DISCUSSING THE VIEW THAT ISLAM IS NOT A RELIGION OF PEACE: AN ATTEMPT TO IMPROVE INTERFAITH RELATIONS

Saleem Ahmed, Ph.D.
President, Pacific Institute for Islamic Studies and the All Believers Network (both are Hawaii-based organizations)

INTRODUCTION:

All religions provide their followers with a “prescription” for living a peaceful life and preparing for the Hereafter. In this process, it is but natural that often followers think of their own religion as the “best”, with views of other religions ranging from neutral to outright contempt. The latter, unfortunately, often turns out to be an exercise in futility because followers of the “other” religion, not being moved by such emotional rhetoric, simply label such views as “phobic” and possibly get even more firmly entrenched in their views about their religion and actions prescribed. Thus, often, the adage “the operation was successful but the patient died” turns out to be the net result. The only “good” such commentary often does is that it helps us vent out our anger.

I saw one such commentary recently on the Internet. It is titled 10 REASONS WHY ISLAM IS NOT A RELIGION OF PEACE (https://www.thereligionofpeace.com/pages/articles/10-reasons-not-peace.aspx). While normally I would not respond to such a view as it is counterproductive, I am doing so this time to enable all of us to sharpen our power of analysis and ask: “How does this view compare with what my religion says on the subject?” The answer might prove embarrassing for followers of the three Abrahamic faiths, as all three carry some passages that do not shed “positive light” on their religions. Other passages sharing such positive light, are forgotten in our emotional rage to “get even”. Thus, I am doing this only to respond to the Qur’anic passages used selectively by the above-mentioned website. After all, there also are many beautiful and peace-inspiring passages in the Torah, Old Testament, and the Qur’an.

A CHALLENGE WITH THE QUR’AN

Depending upon the Qur’anic verses followed, Islam can be either a religion of unmitigated peace and champion of interfaith harmony, or one of unrelenting war and a torch-bearer of intra-faith and interfaith disharmony. A comparison of verse 5.51 (“Do not trust Jews and Christians”) with verses 5.3 and 5.5 (permitting Muslims to establish fraternal relations with Jews, Christians, and other ‘People of the Book’) provides us with a dramatic reminder of the chasm separating Muslim doves from hawks – with both following different Qur’anic verses, each convinced it is following the “right” guidance.

But, while Muslims are generally aware that these two opposing “paths” exist – and often declare the “other” view to be blasphemy — most non-Muslims are, at times, exposed to only one “type” – and therefore conclude that it represents the sum total of Islam’s psyche. And, unfortunately, it is usually the extremist version of “Islam” to which they get introduced. And since actions of moderate Muslims are generally not “interesting enough” to be newsworthy, the extremist version prevails. The challenge becomes even more acute when someone quotes some Qur’anic verses, but ignores others, intentionally or otherwise. I have in mind the above-mentioned website, which lists ten searching reasons supporting its assertion that Islam is not a religion of peace. And, based on the arguments presented, one cannot help but agree with them. Except that these arguments present a “partial truth”. I reproduce below these 10 “viewpoints”, one at a time, along with my response to each. I also share some comparisons with the Torah/Old Testament guidance on similar issues/events. Normally, I do not like making such comparisons as it is human nature that we will select verses that support our view and ignore others that might tell the opposite story. I am doing this simply because this is what the above website has done. Because I have the highest regard for holy men and women of all religions, it is certainly not with pleasure that I offer these responses. My responses are based on the context and chronology of Qur’anic revelations provided in the earliest extant books on Muhammad, by Ibn Ishaq (The Life of Muhammad); al-Tabari (The History of Al-Tabari); and al-Waqidi (The Life of Muhammad), written within 100-250 years of the prophet’s death and translated into English over the past 10-65 years. These books are excellent resources to help us understand the context and chronology of about 25% Qur’anic revelations. Currently, since both extremists and moderates are convinced they are following the “right” verses, this information can help bring about an amiable resolution to the question “which verses are applicable today?” And, although the Qur’an clarifies that “later guidance superseded earlier guidance” (verse 2.106), it is not possible for us to identify the “later guidance” as the Qur’an is not arranged chronologically.

Most of the remaining 75% Qur’anic verses are on spiritual matters such as God’s attributes and wonders of creation. While important, these are inconsequential for our present purpose of trying to understand the chronology of the apparently “contradictory” messages on temporal matters the Qur’an carries.

Finally, to facilitate comprehension, I am switching around the order in which these viewpoints are presented on the above-mentioned URL/website. I have rearranged them in some sort of chronological order and divided these into 2 sub-categories:

A. The website’s views on what Muhammad said and did; and

B. The website’s views on what Muslims have done after Muhammad died.

Before launching into the nuts and bolts of my explanations, one further point that might help our discussion is that I have divided the prophet’s 23-years’ ministry into the following four

Phases1, that I will refer to in the discussion below. Each phase carries a different ethos of the evolving religion Muhammad preached, based upon the evolving socio-political “realities”:

Phase Period (CE) Location Types of Revelations % of total revelations

I 610-620 Mecca Invitation and Spirituality ~ 25%

II 620-631 Mecca-Medina Confrontation and Hostility ~ 75%

III 631-632 Medina Conciliation and Amity ~ 0.1%

IV 632 (Last 2 wks Medina Reversion and Animosity No revelation of Muhammad’s life) (Muhammad was delirious)

And now, here are my responses to the reasons offered at the above URL/website on the basis of which it concludes that Islam is not a religion of peace:

A. MUHAMMAD’S ACTIONS

1. Website view: Muhammad ordered no less than 65 military encounters In many (in the Qur’an) he said he has been “ordered by Allah to fight men until they testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger.” In the last nine years of his life, he ordered no less than 65 military campaigns to do exactly that.

Response: Actually, Muhammad reportedly ordered one hundred military encounters during his last 9-10 years2; and Muslims were reportedly the aggressors in 98 of these. There was probably a lot of plunder and rape that accompanied these victories. But here is a point to keep in mind: The defeated people were generally given three choices: to convert to Muhammad’s religion3, pay jiza (a tax on non-Muslims living in a Muslim country), or be killed.

Torah/Old Testament: No defeated person was given an option to convert; all were killed; even their animals. For example: “Destroy not only Amalek men, women, and children, but also their ox, sheep, camel, and ass”. (1 Samuel 15:3).

2. Website view: Muhammad inspired his men to war with the basest of motives, using captured loot, sex and a gluttonous paradise as incentives. He beheaded captives, enslaved children and raped women captured in battle.

Response: Muhammad reportedly did not rape anyone personally. He married women from three defeated Jewish tribes4, and respected the decision of another to not marry him. She (Rayhana) lived as his concubine instead. But, reports of beheadings (usually of people who refused to convert to Islam), enslavement of women and children, and rape by his soldiers are probably correct.

Torah/Old Testament: In this way, Muslim warriors were no different from those of other conquerors. Stories of such rape are also found, for example, in Deut. 20:10-14 and 21:10-14, as well as Judges 21:10-24. 3. Website view: Muhammad had people killed for insulting him or for criticizing Islam.

Response: The charge is accurate. For example, Muhammad ordered the assassinations of Ka’b bin Ashraf, Abu Afak, and Asma bint Marwan (a lady) (624-25 CE), because they reportedly composed satirical songs against him (http://www.alim.org/library/biography/khalifa/content/KAB/4/2). Two other similar assassinations ordered by Muhammad were of Khalid bin Sufyan (625 CE) and Rafia’h bin Qays (629 CE).

Torah/Old Testament: But, such killings are also reported here. For example: “. . . Absalom has struck down all the king’s sons, and not one of them is left.” (2 Samuel 13:30).

4. Website view: Muhammad directed Muslims to wage war on other religions and bring them into submission to Islam. Within the first few decades following his death, his Arabian companions invaded and conquered Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Zoroastrian lands. A mere 25 years after Muhammad’s death, Muslim armies had captured land and people within the modern borders of over 28 countries outside of Saudi Arabia.

Response: This is an accurate assessment. But here is what happened: Two weeks after the Qur’an had declared, in its last revelation, that Islam was to be a religion of peace and had asked Muhammad to establish fraternal relations with Jews, Christians, and other ‘People of the Book’ (verses 5.3 and 5.5), Muhammad reportedly developed high fever, became delirious, and, in that state, ordered invasion of Christian Palestine (Waqidi, p. 546), thereby violating – in delirium – the final Qur’anic command to extend the hand of peace to Jews, Christians, and other ‘People of the Book’, that he had received only two weeks earlier. That order, given by a delirious Muhammad on his deathbed, was implemented as the first Muslim aggression after Muhammad died. Using that invasion as precedence along with the belief that mujahid (warriors who undertake jihad) are rewarded with “vestal virgins” in Paradise, such aggression continued for 1,000+ years leading to the unprecedented and dramatic expansion of the Muslims empire, as the website claims. Currently, extremists have picked up the thread and are continuing with their desire to re-establish the Islamic Caliphate. (Ahmed, International Journal on World Peace. Dec. 2017).

Torah/Old Testament account: This is what Deuteronomy 13:6-11 states:
“If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.”

Generally, most kingdoms around the world have been driven by the same desire of lust for power and glory; and the area they each ruled was often limited only by each king’s ability to capture and subjugate others. That Muslims captured such a vast area in that short a time underscores the hypnotic power of the Qur’anic verses they were incited by.

5. Website view: After Muhammad died, the people who lived with him and knew his religion best immediately fell into war with each other.

Response: That infighting among Muslims continues to this day.

Torah/Old Testament: But the infighting between the House of Israel and the House of Judah probably is also replete with human lust for power and subjugation of others.

See, for example, Judges 20:44 “… And there fell of Benjamin 18,000 men of valor . . .”

B. CURRENT TIMES

6. Website view: 18,000 people were reportedly killed in terror attacks committed explicitly in the name of Islam in just the last ten years.

Response: This appears to be a valid assertion regarding the number of such religion-based killings perpetuated by extremist Muslims over several years, although we do not know the “ten years” being referred to in this case. However, a point to remember is that, in most cases, the victims were also Muslims. For example, in 2015, extremist Muslims reportedly killed 1,000+ people in Pakistan — mostly other Muslims — and injured another 1,500 (Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, 2016). Why do some Muslims kill other Muslims? I suggest it is often a combination of reasons, including: inter-group rivalry; incorrect reading of the Qur’an and hadith; biased views of other Muslim sects/groups; ineffective security measures; intolerance for other viewpoints; and low level of education among Muslims. The level of intolerance among extremist Muslims is dramatized by the 2011 assassination of Salman Taseer, Governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, who was killed by his own bodyguard, because Taseer felt the country’s “Blasphemy Law” was “un-Islamic” and deserved to be abolished (Wikipedia). While that assassin was recently hanged, his admirers have converted his grave into a “shrine” that reportedly attracts many. On the day he was hanged, approximately $80,000 was reportedly raised in donations for the construction of this shrine (https://www.dawn.com/news/1302289). I imagine most of this money – in fact probably all of it — must have come from people who must have incited the assassin in the first place.

Question: Should not those who incited the assassin be also tried for their role in the assassination?

7. Website view: Muslims continued their Jihad against other religions for 1400 years, checked only by the ability of non-Muslims to defend themselves. To this day, not a week goes by that Islamic fundamentalists do not attempt to kill Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists explicitly in the name of Allah. None of these other religions are at war with each other.

Point to consider: See Point 4 above.

Torah/Old Testament account: See Point 4 above.

8. Website view: Islam is the only religion that has to retain its membership by formally threatening to kill anyone who leaves it.

Response: The order to kill apostates was given by Muhammad in Phase II of his ministry. But this changed. For example, after the Treaty of Hudaibiya (628 CE), the Qur’an permitted Muslim women, who wanted to leave Islam, to do so:
60.11. And if any of your wives deserts you to the Unbelievers, and you have an accession (by the coming over of a woman from the other side), then pay to those whose wives have deserted the equivalent of what they had spent (on their dower). And fear Allah, in Whom you believe.

And, in Phase III (631-632 CE), Islam turned 180 degrees and became a religion of peace with complete freedom of religion:

Let there be no compulsion in religion (2.256).

Torah/Old Testament account: In addition to the punishment for apostasy we saw earlier in Deut. 13:6-11, consider the following passage:

If you or your sons at all turn from following Me, and do not keep My commandments and My statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land which I have given them; and this house which I have consecrated for My name I will cast out of My sight. Israel will be a proverb and a byword among all peoples (1 Kings 9:6-7). 9. Website view: Islam teaches that non-Muslims are less than fully human. Muhammad said that Muslims can be put to death for murder, but that a Muslim could never be put to death for killing a non-Muslim.

Response: I am not sure whether this charge is entirely correct, While Phase II of Muhammad’s ministry was “unkind” to non-Muslims, those verses were superseded by Phase III verses such as:

Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loves those who are just. (verse 60.8).

In Phase III, among the very last actions the prophet reportedly did, was to send the following clarification to the Christian kings of Himyar:

“A Jew or Christian, who becomes a sincere Muslim of his own accord and obeys the religion of Islam is a believer with the same rights and obligations. If one of them holds fast to his religion, he is not to be turned away from it.” (Ishaq 643 and 647; Tabari 9/75).

Torah/Old Testament account: Several discriminatory Torah/Old Testament verses affirm Jews as “Chosen People of God” who, then have discriminated against the “gentiles”.

10. Website view: The Quran never once speaks of Allah’s love for non-Muslims, but ​there are hundreds of verses that speak of Allah’s cruelty toward and hatred of non- Muslims. Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!” (The last words from the cockpit of Flight 93).
Response: The Qur’an’s posture of hostility and confrontation with non-Muslims, which

​prevailed during Muhammad’s Phase II (620-630 CE), was suddenly replaced by a posture of amity and ade up the final revelation Muhammad received, about a month before he died: 5.3 This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion. . . . 5.5.. This day are (all) things good and pure made lawful unto you. The food of the People of the Book is lawful unto you and yours is lawful unto them. (Lawful unto you in marriage) are (not only) chaste women who are believers, but chaste women among the People of the Book, revealed before your time. . . .

Based on these verses, among Muhammad’s last guidance (hadith) was the following clarification he sent to the Christian kings of Himyar:

“A Jew or Christian, who becomes a sincere Muslim of his own accord and obeys the religion of Islam is a believer with the same rights and obligations. If one of them holds fast to his religion, he is not to be turned away from it.” (Ishaq 643 and 647; Tabari 9/75).

Torah/Old Testament: As we saw above:

“If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known, gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again.” (Deuteronomy 13:6-11).

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Let us all resolve to look at the positive sides of other religions – and question our own religions for any violent passage therein against other religions. The Torah, Bible, and Qur’an are, unfortunately, replete with such “contrarian” messages on war and peace; punishment and forgiveness; and “holier than thou” and “we are all in it together” attitudes. As humans, we cannot understand why did God put reactive and proactive messages in these books. It will be fantastic if we could try to understand the context in which those violence-inciting passages might have been revealed – and the extent to which those might not be applicable presently.

I can understand people’s frustrations when they learn of contemporary extremist Muslims committing atrocities in the name of Islam. This happens because extremists are continuing to follow superseded Phase II verses that support their psyche, instead of adopting a “chronological” view and choosing Phase III verses. But this is not entirely their fault: Since the Qur’an is not arranged chronologically, the book does not tell us which guidance superseded which other guidance. And, over the past 1,400 there has, apparently not been much movement to sort out these differences. In addition to a lack of knowledge on the chronology of revelations, a fear of reprisal from the “other side” might also have been a factor. Thus, the two challenges Muslims face are:

(1) To understand that Phase II verses were superseded by Phase III verses; and

(2) To identify Phase III verses. While this is an ongoing task, the bottom line is that all Phase III verses are of peace.

I request individuals having any idea of why do the Torah, Old Testament, and Qur’an, carry so many passages of violence, exclusion, and intolerance, to share these with the rest of us via similar postings on the Muslim Council of America website.

QUR’AN AS PRECURSOR OF INTERFAITH HARMONY.

Looking ahead, I’d like to share these three Qur’anic verses:

2.62. Those who believe (in the Qur’an), and those who follow the Jewish (scriptures), and the Christians, and the Sabians – any who believe in God and the Last Day and work righteousness – shall have their reward with their Lord;

4.152. To those who believe in Allah and His apostles and make no distinction between any of the apostles, we shall soon give their (due) rewards; and

10.47. To every people (was sent) a messenger.

I suggest these were revealed in Muhammad’s Phase III. So, in Muhammad’s final year, the Qur’an became not only a religion of peace, but also a precursor of interfaith harmony. Muhammad also prophesized as follows:

Allah will raise for this community at the end of every hundred years the one who will renovate its religion for it (Hadith Abu Dawood 2011).

Who could have been among these reformers in recent times? This makes for an exciting research project for us all. Could this, for example, include founders of the various “New Age” religions, born during the past 200 years, with their individual message stressing peaceful living and interfaith harmony? We should expect such reformers in the future also, especially when humanity spreads to other planets.

Summary: After a decade of focusing on spirituality and wonders of creation (Phase I), the religion Muhammad preached became an inward-looking, violent, and intolerant movement (Phase II), battling enemies on all sides. Only in the prophet’s last year (631-32 CE, Phase III), did the religion change directions and promote an interfaith outlook of peace.

It is unfortunate that Muhammad developed high fever in the last two weeks of his life (Phase IV) and, in that condition, ordered invasion of Christian Palestine. While it “violated” the last Qur’anic guidance (verses 5.3 and 5.5) that he had received only two weeks earlier, let us remember that this post-Qur’anic action was ordered by a person in delirium.

Thus, if we follow Phase III guidance that Muhammad received, Islam is a religion of unmitigated peace and precursor of interfaith harmony, which honors, respects, and welcomes other spiritually-based religions. Indeed, it makes us marvel at the many wonderful ways to reach the Creator of us all.

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