Does Quran establish religion of peace or war?

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The Quran is not an easy book to read for understanding. Its suras — chapters — are not in any logical or chronological order, and within individual suras, a wide variety of themes and ideas can be covered, in a flowing stream of thoughts that are not organized into an obvious rhetorical structure. It can be very easy to miss things.

This also means that readers tend to be very dependent, when reading the Quran for understanding, on the standard narrative frame provided by the life of Muhammad. People see what their eye is directed to, and the conventional biographical frame tends to direct readers’ attention away from the inner theological development of the text.

The biography of Muhammad directs us to read the Quran in the light of the fledgling Muslim community’s struggle for power in the face of rejection and hostility. In this way, the conventional biographical frame pushes the theological frame of the Quran to one side, obscuring it from view.

In summary, the “inner” theological history told by the Quran itself is not that of a persecuted community that found triumph through migration and state formation from where it took up arms against its persecutors. That may be the story told by biographical materials about Muhammad gathered together centuries after the Quran was written, but it is not the story the Quran tells.

Although there is persecution and triumph in the Quran, a more careful reading of the Quran’s text reveals a movement that was faltering under the weight of the non-arrival of a prophesied doomsday scenario. This movement was then saved — and transformed — by a shocking and epoch-making announcement that the swords of believers were to be considered an act of God. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and the rest, as they say, is history.

Cyrus Shamloo