On Thursday, April 2, 2015, four Somali gunmen killed 147 college students in Garissa, Kenya, entering their dormitory and trying to kill mostly Christians.
The killers belonged to Shahab, a Somali Islamist extremist group related to Al Qaeda. Somalia is right next to Kenya. The extremists think that part of Kenya should belong to Somalia, and they think the university is part of Kenya's plan "to spread their Christianity and their infidelity."
In both the Bible and the Qur'an, it is possible to find verses that say one should kill enemies.
In the Bible, for example, Deuteronomy, ch. 13, verses 6-10, says that the followers of YHWH should kill those who are actively trying to get them to worship other gods. This passage is very similar to a Neo-Assyrian political treaty of the same period, 672 BCE.
The Qur'an says, for example, in Surah 8, verses 38-39, that if others are terrorizing Muslims and not letting them practice their religion, "Engage them in combat, even killing them, until the state of "Fitnah" (terrorism) no longer exists in the society and people are free to worship Allah by their choice."
Note that the word combat (qital) means that this killing can only be done in a combat situation, not randomly or by individuals. Furthermore, innocent people cannot be killed.
People who are fighting for land and power in various places in the world deliberately misuse these verses of the Bible and the Qur’an to justify killing.
The challenge today for those who truly want to serve God is:
- how to understand the political, cultural, and military settings in which these verses were written
- how to apply these passages of the Bible or Qur'an to our own political, cultural, and military settings today.
This is why learning skills to interpret our holy texts is so important. It's called tafsir in Islam; midrash in Judaism, and hermeneuticsin Christianity.
We should not take verses out of context and apply them randomly to situations today.
We should look at the whole Bible or Qur'an and their most frequent themes, not prioritize one verse that fits our purposes. We should read the footnotes and the commentaries written by various scholars.
The Bible has many verses telling us to love our neighbor and even love our enemies. For example, see Luke 10: 28-30 and Matthew 5: 43-48.
Every surah (chapter) of the Qur'an begins with "In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful."
People who actually respect and study these sacred books should not be killing enemies or engaging in cruelty--yet historically Christians fought the Crusades to "take back the Holy Land" and some Islamists today are killing in the name of Allah.
The Qur'an also has many verses advocating tolerance of other religions. Most famous is Surah 2:256, "Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects Evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy handhold, that never breaks."
When Muhammad set up a government for his followers in the city of Medina, the constitution required religious tolerance of Jews and Christians.
Much of Surah 2 discusses Jewish history, Abraham as the first Muslim (the first person choosing submission to Allah), and how to relate to Jews and Christians. The main principle is that obedience to Allah began long before the life of Muhammad and anyone who chooses to obey God will be rewarded.
Surah 2:62 "Those who believe (in the Qur'an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians and the Sabians--any who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve."
We Christians are grieved and shocked by the killing of so many innocent students at Garissa University College, but that attack does not represent Islam as a whole. Most Muslims are just as shocked and saddened by the acts of these terrorists as Christians are.
Some Muslim students at the university demonstrated against the terrorist attack in memory of those who lost their lives.