Is Islam Inherently Violent?

Unlike Christianity Islam had no Reformation or Enlightenment neither does it have the theological tools of ‘exegesis’ and ‘hermeneutics’ (Scriptural interpretation); so how do we expect Muslims to deal with the 200 violent verses in the Qur’an?

The period TV drama Wolf Hall reminded me again that it is as recently as four hundred years ago, when (like ISIS) “Christian” England was beheading, torturing and burning people to death. So we need to approach the violence question in Islam, with that in mind.

Violence by Muslims in the name of Islam is rightly under scrutiny, but it is by nations which have a four centuries head-start on agreeing not to behave like that anymore. The good news however, is that the behaviour of jihadi Muslims is triggering debate – even among fellow Muslims – about ‘what it is in Islam that turns people into demons while they belong to a faith which, if you look at the five pillars, is an extraordinary benign religion’. (1)

What Muslims are saying

A “Muslim atheist” Ahmed Harqan, speaking on a TV talk show, blamed Islam when he said: ‘What has ISIS done that Muhammad did not do?’ This is shorthand for saying that the problem of Islamic violence is Islam itself.

President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, in a speech to the Egyptian religious establishment said: ‘What we hold to be holy pushes some Muslims to become a source of worry, fear, danger, murder and destruction to the whole world. You need to stand sternly and foster a religious revolution.’

Some Muslim commentators say radicalisation is rooted in the fact that some Muslims in the West are feeling alienated; polite racism and resentment, rather than the effect of Islamic theology per se.

Other Muslims blame authoritarian Arab rulers who for decades imposed ultra-conservative Islam with strict enforcement of mediaeval shari’a law i.e. Wahhabism. This has provoked the violent backlash, which uses religious language as a fig-leaf of respectability for so called Islamic State (ISIS), Al Qaeda and Boko Haram.

Meanwhile political scientist M. Steven Fish (Univ of California) said: ‘There is very little empirical evidence that Islam (per se) is violent.’ In his book Are Muslims Distinctive? he found murder rates in Muslim-majority nations to be substantially lower and instances of political violence no more prevalent than in the West.

So what is the truth about Islam?

The bottom line is that the Qur’an does give credence (i.e. for those Muslims who are looking for it) to choose violent verses which foster (at best) a distrustful attitude towards non-Muslims and (at worst) requires them to engage in violence to protect or expand Muslim political influence. It is to these “dark texts” that the minority jihadists appeal for their justification.

So while the vast majority of ‘ordinary Muslims’ are decent and fair-minded individuals who are not inherently violent – the minority who have a political agenda are. They thrive on the “dark texts” to justify their personal preference for enforcing their political and egotistical objectives.

Where I stand?

The “grace and truth” position causes me to stand with the Muslims who argue that a balanced understanding of Islam is being “infected” by the wrong use of its “dark texts” to justify violence. All Islamic governments and officially recognised clerics can only counter this by publicly offering a clearer and healthier Islamic teaching for the 21st century – but that brings us back to the issue of the day – “reformation in the house of Islam”.

Source: (1) Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (journalist), Readers Digest, March 2006

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