Rabbi Marc Schneier and Russell Simmons, Huffington Post, Jan.17
On Jan. 7, exactly two weeks before we are to simultaneously celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and inaugurate Barack Obama to his second term as President of the United States, sinister advertisements went up in dozens of subway stations around New York City, making evident that despite the undoubted strides our nation has made toward achieving justice and equality, bigotry and fear-mongering remain alive and well in America.
The American Freedom Defense Initiative, headed by Pamela Geller, an inflammatory demagogue with a long history of anti-Muslim incitement, purchased space in 39 stations for ads with an image of the burning World Trade Center and a quote attributed to the Quran saying, “Soon shall we cast terror into the hearts of the unbelievers.”
The Quranic verse (3:151) which Geller cites in her new ad campaign refers to a moment in early Muslim history in which a large army of idol worshippers from Mecca stood poised to invade Medina in an attempt to wipe out a small community of Muslims living under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad. If the passage sounds harsh to modern ears, let us not forget that the Torah contains numerous commands by God to the Children of Israel to indiscriminately slay unbelievers and members of enemy tribes.
More than 1,000 years later, Jewish sages of the Talmudic period provided interpretation and context to such quotes; making clear that they are not meant to be interpreted literally or to hold true for eternity. A similar oral tradition, mitigating harsh passages in the Quran, took place in Islam in the centuries following the life of the Prophet Muhammad. Just as no one but an unabashed anti-Semite would suggest that Judaism is a bloodthirsty religion because of biblical passages commanding the Children to Israel to kill their enemies, no one but an anti-Muslim bigot would cite a Quranic verse out of context to smear modern-day Muslims.