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7 Most Misinterpreted Verses of the Quran

7 Most Misinterpreted Verses of the Quran
There is a lot in the Quran and hadith collections that command Muslims to be compassionate and kind to all of God’s creation.

I often wonder if Islamophobes and Islamic extremists realize that they are just different sides of the same coin.

They both promote fear and hatred of large groups of diverse peoples. Both groups wish to sweep as many people up in their seriously dangerous causes. They both want war, and use any manner and means to get it, including promoting a distorted view of Islam. They take verses out of context and employ weak or questionable hadith (sayings, actions, or approvals of the Prophet) to reach their own political ends.

If I have one hope for society, it would be that these groups can go off and deal with each other and leave the rest of us, the majority of us, to live in peace and cooperation, free from their detrimental rabble-rousing.

I hear that Antarctica is nice this time of year. Maybe they can snuggle up together for warmth and find some common ground in the fact that we are all human beings.

What follows is a sampling of Quranic verses reductionists and hate mongers love to take out of context. Now put back into context.

quran misintepretation graphic

1. Quran 5:51

O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people.

In this verse, the words “Awliya”- plural- or “wali” – singular- has been (badly) translated as “friends” or “friend”; however, the more appropriate translation would be a “guardian, protector, or advocate”. Muslims are to be advocates and protectors for each other. And friends with everyone.

Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was kind to the pagans of Mecca and fought them only when they fought him. He made treaties with the Jews of Madinah and honored the treaties until they broke them. He received the Christians of Najran with kindness in Madinah. They argued with him about Islam, but he treated them with honor and respect. 1

Some translate this verse to mean that Muslims should not take the Jews and the Christians for friends who are exclusively friends of each other at the exclusion and detriment of the Muslims, as is seen in Zionism and the Islamophobic lobby. 

2.  Quran 8:12

Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): “I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them.”

This verse was revealed about the Battle of Badr. The pagans of Mecca traveled more than 200 miles to Madinah with an army of about 1000 to kill the Muslims who numbered around 300. The Prophet Muhammad and fellow Muslims had suffered severe persecution, torture and even murder of their brethren for 13 years in the city of Mecca at the hands of these very same pagans.

And once the Muslims had fled Mecca and found a sanctuary in the city of Madinah, they were followed by the pagans of Mecca. By this verse God gave the order to Muslims to fight to defend their lives and faith, as they had previously been forbidden from defending themselves. 2

Another verse in the same chapter (8:61) that is often overlooked states:

But if the enemy incline towards peace, you (also) incline towards peace, and trust in God: for He is One that hears and knows (all things).

Another oft-ignored verse is Quran 2:190:

Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for Allah does love not transgressors.

quran.karim by lechistani
quran.karim by lechistani

3. Quran 9:29

Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth, from among the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizyah (tax) with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.

4. Quran 9:73

O Prophet! strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be unyielding to them; and their abode is hell, and evil is the destination.

These verses are also historical in context. They are about the Battles of Mu’tah and Tabuk.

These verses were in reference to the Byzantine Empire instigating war against the Muslims. They murdered an ambassador of the Prophet, who was carrying a message to the ruler of Busra. The Chosroe of Persia even ordered his commander in Yemen to kill the Prophet, and they mobilized their forces to fight the Prophet. The Muslims confronted them. 3 and 4

There are many people who throw hissy fits about the Jizyah (a tax on non-Muslims living under the protection of a Muslim authority), mentioned in 9:29, saying that it is discriminatory. But the truth is that Muslims are not exempt from taxes, they just go by a different term.

The tax collected from non-Muslims is only imposed on adult males. It exempts them from military service; affords them protection under the law; and freedom to practice their religion. And Muslim taxes go to welfare programs.

Also, in the same chapter (9) Verse 6 God tells the Muslims:

And if any one of the polytheists seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the words of Allah. Then deliver him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know.

5. Quran 9:111

Surely Allah has bought of the believers their persons and their property for this, that they shall have the garden; they fight in Allah’s way, so they slay and are slain.

But they omit the rest of the verse:

[It is] a true promise [binding] upon Him in the Torah and the Gospel and the Qur’an. And who is truer to his covenant than Allah? So rejoice in your transaction which you have contracted. And it is that which is the great attainment.

Why would they leave off the part about this promise being found in the Torah and the Bible?

This verse again, is applicable to the Muslims during the time of the Prophet – historical Muslims – who were terrified of fighting in the battles to defend themselves because they were out numbered. 4.2

God bolstered their bravery by assuring them that they would be rewarded.

outnumbered and out- sworded
outnumbered and out-sworded

6. Quran 9:123

O you who believe! fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness; and know that Allah is with those who guard (against evil).

This verse is speaking about the hypocrites who were among the Muslims in the time of the Prophet (pbuh). The “unbelievers who are near you” were, in actuality, non-Muslims posing as Muslims who sought to corrupt the believing Muslims from within. The instruction was to fight them (here, “fight” means to resist the hypocrites’ skepticism, as we will see in the next verse) without preferential treatment for the social or economic standing. 5

The next verse (9:124) calls them what they really are:

And whenever a new chapter is revealed some of the hypocrites ask the believers (in jest): “Whose faith has increased because of this?” As for those who believe, it will certainly increase their faith, and they are joyful over that.

7. Quran 48:29

Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and those who are with him are severe against disbelievers, and merciful among themselves.

Once again the “disbelievers” in the verse refers to those who persecuted and attacked the Muslims. This is not a verse directing Muslim to just go out and just be awful to non-Muslims. 6

In fact there is a lot in the Quran and hadith collections that command Muslims to be compassionate and kind to all of God’s creation. One such hadith states:

Whoever is deprived of gentleness is deprived of all good. (Muslim, Abu Dawood)

It is also reported by Abu Dawood (a hadith collection) that the Prophet said:

“Beware!  Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, or curtails their rights, or burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.”

Be nice

Read full text here.


About Theresa Corbin

Theresa Corbin is the author of The Islamic, Adult Coloring Book and co-author of The New Muslim’s Field Guide. Corbin is a French-creole American and Muslimah who converted in 2001. She holds a BA in English Lit and is a writer, editor, and graphic artist who focuses on themes of conversion to Islam, Islamophobia, women's issues, and bridging gaps between peoples of different faiths and cultures. She is a regular contributor for AboutIslam.net and Al Jumuah magazine. Her work has also been featured on CNN and Washington Post, among other publications. Visit her blog, islamwich, where she discusses the intersection of culture and religion.

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