Islam and Violence


I apologize if this has been discussed before. Curious to hear thoughts on whether Islam has a propensity toward violence. It seems that nearly every place in the world where there is terrorism and violence, Islam can be found. And it has been that way for years.

Is Islam inherently violent? There are books and treatise of thought out there that say that Islam pretends to be a religion of peace, but in reality is bent on world domination by whatever means necessary.

I see having no central authority as a strength and a weakness. It makes it possible for al-qaeda to take root, but it could be its undoing as more and more people wake up to its harsh reality (for example, the father of the 14 year old Pakistani girl who merely wanted an education).

How do you see this playing out over the next 20-30 years? I think it is having its swan song right now, and will slowly diminish because of the internet and the general secularization of the world.

Finally, I am no arch conservative, but why is it that American liberals are not more forceful in their criticism of Islam? It runs against all that they hold dear: women’s rights, extreme religiosity, etc.

Oh boy…this is going to be a huge mess, SJ. No doubt you mean well, but that can only go so far. :smiley:

As to your central question, there is this idea that just as Christianity went through very violent periods and there was also violence involved in some episodes or regions, so it is unfair to single out Islam for doing essentially what “we” did earlier, just because now it can be captured in real time and is fresh in many of our minds. While not completely off-base (in the sense that I would not pretend that Christianity hasn’t also had its own share of violence), I think that if asking about its essential character, this comparison between Islam and Christianity does not hold up so well. If we take, for instance, the first few decades of each faith as the best/purest examples (as I have met many Muslims who do, looking to the age of the “rightly-guided caliphs”, 632-661, as a sort of Islamic golden age when people really followed the Qur’an and the Sunnah), or even the first few centuries (to include the Umayyads for the Muslims, and the Early Church Fathers for us), we see a very different modus operandi among the Muslims than among the Christians. By 661 (the end of the Rashidun caliphate), the whole of what is now considered the “Middle East” had been conquered in the name of Islam by force. That is roughly thirty years after Muhammad’s death. By contrast, what was happening with Christianity roughly thirty years after Christ? St. Mark the Evangelist was being martyred in Egypt (68 AD), St. Peter in Rome (c.67 AD), etc. So one could look at this in a few different ways: The speed with which Muhammad’s immediate successors spread violence in the name of expanding their faith proves that Islam is inherently violent, or perhaps proves how quickly corrupted the original peaceful vision of Islam proved to be. (If I recall correctly from our friend Famdigy’s posts, Shia have a view closer to the latter, recognizing violence in early Islamic history to be the result of politicking on the part of the early Muslims, rather than something inherent to Islam as a thing.)

Anyway…being a member of a native Middle Eastern church, it is hard for me to find much good to say about Islam, in so far as it has interacted with populations and regions outside of its original Arabian homeland. But there are, of course, primary source documents from our bishops and other chroniclers of the early days of Islam in Egypt who are a bit more stoic about the whole thing, writing about the good that was done by the Islamic caliph, but without forgetting also the bad. From Pope St. Isaac of Rakoti (689-92), or rather the Life of Isaac written by Mina of Pshati to commemorate the good patriarch, we learn that 'Abd al-'Aziz built churches and monasteries for the monks around his city, but also that he used these to promote Islam:

He ordered the breaking of all the crosses which were in the land of Egypt, even the crosses of gold and silver. So the Christians in the country of Egypt became troubled. Then he wrote a number of notices and placed them on the doors of the churches in Misr and the Delta, saying in them: ‘Muhammad is the great messenger (al-rasul al-kabir) who is God’s, and Jesus too is the messenger of God. God does not beget and is not begotten.’ (Life of Isaac of Rakoti, 368)

So it has been at best a mix of peace and violence towards us. It makes sense if you think about it: The Qur’an affords us some very limited rights in exchange for our loyalty and possessions to be given over to the Muslims (of course, this is not a free exchange), so it behooves them to then treat us with the measure of good will that their religion allows them to show us. At the same time, however, actively helping us is discouraged (certainly things like building churches, as above, can be seen as a sort of “charm offensive”, somewhat outside of the bounds established by, say, the Pact of 'Umar, which does not permit us to build churches ourselves), as we only really exist in Islamic societies in order to serve the interests of Muslims, who would of course like to see our conversion to their way, so that one day our faith will disappear and the world will become Islamic as it was supposedly meant to be.

That is an attitude that portends violence, whether or not we see it in any given period of time or place. And that attitude is explicitly spelled out in the Qur’an, in verses such as 3:110: “You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah . If only the People of the Scripture had believed, it would have been better for them. Among them are believers, but most of them are defiantly disobedient.”

You see, we could have been as good as they are, but we’re not because we don’t believe in Muhammad’s religion… :ehh:

Anyway, if you are interested, here is a Coptic bishop’s take on the relation of Islam and Egypt, to give an idea of how people who have lived with Islam for basically all of its history see it.

Most liberals are simply ignorant of how things work in the world and instead rely on getting their information…
…From their favorite t.v. / music / movie star.

Most liberals that I know hate the Christian religion more so than they hate violence against wemon and homosexuals…
…Thus they are willing to wink at news reports that describe how muslim girls are beheaded for putting on make-up or attending schools.

I would turn your statements around by saying there are Muslim terrorists and their supporters who pretend to practice the legitimate moral principles of Islam, while the religion itself, in its diverse forms, is not inherently one that advocates violence. Judaism is regarded by some as a religion of violence with respect to the more radical forms of Zionism and of repression by the so-called ultra-Orthodox movements; whereas elements of Christianity, mainly in the past, have been involved in unjust wars and the persecution of religious minority groups. If one wishes to call Islamic supporters of violence and repression legitimate representatives of the tenets of the whole religion, one should be willing to do likewise with regard to both Judaism and the various strains of Christianity.

I disagree with that statement. You might not agree with the numbers below, but it is a better way to judge than to say because a Christian or a Jew committed violence that Islam cannot be held any more accountable. The things to be measured to answer the OP questions are the various foundational documents, not the people.

You seem to forget that historically, of the three Abrahamic religions, Islam was/is more violent. Starting with Mohammed, Islam was spread by war and violence. Until conquored by Muslim Arabs, all of North Africa, including Egypt, Palestine (after the expulsion of the Jews and Samaratins in 70 A.D., Lebanon, Syria, and what is now Turkey, and Mesopotania were mainly Christian. The people in these areas were converted by the sword, not by proselytization. Spain finally was able to remain Christian only after a protracted war after which they expelled the Moslems in 1492. A Turkish attempt to sieze Europe and convert it to Islam ended only after the siege of Vienna was broken by the Poles in the 1600’s.
I do believe the current violence against the West is due to the Imams and Muftis fighting to retain their power over the people in their areas, and is transported to Western countries by mass immigration by Moslems due to economic factors. When these imigre groups build Mosques and import Imams to be able to practice their religion, the Imams bring the poison with them under the guise of religious orthodoxy. This has happened in Germany and the UK, and has led France, Italy, and Spain to restrict Moslem activities in their countries.

Not untrue, but isn’t that rather like summarizing a knife murder as a story about a knife?

Most Muslim countries are relatively new and inherited old problems, so it’s no surprise that many of them suffer political instability and oppression.

What do you mean by violent?

I find that people who claim this often have ulterior motives.

Does it? There are some Muslims who hope to revive the caliphate for this reason among others, but even if a unified authority exited, do you really think it would be difficult to defy?

You mean a 1,400-year-old world religion of one billion followers will phase out in the next generation? :shrug:

Where are you looking and to whom are you listening?

Excellent point, unfortunately one that’s ignored – but no one seems to like airing his dirty laundry.

With all due respect, but I think the picture is more complicated than you paint it. It would be better for the discussion to avoid generalisations like this of anyone – it’s actually rather rude.


I think a better phraseology of the question would be if Islam (or any of the Abrahamic faiths) have a propensity to be hijacked for purposes that mainly lay in the political realm.

That’s where it gets a little tricky no?

In the case of your own religion Meltzer, if we’re to take segments of the historical section of the Tanakh to be true - King Saul got in trouble for not fully enacting Ha-Shem’s “ban” against the enemies of the Israelites. And the whole segment regarding Exodus and settling in the land of Canaan can be read as one massive political drama.

Moses (and by extension Aaron and Joshua) are essentially political leaders enacting the will of Ha-Shem.

However…there are other portions of the Tanakh (often ignored by critics of course) where Ha-Shem shows mercy. An offer to Abraham not only for his son, but also his willingness to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if a certain criteria was met. The promise to Noah. etc. etc.

Islam gets even trickier - especially given Mohammad’s role not only as religious leader, but essentially “front-line” warrior. He’s off leading conquest and defense of his Ummah.

But then you get statements like the one he sent to the christian monastery on Mt. Sinai.

"This is a message written by Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, far and near, we are behind them. Verily, I defend them by myself, the servants, the helpers, and my followers, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be changed from their jobs, nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they (Christians) are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, this is not to take place without her own wish. She is not to be prevented from going to her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation is to disobey this covenant till the Day of Judgment and the end of the world.”

Christianity has the most obvious prohibition, given that the founder of the religion was neither attempting to overthrow Roman rule coupled with his own personal admonishments:

But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you

How they got from there to…

Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius (Kill them all. For the Lord knoweth them that are His.)

…remains a great mystery to me.

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