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Islam

Is it a religion of violence or of peace?

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There is no consensus on the nature of Islam.

Some state that Islam is a religion of peace and moderation, "which is tolerant and encourages inter-religious dialogue for the benefit of humanity:" 1 For example:

bullet The President of the United States from 2000 to 2008, George W. Bush, has emphasized that "Islam is Peace" on a number of occasions. 2 This was both before and after the 9/11 terrorist attack.

bullet A sizeable percentage of North Americans view Islam in a positive light. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press conducted a public opinion poll among 1,500 adults on 2001-NOV-13 to 19, about two months after 9/11. Americans, particularly "conservative Republicans" repudiated an unfavorable view of Islam. The survey found that:

bulletThe percentage of Americans with a favorable view of Muslims rose from 45% in May to 59% in November.

bulletThe percentage of conservative Republicans with a favorable view of Muslims rose from 35% to 64%! 3

bullet John L. Esposito, one of America's foremost authorities and interpreters of Islam, rejects as far too simplistic the concept that Islam is a militant, expansionist, and rabidly anti-American religion. In his book: "The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality," he demonstrates the diversity of the Islamic resurgence -- and the mistakes our analysts make in assuming a hostile, monolithic Islam. 4

Others, ranging from evangelical Christians to Atheists, believe that Islam is a religion of hatred and warfare:

bulletJerry Falwell said that "...Muhammad was a terrorist. I've read enough of the history of his life written by both Muslims and non-Muslims, that he was a violent man, a man of war." 6,7 That particular comment triggered a riot in India which killed at least 14 people.

bullet

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) singled out leading evangelical Christian Franklin Graham. He allegedly claimed:

"... terrorism is part of 'mainstream' Islam and that the Quran, Islam's revealed text, 'preaches violence.' Graham also called Islam an 'evil and wicked religion.' "

bullet

CAIR listed two additional leading conservative Christian pastors -- Pat Robertson and Chuck Colson -- who, they say:

"... have echoed Graham's Islamophobic smears."

bullet

CAIR listed a number of socially conservative commentators such as William Lind, who suggests that American Muslims

"...should be encouraged to leave [the U.S.]. They are a fifth column in this country."

They also listed Ann Coulter, Jerry Vines, and Paul Weyrich.

bullet

Bill Maher, who is known for his attacks on all forms of religion, said:

"What it comes down to is that there is one religion in the world that kills you when you disagree with them. They say, ‘Look, we’re a religion of peace and if you disagree we’ll cut your f---ing head off." 8

bullet

Conservative Christian author and radio pastor Dave Hunt claims:

"...there are more than 100 verses in the Qur'an advocating the use of violence to spread Islam. In the Qur'an, Allah commands Muslims, 'Take not the Jews and Christians as friends....Slay the idolaters [non-Muslims] wherever ye find them.... Fight against such...as believe not in Allah...' (Surah 5:51; 9:5,29,41, etc..). Though most Muslims would shrink from obeying such commands, this is official Islam and it cannot change without admitting that Muhammad was a false prophet and murderer." 5

bullet

Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists posted a message on his facebook page saying:

"Never give up a right without a fight. I will defame Islam if I want to. It doesn't mean I hate Muslims. It means Islam is a sh---y religion that worships a pedophile as morally perfect." 9

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Which point of view is right?

They both are.

Islam, like Christianity, is not a homogenous religion. It is divided into many traditions, the main ones being Sunni, Shi'ite, and Sufi.

A very small, radical, hate-filled, extremist, fundamentalist, terrorist wing does exist. Many of its followers follow a fundamentalist version of Islam called Wahhabi. However, Islam also has a much larger peaceful, moderate wing. Unfortunately, the former seem to capture all the media's attention, while the latter is rarely heard from or discussed by non-Muslims.

It obvious that no one individual speaks for all Muslims. Islam has no single central human authority, comparable to the pope and Vatican for the Roman Catholic Church, or to various General Assemblies and the Lambeth Conferences for the Anglican Communion. Rather, it is divided into many traditions and schools.

The spread of terrorism within Islam appears to be due to the presence and interaction of a number of factors:

bulletA general renaissance of the religion of Islam throughout North Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia.

bullet The after-effects of previous colonial oppression of Muslim countries.

bullet The presence of American military bases in predominately Muslim countries. This appears to have been the main factor motivating Al Qaeda to organize the 9/11 terrorist attack.

bullet Authoritarian dictatorships in the Middle East -- many of which are artificially propped up with American foreign policy -- with their depressing record of corruption, civil rights violations, and low standard of living. This results in rage and a loss of hope among their public.

bulletThe lack of separation between religion and the state in Muslim countries.

bullet

Three main conflicts:

  • One of overwhelming importance in the Middle East is between Jews and Muslims. It involves Israel, the Gaza Strip, the occupied territories, the future of Jerusalem, and the right of return for Arabs and other Muslims who fled when the state of Israel was declared by the United Nations in 1948. The eventual terms of settlement are obvious to all commentators and politicians. However, it cannot be agreed to by the groups involved because each side would first have to give up more concessions that their own public will currently tolerate.

  • One in Sudan between the predominately Muslim north and the predominately Christian and Animist south. This conflict has resulted in the deaths of at least two million persons and a major flow of refugees. However, a path towards peace is being implemented and a plebescite in the south of the country was successfully conducted in early 2011. The resultant separation of Sudan into two countries has resulted in a lessening of violence.

  • One between Hindus and Muslims in in Kashmir. This is a state claimed by both India, a predominately Hindu country, and Pakistan, a predominately Muslim country. Both countries have nuclear weapons and long-term animosity towards each other. Again, the solution is obvious: to allow the people of Kashmir to determine their own future through a plebescite. Options would be to join India, to join Pakistan, to become an independent state, to split Kasmir along the existing Line of Control -- or a line to be negotiated -- and have one part join India and the other join Pakistan. However, polls currently show that a plebiscite would have Kashmir join Pakistan. Thus, India will not agree to a vote.

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Books about Islamophobia:

Book cover image Nathan Lean, "The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims," Pluto Press, (2012). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store Available from Amazon.com in paperback for $10.85 plus postage, or $9.88 in Kindle format.

From the foreward by John L. Esposito:

"Nathan Lean’s The Islamophobia Industry could not be more timely or critical. This is an extraordinarily important and groundbreaking study. It exposes the multi-million-dollar cottage industry of fear mongers and the network of funders and organizations that support and perpetuate bigotry, xenophobia, racism, and produce a climate of fear that sustains a threatening social cancer."

book cover image Peter Gottschalk & Gabriel Greenberg, "Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy," Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, (2007). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store Available from Amazon.com in hardcover for $13.01 plus postage, or $12.36 in Kindle format.

From Amazon's book description:

"The term 'Islamophobia' accurately reflects the largely unexamined and deeply ingrained anxiety many Americans experience when considering Islam and Muslim cultures. Historically, Americans have seldom given voice to these anxieties since they have had, until the last half-century, few connections to Muslim cultures and a small domestic Muslim minority. However, in times of crisis, such as the Iranian hostage situation or, most recently, the September 11th attacks, the long-simmering resentments, suspicions, and fears inherited along with a Christian European heritage manifest themselves most directly in conditions that appear to affirm Americans' darkest concerns. Like a vicious cyclone feeding off of its own energy, Islamophobia takes uncommon events as evidence fitting its worst expectations and turns these into proof that perpetuates those ill-informed expectations."

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Related section:

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References:

  1. "UN 1st Millennium Peace Summit: Uzbek President Islam Karimov honors Shaykh Muhammad Nazim & Shaykh Hisham Kabbani," 2000-SEP-8, at: http://www.naqshbandi.org/events/
  2. " 'Islam is Peace' Says President: Remarks by the President at Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C.," 2002-SEP-17, at:  http://www.whitehouse.gov/
  3. "U.S. Muslims' Image Gains, Poll Finds," Associated Press, 2001-DEC-7, at: http://www.latimes.com/news/ The poll's margin of error is within 3 percentage points.
  4. From a review of the book by John L. Esposito, "The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality, 3rd Edition," Oxford University Press, (1999). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  5. Dave Hunt, "A Moment for Truth," The Berean Call, 2002-SEP, at: http://www.thebereancall.org/newsletters/
  6. Program "60 Minutes," CBS-TV, 2002-OCT-6. Jerry Falwell was interviewed by Bob Simon.
  7. Jan Russell, "Falwell is America's hate machine," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, at: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/opinion/90667_russell11.shtml
  8. Chris Stedman, "Atheists Ignore Islamophobia at their Peril," Religion Dispatches, 2013-AUG-29, at: http://www.religiondispatches.org/
  9. Facebook posting, 2011-DEC-13, at: https://www.facebook.com/

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Site navigation: Home page > World Religions > Islam > here

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Copyright 2002 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-SEP-9
Latest update: 2013-JAN-31
Author: B.A. Robinson

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