Friday, October 14, 2011

Is Islam a Violent Religion?

     In his USA Today editorial, after discussing violent passages in the Old Testament, Tom Krattenmaker ( went on to discuss the Quran.  Here he noted that there were also passages "that appear to justify the most hideous acts of violence," but he criticizes those who ignore the "many peace-preaching" verses in the Muslim holy book, and who "pluck" certain other passages, "marshalling them as 'proof' that Islam is inherently violent."  His conclusion is that since the scriptures of both Christianity and Islam contain violent passages, "whether it's Christians or Muslims, stone-throwers ought to realize that their own houses are glass."  Or to put it another way, Christians should simply ignore the evidence that Islam is a violent and intolerant religion.  The plain fact of the matter, however, is that there is a difference between the two religions in their respective attitudes towards violence.
     The first and most obvious point to be made is that for Christians the New Testament supersedes the Old Testament, and the New Testament provides no basis whatsoever for the use of violence in the defense of the faith.  Jesus never intended for the church to become a theocratic nation-state as was Israel in the Old Testament.  He summed it up well when He told the Roman governor Pontius Pilate: "My kingdom is not of this world.  If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here: (John 18:36, NKJV).
     Islam, by way of contrast, is a kingdom "of this world."  This became especially apparent after Mohammed had fled to Medina and consolidated his base of support there.  Faced with a growing threat from his opponents in Mecca, Mohammed drew the inevitable conclusion from the premise of theocracy: the use of force is justified in the defense of the faith.    Writing in Sura II (The Cow), Mohammed urged his followers to "fight for the cause of God against those who fight against you . . . Fight therefore against them until there be no more civil discord, and the only worship be that of God . . ." (2:186-189, Rodwell trans.).
     Are we cherry-picking certain passages from the Quran in order to make Islam appear violent?  Unfortunately, we are not.  The passage cited is part and parcel with Mohammed's theocratic agenda.  The whole system is based on retributive justice.  "O believers!  retaliation for bloodshedding is prescribed to you . . ." (2:173).  He then goes on, later in the same sura, to discuss the moral dilemma of waging war during the "sacred month," when there was supposed to be a truce among Arabs.  "To war therein is bad, but to turn aside from the cause of God, and to have no faith in Him, and in the Sacred Temple, and to drive out its people, is worse in the sight of God; and civil strife is worse than bloodshed" (2:214).
     Sir John Glubb (1897-1986), a British army officer who once commanded the Arab Legion, put it like this: "the Prophet, so patient, humble and devoted under persecution in Mecca, commenced to use power politics after his arrival in Medina.  Not only does he resort to war against the Meccans, but in Medina he drives the Jews into exile and arranges for his own opponents to be assassinated. . .
     "Their respective attitudes to the legitimacy of physical force has, ever since then, been one of the most marked contrasts between Muslims and Christians . . .
      "Muslims in general do not believe that men can be made righteous by moral example or by intellectual persuasion alone, but consider that force is also necessary . . . Once violence is admitted, it is all too easily abused." (A Short History of the Arab Peoples, Stein & Day, 1970. p.36).
     Islam, too, has its concept of abrogation -- certain earlier verses in the Quran have been superseded by later ones.  But the evident direction of Mohammed's thought was toward increasing violence and intolerance as time went on, lot less so.  There was once a time when Mohammed had a fairly favorable view of Jews and Christians as "people of the Book."  But by the time he wrote down Sura IX (The Immunity) he was denouncing both groups as those who "join gods with God" (i.e., polytheists) and told his followers "make war upon such . . ." (9:29 ff).
     It is true that Christianity does not exactly have an unblemished record when it comes to violence.  There have been persecutions, Crusades, and pogroms.  But these were aberrations -- they have no basis in the New Testament.  Jihad, unfortunately, does have a basis in the Quran.
     We will begin to make sense of events in the Middle East only when we understand the differences between their culture and ours.  It is a tragic mistake to assume that "Islam is a peaceful religion," not unlike Christianity, and that it has been "hijacked by a few extremists."  We have already squandered an enormous amount of blood and treasure to no avail  in the Middle East because of our cultural myopia.  What we think they want is not what they think they want.  We have gotten ourselves into a conflict that ultimately we cannot win.  The reason we cannot win is because we cannot change the culture of the region.  Let us take off our blinders and look at what we are actually facing.


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