Text analysis answers: Is the Quran really more violent than the Bible?by Tom H. C. Anderson
Part III: The Verdict
President Obama in his State of the Union last week urged Congress and Americans to “reject any politics that target people because of race or religion”—clearly a rebuke of presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.
This exchange, if you will, reflects a deeper and more controversial debate that has wended its way into not only mainstream politics but the national discourse: Is there something inherently and uniquely violent about Islam as a religion?
It’s an unpleasant discussion at best; nonetheless, it is occurring in living rooms, coffee shops, places of worship and academic institutions across the country and elsewhere in the world.
Academics of many stripes have interrogated the texts of the great religions and no doubt we’ll see more such endeavors in the service of one side or the other in this debate moving forward.
We thought it would be an interesting exercise to subject the primary books of these religions—arguably the core of their philosophy and tenets—to comparison using the advanced data mining technology that Fortune 500 corporations, government agencies and other institutions routinely use to comb through large sets of unstructured text to identify patterns and uncover insights.
So, we’ve conducted a surface-level comparative analysis of the Quran and the Old and New Testaments using OdinText to uncover with as little bias as possible the extent to which any of these texts is qualitatively and/or quantitatively distinct from the others using metrics associated with violence, love and so on.
Again, some qualifiers…
First, I want to make very clear that we have not set out to prove or disprove that Islam is more violent than other religions.
Moreover, we realize that the Old and New Testaments and the Quran are neither the only literature in Islam, Christianity and Judaism, nor do they constitute the sum of these religions’ teachings and protocols.
I must also reemphasize that this analysis is superficial and the findings are by no means intended to be conclusive. Ours is a 30,000-ft, cursory view of three texts: the Quran and the Old and New Testaments, respectively.
Lastly, we recognize that this is a deeply sensitive topic and hope that no one is offended by this exercise.
Analysis Step: Similarities and Dissimilarities
Author’s note: For more details about the data sources and methodology, please see Part I of this series.
In Part II of the series, I shared the results of our initial text analysis for sentiment—positive and negative—and then broke that down further across eight primary human emotion categories: Joy, Anticipation, Anger, Disgust, Sadness, Surprise, Fear/Anxiety and Trust.
The analysis determined that of the three texts, the Old Testament was the “angriest,” which obviously does not appear to support an argument that the Quran is an especially violent text relative to the others.
The next step was to, again, staying at a very high level, look at the terms frequently mentioned in the texts to see what if anything these three texts share and where they differ.
This is yet another iterative way to explore the data from a Bottom-Up data-driven approach and identify key areas for more in-depth text analysis.
For instance—and not surprisingly—“Jesus” is the most unique and frequently mentioned term in the New Testament, and when he is mentioned, he is mentioned positively (color coding represents sentiment).
“Jesus” is also mentioned a few times in the Quran, and, for obvious reasons, not mentioned at all in the Old Testament. But when “Jesus” is mentioned in the New Testament, terms that are more common in the Old Testament—such as “God” and “Lord”—often appear with his name; therefore the placement of “Jesus” on the map above, though definitely most closely associated with the New Testament, is still more closely related to the Old Testament than the Quran because these terms appear more often in the former.
Similarly, it may be surprising to some that “Israel” is mentioned more often in the Quran than the New Testament, and so the Quran and the Old Testament are more textually similar in this respect.
So…Is the Quran really more violent than the Old and New Testaments?
Old Testament is Most Violent
A look into the verbatim text suggests that the content in the Quran is not more violent than its Judeo-Christian counterparts. In fact, of the three texts, the content in the Old Testament appears to be the most violent.
Killing and destruction are referenced slightly more often in the New Testament than in the Quran (2.8% vs. 2.1%), but the Old Testament clearly leads—more than twice that of the Quran—in mentions of destruction and killing (5.3%).
New Testament Highest in ‘Love’, Quran Highest in ‘Mercy’
The concept of ‘Love’ is more often mentioned in the New Testament (3.0%) than either the Old Testament (1.9%) or the Quran (1.26%).
But the concept of ‘Forgiveness/Grace’ actually occurs more often in the Quran (6.3%) than the New Testament (2.9%) or the Old Testament (0.7%). This is partly because references to “Allah” in the Quran are frequently accompanied by “The Merciful.” Some might dismiss this as a tag or title, but we believe it’s meaningful because mercy was chosen above other attributes like “Almighty” that are arguably more closely associated with deities.
‘Belief/ Faith’, ‘Non-Members’ and ‘Enemies’
A key difference emerged immediately among the three texts around the concept of ‘Faith/Belief’.
Here the Quran leads with references to ‘believing’ (7.6%), followed by the New Testament (4.8%) and the Old Testament a distant third (0.2%).
Taken a step further, OdinText uncovered what appears to be a significant difference with regard to the extent to which the texts distinguish between ‘members’ and ‘non-members’.
Both the Old and New Testaments use the term “gentile” to signify those who are not Jewish, but the Quran is somewhat distinct in referencing the concept of the ‘Unbeliever’ (e.g.,“disbelievers,” “disbelieve,” “unbeliever,” “rejectors,” etc.).
And in two instances, the ‘Unbeliever’ is mentioned together with the term “enemy”:
“And when you journey in the earth, there is no blame on you if you shorten the prayer, if you fear that those who disbelieve will give you trouble. Surely the disbelievers are an open enemy to you”
“If they overcome you, they will be your enemies, and will stretch forth their hands and their tongues towards you with evil, and they desire that you may disbelieve”
That said, the concept of “Enemies” actually appears most often in the Old Testament (1.8%).
And while the concept of “Enemies” occurs more often in the Quran than in the New Testament (0.7% vs 0.5%, respectively), there is extremely little difference in how they are discussed (i.e., who and how to deal with them) with one exception: the Quran is slightly more likely than the New Testament to mention “the Devil” or “evil” as being an enemy (.2% vs 0.1%).
While A LOT MORE can be done with text analytics than what we’ve accomplished here, it appears safe to conclude that some commonly-held assumptions about and perceptions of these texts may not necessarily hold true.
Those who have not read or are not fairly familiar with the content of all three texts may be surprised to learn that no, the Quran is not really more violent than its Judeo-Christian counterparts.
Personally, I’ll admit that I was a bit surprised that the concept of ‘Mercy’ was most prevalent in the Quran; I expected that the New Testament would rank highest there, as it did in the concept of ‘Love’.
Overall, the three texts rated similarly in terms of positive and negative sentiment, as well, but from an emotional read, the Quran and the New Testament also appear more similar to one another than either of them is to the significantly “angrier” Old Testament.
Of course, we’ve only scratched the surface here. A deep analysis of unstructured data of this complexity requires contextual knowledge, and, of course, some higher level judgment and interpretation.
That being said, I think this exercise demonstrates how advanced text analytics and data mining technology may be applied to answer questions or make inquiries objectively and consistently outside of the sphere of conventional business intelligence for which our clients rely on OdinText.
I hope you found this project as interesting as I did and I welcome your thoughts.