Is Islam a Religion of Peace ? (part 1)
It is a very hard question to answer. To answer it, I will focus only on two major difficulties. The first difficulty lies in the problem of what do we mean by Islam? How can we judge such a vast and complex phenomenon like the religion of Islam? Islam spans 14 centuries and tens of different denominations or sects. So how we define Islam? The second difficulty lies in defining peaceful vs. violent. In other words, does one act of violence by Muslims or any other group of religious people mean violent Islam or any other religion?
To address these difficulties, I will be focusing on mere Islam, i.e. the common belief which 95% of Muslims adhere to. Also, I will be putting violent and peaceful events and statements in historical context for better understanding. We can judge how peaceful or violent any religion could be by focusing on three levels:
1- At the first level, Islam as an ideology will be investigated. This means to study the original authentic texts that are believed to be authoritative by more than 95% of Muslims. Was there any historical development in Islamic teachings about tolerance, peace, war and Jihad?
2- At the second level, the life of the founder of this religion will be investigated. This means we need to go back as early as possible to the most reliable sources about the life of Mohammad and see how did he live his life, and was he a violent or a peaceful man in the context of his own time?
3- At the third level, we need to see how Islam affected Muslims, especially early Muslims who were closer to a purer form of Islam. To study such an effect we need to observe how early Muslims understood their religion. How did they preach Islam to other people? How did Islam spread very fast in its first 100 years?
Only then after going through all these levels that we can judge the current streams of Islam and acts of Muslims, and determine if Islam is a violent or a peaceful ideology. Of course, I will not be able to provide exhaustive details to each levels of the study. It is beyond my ability to cover all the minor details. However, I can give sampling of the facts to clarify the topic.
On the first level: what do Islamic scriptures shared by all Muslims teach especially the Qur’an [i]. It is a fact that no Muslim will deny the Qur’an as his first and most authentic reference to Islam. However, the Qur’an is always misunderstood by many. The main reason for such misunderstanding is the intrinsic textual problem in the Qur’an itself. Generally speaking, the Qur’an is an Arabic text without a context. There is no much narrative in the Qur’an that can explain the when, where, and who questions. That is why the reader is always in need of the Hadith (Mohammad sayings) and life of Mohammad to provide the context and understand the meaning of the text. That said, the reader needs to know a very basic historical fact about the Qur’an: early Meccan vs. late Medinan Qur’an. In the first 13 years of Mohammad’s mission (610-622 AD), he was living in Mecca. During that time, Mohammad was reluctant to fight the infidels or wage wars. Mainly because he did not have the manpower or the finance to do it. So, most of the Meccan Qur’an [ii] was apocalyptic in nature. Mohammad preached in Mecca about hellfire and the wages of sin, mainly apostasy. His message mainly was “believe in me and my message or you will go to hell”.
One good example of such doctrine is found in Sura Al Araf (7th sura): “O Children of Adam! If there come to you Messengers from amongst you, reciting to you, My Verses,(like Mohammad himslef) then whosoever becomes pious and righteous, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. But those who reject Our Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) and treat them with arrogance, they are the dwellers of the (Hell) Fire, they will abide therein forever.” (7:35-36).
It was also clear that in Mecca, under harsh circumstances, Mohammad was avoiding any confrontation with the more powerful tribe of Quraysh. For that he wrote in his Qur’an (claiming the revelation from Allah): Say (Muhammad to these Mushrikun and Kafirun): “O Al-Kafirun (disbelievers in Allah)! I worship not that which you worship, nor will you worship that which I worship. And I shall not worship that which you are worshipping, nor will you worship that which I worship. To you be your religion, and to me my religion (Islamic Monotheism). (Sura 109). The last underlined part the sura is always used by Muslim apologetics to display Islamic tolerance. Of course, if you isolate the text from its historical background you will see a tolerant verse. But the question is how tolerant you can be if you are weak and subdued.
Later Mohammad emigrated to Medina where he lived from 622-632 AD, and became rich and powerful political leader. As a result, his message mutated. The Qur’an became more violent and militant. Here are some examples:
Qur’an 2:216 “Jihad (holy fighting in Allah’s Cause) is ordained for you (Muslims) though you dislike it, and it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know.”
Qur’an 3:151 “We (Allah) shall cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve, because they joined others in worship with Allah, for which He had sent no authority; their abode will be the Fire and how evil is the abode of the Zalimun (polytheists and wrongdoers).!”
Qur’an 4:76 “Those who believe (Muslims), fight in the Cause of Allah, and those who disbelieve, fight in the cause of Taghut (Satan, etc.). So fight you against the friends of Shaitan (Satan); Ever feeble indeed is the plot of Shaitan (Satan).
Qur’an 4:84: “Then fight (O Muhammad SAW) in the Cause of Allah, you are not tasked (held responsible) except for yourself, and incite the believers (to fight along with you), it may be that Allah will restrain the evil might of the disbelievers. And Allah is Stronger in Might and Stronger in punishing. ”
Qur’an 8:12 “(Remember) when your Lord inspired the angels, “Verily, I am with you, so keep firm those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who have disbelieved, so strike them over the necks, and smite over all their fingers and toes.“
Qur’an 8:39 “And fight them until there is no more Fitnah (disbelief and polytheism: i.e. worshipping others besides Allah) and the religion (worship) will all be for Allah Alone [in the whole of the world]. But if they cease (worshiping others besides Allah), then certainly, Allah is All-Seer of what they do.”
Qur’an 8:65 “O Prophet (Muhammad)! Urge the believers to fight. If there are twenty steadfast persons amongst you, they will overcome two hundred, and if there be a hundred steadfast persons they will overcome a thousand of those who disbelieve, because they (the disbelievers) are people who do not understand.”
Qur’an 9:5 “Then when the Sacred Months (the Ist, 7th, 11th, and 12th months of the Islamic calendar) have passed, then kill the Mushrikun (polytheists; see V.2:105) wherever you find them, and capture them and besiege them, and prepare for them each and every ambush. But if they repent and perform As-Salat (Islamic prayers), and give Zakat (Islamic alms), then leave their way free. Verily, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
Qur’an 9:29 “Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allah, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued..”
All these verses are taken out from the last suras written in the Qur’an, while Mohammad was in Medina. During that time, he formed armies, attacked other tribes, took spoils of war, and owned slave women and concubines. The Qur’anic verses during that time became less poetic / apocalyptic and more militant / legislative. Of course, I don’t claim here that he was the sole author of the Quran, because there is some evidence of the contrary. May be this can
This inconsistency between earlier and later suras motivated early Muslim commentators of the Qur’an to apply the doctrine of abrogation. It states that the final verses should abrogate the earlier ones. This was not fanatic Muslims invention, but it was based on the Qur’an itself, in which Allah says “Whatever a Verse (revelation) do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring a better one or similar to it. Know you not that Allah is able to do all things?” (Qur’an 2:106).
So, we can conclude based on this short treatise, that the Qur’an started tolerant, poetic and apocalyptic, and ended militant and violent. Devout knowledgeable Muslims [iii] know that the militant section abrogated the tolerant section, while Muslim apologetics living in the west, always try to get outside the historical context and use the Meccan tolerant verses to whitewash the face of Islam.
Next, It is important to determine how the Qur’an was understood by the prophet himself. I am going to answer the question of the second level: Was Mohammad a peaceful man? And how did he understand his own religion?…
[iii] Like Osama Bin Laden, A-Qaeda and Muslim brotherhood.