Donald Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims from America may be a gift to ISIS recruitment and a grotesque echo of the sentiment behind the Chinese Exclusion Act and the internment of Japanese-Americans. But, like those earlier spasms of exclusion, the Trump proposal has plenty of supporters.
In one recent poll, more than three-quarters of Republicans said Islam was incompatible with life in the United States. There’s a widespread perception in America that Islam is rooted in misogyny and violence, incorrigible because it is rooted in a holy text that is fundamentally different from others.
So here’s my quiz on religion. Some questions have more than one correct answer.
1. Which holy scripture declares: “Slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent … then leave them free. Lo! God is forgiving, merciful.”
A. The Quran
B. The Bible, Book of Leviticus
C. The Bible, Book of Revelation
2. Who had 700 wives?
A. King Solomon
B. Joseph Smith
C. The Prophet Muhammad
3. Which holy book limits polygamy?
A. The Quran
B. The Bible
C. The Upanishads
4. Which country bans churches?
A. Saudi Arabia
B. North Korea
5. Which scripture describes the Virgin Mary as preferred by God over all other women?
A. The Quran
B. The New Testament, Gospel of Luke
C. The New Testament, Gospel of Matthew
6. Which scripture describes Jesus as born to a virgin?
A. The Quran
B. The Gospels of Mark and John
C. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke
7. Which religious leader massacred an entire city, including “men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys,” saving only one prostitute and her family?
A. Joshua, according to the Bible’s Book of Joshua
B. Ali, the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law, according to the Quran
C. King Nebuchadnezzar, according to the Bible’s Book of Daniel
8. Who is said to have ordered a massacre of heretics and innocents alike with the explanation: “Kill them all. God will know his own”?
A. Caliph Omar the Decapitator
B. A Christian abbot in the Albigensian Crusade
C. King Herod
9. Who said: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal”?
A. Jesus, speaking to his disciples
B. St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians
C. Muhammad, addressing his followers in Mecca
10. Which religious leader said he came to bring “not peace but the sword”?
A. Moses, in the Bible’s Book of Exodus
B. Jesus, in the Gospel of Matthew
C. Muhammad, in the Quran
11. Which scripture says that “there is no compulsion in religion”?
A. The Letter of Paul to the Romans
B. The Quran
C. The Bible’s Book of Genesis
12. Which scripture says: “Love your neighbor as yourself”?
A. The Quran
B. The Bible’s Book of Leviticus
C. The Gospels of Mark and Matthew
13. What prescribes death for apostasy?
A. The Quran
B. Hadith, or traditions of the Prophet
C. The Book of Deuteronomy
14. Who says: “Women should remain silent (in religious meetings). They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission.”
A. A much doubted hadith
B. St. Paul, but scholars believe it wasn’t he who wrote that
C. Jesus, although in a third-century Gnostic gospel whose accuracy scholars doubt
Answers: (When in doubt, go with “A” for the first half, then with “B”) 1. A; 2. A; 3. A (the Quran limits a man to four wives; neither the Hebrew Bible nor the New Testament explicitly prohibits polygamy, although Paul says that church officials should have but one wife); 4. A; 5. A, Quran Sura III: 42; 6. A and C (the Gospels of Mark and John do not mention the virgin birth); 7. A, Joshua 6:21; 8. B; 9. B; 10. B, Matthew 10:34; 11. B, Sura 2:256; 12. B and C; 13. A, B and C (there is controversy about how to interpret these passages, and there are contrary verses, but I read the Quran in 4:89 and 9:11-12 as in some cases supporting death for apostasy, and the same for Deuteronomy 13:6-9 and 17:3-5); 14. B, 1 Corinthians 14:34, but many scholars believe that this is a later addition to Paul’s text.
Some of you are probably angrily objecting right now that I am cherry-picking texts. Yes, I am. My point is that faith is complicated and that we’re more likely to perceive peril and incitement in someone else’s scripture than in our own.
In fact, religion is invariably a tangle of contradictory teachings — in the Bible, the difference between the harshness of Deuteronomy and the warmth of Isaiah or Luke is striking — and it’s always easy to perceive something threatening in another tradition. Yet analysts who have tallied the number of violent or cruel passages in the Quran and the Bible count more than twice as many in the Bible.
There’s a profound human tendency, rooted in evolutionary biology, to “otherize” people who don’t belong to our race, our ethnic group, our religion. That’s particularly true when we’re scared. It’s difficult to conceive now that a 1944 poll found that 13 percent of Americans favored “killing all Japanese” and that the head of a U.S. government commission in 1945 urged “the extermination of the Japanese in toto.”
It’s true that terrorism in the 21st century is disproportionately rooted in the Islamic world. And it’s legitimate to criticize the violence, mistreatment of women or oppression of religious minorities that some Muslims justify by citing passages in the Quran. But let’s not stereotype 1.6 billion Muslims because of their faith. What counts most is not the content of holy books, but the content of our hearts.
When I hear Americans stereotype Muslims, when they don’t actually know any Muslims, it seems to me an odd echo of anti-Semitic comments I sometimes hear in Muslim societies.
Trump’s bluster reinforces the Islamic State narrative of a clash of civilizations and undercuts moderates. In my travels in Muslim countries, I’m sometimes asked about Islamophobia. In the past, I’ve been able to say something like: Well, the Rev. Terry Jones may be planning to burn Qurans, but he’s a fringe figure. Alas, Trump can’t be explained away as a fringe figure.
In international relations, extremists on one side empower extremists on the other side. ISIS empowers Trump, who inadvertently empowers ISIS. He’s not confronting a national security threat; he’s creating one.
More than 1,000 U.S. rabbis have signed a joint letter welcoming refugees and noting a parallel to the late 1930s, when the United States barred most Jewish refugees. The letter noted that refugees are fleeing persecution, not committing it.
“In 1939, our country could not tell the difference between an actual enemy and the victims of an enemy,” the rabbis wrote. “In 2015, let us not make the same mistake.”
It may be human nature to fear what we don’t understand, to allow apprehension to override compassion. But this is a time that tests our fundamental values, and let’s not surrender to base impulses.
Yes, the Islamic world today has a strain of dangerous intolerance. And for all of America’s strengths as a society, as Donald Trump shows, so does America.
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