In spite of the violence that is often committed in the name of Islam, it is still frequently said that Islam is a religion of peace and an entire community should not be judged by the actions of a minority of its followers. While it is clearly wrong to label all Muslims as violent when the majority is not, enough has happened to question the platitude that Islam is purely a religion of peace.
At their core, all religious teachings can be thought of as ideologies. Since all ideologies vary in the degree in which they are violent or peaceful, it is only rational to closely look at religions like Islam and examine their teachings before judging if they are peaceful or not.
While it is true that there are teachings in Islam that promote peace and harmony, it is not hard to find passages in the Koran or the Hadith that have a very different message. Here is a sampling of the more violent parts of the Koran and Hadith. Note that the Hadith are things that Muhammad is thought to have said. While they are sometimes disputed (and it seems odd that Allah would not find a way for humanity to be absolutely certain of what his prophet said) the ones given are thought to be some of the most reliable and have a chain of witnesses tracing them to Muhammad (unlike the Koran).
From the Koran
Quran (9:73) O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites! Be harsh with them. Their ultimate abode is hell, a hapless journey’s end.
Quran (9:29) – Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.
Quran (9:5) – So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them.
From the Hadith
Bukhari (52:177) – Allah’s Apostle said, “The Hour will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. “O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.”
Tabari 9:69 “Killing Unbelievers is a small matter to us”
Bukhari (52:256) – The Prophet… was asked whether it was permissible to attack the pagan warriors at night with the probability of exposing their women and children to danger. The Prophet replied, “They (i.e. women and children) are from them (i.e. pagans).” (Making it permissible to attack even if innocent civilians are killed. Sound familiar).
Bukhari (52:220) – Allah’s Apostle said… ‘I have been made victorious with terror’
In defense of their religion, Muslims have three major arguments to deny that Islam is violent and is in fact peaceful:
1. The original Arabic does not convey the same meaning.
It is pretty hard to believe the translation could be so far off as to convey a totally different meaning. Besides, one would think if anything, and there are Arabic speakers who say as much, that the translations actually sound less violent than the original Arabic. Furthermore, if the vast majority of the world which does not speak classical Arabic is not hearing his true word, logic would dictate that Allah would find a way to make sure the translations were done properly or do something miraculous like enable everyone to understand Arabic.
2. It is only allowing Muslims to defend themselves and Islam in fact forbids wars of aggression.
If a god wanted to tell people they could defend themselves, why not just say that directly? How exactly do you judge what is self defense and what is aggression (both sides in just about any conflict claim to be acting in self defense)? Surely a god could find a way to tell people to defend themselves that did not lead many of them to think he was justifying murder and conquest. A book talking about self defense surely would use those words.
3. The violent versus are being taken out of context.
Under what context is telling people they can kill divine guidance? Looking at the Koran, the context rarely mitigates and actually often makes many of the more violent parts worse. Besides, the Koran is supposed to be a guide for ALL humanity for ALL times and not just guidance to one group of people. A perfect book for all humanity would be written in a context that had all humanity in mind, and a god could surely speak in a way that could not easily be taken out of context anyway.
A further problem with these excuses is that there are many very devout Muslims who do believe with all their hearts that Islam justifies violence in Allah’s name. If that was not the intention of the Koran and it is the word of a god, what does that say about the ability of this supposedly infallible being to communicate with his creations?
In the end, most followers of Islam who do not believe in violence will likely point to the more peaceful parts of Islamic teachings. However, that does not change the fact that other parts of Islam have a different message which others follow. It can be a religion of peace for those who want peace, but it can also be a religion of war for those inclined to war.