It's quite remarkable how Muslims and Muslim scholars use the most incredibly bland and vacuous passages from the Koran in order to justify and sometimes explain contemporary problems and issues. Tariq Ramadan, for example, is a master of picking out what he sees to be an appropriate and relevant passage in the Koran.
Take the case of religious moderation. Apparently the Koran and Mohammed himself endorsed moderation. Or that seems to be the case to Ramadan. He thinks that this is the case because of two very short, very bland and very empty phrases. Firstly, he cites the Koran thus:
“God desires ease for you, and desires not hardship.” (2010)
Really! Is that all there is to go on? Is Islamic moderation based on something so insubstantial? Even if there are other Koranic backups for this, you can bet that they too will be as bland as this one.
And yes they are other passages. Apparently “Muhammad confirms” that last empty passage with this empty passage:
“Make things easy, do not make them difficult.”
Profound or what! What! It sounds like the sort of thing you'd hear from a stoned-out hippy. It's completely shallow. Why on earth did Tariq Ramadan feel the need to quote these ridiculous passages?
This sort of thing happens all the time when Muslims discuss their religion with non-Muslims; and sometimes even when Muslims discuss their religion with other Muslims. It's not only a case of these passages being bland and empty: it's that they are used to defend and justify all manner of things. The two passages above, when taken on their own, don't even mention religious moderation, only moderation; yet Ramadan used them to do exactly that.
If we give Ramadan the benefit of the doubt and say that when ‘taken in context’, which is something Ramadan is always keen for us to do (well, if only when talking about the negative-sounding Koranic passages, not the positive ones), we can say that perhaps there is more meat elsewhere in the Koran with regards to Islamic moderation. If that isn't the case, then Ramadan is effectively playing games with such passages. For example, I will randomly pick a passage from the Koran. This one:
“The Greeks have been defeated.” - the Koran 30:1
(Muslim translate “Greeks” as “Romans” so as to, I think, make the Koran's “prophesy” come true – by diktat.)
I can now argue that this is a commandment to Muslims to defeat all non-Muslims because the Greeks were non-Muslims and they were “defeated”.
The point is that if such insubstantial, empty and sometimes vague passages can be used from the Koran, then anything on earth can be justified. Indeed that's exactly what happens with trigger-happy Koran-quoters. At least some religious passages from other holy books are self-sufficient, as when Dot Cotton on the BBC’s EastEnders quotes from the Old Testament. Such passages are often pretty unequivocal and if they aren’t, then they are often literary or poetic in nature instead.
Can it be that from these two passages alone that ‘Islamic scholars’ have been led to state that Muslims are “the community of moderation” (as Ramadan claims)? That wouldn't surprise any non-Muslim. It's often the case that certain often-used passages from the Koran are used to defend various positions and practices in contemporary society. Some of these justifying passages are as short as a single sentence and don't have any backup anywhere else in the Koran. That is why very many Muslims quote this old-chestnut:
"If anyone slew a person, it would be as if he slew the whole people. And if anyone saved a life, it would be as he saved the life of the whole people." – The Koran, Sura 5:32
Why just that one? (Which, in any case, always has the middle clause - “except for villainy in the land” - surgically removed from it; as well as the huge fact that it was aimed at the “Children of Israel”, not at Muslims.) It is because there are no other pacifist-sounding passages in the Koran? Thus this well-known single sentence is all we, or Muslims, have to go on when it comes to Islamic commandments against killing or murder.
Why is that religious books are only required to state their case; whereas everyone else is expected to argue their case? This peaceful or pacifist passage isn't even elaborated up. The same goes for:
“There is no compulsion in religion.”
That’s it. There is no more. That's all we, or all Muslims, are expected to go on. How can it be anywhere near self-sufficient when there are so many, or more, passages like this one? -
“Make war on them until idolatry shall cease and Allah's religion shall reign supreme.” - Koran, 8:36
If there are no arguments for either of these Koranic negatives and positives, then we will have to simply count the ratio of positives to negatives. In which case, the negatives (say, on ‘fighting’ or jihad) certainly far outnumber passages like “There is no compulsion in religion”. That is why Muslim moderates can never really win when it comes to having debates with Islamists or Muslim fundamentalists.
Tariq Ramadan, ‘Good Muslim, Bad Muslim’, 2010, Tariq Ramadan