Are Holy Scriptures Interpreted Literally?

Time and again in discussions with Islam apologists we come across the argument: “No one except extremists interpret violent parts of the Islamic doctrine literally or follow it. There are as many different understandings of Islam as Muslims.”

It is true that every person has a unique mix of views on everything, including religion, as well as perceptions and behavior patterns. If we take a person who claims to be Muslim, his/her knowledge of the Islamic doctrine may range from 0 to 100%. The same applies to actual implementation of the doctrine, regardless of the knowledge. It can also range from 0 to 100%.

However this does not mean there are lots of doctrines which can be diametrally different to each other. There are different interpretations of Islam, called mazhab or madhhab, four Sunni and two Shia, which accounts for about 95% of all Muslims, but they differ only about minor issues, like whether shrimps are halal or not.

When we hear Muslims require special accommodation for their religion concerning food at public schools, they are not speaking about gluten-free, sugar-free or white-only food. They require exactly what is written in their scripture. It would be impossible to accommodate their requirements if every Muslim had a totally different idea what halal is.

When Muslims require separate hours for women and men in public swimming pools, they do not require separate hours for transgender people – because Muhammad didn’t say anything about transgender.

When Muslims pay zakat, the charity tax, they pay it in the amount and from the property as described in Koran and Hadith.

Although knowledge of the doctrine and its practical implementation can be different in each case and dependent on many external factors – the doctrine itself changes very slowly, and in case of Islam it is hardly able to change at all. Nevertheless, any time we hear something positive or neutral about the Islamic doctrine – it is considered to be shared by all Muslims. No one says: “Oh wait, how can we say that Islam is a religion of peace – it’s all subjective and there are different interpretations.” But every time we hear of some ugly expression of the Islamic doctrine, it’s “a handful of extremists” and “misinterpretation of the teaching”. Islamic organizations spend a lot of money and efforts to silence any criticism of Islam. It’s a shame to all people who consider freedom of speech one of core values.

In fact the only thing that needs to be done about the threat of Islam is making people aware of its nature. No deportations or restrictions of the freedom of religion will be required if we all simply know what it is. A good example is the American Nazi Party. They are not prohibited, but people know what their ideology is worth, security agencies, I am sure, keep an eye on them, and they will never become a major influence in the country, unless the existing powers that be do something really stupid.

So if you still insist there is a diversity of doctrines in Islam – please, prove me wrong.


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