1. Sources. An article that fails to quote authentic Islamic sources is without value. For instance, many texts have been written on the concept of ‘Jihad’. Jihad is explained therein as a spiritual struggle. Generally, these texts tend to omit references to the generally recognized Islamic sources, since such ‘spiritual’ references are well nigh non-existent. In contrast, there exist hundreds of references depicting Jihad as a war against non-Muslims, in both a defensive and offensive sense.
2 For or against Islam: identical sources. You will not fail to note that articles severely critical of Islam are rife with quotes from the Koran and the authentic traditions passed on by Muhammad. In turn, articles in defence of Islam quote generously from the self-same sources to prove exactly the contrary. As a rule both versions make cogent points, for, indeed, what they proclaim stands written! You can choose material from the Koran and the authentic traditions, applying some creative interpretations of your own, to back up just about any argument you wish to make. Here we see the Koran as a supermarket of ideas, and the gullible Muslim believer as the shopper whose shopping cart is loaded with products of his or her own choice. This has led us into a somewhat disturbing situation. We all are familiar with people who commit terror acts in the name of Islam. They volubly quote from the Koran to justify their acts. And on the other hand there are the peace loving Muslims, coexisting harmoniously with ALL of their neighbours, irrespective of religion, race, appearance, who also say they base their actions on the Koran...
3 Abrogation. There is in Islam a principle called abrogation (nasikh wa mansukh in Arabic), both in the Koran and in the Hadith (pronouncements by Muhammad, the traditions as they have been handed down by him). This principle is used to explain away contradictions. For it does appear that there are contradictory instructions in both the Koran and the traditions. In principle, the instructions that were issued last are the valid ones; they cancel the ones prior to them. In general, articles with a positive view on Islam tend to quote the earlier passages, seeing that these are milder in tone. Critical (negative) articles tend to make references to the later passages, seeing that they are more militant and lean more towards violent behaviour. Islamic scholars, however, are agreed that only the later passages are valid. Since the principle of abrogation is truly important for our understanding of the Koran, we have devoted a separate page to this topic. See here.
4 Context 1. Articles that are positive towards Islam tend to dismiss violent or hostile passages from the Koran as being contextual, i.e. only applicable to a given specific situation in the life of Muhammad; whereas positive passages from the Koran are interpreted as having general application. Naturally, the aim is to ease people’s minds and eventually persuade them to join Islam. However, a book that calls for hostile action and even contains warlike instructions (such as large sections of Surah 8 and 9) without making it clear that these instructions are no longer applicable, is a recipe for disaster. To Islamic scholars, all passages from the Koran contain a message, the mild as well as the violent ones. Moreover, their view on the milder verses in the Koran is generally not as positive as one would assume. What is striking is that these scholars generally hold to an interpretation of Islam that corresponds very closely to that of non-Muslims and ex-Muslims who are critical of it.
5 Context 2. When studying Islam, one quickly notes that most of the Koran consists of revelations that followed on from specific events in the life of Muhammad: these events thus form the foundations of the message that Allah proclaims in the Koran. That is to say, the Koran cannot be compared with the stone tablets containing the ten commandments handed over to Moses, by which God passed on His law at that single and singular moment without regard to any attendant context. The fact that the Koran was revealed by way of concrete happenings does not, of course, mean that the message in the book is valid only in the context of those events; if that were so the Koran could be categorized as a historic work, leaving Muslims at liberty to disregard and dismiss it at their whim. That this is not so is proven by the death threats uttered against those who dare to criticize the Koran, as in the case of the Dutch Member of Parliament Geert Wilders. Muslims consider the Koran so holy and untouchable that any negative act or criticism directed against it, either physical or verbal, enrages them.
6 Context 3. Violent passages in the Koran are, as mentioned, mostly tempered and toned down by making reference to their specific context. Without being explicit, their advocates tend to create the impression that if such passages are considered within their context, they will actually turn out to be far less violent, even peace-loving, or at least are representative of understandable or acceptable human behaviour. Nothing could be further from the truth – the context rather makes these passages appear even less palatable, and confirms the aggressive nature of the Koran verses in question. Apologists may try to excuse the violent character of these passages by reference to the fact that Muhammad had many enemies and was forced to defend himself. However, anyone who studies Muhammad’s biographies (books written by Muslims for Muslims) cannot escape the impression that the founding of Islam was accompanied by excessive violence, and that Muhammad shirked neither verbal nor physical abuse and assault. The least one can say is that Muhammad failed to spread his new religion in a peaceful and peaceable manner, with equanimity and acceptance of the “feelings and sensitivities of people that held other beliefs – the unbelievers”. This stands in stark contrast to the preachings and practices of, say, Jesus or the Buddha.