CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- From time to time I get an email from someone who is concerned about what people of the Islamic faith believe, and if Muslims are trying to take over our country by running for public office. The writers of these emails often claim that Muslims are commanded by the Koran to "kill infidels." They are scared that this might happen if enough Muslim candidates are elected.
First, by way of giving the writers of these emails some empathy: it sounds like they are feeling concerned for our country, anxious about changes that are happening in our society, and scared and mistrustful about the intentions people they do not know very well. They seem to value safety and security, and are very concerned that this is being threatened.
I really relate with these concerns. I have these concerns too, though, admittedly, for very different reasons.
When the email writers say that 'killing the infidel is a command to all Muslims,' I feel some confusion and need for clarification. Living here in Charleston, I have learned a very different understanding about Islam in my interactions with my friends who are Muslim.
In my research, the word "infidel" is an important word here. There seems to be a variety of ways that word is used. It is not clear whether this word means "non-Muslims," or "non-monotheists" (anyone who is not Muslim, Jewish, or Christian), or "those unbelievers who would want to hurt or kill you." In one case (Suruh 2:191) the context of "infidel" seems to mean "those who are persecuting you." This proscription seems to be that it is good to fight back against injustice, to fight against those who would take away your right to freely worship God. Is this so far from how many Christians view their own calls to duty? I suspect that many who call themselves Christian believe this same idea as well.
The Koran also has specific comments about Christians and Jews, sometimes known collectively in Islam as the "People of the Book." There seems to be a recognition in the Koran (Surah 98:51) that there are among all the People of the Book, including Muslims, a distinction between believer (followers of the path) and those who are unbelievers (people who claim the name of the tradition but are not followers of its path). The People of the Book who are considered to be believers, those who follow the spirit and the way of God, are to be recognized as members of the same spiritual community: Jews, Christian, and Muslims all considered brothers and sisters together.
This has been my personal experience here in Charleston. As a Christian minister who occasionally attends prayer services at our local mosque, I have only felt friendship and welcome, and have been treated as a fellow believer of the same spiritual community and follower of the same spiritual path: that of wanting a better relationship with God.