Do Unbelievers Have a Moral Right to Criticize the Quran?

According to ISNA president Ingrid Mattson, regarding the movie Fitna, “Defacing or destroying symbols of each other’s most cherished beliefs violates the basic principle of respect.” Note that Fitna examines certain verses of the Quran and the ways they are used by some Muslims to justify violence and hate toward unbelievers.

Let’s leave aside for the moment the question of whether unbelievers really should respect religious symbols they do not believe in. Applied to the Quran, this is quite an outrageous statement. The Quran is not just a religious symbol. It’s a book with words in it. Unbelievers are the subject matter of a great many of those words. Yet, according to Ms. Mattson, we unbelievers have no right to express our own opinion of those words? Unbelievers are supposed to be silent about what the Quran says about unbelievers?

Here is a small sampling of verses in the Quran that describe unbelievers. See if you think the Quran treats unbelievers with respect:

  • (2:89) …. The curse of Allah is on disbelievers.
  • (98:6) Lo! those who disbelieve, among the People of the Scripture and the idolaters, will abide in fire of hell. They are the worst of created beings.
  • (2:99) Verily We have revealed unto thee clear tokens, and only miscreants will disbelieve in them.
  • (2:171) The likeness of those who disbelieve (in relation to the messenger) is as the likeness of one who calleth unto that which heareth naught except a shout and cry. Deaf, dumb, blind, therefore they have no sense.
  • (8:55) Lo! the worst of beasts in Allah’s sight are the ungrateful who will not believe.

And here is a small sampling of verses that say what to do to unbelievers:

  • (8:12) When thy Lord inspired the angels, (saying): I am with you. So make those who believe stand firm. I will throw fear into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Then smite the necks and smite of them each finger.
  • (8:39) And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is all for Allah. But if they cease, then lo! Allah is Seer of what they do.
  • ((8:65) O Prophet! Exhort the believers to fight. If there be of you twenty steadfast they shall overcome two hundred, and if there be of you a hundred (steadfast) they shall overcome a thousand of those who disbelieve, because they (the disbelievers) are a folk without intelligence.
  • (9:5) Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
  • (9:29) Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.
  • (4:144) O ye who believe! Choose not disbelievers for (your) friends in place of believers. Would ye give Allah a clear warrant against you?
  • (48:29) Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. And those with him are hard against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves….

(Note that many Muslims interpret the above verses, and many others that are similar, at face value. Others are vague about how they interpret them, and others just ignore these verses. It’s probably only a small percentage of Muslims that thinks they should act on the above verses, but unfortunately this comes to millions of Muslims.)

So, according to Ms. Mattson, we unbelievers are supposed to respect those words which disrespect us, because they appear in a religious “symbol”. This is treating unbelievers as subhumans who have no right to think about or express our opinion on matters that concern us.

If Ms. Mattson and her ilk really want to ask unbelievers to respect the Quran, it is logical that first they should remove all references to unbelievers from the Quran. At that point, they could perhaps make the case that what is written in the Quran does not concern us.

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