(A Response to Anthony Rogers’ video “Killing Babies for Allah” and his allegation that the Qur’an 17:4-7 is directly sanctioning the killing of babies in warfare)
by Sadat bin Anwar, MDI Canada
I was expecting the AnsweringMuslims.com team to be slightly peeved after David Wood’s mediocre and dispiriting performance at Speaker’s Corner in London’s Hyde Park a few days ago. Admittedly, Wood’s not-so-pleasant reception by the Hyde Park Muslims, was not exactly helpful to him winning any Islamophobic brownie points with the larger audience that was present, but since when has Speaker’s Corner been about anything more than a shouting match? Debates at this extraordinary and unique venue have been won and lost on the merits of one’s vocal chords, charisma, megaphone amplification capability, witty one-liners, ability to deal with unruly hecklers, and even well-timed jokes. Moreover, Wood was not lecturing a group of evangelicals in Texas; this was London, England, and everyone knows that British Muslims are not the soft and pushover American Muslims that David Wood and his ilk are used to dealing with back home.
Repeatedly and rather mercilessly heckled into the ground by questions about God commanding the killing of babies in the Bible, Wood’s usual demagoguery and lines of attack against Islam and Muslims (presently on a free loose in the more congenial American climate) met a premature dead-end at Speaker’s Corner, and the usual hot air we are accustomed to watching Wood blow evaporated rather quickly into the crisp London air. It was not Shari`ah in Britain that shut him down though, just in case he is planning another persecution-of-American-Christians type video rant; no, it was good ‘ol British democracy, in the raw, that shouted the two American missionaries down (Wood was accompanied on the ladder-podium by Speaker’s Corner veteran Jay Smith, who alas proved of little assistance to him; London Muslims have been embarrassing him for the better part of the past 20 years).
In response to the above misadventure and acting in as cannon fodder for the humiliated Wood, his colleague from Answering Muslims, Texan Anthony Rogers, has produced an 8-minute video-blog entitled “Killing Babies for Allah”. In this video, he goes about trying to prove, in a summarized format, how the Qur’an also approves of killing babies in the name of God, a la the Bible. By extension and inference, I assume that Rogers also wishes to prove that the Qur’an authorizes the killing of babies in God’s name, in a manner similar to that of the Bible. This he does not explicitly state in his video, but he does in the comments section, and it strikes me as being a reasonable inference from the types of arguments and evidences that he presents in the video. Rogers also mentions on the Answering Muslims blog that he is withholding other evidences for a future debate, and for the sake of keeping his video short. That is understandable, and likewise my response is only intended as a response to the arguments and evidences that Rogers has presented in his 8-minute video-blog (although I make no promise to refrain from sharing some personal musings and thoughts here and there, as they may relate to the topic). It should be noticed at this point, however, that even in the absence of the Speaker’s Corner heckling which Rogers appears to be crying foul about at the end of his video, he nowhere actually denies that the Bible does indeed have God commanding the killing of babies in warfare. The silence is telling, some very valid question about the Bible were raised, one which points towards some significant differences in the concepts of God’s compassion, forgiveness, fairness, and justice as envisioned in Christianity and Islam.
STRIKE 1- NO EXPLICIT COMMANDMENT IN QUR’AN (17:4-7) TO TARGET-KILL WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN WARFARE
At the beginning of his video, Rogers states that “Proving from the Islamic Sources [emphasis added] that the God of the Qur’an is very much in the business of directing His servants to kill animals, women, and children is child’s play.” He then goes on to quote from what I guess he considers to be his best ammunition, and in fact the only Qur’anic passage that he references in the video: Surah 17, verses 4-7. Rogers may have considered this to be the most appropriate passage to use to try to prove his argument, since the passage does not contain a commandment to kill a specific child (eg. the near-sacrifice of Ishmael/Isaac by Abraham, or the killing of a specific child by Khidr), but according to Rogers contains a general commandment and/or approval by God to target-kill babies and other innocents in warfare, as in the Bible. What the verses actually say, however, is exactly as Rogers quoted, and nothing more:
4. And We gave (Clear) Warning to the Children of Israel in the Book, that twice would they do mischief on the earth and be elated with mighty arrogance (and twice would they be punished)!
5. When the first of the warnings came to pass, We sent against you Our servants given to terrible warfare: They entered the very inmost parts of your homes; and it was a warning (completely) fulfilled.
6. Then did We grant you the Return as against them: We gave you increase in resources and sons, and made you the more numerous in man-power.
7. If ye did well, ye did well for yourselves; if ye did evil, (ye did it) against yourselves. So when the second of the warnings came to pass, (We permitted your enemies) to disfigure your faces, and to enter your Temple as they had entered it before, and to visit with destruction all that fell into their power. (Yusuf Ali translation)
If I were to just end my writing at this point and turn the “evidence” cited above over to the unbiased and objective reader, I think it would speak for itself. Ask yourself if you see anything in the above Qur’anic verses that would explicitly and clearly authorize or command the target-killing of babies in warfare. That is not to say that the above verse, especially if taken in isolation, does not contain ambiguity and room for the possibility of killing of babies in warfare. But to state or to even imply that the above passage somehow mirrors the clear and unashamedly explicit commandments/authorization for killing children and women that is to be found in the Bible is really to grasp at straws. It is comparing apples and oranges, and it actually highlights and reveals the great discrepancy that exists between the two Books on this topic. Let us quickly refresh our memory with the biblical example that Williams cited at Speaker’s Corner—that is, 1 Samuel 15:3:
Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.
On the theological scale, it is true that one could make somewhat of a comparison between Christianity and Islam on the issue of God taking the lives of babies and innocents. In the final analysis, God is the Sovereign Creator, the Giver of Life. He can take that life away, either directly or through the use of His agents (the wind, water, angels, etc). That is a point that I am ready to concede. On a theological and philosophical level, were God to actually command the Jews to kill all the Amalekite children and animals, their fulfilling this command would be seen as a meritorious and virtuous act, much as we consider Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his innocent (but willing) son to be a virtuous act. It is another matter, however, if God chooses to exercise compassion and mercy, which in turn is a reflection of His Divine attributes and nature. Perhaps this is what our conversation should turn to at this point. Suppose that God could have commanded Muslims in the Qur’an to target-kill women and children (as is attributed to God in the Bible); but did He? In the only one instance that I can think of in which God directly and explicitly commands the killing of an innocent child (Ishmael/Isaac), He exercises His mercy even in that instance by rescuing that child.
In short, what Rogers has cited from the Qur’an thankfully falls far short—in terms of sheer mercilessness, vengeful anger, and brutality—of the content and language of biblical verses like 1 Samuel 15:3. As to the question of God’s justice, it can certainly be argued that the Author of life can choose to take life away, as He pleases, even though commanding the killing of babies in warfare strikes me as a particularly merciless and brutal commandment. I am happy that it is not to be found in my Qur’an, while it is certainly a problem for modern-day Christian apologists who constantly sing about the love and moral superiority of the Christian (version of) God over that of the Muslim (version of) God. In short, such biblical passages would keep me awake at night, if I was a Christian.
On a bit of a side-note, even if I were to allege that the Christian God is unjust in commanding humans to kill babies, it would not be so much on the basis that God does not have the right to take those babies’ lives (either Himself directly or through the use of His able agents), but more on the basis that God has demanded something of His righteous human servants which is greater than the burden that they can bear. In order to carry out a divine commandment to kill a human baby, one must either be a complete saint, or the very opposite—an unbalanced, mentally unstable person whose soul is given to evil inclinations. The Prophet Abraham, peace be upon him, would fall into the first category. Due to his high standing as a prophet and saint of God, and in order to demonstrate the perfection of submission to God for countless future generations of submitters to come, God asks him to sacrifice his only son. Abraham, with difficulty, does submit to this commandment, which God in His Infinite Knowledge knew that Abraham was able to burden and perform.
For the same God to make such demands of laypeople would be unjust, however, because it is indeed a burden greater than we can bear. For David Wood, however, it is apparently not. In a not-yet-published-but-recorded-by-the-Christian-side debate that Wood had with Adnan Rashid a few years back, he conceded that, if God told him to kill babies in the final Armageddon, he would do so. For most Muslims—and I would venture to add most Christians—this is not the case. We would not be able to submit to such a commandment for one simple reason—we are not able to. Since the majority of us are neither perfect saints/angels, nor are we maniacal killers with a penchant for murdering the babies of our own species, we would not be able to murder children. God has on the one hand programmed it into our very conscience and genes to not be able to murder innocent babies (that is, for the vast majority of us who are mentally sane and balanced, and without a penchant for such horrific brutality); He will not on the other hand command us to act against the very nature and programming that He has given us, and then credit it to us as a sin if we are unable to perform this unbearable and impossible task. Again, I can only speak for myself here, not necessarily for Wood. He clearly has a different assessment and estimate of what he would be capable of carrying out in the name of his (Christian) God.
I hope my above explanation will make it clear why I do not consider it unjust if God wipes babies out through the agency of the wind, the water, cancer, famine, AIDS, or even through the agency of His angels, however I do draw the line and consider it unjust if He commands us human beings to kill human babies (as a general commandment, a specific commandment to the Prophet Abraham notwithstanding). This is not because I deny God the Sovereign His right to take away the lives of human babies, with or without explanation or justification provided to us mortals, but rather because I consider such a general commandment to laypeople to be a burden greater than that which they can bear, and this surely contravenes (in a number of ways) His Divine Attribute of Justice and Mercy towards His servants. Please understand the distinction I have tried to make. God having me brutally killed by a wild animal could be and would be completely just, according to my theology. God commanding my mother or wife to brutally murder me—and if she does not, it will be considered sinful on her part—is another matter entirely, and it would be unjust according to my theology, which is based on the Qur’an. (Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity.—Qur’an 2:286)
Thankfully, the Qur’anic passage quoted by Rogers—Qur’an 17:4-7– contains no such explicit commandment to target-kill babies, as much as Rogers might want to try to read between the lines and find such a thing. He should leave doing tafsir (Qur’anic commentary) to the professionals.
STRIKE 2—NO EXPLICIT COMMANDMENT, AUTHORIZATION, GLORIFICATION, OR EVEN MENTION OF KILLING BABIES AND WOMEN IN TANWIR AL-MIQBAS (IBN `ABBAS)
In the Qur’an 17:4-7– which we saw contains no such injunction, commandment, or even permission to indiscriminately murder women and children—Rogers certainly realizes the rather important missing details, details which he is eager and desperate to fill in. This is why he turns to a secondary source, namely the tafsir of ibn `Abbas, Tanwir al-Miqbas. Below is the relevant portion that he quotes:
(So when the time for the first of the two) the first of the two punishments; it is also said that this means: the first of the two corruptions (came, We roused against you slaves of Ours) Nebuchadnezzar and the host
of the king of Babylon (of great might) of tremendous fighting skills (who ravaged (your) country) who killed you in the streets in the middle of your country, (and it was a threat performed) a decreed threat that surely
takes place, that if you do such-and-such I will do this to you. Thus they stayed in captivity of Nebuchadnezzar for 90 years until Allah helped them with Koresh from Hamadan [Persia].
(Then we gave you once again your turn against them) through Koresh’s defeat of Nebuchadnezzar; it is also said that this means: and We had pity on you and thus gave you once again your turn against them, (and We aided you with wealth and children and made you more in soldiery) We made you more in men and numbers,
(Saying): If ye do good) if you confess Allah’s Oneness, (ye do good for your own souls) the reward for that
is Paradise, (and If ye do evil) and if you associate partners with Allah, (it is for them (in like manner)) the
punishment for that is upon them. They remained in comfort, merriness, abundance of men and numbers,
and triumph over the enemy for 220 years until Allah roused against them Titus. (So, when the time for the second (of the judgements) came) the second of the two punishment or the second of the two corruptions
((We roused against you others of Our slaves) to ravage you) by killing you and taking you as captives, i.e. Titus the son of Espianos [sic] the Roman, (and to enter the Temple) Jerusalem (even as they entered it the first time) even as Nebuchadnezzar and his host entered it the first time, (and to lay waste all that they conquered with an utter wasting).
The gist of Rogers’ point is as follows: The Qur’an, according to ibn `Abbas, is referring to Nebuchadnezzar and Titus as “Our [ie. God’s] Servants”, and hence all of their actions—including the indiscriminate killing of Jewish civilians—is sanctioned and authorized by Allah, and therefore the God of the Qur’an does command (or authorize) the killing of innocents and babies in warfare.
I might require the help of a professional logician to point out all the logical fallacies that have been committed in the above argument, which is a paraphrase but I am certain it is a fair representation of Rogers’ argument. Theoretically speaking and for the sake of argument, let us assume that the God of the Qur’an commands or perhaps approves of or condones the killing of babies in warfare; however the “evidence” and the arguments that Rogers has presented thus far does not establish that. In other words, even if the conclusion is true, it would be true for all the wrong reasons and based on premises that themselves have not been established with any amount of certainty. In short, we have no good reason to believe Rogers’ conclusion about the God of the Qur’an.
Let us consider the most obvious fact first. Ibn Abbas’ commentary, like the original Qur’anic verse being commented on, does not indicate any explicit commandment, authorization, approval of, or even mention of the killing of women and children. Again, it could be alleged that ibn `Abbas is ambiguous, and that such ambiguity could lend itself to war crimes (to use modern parlance) such as the deliberate target-killing of babies. One could make that argument, if looking at ibn `Abbas’ commentary in isolation. But how anything he wrote could be construed as an explicit order, command, authorization, or glorification of the killing of babies, as in 1 Samuel 15:3, is beyond me. One could make a general statement in support of the general U.S. war effort against Nazi Germany, without explicitly endorsing or approving of the fact of the carpet bombing of Dresden which killed thousands of German school-children. One could even go so far as to explicitly endorse the invasion and subsequent occupation of Nazi Germany by the Allies, but again without endorsing the specific event of the carpet-bombing of Dresden. The two events are interrelated, but not necessarily the same one thing.
The next problem with Rogers’ argument vis-à-vis ibn `Abbas is that Muslims are not required to believe in his tafsir, especially if there is no isnaad (authenticated chains of narration) that establish his opinion on the matter as being factual. Rogers and Wood can provide a long list of ibn Abbas’ virtues and scholarly precedence amongst the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), none of which will be disputed by this writer; however none of this can change the Religion. The fact remains that, in this Religion of Islam, Qur’anic commentary provided by ibn `Abbas without isnaad does not automatically become or inform our theology.
The third problem with Rogers’ use of ibn `Abbas is the contested authenticity of the work being cited. Tanwir al-Miqbas, which is what I believe Rogers is quoting from, is attributed to ibn `Abbas; it is not definitely from him. If I am wrong about the source of Rogers’ quotes, he can correct me.
Fourthly, there is no ijmaa` (consensus, or even a semblance of consensus among the scholars) on the issue. Rogers only threw a handful of names of modern commentators on the Qur’an, not even beginning to cite any classical commentators. Even among the modern commentators that he made quick mention of, we see that Muhammad Asad, for example, did not share the view that Titus was a righteous servant of God. Asad says that the second period of Jewish iniquity and transgression mentioned in the Qur’an (17:4-7) is “probably” referring to the destruction of the Second Temple by Titus, but note that Asad himself does not assign this as the definitive meaning of the text. Secondly, had Rogers quoted the rest of Asad’s commentary on the same passages, he would have seen that Asad did not consider Titus to be one of God’s righteous servants, even though the Arabic term ibaadal-lanaa (“servants of Ours”) is used for (possibly) Titus and his army. Asad says,
The term `ibad, rendered by me above as “bondmen”, denotes every kind of “created beings” [emphasis added] (in this case, obviously human beings) inasmuch as all of them are, willingly or unwillingly, subservient to God’s will.
Elsewhere (footnote for chapter 13:15), he makes it clear that classical commentators also believed that non-believers were subject to God’s will, in a general sense. They too are, in a sense, servants of God, but disobedient servants of God.
Mufti Muhammad Shafi Uthmani, who served as the grand mufti of Darul-Uloom Deoband in India, states: “Disbelievers too are among the servants of God, but not among the accepted ones.” The late Mufti’s comments on Qur’an 17:4-7 shed further light on the terminology that is used in it:
About the first event (5), the Holy Qur’an said: When the people of Faith start letting them be seduced to discord, sin, disobedience and disorder, Allah Ta’ala shall set upon them such servants of His as would break into their homes killing and plundering. At this place, the Qur’an has used the expression: (‘ibadal-lana: Some servants belonging to Us) and not: (‘ibadana: Our servants) – even though it was brief. There is wisdom behind it. Is it not that the attribution of a servant to Allah is, for him, the greatest conceivable honour? This is similar to what we have explained at the beginning of this very Surah under our comments on the first verse: (asra’ bi’abdihi: made His servant travel at night). There it was said that certainly great was the honour and nearness the Holy Prophet was blessed with during the night of the Mi’raj. But, when the Qur’an describes this event, it does not mention either his blessed name or some attribute. It simply said: (‘abdihi: His servant). This tells us that the ultimate perfection a human person can have, and the highest station he can occupy, is that Allah Ta’ala chooses to cherish a servant by calling him ‘His’ servant. In the verse under reference, the people who meted out the punishment to the Bani Isra’il were kafirs, or disbelievers after all. Therefore, instead of calling them: (Our servants), Allah Ta’ala has broken the element of attribution and connection and said: (some servants belonging to Us). Thus, a hint has been given here that all human beings are nothing but servants of Allah as created, but because of the absence of ‘Iman or faith, they are not the kind of accepted servants who could be attributed directly to Allah Ta’ala.
In short, the Qur’an is saying that some servants or bondsmen of God were allowed to punish and destroy Jerusalem. This is all we have, from the Qur’an, and from ibn `Abbas’ commentary. And this is being compared to:
Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. (1 Samuel 15:3)
But of the cities of these peoples, that Jehovah thy God giveth thee for an inheritance, thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth. (Deut 20:16)
Rogers’ theology, as a biblical inerrantist, absolutely requires him to believe that the Christian God commanded the Jews to kill everything that breathes in the various cities that they conquered. How does this “take no prisoners” policy compare to the Qur’an or with Islamic teachings? Even tyrants like Nebuchadnezzar and Titus took captives to serve them?
Ibn Kathir, one of the great classical commentators of the Qur’an who is often singled out and preferred by Wood and his colleagues, puts it very well:
The earlier and later commentators differed over the identity of these invaders. Many Isra’iliyyat (reports from Jewish sources) were narrated about this, but I did not want to make this book too long by mentioning them, because some of them are fabricated, concocted by their heretics, and others may be true, but we have no need of them, praise be to Allah. What Allah has told us in His Book (the Qur’an) is sufficient and we have no need of what is in the other books that came before. Neither Allah nor His Messenger required us to refer to them [ie. the identity of those who He used to punish the Jews]. Allah told His Messenger that when (the Jews) committed transgression and aggression, Allah gave their enemies power over them to destroy their country and enter the innermost parts of their homes. Their humiliation and subjugation was a befitting punishment, and your Lord is never unfair or unjust to His servants.
So according to ibn Kathir, and probably just about any other scholar that is dead or alive, it is not at all a matter of faith for us to have to positively identify and affirm who these invaders were, let alone their modus operandi.
STRIKE 3 – SECULAR HISTORICAL ACCOUNTS OF NEBUCHADNEZZAR AND TITUS DO NOT REFER TO THE MODUS OPERANDI OF “KILLING EVERY CHILD”, “KILLING EVERY ANIMAL”, “KILLING EVERYTHING THAT BREATHES”, OR “MAKE NO PEACE TREATY WITH THEM”
Even if we assume that ibn `Abbas’ commentary is from him, even if we assume that ibn `Abbas is correct in his historical interpretation of Qur’an 17:4-7, and even if we assume that Nebuchadnezzar and Titus were righteous servants of God (despite their being pagans, which is a far greater sin in Islam than even wanton violence) and everything they did was directly commanded to them and authorized by God, we still will not end up with the brutality that is explicitly endorsed by [the Christian interpretation of] God in the Bible. True, if we assume all these unproven assumptions to be correct and connect the dots the way Roger wants us to, we would end up with a verification of the biblical idea that God does (or has commanded in the past) human beings to kill human babies in warfare. So there would be a theological stalemate between the Bible and the Qur’an on the issue of God commanding human beings to slay some babies in war. Even so, would the Qur’an ever be able to compare to the brutal methods of warfare endorsed and ordered by God in the Bible?
That charge would still ring hollow in light of the historical evidence that we have, since at no point in time did Nebuchadnezzar or Titus ever will or command or authorize the indiscriminate killing of all civilians, children, and animals in the territories that they conquered, as the Bible does on more than one occasion. In other words, even if Nebuchadnezzar and Titus were righteous Muslims commanded to war by Allah, we still do not find any general directive from them to:
(1) Kill all children, taking no prisoners
(2) Kill all women, taking no prisoners
(3) Kill all other non-combatants, taking no prisoners
(4) Kill all animals
(5) Offer no peace treaty to the occupants of the cities they are attacking
(6) Kill everything that breathes, basically
Rather, at the most, we might conclude with the aid of secular historical documents relating to Nebuchadnezzar and Titus that the Qur’an is, albeit indirectly, approving of the killing of some babies in warfare. This would not only be a quantitative difference from the killing of babies in the Bible, but a qualitative one as well; think of the moral difference between, say, a drone attack that kills some civilians versus dropping a nuclear bomb on an entire city. In fact, even in the event of dropping a nuclear bomb on a city, the intent may not necessarily be to kill all life-forms. A more fitting analogy might be a drone attack versus dropping 10 nuclear bombs on a city.
The latter is clearly more analogous to and indicative of the genocidal intent of a variety of biblical passages relating to warfare.
Notice here as well that, although Rogers had originally stated that he would prove from Islamic sources that the God of the Qur’an commanded the killing of babies and innocents, he has managed to bring non-Islamic secular history in through the back door. Although he does not explicitly identify these sources, he implies that sifting through the historical record on these two personalities (ie. Nebuchadnezzar and Titus) would easily reveal that they indiscriminately killed civilians. That is probably true, when we consider the nature of pre-modern warfare and the difficulty in identifying non-combatants, however what we are specifically looking for is evidence that either one of these two historical characters ordered the specific target-killing of all babies or civilians in their conquests.
What appears at first as a monumental task and impossible challenge should in reality not be so great. Since the Qur’an is, according to the interpretation attributed to ibn `Abbas, as further interpreted by Rogers, condoning the actions of Nebuchadnezzar and Titus in relation to two specific events (the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar from 597-587 BC, and the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 AD), these are the two events that we should have a look at and examine the historical record on.
In regards to the first—the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar—I will default to the Bible as our historical source, instead of secular historical accounts; this is simply due to the fact that it will be seen as more historical, more reliable, and more accurate by Rogers, who considers the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God. I need only quote from 2 Kings 24 in order to make my point here:
He carried all Jerusalem into exile: all the officers and fighting men, and all the skilled workers and artisans—a total of ten thousand. Only the poorest people of the land were left. Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiachin captive to Babylon. He also took from Jerusalem to Babylon the king’s mother, his wives, his officials and the prominent people of the land. The king of Babylon also deported to Babylon the entire force of seven thousand fighting men, strong and fit for war, and a thousand skilled workers and artisans. (2 Kings 24:14-16)
As we know, this period of the Jews’ history is known as the Babylonian Exile. There could have been no Babylonian Exile or Captivity of the Jews unless there were Jews left alive to be exiled and/or taken captive. So even if the God of the Qur’an had directly commanded Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem, He obviously did not command or inspire Nebuchadnezzar to slay all the children, women, and everything else that breathes. To the contrary, Rogers should assume that, according to the Qur’an (aided with further details provided to us by the Bible), Allah in fact commanded Nebuchadnezzar to leave tens of thousands of Jews alive and to exile them to Babylon instead of killing them. Regardless, notice how this pagan Persian king, according to the Bible’s very own testimony, has more compassion and honour in his treatment of his enemies than the God of the Bible has. I do not think anything more has to be said of Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem and its dissimilarity to the rules of warfare (or more accurately, genocide) as laid down by God in 1 Samuel 15:3, Numbers 31:17-18, and so on.
As for Titus’s conquest of Jerusalem in 70 AD, it is not reported in the Christian Bible, and therefore we must turn to secular historical accounts. The best known of these accounts is certainly The Wars of the Jews by Flavius Josephus, who was a Roman historian and an eyewitness to the event. Like all historians, his accounts are also sometimes called into question and he is accused of being biased in the favour of Titus, however his account is arguably the best we have to go on. He was an eyewitness, a practicing Jew himself, and is considered a respected and important witness by all students of Roman and Jewish history. For instance, James Lewis of The American Thinker, an American right-wing online magazine, just days ago stated that “[Josephus] saw both sides and could write a history for the ages” (The American Thinker, November 29, 2012). Lewis and The American Thinker are, of course, no enemies of Israel and Jews.
According to Josephus’ writings, arguably our best source for the Jewish wars, we can clearly discern why and how Titus, despite his brutality at times, was still more humane and compassionate than the God of Bible, and certainly far from genocidal towards his enemies. Titus and the Romans were in fact reluctant to attack and raze the city in the first place, and they made repeated efforts for peaceful reconciliation which were rejected time and time again by the Jewish extremists who had taken over the city. This can be contrasted with Exodus 23:32 in which God states that He will wipe out the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites and that the Hebrews should make no peace or covenant with them. (Admittedly, the possibility of a peace treaty is allowed in other instances in the Old Testament, but not in the case of the nations/peoples mentioned in Exodus 23). According to Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, Exodus 23:32 is definitely including peace treaties in the list of prohibitions. Yet we see in Josephus that Titus made repeated attempts and appeals to the Jews of Jerusalem:
I then came to this city, as unwillingly sent by my father, and received melancholy injunctions from him. When I heard that the people were disposed to peace, I rejoiced at it; I exhorted you to leave off these proceedings before I began this war; I spared you even when you had fought against me a great while; I gave my right hand as security to the deserters; I observed what I had promised faithfully. When they fled to me, I had compassion on many of those that I had taken captive; I tortured those that were eager for war, in order to restrain them. It was unwillingly that I brought my engines of war against your walls; I always prohibited my soldiers, when they were set upon your slaughter, from their severity against you. After every victory I persuaded you to peace, as though I had been myself conquered. When I came near your temple, I again departed from the laws of war, and exhorted you to spare your own sanctuary, and to preserve your holy house to yourselves. I allowed you a quiet exit out of it, and security for your preservation; nay, if you had a mind, I gave you leave to fight in another place. Yet have you still despised every one of my proposals [emphasis added], and have set fire to your holy house with your own hands. And now, vile wretches, do you desire to treat with me by word of mouth? To what purpose is it that you would save such a holy house as this was, which is now destroyed? What preservation can you now desire after the destruction of your temple? Yet do you stand still at this very time in your armor; nor can you bring yourselves so much as to pretend to be supplicants even in this your utmost extremity. O miserable creatures! what is it you depend on? Are not your people dead? is not your holy house gone? is not your city in my power? and are not your own very lives in my hands? And do you still deem it a part of valor to die? However, I will not imitate your madness. If you throw down your arms, and deliver up your bodies to me, I grant you your lives; and I will act like a mild master of a family [emphasis added]; what cannot be healed shall be punished, and the rest I will preserve for my own use.” (The Wars of the Jews, Book VI, chapter 3)
The above is reported to have been said by Titus after the conquest, or immediately before the conquest was completed. In Book VII, chapter 5, after the conquest, Titus actually rejects the petitions of the inhabitants of Antioch to eject the city’s Jews, and ensures that they remain there with all their previous privileges. In short, Titus attempted to renew peaceful relations and to return things to the status quo. He did want a peace treaty, something which the God of the Bible did not allow for and explicitly denied in Exodus 23. Rogers should assume, if he wants to assume anything at all, that the God of the Qur’an commanded or inspired Titus to offer terms of peace (several times) to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
As can also be seen from the quote above– and more to the point–Titus did not have a policy of indiscriminately massacring civilians or non-combatants. At times, he even complained of the violent excesses of the Jews towards themselves. The Sicarri and the Zealots, in fact, only agreed on one thing: to kill any Jew who was inclined towards peace with the Romans. Jewish-on-Jewish massacres took place in the city and droves of dead bodies were dumped off of the city walls everyday. Josephus writes:
… when Titus was going [on] his rounds along those valleys, he saw them full of dead bodies, and the thick putrefaction running about them. He gave a groan and, spreading out his hands to heaven, called God to witness that this was not his doing [emphasis added], and such was the sad case of the city itself.
The pagan Roman leader, at this point, appears to have a better understanding of the true nature and character of God than the scribes who penned 1 Samuel 15:3 or Exodus 23:32.
Ironically, one of the instances that horrified and further angered the Roman army against Jerusalem was the report of the killing of a Jewish baby by her mother, who then proceeded to eat it. Josephus records:
This sad instance was quickly told to the Romans, some of whom could not believe it, and others pitied the distress which the Jews were under; but there were many of them who were hereby induced to a more bitter hatred than ordinary against our [Jewish] nation. But for Caesar, he excused himself before God as to this matter, and said that he had proposed peace and liberty to the Jews, as well as an oblivion of all their former insolent practices; but that they, instead of concord, had chosen sedition; instead of peace, war; and before satiety and abundance, a famine. That they had begun with their own hands to burn down that temple which we have preserved hitherto; and that therefore they deserved to eat such food as this was. That, however, this horrid action of eating an own child ought to be covered with the overthrow of their very country itself, and men ought not to leave such a city upon the habitable earth to be seen by the sun, wherein mothers are thus fed, although such food be fitter for the fathers than for the mothers to eat of, since it is they that continue still in a state of war against us, after they have undergone such miseries as these. And at the same time that he said this, he reflected on the desperate condition these men must be in; nor could he expect that such men could be recovered to sobriety of mind, after they had endured those very sufferings, for the avoiding whereof it only was probable they might have repented.
Titus clearly did not adhere or subscribe to the idea of “Blessed is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!” (Psalm 137:9), or else he might have rejoiced at this report instead of becoming horrified and angered by it. While Titus did clearly see himself as a vehicle of God’s wrath upon the Jews, he does not at any point consider the dashing of babies’ heads or indiscriminate killing of all survivors to be a specific part of the deal. That is not to say that civilians were not killed—some quite brutally—but Titus does not appear to have issued this as a specific directive to his soldiers. At times, he even complains of his inability to restrain his soldiers’ passions and excesses; this fact of history is immortalized in the famous weaved tapestry design by Charles Poerson which appears at the top of this article, in which Titus can be seen riding on horseback, rushing to stop the carnage. For example, according to Josephus, when some of Titus’ soldiers were caught cutting open the stomachs of some of the dead Jews in search of gold that they had swallowed, Titus immediately threatened future violators with death. This was not implemented effectively and such abuses continued, but it certainly speaks volumes for the personal military discipline of Titus. Contrast this with 1 Samuel 18:27, according to which David cuts off the foreskins from the penises of 200 dead Philistine men, and in the very next verse it is said that the Lord was with David. Titus, on the other hand, considers it an unpardonable violation of the dead to mutilate their bodies, even when great material wealth is to be gained thereby. Although neither the Qur’an nor any Qur’anic commentaries would compel us to commit to the idea (nor does the present writer endorse such a theory), there is certainly a stronger argument that can be made for the divine inspiration of Titus than for the divine inspiration of (at least some of) the biblical scribes.
Ironically, the most well-known and shocking instance of the specific target-killing of babies during the Jewish wars is that at the hilltop fortress of Masada, at the hands of the Jews themselves. As is well known, 960 of its inhabitants committed mass suicide, although the application of the term “suicide” to the hundreds of babies and infants who had no choice in the matter seems a bit stretched. The conquering Romans were again shocked at how fathers could have slain their own children and wives. Similar occurrences happened elsewhere as well, including Ein-Gedi where the maniacal Sicarii massacred 700 of the settlement’s inhabitants, and during the siege of Jerusalem itself when the Sicarii set fire to a large stockpile of the city’s dry food supply.
Lastly, I will wrap up with the most important point, which should be obvious by now: Titus did not command the killing of all women, children, non-combatants, and animals. There is sufficient evidence that prisoners were taken and many of their lives spared, and that is not in dispute.
On the same day it was that the sons and brethren of Izates the king, together with many others of the eminent men of the populace, got together there, and besought Caesar to give them his right hand for their security; upon which, though he was very angry at all that were now remaining, yet did he not lay aside his old moderation, but received these men [emphasis added]. At that time, indeed, he kept them all in custody, but still bound the king’s sons and kinsmen, and led them with him to Rome, in order to make them hostages for their country’s fidelity to the Romans. (ibid, Book VI, chapter 6)
According to Josephus, the total captives from the Jewish wars were 97 000. The captives from Jerusalem were obviously much less. Paul McDonnell-Staff puts the number of women and children captives from Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple at 6000 (“A War of Logistics: The Siege of Jerusalem, 66 AD”, in Ancient Warfare 4.2 (2010), pgs. 36-41)
We have seen that the Qur’an nowhere explicitly commands the believers to slay babies or non-combatants in battle. Such a commandment intrinsically strikes the human soul as being unjust; it would be just as reasonable to ask a human being to jump over the moon. For God to command us to specifically target-kill human babies runs contrary to our very human nature and DNA, which in turn has been programmed into us by God our Creator. Only a perfect saint/angel or, conversely, an evil soul whose inner conscience has been destroyed, would be able to carry out such a command. (I will leave it to the reader to decide which category David Wood falls into.)
Secondly, we have seen that, even on the strength of secondary commentaries on the Qur’an, there is no real consensus on who is being referred to in Qur’an 17:4-7. (Some commentaries even consider “the second transgression” or the second period of iniquity to be that of the Medinan Jews who rejected the Prophet Muhammad and their subsequent political treason against the Muslims; in that case, too, we see that the Jewish tribes were ultimately either expelled, or the fighting men in the case of the Banu Qurayza killed while their women and children were spared.)
Thirdly, we have seen that, even if ibn `Abbas’ commentary is correct in identifying Nebuchadnezzar and Titus as the “servants belonging to God” in 17:4-7, it (the commentary) makes no mention of the indiscriminate killing of babies or civilians, much less any endorsement of it.
Fourthly, even if we go outside of Islamic sources (while Rogers initially stated that he would limit himself to Islamic sources, and this was supposed to be “child’s play” for him to do), we find no historical evidence of the idea that Nebuchadnezzar and Titus ever abided by the genocidal rules of warfare as laid down in certain portions of the Bible, particularly 1 Samuel 15:3 in regards to the Amalakites. To the contrary, Nebuchadnezzar exiled many if not most of Jerusalem’s inhabitants, as testified to in the very Bible itself. Similarly, Titus decreed after the conquest of Jerusalem that captives not be killed (although many of them would be killed later). According to Josephus, Titus also practically begged the Jews to spare Jerusalem and their Temple from destruction, made attempts to restrain some of the violent excesses of his soldiers, bemoaned the barbarity of the Jewish factions in Jerusalem towards their own people, absolved himself of blame in front of God in regards to some of the more violent excesses of the war, personally intervened to stop the mutilation of the Jewish dead by threatening the violators with death, and ultimately took a large number of prisoners/captives from Jerusalem back to Rome, many of whom were spared. In other words, thankfully for the Jews that he was fighting, Titus contravened each and every command in 1 Samuel 15:3 and Deuteronomy 20:16. That was a noble thing to do, and it is quite possible that Allah-God inspired in him this element of leniency.
The truth be told, Rogers may have fared better by positing some form of hard Calvinism which attributes everything to God and made that the main premise in his argument. Since God directly wills everything, he could have argued, He must have also willed that the rapist rapes, and the serial killer murders innocents, and so on. Within this framework, he could have better argued that Allah directly willed and commanded Nebuchadnezzar and Titus to do what they did, including their brutality and excesses (which still does not rival the “Kill everything that breathes” policy that we see in the Bible).
No matter how you connect the dots, though, we are still a far, far cry from the genocidal and targeted-killing of babies advocated by Yahweh/Jesus in the Bible. While refutations and counter-refutations on this topic may continue perpetually, Muslims still await a single Qur’anic verse, a single authentic hadith, or even a single fatwa that endorses the idea found in the biblical verse below:
… in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes [emphasis added]. (Deut 20:16)
The heckling continues. Fortunately, we do take prisoners.