Islam - a Religion of Peace?
(Considering Muslim claims)

The western media is filled with claims that Islam is a religion of peace, that Muslims are misunderstood, that only a small percentage of radicals have hijacked press coverage and they alone are the real threat. Those who make any claim to the contrary are branded as alarmists and fear-mongers and sometimes far worse. As a student of history, I'll take the risk of being summarily dismissed as one of the latter, while allowing some facts and questions to make my position clear.

Claim: Christianity has had its fair share of barbarity as well; Christians have no right to claim Islam to be any worse.

Response: Undeniably people and governments acting in the name of Christianity have perpetuated atrocities throughout history. The Roman Catholic crusades and inquisitions are perhaps the best example; even Puritan excesses in the founding of the United States could be cited. Yet in the face of this historical evidence a greater truth remains. Every so-called church, professed Christian government or individual who has adopted and acted upon a belief system that has allowed them to kill and subjugate others has acted in opposition to the actions and teachings of the founder of Christianity: Jesus Christ. While they may claim justifications through contextually isolated passages of the Old Testament, they cannot offer one positive example from the recorded life and words of Jesus in the pages of the New Testament to justify their behavior. Simply put, militant or terroristic "Christians" are bad Christians, indeed acting as non-believers.

While there are some passages within the Qur'an (alt. Koran) that offer peaceful intentions to others, when contextually ordered chronologically, these give way to orders of subjugation and annihilation. In fact, from the very chronological beginning, nowhere in the book are there offers of peaceful intentions with anyone other than Christians or Jews. The "idolaters" such as Hindu's have always had no place in the Muslim world. The prophet Muhammad's rejection, by the Jews and Christians of his day, gave way to the later teachings of the need to forcibly subdue, convert, or annihilate even those who had been earlier offered peace (so long as they would accept Islam's dominance and claims). The example of Muhammad himself was that of forceful dominance and military conquest. Simply put, militant or terroristic Muslims are following in the footsteps of their founder. It could be argued that "Muslims" who don't follow or support these methodologies are bad Muslims, perhaps acting as non-believers.

Claim: Muslims just want to be a part of this democratic society too. They want to be a part of the larger pluralistic tapestry that is America.

Response: Throughout history, in addition to direct military expansion, Muslims have lived as minority populaces in many countries or regions. With notable exceptions, they have often peacefully co-existed with the dominate cultures surrounding them. Indeed, the same is true in some nations today. Yet, again, a fact remains. In almost every situation where Muslims have become the majority, often by natural population expansion or immigration, they have ceased to tolerate the remaining minorities. Utilizing the area longest inhabited by Muslims, it can be seen that over the centuries every single minority population within these now Muslim countries have been persecuted and suppressed. From the Copts of Egypt and the Christians of Armenia, to the ancient Nestorians and Syriac Christians throughout Mesopotamia, these populations were often obliterated, at best becoming mere shadows of their original size. Conversion to them is almost always punishable by death, or even attempting to return to them having previously converted to Islam. A few modern Islamic nations hold nominal positions defending the minorities within, yet the facts-on-the-ground rarely support these formal positions. Almost a millennia and a half of Islamic history is bathed in blood, conquest, and subjugation. Jewish expulsion from Muslim lands in the mid 20th century was merely another chapter. Indeed the very existence of Israel as a free land, in their heartland, is an untenable reality to the Islamic world.

Every case of Muslim tolerance, of their minority populations, has historically proven to be temporary. The longest periods have been only where there has been political or economic advantage in this toleration. Majority Muslim nations have readily imposed a special religious tax on non-Muslims (jizya), and historically have even alternately demanded the "tribute of children (devshirmeh)" where non-Muslims had to give a proportionate number of their sons to be raised by the state as elite solider/slaves. While the latter would not be tolerated on the world stage today, the special taxation of non-Muslims still is.

Numerous Muslim leaders have stated directly or indirectly that western democracy is fundamentally opposed to Islam. This is one of the reasons that democracies struggle to exist within the Muslim world, historically and currently. Until a person's right to independent thought and conscience is guaranteed, even when it conflicts with the Quran, people can never be truly free to vote for the person of their own choice. It becomes far easier for religious leaders to define who should be voted for based upon their understanding of the Qur'an. Within majority Muslim populaces, of course, non Muslims are never to be given authority over a Muslim. This is not to say that western democracy is the only valid form of government, only to say that Islam's ultimate focus is on creating an Islamic government. The whole idea of a "secular" or non-religious government is merely something to be tolerated until a religious one can exist.

Claim: Islam welcomes a free exchange of ideas and free speech.

Response: Calls for the death of artists depicting Mohammad, likewise for those making disparaging remarks about their Prophet or Islam itself. This is the norm throughout the Muslim world. Academic inquiry into Islam or Mohammed is highly discouraged, mostly because any findings contrary to the Qur'an, or the interpretation of the religious leaders, come at risk to life and limb.

Fictional histories and denials of the Jewish Holocaust or the historical existence of ancient Israel, and even circumstances regarding the establishment of modern Israel, all have become widely accepted norms. Popular blood libels concerning Jews are legendary and widely believed within Muslim lands. While it is true that none of this is inherent to the Qur'an, it is certainly endemic to the Islamic world.

Claim: The vast majority of Muslims are opposed to the terrorist acts and actions of Muslim radicals.

Response: Muslims on the street in most Middle Eastern nations celebrate the terrorist ambitions and attacks on civilians perpetuated in the name of Islam on Israel. Indeed, many of the same government officials who make obligatory public statements, on the world stage, condemning the horrific outcomes, have been found to be making incendiary and contradictory statement on their national or local stage.

Even in North America, where Muslims have quickly and readily condemned terrorist attacks such as 9/11 there is still expressed sympathy for Muslim Palestinian terrorists, or in the least, that Israel is getting what it deserves. This most of all shows itself as silence and a failure to decry all of those foreign terrorist acts.

While Palestinian leaders were publicly decrying the 9/11 bombings, hosts of their people were celebrating in the streets and passing out candy to children! It was widely held to be an act of judgment against the USA by Allah.

To be opposed to terrorist acts and the actions of Muslim radicals can not be construed to be opposed only to the ones you dislike, it must be in opposition to all such violence wherever it takes place and regardless of whom it is against.

In Summary: I'll believe that the world religion of Islam is a religion of peace when:

  • A majority of Muslims (and not just the public face of governments) openly accept the right of Israel to exist as a nation.

  • A majority of Muslims openly accept that all individuals have a fundamental right to convert to and practice whatever religion they wish.

  • A majority of Muslims acknowledge that non Muslims can make drawings of Mohammed, even caricatures, or make critical remarks about him, without deserving to be killed. Even for Christians to call him a false prophet. (I didn't say they have to like it. If Christians thought they could kill every person that made a disparaging remark or illustration of Christ, or deny that he is the son of God as do Muslims, there would be a worldwide bloodbath. Again, Christians don't have to like it; rather the New Testament calls them to tolerate it as the expected acts of non-believers). This does not deny the right of peaceful protest or academic inquiry, rather it encourages it.

  • A majority of Muslims openly condemn all acts of terrorism in the name of Muhammad, whether against the western world, including the United States, or against Israel. Cursory condemnations by government heads and spokespersons are insufficient - we all know that politicians of every stripe will say whatever they need to for political ends.

For the record, I'll define a majority of Muslims by the simple definition of a majority of the total adherents using the name Muslim. This means, of course, that it would take vast numbers in the long term Muslim nations of the Middle East and Asia. The fallacy of the western world is in believing that a majority of Muslims within their borders is a significant representation of the Muslim religion as a whole. Western Muslim toleration follows the historical pattern, previously mentioned, of accommodating others until they become a majority. Once a majority, the non-Muslim minority needs pray that they remain an economical or political necessity.

Additional reading:

Article by Brent MacDonald, Lion Tracks Ministries (c) 2009
Non-profit duplication is permitted. A courtesy email is appreciated.