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Is Islam a Violent Religion?

October 01, 2006
By Sujai

I am neither a theology expert nor a historian. I would like to address this from a different angle. There are many articles, analysis, blogs written on this topic where the so-called experts dig into Mohammed's personality, Koran, and Islamic history to find selected examples and instances to justify their accusation that indeed this religion is mired in violence.

Let's compare the founders of some of the religions. These days Mohammed is considered a violent man by other religions. I want to understand if his personality has any bearing on how Islam has transformed itself into fifteen hundred years later. Agreed, this religion came into existence in violent and oppressive conditions prevailing at that time. Does that mean this religion is destined to be violent forever? Even if we were to assume Mohammed was a violent man (for the sake of the discussion) does that mean being violent is a second nature to the people of this religion?

If this explanation is so true, then people of each faith should act accordingly with the character of their founder, their holy book and their history. Let's look at Christianity- their founder (Jesus) is supposedly a mild and loving character, but just look at its history- it's written in blood from the time of its inception- they put to stake everyone they didn't like or agree with. They blamed Jews for the punishment induced to Jesus and that stigma legitimized persecution of this people for two thousand years which culminated in Holocaust- the greatest crime humanity has ever committed. The Bible, which itself has undergone many changes, is considered milder, benevolent and all-loving compared to Koran (by the same so-called experts). Why then did we have Crusades which upheld massacre of other religions to uphold a god who preached love? Why then did we have Insurrection where the choice was to convert or die? How does one explain the completely opposite nature of if followers and its history founded by someone who is considered a pious man? Let's take another case. Buddha is supposedly a very gentle person and is known for his pacifism, but just look at what Japanese have done in WWII, look at what Khmer Rouge did to its people, look at what Mao did to intellectuals, and now look at what Sinhalese do to Hindu Tamilians? As suggested by these experts, if the followers were to take on the nature of its founders, I should expect Japan to be extremely pacifist in its history and all Christians to be mild and loving. But somehow I don't see that. There is no correlation. Therefore, I discard the explanation that a religion and its people are in anyway similar to its founder.

Another favorite accusation that is thrown at the present-day Islam is that Muslims intend to convert everyone into Islam- "they propose to convert every kafir to make this whole world one large Ummah". If I look at our history, I see many occasions when Muslim rulers could have put this into action and by now we should have seen a much higher population of Muslims than what we actually see. India despite being ruled for many centuries by Muslim rulers is predominantly Hindu. Though Muslims ruled a great portion of Europe, it is still predominantly Christian. Even the holy land which came under Islamic rule has people of many faiths. If Muslims had this agenda written in Koran, and if they were so focused on achieving this, they should have converted all these populations under their rule. In comparison, I see effective drives from Christianity which has been able to convert most of Western Roman Empire into Christians kicking out the Moors, who were the last Muslims in that region, five hundred years ago. I see an effective Orthodox Christianity which is still fresh and young and is thriving in the Russia and East Europe. It took less than three hundred years to make whole of South America completely Christian. In contrast, Jews, who were persecuted in every Christian kingdom, were given homage and better protection in the Muslim world. The argument that only Islam inherently believes in converting every one on the earth is untenable. Each religions consolidated itself in different geographies as much as Islam.

Coming to religious texts, Yes, I do agree that Koran has aggressive tones when it comes to dealing with people of other faiths- but again they have been interpreted differently in different times. For every aggressive sentence in Koran, there is an equivalent sentence which instills responsibility and equanimity on its followers to other kinds of people. Idolatry as pagan practice was definitely abolished initially but over a period of time, Islam co-existed with other major religions in peace. While the Christian world was plunging itself into Dark Ages, it was the Muslim world which kept the torch of enlightenment lighting, which it later handed over to Western Europe to pave the way for Renaissance, Age of Reason and Age of Enlightenment, and to eventually Modern Science.

If religious text is the core reason why Islam is violent, then every Buddhist state should be extremely pacifist (like Tibet), and every Christian state should be people-loving. I don't see that in their history. Each religion irrespective of its text has been aggressive, brutal and violent at some times, and benevolent, caring and peace-promoting at other times, in almost similar proportions. Therefore, I tend to disagree with the explanation that religious texts shape the nature of its followers.

The reasons why some of the Muslims of the present-day are violent are found elsewhere. Looking for answers in the nature of its founder, its religious text and nature of its history is futile and completely useless. The Rest of the World, instead of waking up to recognize its posture and stance, rectify its mistakes, admit its wrongs, is unnecessarily trying to find faults, flaws and explanations in the origins and practices of Islam. Rest of the World has to realize that 'problem with Islam' is rooted in certain historic mishaps, prolonged mistakes, and continued alienation that it has imposed onto Islam in the last hundred years. Only when this Rest of the World wakes up to admit it and take measures to correct itself shall we see Islamic world take a step back and be at peace with itself and the Rest of the World.


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