As you will have seen in yesterday's post on Islamophobia, at least one of our ms Muslim-bashing pundits, the Sydney Morning Herald's Paul Sheehan, gets all he needs to know on the subject of Muslims and their religion from Islamophobic websites.
Little wonder then that his tiresome rants are full of pseudo-scholarship and Islamophobic bile.
Those seeking informed and scholarly correctives to such rubbish might find themselves wondering where to go. I've found two books in particular most useful.
One is M.A.S. Abdel Haleem's 2004 translation of the Qur'an, which is excellent for contextualising Quranic quotes (that is, if their textual co-ordinates are given). (See my 27/4/13 post Facts & Context: There's No Getting Around Them.)
The other - although Islam is not its principal subject - is Philip Jenkins's fascinating study, Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can't Ignore the Bible's Violent Verses (2011).
Jenkins is the author of The Lost History of Christianity and Distinguished Professor of History at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion.
Here's a sample:
"In terms of its bloodthirsty and intolerant passages, the Bible raises considerably more issues than does the Qur'an. Some Bible passages justify genocide and multigenerational race war; the Qur'an has nothing comparable. While many Qur'anic texts undoubtedly call for warfare or bloodshed, these are hedged around with more restrictions than their biblical equivalents, with more opportunities for the defeated to make peace and survive. Furthermore, any of the defenses that can be offered for biblical violence - for instance, that these passages are unrepresentative of the overall message of the text - apply equally to the Qur'an.
"When noticing the scarcity of impossible or unpalatable texts in the Qur'an, I stress that I am talking about that scripture alone, rather than the later works that explained or elucidated it. By this I mean the Hadith (the reputed sayings of Muhammad) and the later body of commentaries (known as the Tafsir). These later works matter immensely for understanding the overall pattern of the religion, but they must be used carefully as means of approaching the original scripture.
"Not just in Islam, commentaries and later interpretations distort readers' ideas about what exactly the original text contains. When Americans hear the phrase 'the separation of church and state', many assume that it occurs in the US Constitution, which it does not. It actually comes from a letter by Thomas Jefferson, and the words may or may not accurately reflect the guiding principles of the Constitution itself. Similarly, Muslims often take ideas from the commentaries and read them back into the Qur'an itself. To take one grotesque example, many ordinary believers think that a passage in the Qur'an describes Jews being transformed into apes and pigs; as I will show below, that reading is false. This understanding stems from one tradition in the Tafsir, which has entered folklore.
"If we do take those other sources, the Hadith and the Tafsir, into account as ways of understanding the Qur'an, then in fairness we should have to look at the entire contents of the Church Fathers for interpreting the Christian Bible, and the Talmud for the Hebrew Bible. If we did that, then alongside all the spiritual and cultural splendors of those works we could certainly find some obnoxious and unpalatable materials, some of which attack other faiths. But if instead we compare like with like, scripture with scripture, rather than how passages have been used by later generations of believers, then the Qur'an is in no sense a bloodier or more warlike text than the Bible - either the Hebrew Bible or the larger text beloved by Christians. Indeed, that Islamic text has far fewer passages demanding to be confronted or accommodated.
"In that sense, the Qur'an does not pose as many ethical difficulties as the Bible. This claim does not represent a kind of apology for Islam, a defense of its religious claims. In fact, one might even argue the opposite. As I will suggest, the disturbing features of the Bible reflect a much greater antiquity than that of the Qur'an, revealing complex dialogues with many cultures over time - interactions that ultimately created the essential foundation for the universalism of the Qur'an and of early Islam. In terms of its spiritual authority, the fact that the Qur'an is so straightforward - so lacking in extreme violence, in fact - is at once its strength and its weakness." (pp 73-75)