Does the Koran Advocate Violence?

Religious scholars debate interpretations of controversial Koranic passages.

ByABC News
September 29, 2010, 6:06 PM

Oct. 1, 2010— -- In the United States, there is enormous suspicion of Islam and the Muslim faith.

The debate over the proposed Islamic community center near Ground Zero and Pastor Terry Jones' controversial "International Burn a Koran Day" on the 9/11 anniversary are just some recent examples that anti-Muslim tensions are high.

On a special edition of "20/20," ABC News' Diane Sawyer and Bill Weir ask scholars to trace the roots of violence in Islam and how Americans and Muslims understand the Koran's teachings.

In Christianity and Islam, as in all religions, how followers choose to practice their beliefs is based on their interpretation and acceptance of Holy Scripture. Many passages in all forms of religious texts are outdated and are considered criminal if carried out in today's time, but are still discussed as part of the faith.

In the Bible, dire warnings are dotted throughout the Old Testament for those who worship other gods or several gods at once. Deuteronomy 17 tells believers who come upon such a person to "bring that man or woman to the gates of the city ... and stone them with stones until they die."

Another brutal passage about non-believers from the Bible, Psalm 137, states, "Blessed is he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks."

Father Dan Madigan, a professor of theology at Georgetown University, pointed out that these passages are recited every day in the Christian faith, and yet thousands of clergy members remain at peace.

"Imagine how many monks and nuns around the world chant the Psalms every day," he said. "In the Psalms, there are some really awful versus about smashing babies heads against rocks, but they chant them and it doesn't make them violent."

He noted the double standard many put on the Koran. "We have a way of dealing with our scriptures as they are and Muslims are in the same position."

The Old Testament is filled with tales of divinely-ordained slaughter and war, yet about two billion Christians today follow the word of the Lord, coupled with the New Testament, which includes a command from Jesus to "love thy neighbor as you love thyself."

Muslims also face a similar dichotomy of ideas in the Koran, from maintaining peace to raging war. In one part, the scripture says there is "no coercion in matters of faith." In another, the Koran tells Muslims to "fight those who believe not in Allah."