Many claim the Quran is a book of justice, peace and equality. This assertion is often used to promote a kinder, gentler Islam but is rarely backed with examples. When I read or hear these assertions, I find myself cringing a little because that is not what I find when I open the covers of the book. I’ve been thinking about how I can reach such a different conclusion; how I find a book full of threats and an overtly angry and punishing God.
I’m sympathetic to the modern-day pressures felt by the Muslim community. Justified feelings of humility and the pressures of post-colonialism have colored Islamic thought in the last two centuries and things have gotten even more ugly in this post 9/11 world. The current state of the Muslim world is a complex subject to be explored and deserves an honest introspection.
However, my argument is that Islam and Muslims have always been pitted against the disbelievers. Early on in Islamic history, Muslims tried hard to separate themselves from the disbelievers and the enmity and violent upheaval of those times find themselves into the verse.
Islam does offer justice to those within a Muslim society and to the believers. The poor are given charity, the orphans are cared for. Murderers and thieves are punished. Even women have a right to support by their male relatives in all instances, although she may have to share her husband with others, and accept a lesser inheritance. Slavery is acceptable in the eyes of Allah, but kindness to your human property is highly prized and rewarded. Religious minorities are protected, although at the cost of the jizya. The Quran outlines all the things necessary for a functioning society, but at at the heart of this society, Islam must prevail:
Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued (9:29).
It’s a matter of debate whether or not living under an Islamic system of law as outlined in the Quran would be just to those living within it, either Muslim or not. However, it is often the case in religious systems that the concept of justice is carried out in the afterlife. From a purely supernatural standpoint, the fate of those who decide not to sumit to the laws of Islam and reject either the superiority of Allah or his existence altogether will surely be punished in the afterlife.
I don’t think those of us who disbelieve would have so many issues with religion if, in general, it was more universal and accepting of diverse human opinions. Religion creates a sort of tribalism, a dichotomy between us and them. Of course, humankind will tend toward this type of behavior with almost any ideology, but when it is codified into practice by the actual scripture it becomes more problematic because now the hatred and placement of inferiority of the other is sanctioned by God himself.
Yes, the Quran does speak of justice, but it is almost always juxtaposed against the dichotomy of the believers versus the unbelievers:
O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do.
To those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath Allah promised forgiveness and a great reward.
Those who reject faith and deny our signs will be companions of Hell-fire. (5:8-10).
It was never a universal message of love or justice. It was a promise of rewards to the believer and submitter to Allah. Those who resist, rather in body or mind, meet a terrible punishment, either in this life or the next. It’s difficult to respect a system of belief that essentially declares you are going to burn in hell forever and I don’t find any justice in that.