“Today in the public opinion, Islam tends to be associated with violence, particularly in the West. Based on your understanding of the Islamic experience, from its early days to the present, do you agree with this association? “
For us to understand the genesis of the current view of Islam as violent religion, it is imperative to explore its history and teachings based on Quran’s assertions on violence. There is a misunderstanding of who was the founder of Islam. Many unguided sources cite Muhammad as the founder but Muslims only regard him as the last prophet of God through which the Islamic teachings in the Quran were revealed. They assert that Muhammad restored the original and unaltered monotheistic believe of the prophets he succeeded. Previously preaching from Mecca, where he faced persecution, he fled with his followers to Medina. It is in this city that religious conflicts between Muslims and Christians began (Juergensmeyer 13). He fought with the Jews and conquered them. He succeeded in uniting the tribes of Arabia but finally died at the age of 62 in the year 632.
After his death, succession disputes broke giving rise to schism in Islam which culminated to the formation of the two Islamic groups. The Islamic religion expanded both by virtual of conquest and peaceful means. Trade was a major expansion tool. Muslims invaded Sub-Saharan West Africa and China for trade and virtually dominated the export-import industry and with it, came the spread of Islam. Its unique cultural style began to diversify and with it people converted to the religion. The ultimate result is the association of Islam with eminent violence (Juergensmeyer 13).
Study findings and discussions
Argued from all sides and delinking the fact from ones religion, the assertion that Islam religion is violent is partly true and partly false. There is no clear consensus on the nature of Islam religion. Although violence is prevalent in almost the whole world involving many religions like Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism, the world associates Islamic religion with violence more than any other religion. Historical events like conquering of Spain by Muslims, Christian crusades started by Christians and the Ottoman domination of Eastern Europe showcase Islamic relation to force and power. Recent violent movements in the Middle East which are advanced in the name of Islam and efforts to resolve conflicts and conditions created by the West in trying to force Western ideas in the Muslim have merely served to reinforce the view that Islam is a violent religion (Wilkinson 20). It is evident that though Westerners have created this notion historically, Islam has had no more conflicts than any other western civilization.
Violence by all means takes different forms and definitions based on the prevailing situation and environment. According to Islam, force is to be found everywhere in humans and the environment. Violence in Islamic teachings is only used in accordance with the divine law. Use of force can only be applied if equilibrium is to be maintained. Restoration of a broken equilibrium is accepted as a necessary means of maintaining a just system. Excessive use of force creates a disequilibrium and disorder resulting to more injustice. In fact, excessive use of force depends on circumstances but with the aim of establishing equilibrium and not to fulfill individuals’ interests or for sectarian reasons (Rapoport 659).
Although Islam has endured a lot of invasions and attacks, peace is still felt in areas where traditional Islamic teachings are maintained. Islam is opposed to the use of force on the basis of inflicting injuries except in war and executing punishments according to the Sharia law. Islamic law protects the rights of both Muslims and non-Muslims and is opposed to the use of force against other people’s rights. If the violation of people’s rights occurs then that is against the Islamic teachings. Regardless of the various negative economic, social and sectarian factors fuelled by neo-colonialism, cultural distortion, population increase and industrialization, violence exists more in the Industrialized West than in Islamic Countries. Islam religion teaches the truth and expresses it in the testimony of faith dubbed as la ilaha illa ‘Llah. This implies that there is no divinity bur the Divine. Distortion of truth or fact that can result to injuries as a form of violence is not found in the Islamic teachings (Stern 106). The teachings embrace both the sacred and secular. However, it asserts that force often called jihad materialize to be within the confines of the law and unless used to create equilibrium and harmony, it must be perceived as aggression against God and His creation.
From the onset the word Islam implies peace and moderation. The religion encourages tolerance and dialogue between religions for the sake of humankind. Several notable people have provided statements that de-link Islam from violence. For example, George W. Bush connoted Islam with peace. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press research findings in 2001 conducted to 1,500 North American adults showed that people had positive views of Islam. Those Americans who positively viewed Muslims grew to 59% from 45%. The number of republicans also grew to 64% from 35%. In his book “The Islamic Threat: Reality or Myth”, John Esposito who is a leading figure in American authority and Islam interpretation criticized the notion that Islam was violent and anti-American (Esposito 67). The arguments showed Islamic renaissance and faults analysts commit by concluding that Islam is a violent religion.
Religion is basically based on worldviews and they vary from one individual to the other. Based on the wide varying locations and differing situations and circumstances that religion adherents find themselves in, it is practically impossible for all to have the same worldviews and fall under the tight control of religious doctrines. Due to lack of homogeneity, Islam is divided into many sub-groups including the Shi’ite, Sufi and Sunni. This leeway allows a small violent, fundamentalist and loathe-filled group always operating under the cover of Islam to realize their own interest by forming terror groups. They operate on the basic account of Islam, the Wahhabi. The existence of the group does not necessitate the branding of the whole religion as terror based. Unlike Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church, Islam does not have a common point of convergence (Wilkinson 20). This loophole allows the sprouting and existence of divisions within the religion. This characterizes the Lutheran Christian organization which has over 1,000 denominations globally with some having weird worldviews and hate-filled ideas for instance, the terrorist Christian group who blew up the Murrah Federal Building, in Oklahoma City.
While cited as a peaceful religion, West Industrialized countries connote Islamic religion with widespread world violence. History dates from the start of Islamic violence to the 11th century establishment of the Isma’ili Shi’ism assassins who terrorized political and religious opponents. Several analysts criticize the connection between Islam and peace. They argue that the word Islam means submission and not peace. They state that not every Muslim has violence at heart but they have the same violence ability and that each seeks to put that ability in use. They view Muslims as anti-West and cite that though there are a small number of those opting for peace with the West; the larger populace would long to live in free societies since America practice powerful straining on their violence potential. These analysts argue that the Jihad concept which is a core duty of Muslims to protect their religion is aimed at escalating violence to the non- Muslim (Esposito 72).
From its inception Islam shares a closer connection with politics and power which marks a distinguishing factor between it and other religions Christians argue that the Muslim worldview does not separate religion from the state. To them religious ideologies give guidance to the form of government that states must have. Although in history Christian states were governed by Christian principles, there remained a separation between the church and the state. Each had its own stand on issues pertaining to the state and disagreements are allowed and tolerated (Karim 10). They validate their argument by quoting a verse from the Bible. Historical persecution of Christians by state also serves to strengthen the separation amid the church and the state.
Islam is seen as a political ideology which according to Muslims the state is God’s state and there are no other justifiable governments (Richard 396). They are against God. The religion divides the world into two. Dar Al-Islam implying house of Islam which has legitimate government and Dar al-Harb meaning house of war which has illegitimate government and therefore at war with God. Therefore, Muslims must apply pressure to bring under control all illegitimate governments and their submission to God. This pressure involves both military, economic and persuasion. It is evident that some groups converted to Islam to have support against their enemies or due to fear.
To Christians, the only plausible means for the expansion of Islam is through Jihad. Jihad is a religious duty and had to be fulfilled by its adherents as the only option for expansion. Violent expansion of the Islam served to assure the Muslim that they were the chosen ones. The notion that Islam is a violent religion is further strengthened by the numerous verses in the Quran and Hadith promoting violence against non-Muslims. The Quran has more than 109 verses that encourage Muslims to wage war against non-believers. Some contain barbaric messages like chopping up of heads and bodily mutilation of legs, fingers et cetera of infidels and non-Muslims. Those shying away from the violence are termed as hypocrites and they will be repaid by burning in hell.
The Quran verses are not controlled by any circumstances present at that time. Since they form the will of Allah that should not be altered, Muslims are bound by religion to abide to the call for violence against infidels (Richard 397). Ironically, the Islam holy book contains few verses that call for peace, tolerance and creation of equilibrium to maintain justice and peace. Muhammad himself established the city of Medina as his capital by unleashing violence on Jews and other communities. Arranged in order of length from the longest to the shortest, Mohammad revelations as recorded in the Quran only speak of violence against non-Muslims until they are subdued, humiliated, converted or killed. Perhaps, Quran (2:216) states that fighting is prescribed for Muslims and that they may dislike something that is good for them. It goes on to state that only Allah knows what is good for the believers and that they know not.
Conversely, Quran (4:95) clearly rebukes peaceful Muslims and argue that they are less worthy in the eyes of God. This verse antagonizes the meaning of Jihad as a spiritual struggle and reinforces the view that Jihad means holy war. Quran (5:33) prescribes punishment for those against Allah and his prophets. They should be murdered, crucified or their hands and feet mutilated. They should also be humiliated by imprisonment or grievous harm. Islam also advocates for killing of believers in the view that they will bring shame to their family and reinforces the idea by stating that Allah will provide a better family member (Stern 105).
Starting with Muhammad who was a military leader, Muslims have created an era of religious terrorism. It is evident that Muhammad conquest was based on massacring people, sexually assaulting women, taking captives as slaves and looting. He used religious ideologies to propel his followers to violence. Not even a vague proof exists to show Islam as a peaceful and tolerant religion. Even where they are a minority, they pose a peace threat if their demands are not met. Where they are a majority, for example in India, a historical brutal carnage orchestrated by the Muslims took place. Islam is so rooted in violence that it has never stopped being at war either with other faiths or among the adherents (Hoffman 14). Faced with what the West is condemning including sexuality issues, women rights and slavery, Islam would create catastrophic verdicts since they never surrender their stand.
So strong is the association of Islam to terrorism that the idea of Islamic terrorism sprouted. The use of the terminology is highly criticized with Muslims regarding it as contrasting to their rather peaceful religion (Scheuer 19). Defined as terrorism by Muslims, it is aimed at achieving certain political or religious goals and is rooted deep into the Islamic teachings on violence against opposing people. Terrorism instigated as early as 1970 and has been prevalent in the United States, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia et cetera. Militant groups include the al-Qaeda which was founded by Osama bin Laden and is aimed at ending corrupt and religious inefficient Arab rules, American support for Israel and American military presence in Muslim states like Arabia and Middle East nations. Their characteristic operational strategies include suicide attacks, kidnapping and demanding ransom besides hijacking of travel means like ships, planes and vehicles. Amongst the major Islamic terrorists attacks include the September 11, 2001 attack on the U.S. twin towers building which killed 3,000 innocent American civilians (Pape 1).
Many are of the view that Islam is not purely a violent religion but a peaceful one. This notion is augmented by scholars who state that the currently increasing Islamic terrorism meted to the West is due to the ideologies. The ideologies spread to the Arab world by the West are alleged to be anti-Islamic, undermine their moral reasoning and are incompatible to Islamic teachings. Increasing consequences like poor living conditions, advancement by opposing forces and current Arab uprisings due to the influence of the West have only served to heighten the level of violence as opposed to the provision of solution (Rapoport 659).
Several factors combine to motivate violence on non-Muslims. Arab nations’ economies are mainly oil based. Economic decline due to influx in oil prices started with the fall of the Ottoman Empire. The continued general rebirth of Islam after its initial fall throughout Middle East, Asia and North Africa led to sprouting of violence as they tried to reclaim these areas. Previous experience on colonialism mostly by the West Industrialized countries has led them to a straight path of conflict. Terrorist activities are fuelled by the belief that United States’ foreign procedures have destroyed the Muslims. Muslims hatred towards America and the West in general is due to their policies (Pape 1). These polices include support for Israel and inefficient Islamic states like Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Kuwait, Egypt alongside the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The military presence in Islamic states like Saudi Arabia, support for actions against Muslim aggressors in Chechnya and Palestine as well as the overall discrimination of Muslims propagates such violence. The terrorist activities targeting America are directed towards compelling the U.S. to keep off their ideologies from Islamic states. Analysts state that terrorism should be viewed as a reaction towards empires as documented by terrorist activities meted out to earlier empires. Rising populations based on cities like Tehran, Istanbul, Cairo and other major Islamic cities serve as an opportunity for the young suffering population to join Islam. Islamic teachings bestow hope for a better world and provide hope to those who strictly adhere to it (Scheuer 19). This makes such young populace to be easily sucked into terrorist activities.
Terrorist activities as witnessed today have most of their origin from three major conflicts and in which the West has had a major influence. Amongst the predominant conflicts is the Kashmir issue. The region is claimed by both India and Pakistan which are Hindus and Muslims states. Although peaceful negotiations have been carried out to allow Kashmir to determine its own future, there exists tension among both states since the issue has not been fully solved. The other issue concerns a clash between the Muslim north and the Christian south in Sudan. America supported the Christian south. Although they finally split, minor battles still exists between the two (Hoffman 14). The third one concerns Israel nation, occupation of Gaza Strip, the future of Jerusalem and the reclaiming of occupied territories. America has been offering full support to the Israelis decision and policies.
The notion of Islam being a violent religion is mostly advanced by the West due to historical accounts with the Muslims. Islam like other religions has had endured spells of attacks by opposing forces like the Crusades. The view is partly true and partly wrong. Various incidences in the history of Islam have called for both peaceful and aggressive measures to be taken based on the prevailing circumstances. Although analysts rush to conclusions, many factors should be put into consideration. Due to the ever increasing changes and sprouting of various sects within Islam, it is unjustified to say that all Muslims are violent.
This has been proved by Islamic nations criticizing and enouncing militant groups involved in acts of terrorism such as Saudi Arabia. In other fronts, Muslims have engaged in peaceful negotiations with their warring neighbors including South and North Sudan, Palestine and India. The teachings of Islam based on their holy book contain numerous verses justifying the use of violence on non-Muslims and adherents who are perceived to be abdicating their duties. The revelations to Mohammad before entering the city of Medina preached tolerance. But these verses have been obliterated by other violent citing in the Quran. Recent violent activities by Muslims have however served to reinforce this idea.
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