Answer by Jim Ashby:
The Quran is a hopelessly, self-reinforcingly, fundamentalist scripture. If you were to remove all the ayat that warn believers to keep believing and condemn disbelievers for disbelieving, it would be a much smaller book. If you then remove the militaristic ayat — much more prevalent in the Medinan suwar — the book would be much smaller again. If you then removed everything that didn't promote a positive message, the Quran would be reduced to a pamphlet. Finally, if you removed everything except for spiritually transcendent wisdom, you wouldn't have anything left.
There's not much to cherry-pick in the Quran. In the Meccan suwar, you have some ayat that promote taking care of widows and orphans and the poor, as well as ayat that claim there should be no coercion in religion. But the Meccan suwar were revealed before Muhammad rose to power. Afterward, in Medina, when Muhammad rose to power, everything changed. The Quran took a militant turn.
Unfortunately, based on the doctrine of naskh (abrogation), the later, militant, suwar supersede the earlier, more tolerant, suwar. So those more tolerant ayat are not only relatively rare in the Quran . . . they're superseded by the less tolerant Medinan ayat.
It's very difficult to embrace the Quran AND be tolerant. Many (most?) Muslims — like most Christians — haven't really read their own scripture. If they have, it was most likely while wearing the blinders of religious indoctrination. Just as many Christians are often surprised when intolerant passages are pointed out to them, so are many Muslims.
If you're a Muslim who interprets the Quran literally, you're in a stronger position than Muslims who don't. The Quran claims itself to be clear, complete and perfect. Literal interpretations, therefore, are better interpretations. If you're a moderate, attempting to cherry-pick the Quran, you're in a weak position. When ISIS comes knocking at your door, you don't want to declare yourself a moderate.
Why haven't more tolerant variants of Islam gained acceptance among Muslims? How can the Quran be interpreted so that it is not abused an…