The Koran is mainly an advocate of non-violence. In nearly every passage it maintains that violence should only be used in self-defence
Is Islam violent? ISIS in Syria and Iraq. In Pakistan, there is the Lashkar-e-Taiba, and the attempted murderer of the schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai. Immigrant Moroccan men roughly pushing women and fondling them in the crowd in Cologne. Murderous bombs in Paris. Ayan Hirsi Ali, a Somali female author who was raised a Muslim, writes, Violence is inherent in Islam its a destructive, nihilistic cult of death. It legitimates murder.
The late Harvard professor, Samuel Huntington, argued that in the later years of the last century and the early years of this one an uncannily high percentage of the worlds violent conflicts took place between Muslims and non-Muslims: Turks versus Greeks, Russians versus Chechens, Bosnian Muslims and Albanians versus Serbs, Armenians versus Azeris, Uighurs versus Han Chinese, Indian Hindus versus Muslims, and Arabs versus Jews.
Yet most Muslims do not commit acts of violence. If Islam is intrinsically violent then roughly a billion believers either do not understand their own religion, or are too cowardly or unfaithful to follow its precepts. That is my sarcasm but, indeed, this is what violent Islamists say.
Westerners have a tendency to create myths about the teachings of Mohammed (pbuh) in the Koran. An outrageous one is the claim that an adulterous woman should be stoned. But the only teaching in any of the worlds major religions advocating stoning can be found in the Jewish Old Testament. (Paradoxically, the Jews have not practised this for millennia but Saudi Arabia does today.)
Scholars like Huntington have given the impression that Islam is a much more violent religion than Christianity, but another point of view is Professor John Owens. He writes in his book Confronting Political Islam: A broad view of the history of the Middle East suggests that Islam is much like other religions. It is marked by times and places of conquest and brutality, but also by times and places of peace… Christendom has had its sustained spasms of violence, both to outsiders with the Crusades and fellow believers, as in the Counter Reformation and the Inquisition. And we should add as in World War I and II. We shouldnt forget that Mohammad Khatami, a former president of Iran, repeatedly condemned the 9/11 attacks and declared that suicide bombers would not go to heaven.
In 630 AD Mohammed (pbuh) himself led his troops to conquer Mecca. By the time of his death two years later most of the Arabs of the western part of Arabia were Muslims by conquest. Within 20 years of Mohammeds death Muslims had conquered large parts of the Roman Empire and had absorbed the almighty Persian. Within 100 years his followers had established an empire greater than Rome at its zenith. By the 13th and14th centuries Islam had spread as far in east as India, Indonesia and parts of China. In Africa it was introduced on the back of the slave trade.
In total contrast Christians submitted themselves to lions rather than fight and not until the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity some 300 years after Jesus death did Christianity take on the role of running a state with all its well-embedded military traditions.
It came as a great surprise to me and to others that in the months after 9/11 that President George W Bush said that Islam was a peaceful religion. Moreover, the religious scholar, Karen Armstrong, writes in her book The Battle For God: The Koran condemns all warfare as abhorrent and permits only a war of self-defence. The Koran is adamantly opposed to the use of force on religious matters.
Many detractors of Islam would argue that Bush and her are wrong. Can the Muslim armies that swept across the Middle East and into Asia only have been practicing self-defence? It is true, as she says, that the Koran is mainly an advocate of non-violence. In nearly every passage it maintains that violence should only be used in self-defence.
However, there is one, rarely quoted, important exception. In verse 9.29 the Koran says, Fight those who believe not in Allah nor in the Last Day, nor hold that for which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor abide by the religion of truth even if they are People of the Book (the Bible).
To that extent one can understand why ISIS and Al Qaeda say they have scripture on their side. Of course, this does not excuse their particular brand of savagery and brutality and their refusal to follow Mohammeds demand that the defeated be treated well.
Overwhelmingly, Muslims are a peaceful people, less prone to war than Christians and Jews. But for some violence is in their inheritance.
Jonathan Power has been a foreign affairs columnist for the International Herald Tribune for 20 years and author of the much acclaimed new book, Conundrums of Humanity the Big Foreign Policy Questions of Our Age.
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