcendent and the dark side. … We have our own theology of hate. In mainstream Christianity and Judaism, we tend to be intolerant; we adhere to an exclusivist theology, of us versus them.
An article by Pennsylvania State University humanities professor Philip Jenkins, “Dark Passages,” delineates this position most fully. It aspires to show that the Bible is more violent than the Qur’an:
[I]n terms of ordering violence and bloodshed, any simplistic claim about the superiority of the Bible to the Koran would be wildly wrong. In fact, the Bible overflows with “texts of terror,” to borrow a phrase coined by the American theologian Phyllis Trible. The Bible contains far more verses praising or urging bloodshed than does the Koran, and biblical violence is often far more extreme, and marked by more indiscriminate savagery. … If the founding text shapes the whole religion, then Judaism and Christianity deserve the utmost condemnation as religions of savagery.
Several anecdotes from the Bible as well as from Judeo-Christian history illustrate Jenkins’ point, but two in particular—one supposedly representative of Judaism, the other of Christianity—are regularly mentioned and therefore deserve closer examination.
The military conquest of the land of Canaan by the Hebrews in about 1200 B.C.E. is often characterized as “genocide” and has all but become emblematic of biblical violence and intolerance. God told Moses:
But of the cities of these peoples which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them—the Hittite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, and Jebusite—just as the Lord your God has commanded you, lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God.
So Joshua [Moses’ successor] conquered all the land: the mountain country and the South and the lowland and the wilderness slopes, and all their kings; he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord, God of Israel had commanded.
As for Christianity, since it is impossible to find New Testament verses inciting violence, those who espouse the view that Christianity is as violent as Islam rely on historical events such as the Crusader wars waged by European Christians between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. The Crusades were in fact violent and led to atrocities by the modern world’s standards under the banner of the cross and in the name of Christianity. After breaching the walls of Jerusalem in 1099, for example, the Crusaders reportedly slaughtered almost every inhabitant of the Holy City. According to the medieval chronicle, the Gesta Danorum, “the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles.”
In light of the above, as Armstrong, Esposito, Jenkins, and others argue, why should Jews and Christians point to the Qur’an as evidence of Islam’s violence while ignoring their own scriptures and history?
Bible versus Qur’an
The answer lies in the fact that such observations confuse history and theology by conflating the temporal actions of men with what are understood to be the immutable words of God. The fundamental error is that Judeo-Christian history—which is violent—is being conflated with Islamic theology—which commands violence. Of course, the three major monotheistic religions have all had their share of violence and intolerance towards the “other.” Whether this violence is ordained by God or whether warlike men merely wished it thus is the key question.
Old Testament violence is an interesting case in point. God clearly ordered the Hebrews to annihilate the Canaanites and surrounding peoples. Such violence is therefore an expression of God’s will, for good or ill. Regardless, all the historic violence committed by the Hebrews and recorded in the Old Testament is just that—history. It happened; God commanded it. But it revolved around a specific time and place and was directed against a specific people. At no time did such violence go on to become standardized or codified into Jewish law. In short, biblical accounts of violence are descriptive, not prescriptive.
This is where Islamic violence is unique. Though similar to the violence of the Old Testament—commanded by God and manifested in history—certain aspects of Islamic violence and intolerance have become standardized in Islamic law and apply at all times. Thus, while the violence found in the Qur’an has a historical context, its ultimate significance is theological. Consider the following Qur’anic verses, better known as the “sword-verses”:
Then, when the sacred months are drawn away, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms, then let them go their way.
Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day, and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden – such men as practise not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book – until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled.
As with Old Testament verses where God commanded the Hebrews to attack and slay their neighbors, the sword-verses also have a historical context. God first issued these commandments after the Muslims under Muhammad’s leadership had grown sufficiently strong to invade their Christian and pagan neighbors. But unlike the bellicose verses and anecdotes of the Old Testament, the sword-verses became fundamental to Islam’s subsequent relationship to both the “people of the book” (i.e., Jews and Christians) and the “idolaters” (i.e., Hindus, Buddhists, animists, etc.) and, in fact, set off the Islamic conquests, which changed the face of the world forever. Based on Qur’an 9:5, for instance, Islamic law mandates that idolaters and polytheists must either convert to Islam or be killed; simultaneously, Qur’an 9:29 is the primary source of Islam’s well-known discriminatory practices against conquered Christians and Jews living under Islamic suzerainty.
In fact, based on the sword-verses as well as countless other Qur’anic verses and oral traditions attributed to Muhammad, Islam’s learned officials, sheikhs, muftis, and imams throughout the ages have all reached consensus—binding on the entire Muslim community—that Islam is to be at perpetual war with the non-Muslim world until the former subsumes the latter. Indeed, it is widely held by Muslim scholars that since the sword-verses are among the final revelations on the topic of Islam’s relationship to non-Muslims, that they alone have abrogated some 200 of the Qur’an’s earlier and more tolerant verses, such as “no compulsion is there in religion.” Famous Muslim scholar Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) admired in the West for his “progressive” insights, also puts to rest the notion that jihad is defensive warfare:
In the Muslim community, the holy war [jihad] is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force … The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense … They are merely required to establish their religion among their own people. That is why the Israelites after Moses and Joshua remained unconcerned with royal authority [e.g., a caliphate]. Their only concern was to establish their religion [not spread it to the nations] … But Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations.
Modern authorities agree. The Encyclopaedia of Islam‘s entry for “jihad” by Emile Tyan states that the “spread of Islam by arms is a religious duty upon Muslims in general … Jihad must continue to be done until the whole world is under the rule of Islam … Islam must completely be made over before the doctrine of jihad [warfare to spread Islam] can be eliminated.” Iraqi jurist Majid Khaduri (1909-2007), after defining jihad as warfare, writes that “jihad … is regarded by all jurists, with almost no exception, as a collective obligation of the whole Muslim community.” And, of course, Muslim legal manuals written in Arabic are even more explicit.
When the Qur’an’s violent verses are juxtaposed with their Old Testament counterparts, they are especially distinct for using language that transcends time and space, inciting believers to attack and slay nonbelievers today no less than yesterday. God commanded the Hebrews to kill Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites—all specific peoples rooted to a specific time and place. At no time did God give an open-ended command for the Hebrews, and by extension their Jewish descendants, to fight and kill gentiles. On the other hand, though Islam’s original enemies were, like Judaism’s, 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. [Emphasis added.]” 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. [Emphasis added.]
This linguistic aspect is crucial to understanding scriptural exegeses regarding violence. Again, it bears repeating that neither Jewish nor Christian scriptures—the Old and New Testaments, respectively—employ such perpetual, open-ended commandments. Despite all this, Jenkins laments that
Commands to kill, to commit ethnic cleansing, to institutionalize segregation, to hate and fear other races and religions … all are in the Bible, and occur with a far greater frequency than in the Qur’an. At every stage, we can argue what the passages in question mean, and certainly whether they should have any relevance for later ages. But the fact remains that the words are there, and their inclusion in the scripture means that they are, literally, canonized, no less than in the Muslim scripture.
One wonders what Jenkins has in mind by the word “canonized.” If by canonized he means that such verses are considered part of the canon of Judeo-Christian scripture, he is absolutely correct; conversely, if by canonized he means or is trying to connote that these verses have been implemented in the Judeo-ChristianWeltanschauung, he is absolutely wrong.
Yet one need not rely on purely exegetical and philological arguments; both history and current events give the lie to Jenkins’s relativism. Whereas first-century Christianity spread via the blood of martyrs, first-century Islam spread through violent conquest and bloodshed. Indeed, from day one to the present—whenever it could—Islam spread through conquest, as evinced by the fact that the majority of what is now known as the Islamic world, or dar al-Islam, was conquered by the sword of Islam. This is a historic fact, attested to by the most authoritative Islamic historians. Even the Arabian peninsula, the “home” of Islam, was subdued by great force and bloodshed, as evidenced by the Ridda wars following Muhammad’s death when tens of thousands of Arabs were put to the sword by the first caliph Abu Bakr for abandoning Islam.
Moreover, concerning the current default position which purports to explain away Islamic violence—that the latter is a product of Muslim frustration vis-à-vis political or economic oppression—one must ask: What about all the oppressed Christians and Jews, not to mention Hindus and Buddhists, of the world today? Where is their religiously-garbed violence? The fact remains: Even though the Islamic world has the lion’s share of dramatic headlines—of violence, terrorism, suicide-attacks, decapitations—it is certainly not the only region in the world suffering under both internal and external pressures.
For instance, even though practically all of sub-Saharan Africa is currently riddled with political corruption, oppression and poverty, when it comes to violence, terrorism, and sheer chaos, Somalia—which also happens to be the only sub-Saharan country that is entirely Muslim—leads the pack. Moreover, those most responsible for Somali violence and the enforcement of intolerant, draconian, legal measures—the members of the jihadi group Al-Shabab (the youth)—articulate and justify all their actions through an Islamist paradigm.
In Sudan, too, a jihadi-genocide against the Christian and polytheistic peoples is currently being waged by Khartoum’s Islamist government and has left nearly a million “infidels” and “apostates” dead. That the Organization of Islamic Conference has come to the defense of Sudanese president Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court, is further telling of the Islamic body’s approval of violence toward both non-Muslims and those deemed not Muslim enough.
Latin American and non-Muslim Asian countries also have their fair share of oppressive, authoritarian regimes, poverty, and all the rest that the Muslim world suffers. Yet, unlike the near daily headlines emanating from the Islamic world, there are no records of practicing Christians, Buddhists, or Hindus crashing explosives-laden vehicles into the buildings of oppressive (e.g., Cuban or Chinese communist) regimes, all the while waving their scriptures in hand and screaming, “Jesus [or Buddha or Vishnu] is great!” Why?
There is one final aspect that is often overlooked—either from ignorance or disingenuousness—by those who insist that violence and intolerance is equivalent across the board for all religions. Aside from the divine words of the Qur’an, Muhammad’s pattern of behavior—his sunna or “example”—is an extremely important source of legislation in Islam. Muslims are exhorted to emulate Muhammad in all walks of life: “You have had a good example in God’s Messenger.” And Muhammad’s pattern of conduct toward non-Muslims is quite explicit.
Sarcastically arguing against the concept of moderate Islam, for example, terrorist Osama bin Laden, who enjoys half the Arab-Islamic world’s support per an Al-Jazeera poll, portrays the Prophet’s sunna thusly:
“Moderation” is demonstrated by our prophet who did not remain more than three months in Medina without raiding or sending a raiding party into the lands of the infidels to beat down their strongholds and seize their possessions, their lives, and their women.
In fact, based on both the Qur’an and Muhammad’s sunna, pillaging and plundering infidels, enslaving their children, and placing their women in concubinage is well founded. And the concept of sunna—which is what 90 percent of the billion-plus Muslims, the Sunnis, are named after—essentially asserts that anything performed or approved by Muhammad, humanity’s most perfect example, is applicable for Muslims today no less than yesterday. This, of course, does not mean that Muslims in mass live only to plunder and rape.
But it does mean that persons naturally inclined to such activities, and who also happen to be Muslim, can—and do—quite easily justify their actions by referring to the “Sunna of the Prophet”—the way Al-Qaeda, for example, justified its attacks on 9/11 where innocents including women and children were killed: Muhammad authorized his followers to use catapults during their siege of the town of Ta’if in 630 C.E.—townspeople had refused to submit—though he was aware that women and children were sheltered there. Also, when asked if it was permissible to launch night raids or set fire to the fortifications of the infidels if women and children were among them, the Prophet is said to have responded, “They [women and children] are from among them [infidels].”
Jewish and Christian Ways
Though law-centric and possibly legalistic, Judaism has no such equivalent to the Sunna; the words and deeds of the patriarchs, though described in the Old Testament, never went on to prescribe Jewish law. Neither Abraham’s “white-lies,” nor Jacob’s perfidy, nor Moses’ short-fuse, nor David’s adultery, nor Solomon’s philandering ever went on to instruct Jews or Christians. They were understood as historical acts perpetrated by fallible men who were more often than not punished by God for their less than ideal behavior.
As for Christianity, much of the Old Testament law was abrogated or fulfilled—depending on one’s perspective—by Jesus. “Eye for an eye” gave way to “turn the other cheek.” Totally loving God and one’s neighbor became supreme law. Furthermore, Jesus’ sunna—as in “What would Jesus do?”—is characterized by passivity and altruism. The New Testament contains absolutely no exhortations to violence.
Still, there are those who attempt to portray Jesus as having a similarly militant ethos as Muhammad by quoting the verse where the former—who “spoke to the multitudes in parables and without a parable spoke not”—said, “I come not to bring peace but a sword.” But based on the context of this statement, it is clear that Jesus was not commanding violence against non-Christians but rather predicting that strife will exist between Christians and their environment—a prediction that was only too true as early Christians, far from taking up the sword, passively perished by the sword in martyrdom as too often they still do in the Muslim world. 
Others point to the violence predicted in the Book of Revelation while, again, failing to discern that the entire account is descriptive—not to mention clearly symbolic—and thus hardly prescriptive for Christians. At any rate, how can one conscionably compare this handful of New Testament verses that metaphorically mention the word “sword” to the literally hundreds of Qur’anic injunctions and statements by Muhammad that clearly command Muslims to take up a very real sword against non-Muslims?
Undeterred, Jenkins bemoans the fact that, in the New Testament, Jews “plan to stone Jesus, they plot to kill him; in turn, Jesus calls them liars, children of the Devil.” It still remains to be seen if being called “children of the Devil” is more offensive than being referred to as the descendents of apes and pigs—the Qur’an’s appellation for Jews. Name calling aside, however, what matters here is that, whereas the New Testament does not command Christians to treat Jews as “children of the Devil,” based on the Qur’an, primarily 9:29, Islamic law obligates Muslims to subjugate Jews, indeed, all non-Muslims.
Does this mean that no self-professed Christian can be anti-Semitic? Of course not. But it does mean that Christian anti-Semites are living oxymorons—for the simple reason that textually and theologically, Christianity, far from teaching hatred or animosity, unambiguously stresses love and forgiveness. Whether or not all Christians follow such mandates is hardly the point; just as whether or not all Muslims uphold the obligation of jihad is hardly the point. The only question is, what do the religions command?
John Esposito is therefore right to assert that “Jews and Christians have engaged in acts of violence.” He is wrong, however, to add, “We [Christians] have our own theology of hate.” Nothing in the New Testament teaches hate—certainly nothing to compare with Qur’anic injunctions such as: “We [Muslims] disbelieve in you [non-Muslims], and between us and you enmity has shown itself, and hatred for ever until you believe in God alone.”
Reassessing the Crusades
And it is from here that one can best appreciate the historic Crusades—events that have been thoroughly distorted by Islam’s many influential apologists. Karen Armstrong, for instance, has practically made a career for herself by misrepresenting the Crusades, writing, for example, that “the idea that Islam imposed itself by the sword is a Western fiction, fabricated during the time of the Crusades when, in fact, it was Western Christians who were fighting brutal holy wars against Islam.” That a former nun rabidly condemns the Crusades vis-à-vis anything Islam has done makes her critique all the more marketable. Yet statements such as this ignore the fact that from the beginnings of Islam, more than 400 years before the Crusades, Christians have noted that Islam was spread by the sword. Indeed, authoritative Muslim historians writing centuries before the Crusades, such as Ahmad Ibn Yahya al-Baladhuri (d. 892) and Muhammad ibn Jarir at-Tabari (838-923), make it clear that Islam was spread by the sword.
The fact remains: The Crusades were a counterattack on Islam—not an unprovoked assault as Armstrong and other revisionist historians portray. Eminent historian Bernard Lewis puts it well,
Even the Christian crusade, often compared with the Muslim jihad, was itself a delayed and limited response to the jihad and in part also an imitation. But unlike the jihad, it was concerned primarily with the defense or reconquest of threatened or lost Christian territory. It was, with few exceptions, limited to the successful wars for the recovery of southwest Europe, and the unsuccessful wars to recover the Holy Land and to halt the Ottoman advance in the Balkans. The Muslim jihad, in contrast, was perceived as unlimited, as a religious obligation that would continue until all the world had either adopted the Muslim faith or submitted to Muslim rule. … The object of jihad is to bring the whole world under Islamic law.
Moreover, Muslim invasions and atrocities against Christians were on the rise in the decades before the launch of the Crusades in 1096. The Fatimid caliph Abu ‘Ali Mansur Tariqu’l-Hakim (r. 996-1021) desecrated and destroyed a number of important churches—such as the Church of St. Mark in Egypt and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem—and decreed even more oppressive than usual decrees against Christians and Jews. Then, in 1071, the Seljuk Turks crushed the Byzantines in the pivotal battle of Manzikert and, in effect, conquered a major chunk of Byzantine Anatolia presaging the way for the eventual capture of Constantinople centuries later.
It was against this backdrop that Pope Urban II (r. 1088-1099) called for the Crusades:
From the confines of Jerusalem and the city of Constantinople a horrible tale has gone forth and very frequently has been brought to our ears, namely, that a race from the kingdom of the Persians [i.e., Muslim Turks] … has invaded the lands of those Christians and has depopulated them by the sword, pillage and fire; it has led away a part of the captives into its own country, and a part it has destroyed by cruel tortures; it has either entirely destroyed the churches of God or appropriated them for the rites of its own religion.
Even though Urban II’s description is historically accurate, the fact remains: However one interprets these wars—as offensive or defensive, just or unjust—it is evident that they were not based on the example of Jesus, who exhorted his followers to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” Indeed, it took centuries of theological debate, from Augustine to Aquinas, to rationalize defensive war—articulated as “just war.” Thus, it would seem that if anyone, it is the Crusaders—not the jihadists—who have been less than faithful to their scriptures (from a literal standpoint); or put conversely, it is the jihadists—not the Crusaders—who have faithfully fulfilled their scriptures (also from a literal stand point). Moreover, like the violent accounts of the Old Testament, the Crusades are historic in nature and not manifestations of any deeper scriptural truths.
In fact, far from suggesting anything intrinsic to Christianity, the Crusades ironically better help explain Islam. For what the Crusades demonstrated once and for all is that irrespective of religious teachings—indeed, in the case of these so-called Christian Crusades, despite them—man is often predisposed to violence. But this begs the question: If this is how Christians behaved—who are commanded to love, bless, and do good to their enemies who hate, curse, and persecute them—how much more can be expected of Muslims who, while sharing the same violent tendencies, are further commanded by the Deity to attack, kill, and plunder nonbelievers?
 Andrea Bistrich, “Discovering the common grounds of world religions,” interview with Karen Armstrong, Share International, Sept. 2007, pp. 19-22.
 C-SPAN2, June 5, 2004.
 Philip Jenkins, “Dark Passages,” The Boston Globe, Mar. 8, 2009.
 Deut. 20:16-18.
 Josh. 10:40.
 “The Fall of Jerusalem,” Gesta Danorum, accessed Apr. 2, 2009.
 Qur. 9:5. All translations of Qur’anic verses are drawn from A.J. Arberry, ed. The Koran Interpreted: A Translation (New York: Touchstone, 1996).
 Qur. 9:29.
 Qur. 2:256.
 Ibn Khaldun, The Muqudimmah: An Introduction to History, Franz Rosenthal, trans. (New York: Pantheon, 1958,) vol. 1, p. 473.
 Majid Khadduri, War and Peace in the Law of Islam (London: Oxford University Press, 1955), p. 60.
 See, for instance, Ahmed Mahmud Karima, Al-Jihad fi’l-Islam: Dirasa Fiqhiya Muqarina (Cairo: Al-Azhar University, 2003).
 Qur. 9:29.
 Qur. 9:5.
 Qur. 8:39.
 Ibn al-Hajjaj Muslim, Sahih Muslim, C9B1N31; Muhammad Ibn Isma’il al-Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari(Lahore: Kazi, 1979), B2N24.
 Jenkins, “Dark_Passages.”
 Qur. 33:21.
 “Al-Jazeera-Poll: 49% of Muslims Support Osama bin Laden,” Sept. 7-10, 2006, accessed Apr. 2, 2009.
 ‘Abd al-Rahim ‘Ali, Hilf al Irhab (Cairo: Markaz al-Mahrusa li ‘n-Nashr wa ‘l-Khidamat as-Sahafiya wa ‘l-Ma’lumat, 2004).
 For example, Qur. 4:24, 4:92, 8:69, 24:33, 33:50.
 Sahih Muslim, B19N4321; for English translation, see Raymond Ibrahim, The Al Qaeda Reader (New York: Doubleday, 2007), p. 140.
 Matt. 22:38-40.
 Matt. 13:34.
 Matt. 10:34.
 See, for instance, “Christian Persecution Info,” Christian Persecution Magazine, accessed Apr. 2, 2009.
 Jenkins, “Dark_Passages.”
 Qur. 2:62-65, 5:59-60, 7:166.
 Qur. 60:4.
 Bistrich, “Discovering the common grounds of world religions,” pp. 19-22; For a critique of Karen Armstrong’s work, see “Karen Armstrong,” in Andrew Holt, ed. Crusades-Encyclopedia, Apr. 2005, accessed Apr. 6, 2009.
 See, for example, the writings of Sophrinius, Jerusalem’s patriarch during the Muslim conquest of the Holy City, just years after the death of Muhammad, or the chronicles of Theophane the Confessor.
 Bernard Lewis, The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2000 Years (New York: Scribner, 1995), p. 233-4.
 “Speech of Urban—Robert of Rheims,” in Edward Peters, ed., The First Crusade: The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Materials (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), p. 27.
 Matt. 5:44