Robert Spencer’s “Cut and Paste” Scholarship

Robert Spencer calls himself a “scholar of Islam”, but the more one delves into his “scholarship,” the more one realizes that he is anything but. In a recent post about a truly shocking news report from Saudi Arabia, Spencer begins by saying, “It’s in the Qur’an…”

It’s in the Qur’an: “We ordained therein for them: ‘Life for life, eye for eye, nose or nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth, and wounds equal for equal.’ But if any one remits the retaliation by way of charity, it is an act of atonement for himself. And if any fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (No better than) wrong-doers.” — Qur’an 5:45

Now you will tell me, “Wait a minute, Spencer, that’s in the Hebrew Scriptures, too.” So often I hear that the Bible and the Qur’an are equivalent in their messages — something that only someone who hasn’t read either one could say. But in any case, it’s true: “an eye for an eye” appears in Exodus 21:22-25, Leviticus 24:19-21, and Deuteronomy 19:21. However, this phrase has always been understood in Judaism as limiting excessive vengeance, not encouraging it, and has never been taken in Jewish tradition as being a warrant for maiming anyone. It is likewise limited in Christianity by Jesus’ statement: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:38-39).

But in Islam, the literal force of the Qur’anic passage is paramount.

He then goes on to quote the news report from Saudia Arabia, and then ends his post by writing: “So there’s no discussion of whether it is cruel and unusual punishment. After all, it’s in the Qur’an.”

His disdain for Islam is palpable, and that disdain colors his “scholarship.” Take the verse he quoted, 5:45. The way Spencer introduces the verse, you would think that this “eye for and eye” principle came from the Qur’an. Yet, in this verse, the Qur’an was talking about the principle that was laid down in the Biblical scriptures: Read the verse again:

We ordained therein for them: ‘Life for life, eye for eye, nose or nose, ear for ear, tooth for tooth, and wounds equal for equal.’ But if any one remits the retaliation by way of charity, it is an act of atonement for himself. And if any fail to judge by (the light of) what Allah hath revealed, they are (No better than) wrong-doers.”

Who is the “them” in the verse? Spencer makes the reader think that the “them” refers to Muslims. In context, however, one realizes that the verse is actually talking about the Jewish people:

Verily, it is We who bestowed from on high the Torah, wherein there was guidance and light. On `its strength did the prophets, who had surrendered themselves unto God, deliver judgment unto those who followed the Jewish faith; and so did the [early] men of God and the rabbis, inasmuch as some of God’s writ had been entrusted to their care; and they [all] bore witness to its truth. Therefore, [O children of Israel,] hold not men in awe, but stand in awe of Me; and do not barter away My messages for a trifling gain: for they who do not judge in accordance with what God has bestowed from on high are, indeed, deniers of the truth!

And We ordained for them in that [Torah]: A life for a life, and an eye for an eye, and a nose for a nose, and an ear for an ear, and a tooth for a tooth, and a [similar] retribution for wounds; but he who shall forgo it out of charity will atone thereby for some of his past sins. And they who do not judge in accordance with what God has revealed – they, they are the evildoers! (Quran 5:44-45)

Of course, Spencer “the scholar” will not mention this at all. Now, Spencer does admit that this “eye for an eye” principle is in the Bible, but he quickly seeks to qualify their meaning:

But in any case, it’s true: “an eye for an eye” appears in Exodus 21:22-25, Leviticus 24:19-21, and Deuteronomy 19:21. However, this phrase has always been understood in Judaism as limiting excessive vengeance, not encouraging it, and has never been taken in Jewish tradition as being a warrant for maiming anyone.

But, Spencer gives no such allowance for Islam:

But in Islam, the literal force of the Qur’anic passage is paramount.

Yet, read the verse again, and it becomes clear that it actually encourages forgiveness:

But if any one remits the retaliation by way of charity, it is an act of atonement for himself.

Isn’t that exactly the same as what Spencer says about Jewish tradition? Doesn’t this verse seek to “limit excessive vengeance,” or even any vengeance at all? Sure it does, but Spencer will never admit to this.

This same principle of forgiveness is found in the other Qur’anic verse about retribution (emphasis mine):

O YOU who have attained to faith! Just retribution is ordained for you in cases of killing: the free for the free, and the slave for the slave, and the woman for the woman. But if the culprit is pardoned by his aggrieved brother, then restitution to his fellow man shall be made in a goodly manner. This is an alleviation from your Lord and an act of mercy. (Quran, 2:178)

Again, the verse extols the virtue of forgiveness. But, Spencer will never tell you this. His hatred for Islam is so blinding, that he can’t even see the weakness of his own arguments. And they call him a “scholar”?