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Column: Qur'anic questions

Last spring, I presented Qur'anic verses used to justify terrorism and injustice in many mosques, media and madrassahs. This was in hope for exchange and understanding, for Islam promotes ijtihad��freedom of thought and independent thinking. Sadly, some respondents vilified me as bigoted, anti-Muslim and anti-Arab, ignorant, and blind.

I sought discussion on verses I found inflammatory and questionable but, more importantly, are used to promote violence today. I asked questions like these: Who are disbelievers--any non-Muslim, and are they worthy of death at the hands of Muslims? Are Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Buddha and Confucius consigned to hell? Is there divine sanction for women's credibility and inheritances being half of men and for men to beat their wives? Is heaven a celestial brothel? Aside from one writer calmly stating Islam does not condone domestic violence, no one attempted to answer these questions and instead launched verbal assaults and called for censorship.

I never attacked the Qur'an, but aimed to promote the recognition that religious verses can be wrong, so as to allow ethics separate from religion and church from state. For example, one issue not included in my first column is slavery: the Qur'an in 23:5-6 and 70:29 states "Those who guard their private parts, save from wives or slave-girls their right hands possess, are not blameworthy" and in 24:33 "Which slaves seek emancipation and can pay for emancipation, write it if they have some good" (also 4:92, 24:58, 30:50-51). Islamic empires practiced slavery for centuries after Muhammed's death and Sudan continues to do so today, underscoring why a theocracy cannot be a democracy, since the cloak of divine authority suffocates dissent and reason. If slavery is immoral, the validity of these verses is directly in question (much like Biblical verses condoning slavery), and other verses should also be in question.

I never wrote Islamic fundamentalism was pure evil. Let me be clear: I am anti-terrorist and anti-fundamentalist, very different from being anti-Muslim. Those who criticized the Catholic church for its delays investigating pedophiles are not branded anti-Catholic bigots. When Muslim clerics, leaders and newspapers promote hate and terrorism in Islam's name and condemn American commercialization of sexuality but use sex with celestial virgins to sell mass murder by suicide bombing, it is incumbent upon us to ask what engenders such behavior. The beauty of wonderful verses like "to kill a life is akin to killing the whole world" and "Allah does not like aggressors" is beyond any doubt, but standing in counterpoint are fatwas relying on other verses used to justify murder and suicide bombing.

To moderate Muslims telling Americans that Islam teaches peace, please, please preach that to your community's fanatics, acknowledge the depravity of the cult of death, heavenly brothels, forced shari'a and world conquest, face down terrorists and cease calling the barbarians' cowl of murderousness a mantle of freedom-struggle (which besmirches genuine and successful freedom leaders). When Hezbollah quotes a Hadith that on Judgment Day "Muslims will kill all Jews," when the executive director of the American Muslim Council proclaims "I support Hezbollah and Hamas" in front of the White House and when North American Muslim students riot at San Francisco State University threatening Jews with murder and at Concordia University preventing Israelis from speaking, we cannot turn a blind eye to the root cause: incitement by certain Qur'anic verses.

After Sept. 11, Americans made extraordinary efforts to prevent an anti-Muslim backlash, an admirable display of tolerance in the face of venom. When Muslim-Americans hold countless rallies denouncing Israel's treatment of Palestinians but few, if any, protest bin Laden's treatment of Americans, is it too much to ask that tolerance be a two-way street, that Islamic fundamentalism be confronted with candid reflection, for which free speech and debate are essential? Let's not import shrill hysteria, censorship and stifling of debate from the Middle East. Intolerance of inquiry is only immunity to reason, shielding the straitjacketing of thought.

Dr. Bala Ambati is a former fellow in the School of Medicine and is currently on the faculty at the Medical College of Georgia. His column appears every third Wednesday.

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