Various academicians have strong personal opinions and biases regarding Islam. Many of these biases are determined not by the actual Islamic source materials, but by upbringing, friends, faith, politics, and so forth. The challenge is to overcome preconceived ideas and biases by examining Islamic source materials in an objective and rational manner. One must acknowledge what the source material actually teaches. We need the attitude of a student who is open to learning new concepts and is willing to correct beliefs when mistaken. This is easier said than done.
Dr. Juan Cole writes occasionally on Islamic topics. He has strong opinions on essential aspects of Islam. This is crucial because the ongoing "war on terror" primarily concerns Muslims, many of whom are extremely devout. It is incumbent upon people who profess to know and teach Islam to be thorough in their research and writing, and, to present the truth according to the Islamic source materials, not according to preconceived notions.
I want to address one of Dr. Coles writings found on his website. Cole posted what appears to be his response in a discussion concerning violence in the Quran. The person Cole addresses pointed him to a webpage that lists 24 Quranic verses, and asserts that they encourage Muslims to fight against all "unbelievers". Cole disagreed and sought to narrow the Qurans focus by contending that they were primarily defensive and directed against Meccan polytheists and their allies.
I want to examine Coles position and compare it against the standards of the historical Islamic source materials. These are the Quran, the Hadith, and the Sira. Additionally I will quote from recognized Islamic references and scholars.
Ill present several of Coles paragraphs in sequence, then address specific points within each sequence, noted by red numerals inside parentheses () . Coles writing will be in blue font. My writing is in black, and Islamic source material quotes are in green. I number Coles paragraphs inside brackets  for ease of reference.
Cole begins his comments on the manner in which the 24 verses were presented. He also critiques the choice of translation (Pickthalls Quran). He begins his attack upon the assertion that the Quran encourages violence against all non-Muslims, by defining the Arabic word for "unbelief" - "kufr".
 This argument and this citation are perfect examples of why it is so dangerous to get one's information from an amateur web site at geocities. The passages cobbled together here are from the 1930s translation by Marmaduke Pickthall, a British upper crust convert who simply was not an academic and often translates infelicitously. The verses listed are a hodgepodge, lacking any context and failing to make any distinctions.
 The word usually translated as "infidel" or "unbeliever" in English is the Arabic kafir, pl. kuffar. It literally means "ingrate," and often refers to human ingratitude in not recognizing the one God or in persecuting the prophet or Muslims. It almost always refers to the Meccan idolators, who are characterized by kufr or the ingratitude of active disbelief. The Koran enjoins Muslims to fight back against the idolatrous Meccans who were attacking Medina.
 Ordinary Jews and Christians are not kafirs in this sense in the Koran, but rather are "people of the book" with their own, valid, divinely revealed scripture.
Koran 5:82 says (Arberry): "Surely they that believe, and those of Jewry, and the Christians, and those Sabeaans, whoso believes in God and the Last Day, and works righteousness--their wage waits them with their Lord, and no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow."
 The Koran thus considers Judaism and Christianity true religions, in whose scriptures there is "light and guidance." It says that Christians are "closest in love" to Muslims. Muhammad made alliances with the Medinan Jews against the Meccans, and some at least of those alliances survived all the way through. It is true that some Jewish tribes fell out with the Muslims, and one appears to have gone over to the Meccan idolators to fight against monotheists. This betrayal caused bitterness toward those specific Jews, but not toward Judaism or Jews in general, who continue to be praised as in 5:82 above.
Throughout the article I will use the Arabic plural "kuffar" instead of the anglicized term "kafirs" used by Dr. Cole.
(1a) Lets review some standard definitions of "kufr", and also see how the word is actually used and applied in the Quran.
The "Concordance of the Quran", by Kassis, defines the root word to mean:
To disbelieve, to be thankless, unthankful, ungrateful; to disown, deny; those who disbelieve, the unbelievers, unbelief, disbelief, rejection; faithlessness, unbeliever; husbandman; tillers
The "Encyclopedia of Islam", (E.I.), (a reference Cole uses), defines Kafir, (bold emphasis is mine)
KAFIR, (a), originally "obliterating, covering", then, "concealing benefits received" = "ungrateful"; this meaning is found even in the old Arab poetry and in the Quran, Sura 26:18. In the Quran the word is used with reference to God: "That they are ungrateful for our gifts"; cf. also Sura 16:85. The next development probably under the influence of the Syriac and Aramaic where the corresponding development took place earlier is the more general meaning of "infidel" which is first found in Sura 74:10 and is henceforth very common; plural kafirun or kuffar, once (Sura 80:42) kafara. The term is first applied to the unbelieving Meccans who endeavor to refute and revile the Prophet: Sura 50:2 and elsewhere ...
In most passages the reference is to unbelievers in general who are threatened with Gods punishment and Hell.
Referring to the "People of the Book", (Jews and Christians) the E.I. states:
The Ahl al-Kitab again occupy a special position as by paying djizya ad kharadj they become dhimmis and can receive aman. These categories of unbeliever in the Dar al-Islam called dhimmi and mustamin have a legal claim to protection.
Below are a few Quranic verses that use the root word kufr or a variant. The translation used is The Noble Quran by Al-Hilali & Khan.
They followed what the Shayatin (devils) gave out (falsely of the magic) in the lifetime of Sulaiman (Solomon). Sulaiman did not disbelieve, but the Shayatin (devils) disbelieved, teaching men magic and such things that came down at Babylon to the two angels, ...
... If Allah had willed, succeeding generations would not have fought against each other, after clear Verses of Allah had come to them, but they differed - some of them believed and others disbelieved.
Has not the news reached you, of those before you, the people of Nuh (Noah), and 'Ad, and Thamud? And those after them? None knows them but Allah. To them came their Messengers with clear proofs, but they put their hands in their mouths (biting them from anger) and said: "Verily, we disbelieve in that with which you have been sent, and we are really in grave doubt as to that to which you invite us (i.e. Islamic Monotheism)."
Not only does the Quran present other peoples besides the Meccan as "kuffar", a Sahih Hadith (another reference Cole has used) states that the Christians and Jews would be punished by Allah in hell:
Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0284:
It is narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah observed: By Him in Whose hand is the life of Muhammad, he who amongst the community of Jews or Christians hears about me, but does not affirm his belief in that with which I have been sent and dies in this state (of disbelief), he shall be but one of the denizens of Hell-Fire.
(1r) Therefore, Coles statement in paragraph 2 regarding "kufr" is incorrect:
It almost always refers to the Meccan idolators, who are characterized by kufr or the ingratitude of active disbelief.
The word "kufr" does not only refer to the Meccan polytheists. Rather, it defines all those who reject, disbelieve, or deny Allah and His messengers. This term is even ascribed to "Satans", i.e. jinn, demons, or Satan himself. It is also applicable upon all historical peoples who have rejected or disbelieved God or His messengers.
In paragraph 2, Cole wrote:
(2a) The Koran enjoins Muslims to fight back against the idolatrous Meccans who were attacking Medina.
This statement is a half-truth and misleading. According to Tabari, Volume. 7, page 29, the Muslims started the new state of hostilities.
This incident had provoked (a state of) war between the Messenger of God and Quraysh and was the beginning of the fighting in which they inflicted casualties upon one another; it took place before Abu Sufyan and his companions had set out for Syria.
(2r) I have not quoted the entire passage, but it states that the Muslims started the war and that the Meccans were defending their property. The start of the hostilities, after the Muslims fled to Yathrib, was due to Muhammads pillaging of Meccan caravans and the murder of caravan attendants. As a result of Muhammads beginning hostilities, the Meccans did attack the Muslims later.
(3a) In paragraph 3, Cole wrote:
Ordinary Jews and Christians are not kafirs in this sense in the Koran, but rather are "people of the book" with their own, valid, divinely revealed scripture.
As previously discussed above Islam does define Christians and Jews as "kuffar." However, I feel it is necessary to elaborate on this in more detail to establish the point. Below are two verses that mention Christians and Jews.
Surely, they have disbelieved who say: "Allah is the Messiah (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary)." But the Messiah (Jesus) said: "O Children of Israel! Worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord." Verily, whosoever sets up partners in worship with Allah, then Allah has forbidden Paradise for him, and the Fire will be his abode. And for the Zalimun (polytheists and wrongdoers) there are no helpers.
Surely, disbelievers are those who said: "Allah is the third of the three (in a Trinity)." But there is no ilah (god) (none who has the right to be worshipped) but One Ilâh (God-Allah). And if they cease not from what they say, verily, a painful torment will befall the disbelievers among them.
Note that Muhammad deliberately singles out two of Christianitys primary tenets: 1) the Messiah, i.e. the Son of God, is God in the flesh, and 2), the doctrine of the Trinity. Therefore, Muhammad and the Quran classify the overwhelming majority of Christians as "unbelievers" (kuffar).
(3r) Cole is incorrect when he says Ordinary Jews and Christians are not kafirs in this sense in the Koran, ... According to the Quran, Jews and Christians are kuffar.
(4a) This brings us to Coles next statement in paragraph 4:
The Koran thus considers Judaism and Christianity true religions, in whose scriptures there is "light and guidance." It says that Christians are "closest in love" to Muslims.
This is misleading. I want to quote 5:82 and 5:83 in full:
5:82. Verily, you will find the strongest among men in enmity to the believers (Muslims) the Jews and those who are Al-Mushrikun, and you will find the nearest in love to the believers (Muslims) those who say: "We are Christians." That is because amongst them are priests and monks, and they are not proud.
5:83. And when they (who call themselves Christians) listen to what has been sent down to the Messenger (Muhammad), you see their eyes overflowing with tears because of the truth they have recognized. They say: "Our Lord! We believe; so write us down among the witnesses.
Note why the Christians are "nearest in love" to the Muslims ..." they are not proud." In 5:83 we see which Christians Muhammad is talking about: Christians who accepted Muhammads words. What about those that rejected Muhammad or believed in the deity of Jesus? According to the Quran they are "kuffar" or unbelievers. More on this shortly.
The Koran recognizes aspects of Judaism and Christianity as truth, but we shall not assume that Muhammad knew or understood Biblical doctrines. The doctrine of Jesus as the Son of God was established long before Muhammad. Muhammad said that the Bible contained "light and guidance", but he denounced Jesus as the Son of God.
Muhammad was ignorant of true Biblical doctrines. The Quran was spoken by Muhammad alone, and he borrowed some spurious concepts from several different sources: Christianity, Judaism, paganism, mixed with his own ideas, beliefs, and superstitions. We should not expect that he accurately understood the essential details of other faiths doctrines.
Muhammads lack of knowledge should not be glossed over. Muhammad says in one verse that Christians are "closest in love to the Muslims," but in other verses denigrates Christians as "perverse" and as unbelievers destined for hell. Can we ignore the negative and accept only the positive? Of course not.
Perhaps compared to the Jews and polytheists Christians were kinder to the Muslims, but that did not stop Muhammad from denigrating, attacking, conquering and either killing or subjecting Christians (Sura 9:29). It did not stop his later followers from doing so as well.
Lets take a look at what some authoritative, historical Muslim scholars established regarding other faiths. Below are comments on Jews, Christians, and "kufr" from The Reliance of the Traveler: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law. This is a work of Shafii jurisprudence.
Pages 848, 849:
w4.4 (Ibn Kathir:) Allah Most High says:
"Surely those who believe, those of Jewry, the Christians, and the Sabaens whoever has faith in Allah and the Last Day, and works righteousness, their wage awaits them with their Lord, and no fear shall be upon them, and neither shall they sorrow" (Koran 2:62).
Suddi states that the verse, "Surely those who believe, etc." was revealed about the former companions of Salman the Persian when he mentioned them to the Prophet, relating how they had been, saying, "They used to pray, fast, and believe in you, and testify that you would be sent as a prophet." When he had finished praising them, the Prophet replied, "Salman they are the denizens of hell," which came to discomfit Salman greatly, and so Allah revealed this verse.
The faith of the Jews was that of whoever adhered to the Torah and the sunna of Moses until the coming of Jesus. When Jesus came, whoever held fast to the Torah and the sunna of Moses without giving them up and following Jesus was lost.
The faith of the Christians was that whoever adhered to the Evangel and precepts of Jesus, their faith was valid and acceptable until the coming of Muhammad. Those of them who did not then follow Muhammad and give up the sunna of Jesus and the Evangel were lost.
The foregoing is not contradicted by the hadith relating that the verse,
Surely those who believe, those of Jewry, the Christians, and the Sabeans whoever has faith in Allah and the Last Day ..."
was followed by Allah revealing,
"Whoever seeks a religion other than Islam will never have it accepted of him, and he will be of those who have truly failed in the hereafter."
(4r) Therefore, in the end, Muhammad did not consider the faiths of Judaism and Christianity to be legitimate. According to Muhammad, if the Jews and Christians rejected him, they were "kuffar."
(5a) Coles comments continue:
 Anyone, of course, can become an "ingrate" toward God if they do the wrong thing. So Koran 2:105 speaks of "those who committed kufr from among the people of the Book." The locution of this verse demonstrates conclusively that most Jews and Christians (people of the book) have not committed kufr and are therefore not kafirs or infidels in the eyes of the Koran.
 The verse Professor Kaiser refers to most specifically is 9:29-30. Arberry gives it as: "Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden--such men as practice not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book--until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled." The verse cannot possibly be referring to Christians and Jews in general, since as we have seen in verse 5:82, they are considered to believe in God and the last day and to be deserving of recompense with God in the afterlife. The reference is probably rather to Christians or Jews who threw in with the Meccan idolaters, thus effectively resigning from the ranks of the monotheists, or committed other enormities such as to bring into question their status as people of the book.
Here is 2:105 in full:
2:105. Neither those who disbelieve among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) nor Al-Mushrikun (the disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah, idolaters, polytheists, pagans, etc.) like that there should be sent down unto you any good from your Lord. But Allah chooses for His Mercy whom He wills. And Allah is the Owner of Great Bounty.
Because of Coles stubborn misconceptions concerning how Islam relates to non-Muslims, he refuses to allow that Islam could actually denigrate all Christians or Jews who are not sympathetic to Muhammad. Hence, when the Quran denigrates Christians and Jews, Cole seeks to reinterpret the Quran to mean a minority of Christians and Jews. This is not the case. As previously discussed concerning 5:82, 83, Muhammad praised only those Christians who were inclined towards Islam, or "were not proud." Those who believe in Jesus as the Son of God were denounced as "unbelievers" (5:72, 73).
Also, the overwhelming majority of Jews in contact with Muhammad rejected him and Islam. An entire tribe of Jewish adult males (800 men and teens) were massacred, because they rejected Islam and Muhammad as prophet. Their women and children were then enslaved by Muhammad and the Muslims. There were only four who chose to convert to Islam to save their lives.
(5r) Most of the Christians and Jews Muhammad addressed were "kuffar." They were infidels in Muhammads eyes because they rejected Muhammad as a prophet and they rejected Muhammads Koran as being Gods words.
(6a) In paragraph 6 Cole makes a glaring error. He writes, (brackets mine)
The verse [9:29, 30], cannot possibly be referring to Christians and Jews in general, since as we have seen in verse 5:82, they are considered to believe in God and the last day and to be deserving of recompense with God in the afterlife.
As has been shown, Muhammad was referring to Christians and Jews in general, not the other way around. Further, Islamic history records Muhammad doing exactly what he commanded in 9:29. Later Muslims obey Muhammads command as well.
Below is an example of how Muhammad treated Christians just before he died. The account records that Muhammad marshaled 30,000 of his troops north to the town of Tabuk to do battle with the Romans. Upon arriving they found no one there and no threat existed. Muhammad took advantage of this opportunity to exploit others and sent a detachment to Ayla. Ayla was far from Mecca and the Christians there were not involved with the Meccans fighting against Muhammad. Muhammad gave them the options of convert to Islam, pay the extortion tax ("jizya"), or die. The Christian leader decided to pay tribute. Below is Muhammads letter of ultimatum:
"To John ibn Rabah and the Chiefs of Aylah. Peace be on you! I praise God for you, beside whom there is no Lord. I will not fight against you until I have written thus unto you. Believe, or else pay tribute. And be obedient unto the Lord and his Prophet, and the messengers of his Prophet. Honor them and clothe them with excellent vestments, not with inferior raiment. Specially clothe Zeid with excellent garments. As long as my messengers are pleased, so likewise am I. Ye know the tribute. If ye desire to have security by sea and by land, obey the Lord and his Apostle, and he will defend you from every claim, whether by Arab or foreigner, saving the claim of the Lord and his Apostle. But if ye oppose and displease them, I will not accept from you a single thing, until I have fought against you and taken captive your little ones and slain the elder.
(6r) Actions speak ever louder than words. The Quran 9:29, 30 refers to Christians and Jews in general. Muhammad terrorized non-Muslim peoples. The Ayla Christians were far removed from Mecca. In fact, the only difference between what the Catholics ended up doing in Spain and what Muhammad did was that Muhammad allowed Christians and Jews to pay money to remain true to their faith. Actually, prior to the conquest of Granada, Muslims paid a tribute tax to the Spaniards. Please note, if the Christians refused to pay jizya, what was Muhammad going to do to them? Read the last sentence of the Tabari quote above again.
Coles next three paragraphs deal with his opinion of "jizya", or, the religious tax imposed upon subject Jews and Christians. I will omit those quotes because compared to his errors noted above, they do not warrant comment. I will state that Coles position on "jizya" is another variant of his fanciful whitewashing of the dark side of Islam.
(7a) Here are Coles last comments. Ive re-started the paragraph numbering at 10.
 I contend that virtually the only Koran verses that commend violence are referring to the need to defend against the Meccan siege of Medina and the machinations of the Meccans' allies. Since the pagan Meccan civilization no longer exists and since aggressive Meccan polytheism is not a force in today's world, it is not clear that any of these verses have any relevance whatsoever any more. There are no Koran verses that commend violence against anyone but the Meccan pagans and their allies. Jews, Christians, even the Mandaean Gnostic sect of the Sabeans, are all granted freedom to practice and to live in peace.
 I would be the first to admit that an abstract understanding of the Koran is different from contemporary Muslim interpretations of it, which are various. (Note, however, that 99.9 percent of Muslims are not falling upon their non-Muslim neighbors). But the latter are not the grounds on which this debate was waged. Rather, it was asserted that the *Koran* prescribes belligerency toward non-Muslims, including Jews and Christians in general. This allegation is simply untrue. I have been studying the Koran in Arabic for 30 years, and I am saddened that anyone should have held this misconception.
In paragraph 10, Coles adopted illusion blooms: a flower not of the plant of ignorance, but grown out of the soil of self-deception and fertilized with theological fallacy:
I contend that virtually the only Koran verses that commend violence are referring to the need to defend against the Meccan siege of Medina and the machinations of the Meccans' allies ... There are no Koran verses that commend violence against anyone but the Meccan pagans and their allies. Jews, Christians, even the Mandaean Gnostic sect of the Sabeans, are all granted freedom to practice and to live in peace.
Cole longs to present the Qurans call to violence as centered around self-defense. Since it has been the focus of the discussion let us examine 9:29s historical context and application. Here it is again from Arberrys translation:
9:29 "Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden--such men as practice not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book--until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled."
We must determine the date this verse was spoken by Muhammad, then put it in its time frame. Examine the entire Quranic passage for references. We have one in verse 25.
25. Truly Allah has given you victory on many battlefields, and on the Day of Hunain (battle) when you rejoiced at your great number but it availed you naught and the earth, vast as it is, was straitened for you, then you turned back in flight.
The battle of Hunain was one of the battles Muhammad fought well after the conquest of Mecca. It helped to cement his domination over the Hijaz. This battle occurred in the year 8 A.H., (630 A.D.). Here in Sura 9, Muhammad is recounting something that happened a year or so earlier.
Additional references detail the precise time Muhammad spoke the 9:29 passage. Tabaris History records that Muhammad sent Ali to give Abu Bakr a message in 9 A.H., (words in [ ] brackets are mine):
The Messenger of God send Abu Bakr as a leader of the pilgrimage in the year 9 / 631 and sent Ali b. Abi Talib to read 30 or 40 verses from Surat al-Baraah to the people giving the polytheists 4 months to travel in the land. Ali read the proclamation of dispensation[probably the first 30 or 40 verses of Sura 9] on the day of Arafah.
Tabari probably got this information from Ibn Ishaq who detailed when Muhammad spoke this passage. By this time Mecca had become a Muslim city and was well under Muhammads rule. A. Guillaumes reconstruction of Ibn Ishaqs work, "The Life of Muhammad," provides a very detailed account and commentary on these verses. Below is Ibn Ishaqs account. The actual Quranic verses that were spoken are in italics bold green, with Ibn Ishaqs commentary in normal green:
Then He said, (v. 28) "The polytheists are nothing but unclean so let them not approach the sacred mosque after this year of theirs, and if you fear poverty" that was because the people said "the markets will be cut off from us, trade will be destroyed, and we shall lose the good things we used to enjoy," and God said, "If you fear poverty God will enrich you from His bounty," i.e. in some other way, "if He will. He is knowing, wise. Fight those who do not believe in God and the last day and forbid not that which God and His apostle have forbidden and follow not the religion of truth from among those who have been given the scripture until they pay the poll tax out of hand being humbled, i.e. as a compensation for what you fear to lose by the closing of the markets. God gave them compensation for what He cut off from them in their former polytheism by what He gave them by way of poll tax from the people of scripture."
These verses were spoken long after the conquest of Mecca, the subjection of the Meccans, and the establishment of the Muslims as the power brokers in the Hijaz.
We also see that the command to conquer and subject Jews and Christians was partly financial. Muhammad used force to rob non-Muslim peoples. This was extortion. In his mind this was Allahs bounty being given to his followers. Muhammads way to handle his peoples poverty was to steal from others.
Additionally, we read in the Hadith that Muhammad foretold that his followers would take their wars of conquest to distant lands. Below is a Hadith from Muslims collection:
Sahih Muslim, Book 041, Number 6930:
Nafi' b. Utba reported: We were with Allah's Messenger in an expedition that there came a people to Allah's Apostle from the direction of the west. They were dressed in woolen clothes and they stood near a hillock and they met him as Allah's Messenger was sitting. I said to myself: Better go to them and stand between him and them that they may not attack him. Then I thought that perhaps there had been going on secret negotiation amongst them. I however, went to them and stood between them and him and I remember four of the words (on that occasion) which I repeat (on the fingers of my hand) that he (Allah's Messenger) said: You will attack Arabia and Allah will enable you to conquer it, then you would attack Persia and He would make you to Conquer it. Then you would attack Rome and Allah will enable you to conquer it, then you would attack the Dajjal and Allah will enable you to conquer him. Nafi' said: Jabir, we thought that the Dajjal would appear after Rome (Syrian territory) would be conquered.
Ibn Kathirs Commentary (Tafsir) provides additional theological and historical context for verse 29. Commenting on verse 29 we read: (words in [ ] brackets are mine):
Therefore, when People of the Scriptures disbelieved in Muhammad they had no beneficial faith in any messenger or what the Messengers brought. Rather, they followed their religions because this conformed with their ideas, lusts and the ways of their forefathers, not because they are Allahs Law and religion. Had they been true believers in the religions, that faith would have directed them to believe in Muhammad because all Prophets gave the good news of Muhammads advent and commanded them to obey and follow him. Yet when he was sent, they disbelieved in him, even thought he is the mightiest of all Messengers. Therefore, their claimed faith in an earlier Prophet will not benefit them because they disbelieved in the master, the mightiest, the last and most perfect of all Prophets. Hence Allahs statement[our verse in question 9:29].
This honorable ayah (passage) was revealed with the order to fight the People of the Book, after the pagans were defeated, the people entered Allahs religion in large numbers, and the Arabian Peninsula was secured under the Muslims control. Allah commanded His Messenger to fight the People of the Scriptures, Jews and Christians, on the ninth year of Hijrah, and he prepared his army to fight the Romans and called the people to Jihad announcing his intent and destination .
And on a final comment on this verse and the forced payment of jizyah, Kathir wrote:
Allah said, "until they pay the Jizyah," if they do not choose to embrace Islam, "with willing submission", in defeat and subservience, "and feel themselves subdued," disgraced, humiliated and belittled. Therefore, Muslims are not allowed to honor the people of Dhimmah or elevate them above Muslims, for they are miserable, disgraced and humiliated.
Obviously, the position of the great Muslim theologian Ibn Kathir contradicts Coles position in full.
(7r) In light of the context of the Quran and the only historical writings of Islam, Coles statement is untrue and disproved. It has no historical or contextual support, rather Cole contradicts the Islamic source materials position. Verse 29 was not a defensive verse for the Muslims to defend themselves against the Meccans because the Meccans had long been conquered. The Meccan polytheists were long gone, either having died, fled, or converted to Islam by choice or by compulsion. The verse teaches belligerence towards Christians and Jews. The Quran does teach violence or subjection against all non-Muslims.
In paragraph 11 Cole admits that his viewpoint is an "abstract understanding", not commonly held.
I would be the first to admit that an abstract understanding of the Koran is different from contemporary Muslim interpretations of it.
Cole is disingenuous with his readers. Coles "abstract understanding" is not an understanding at all. Rather, it is an "Alice in Wonderland" fantasy, not grounded in the Islamic theological works.
Dr. Cole is a very intelligent man but he has very strong biases. Cole wants to portray Muhammad as being benign. Coles predetermined beliefs render him unable to see or admit that there is a dark side to Islam. Unfortunately, contrary to Coles illusion, Islamic historians record Muhammads actual teachings and deeds: he denigrated and committed crimes against those that rejected him. The Quran does teach aggressive violence against others, including Jews and Christians, and not only against the Meccans or their pagan allies.
In the end, Dr. Cole laments: I am saddened that anyone should have held this misconception, meaning the conception that the Quran encourages belligerency towards Christians and Jews. What should be lamented is that Dr. Cole is an intelligent man, but nevertheless is unable to look past his prejudices to the see what the Islamic source materials state. We have a fellow American who misrepresents the true teachings of Islam hazardously.
Make no mistake about it: The Muslim terrorists are still at war with us. They will strike us again. It is a natural part of real Islam. The tragedy is that until we realize the darkness in Islam, we will not be able to properly confront and deal with that darkness.
Juan Cole has received sharp criticism from various groups such as Campus Watch. My criticism of his work is not related to Campus Watch. I first read his work in "The American Muslim" Webzine. I found his work to have grave errors. He claims that because he has been cited by Campus Watch he has been harassed via email. This is unfortunate. His Islamic work is shoddy, but he does not deserve harassment.
NOTES:1 The specific article by Dr. Cole addressed here was published on the front page of his website Juan Cole *Informed Comment* on January 7th, 2003. It was available at this location for about two weeks and is now found under its publication date near the end of the January 2003 section of his archives.
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