The question crops up every time an atrocity is committed by terrorists claiming to act in the name of Islam. Invariably, reasoned voices in the media argue that the people who commit mass murder cannot be Muslims because Islam is a religion of peace. The debate which follows tends to get circular. This is largely because in the West we assume that, almost by definition, religions are about personal beliefs, spiritual development, charity and compassion. From this point of view Islam – being a religion – cannot possibly inspire or condone violence. In this post I will try to answer the title question by adopting a different perspective.
I look at Islam just like any other social idea i.e. applying conventional logic. Muslims are the followers of Muhammad. Muhammad was crystal clear that his message must be accepted in its entirety. He actually referred to those who followed him but did not do everything they were instructed to do as “hypocrites” (these day it is more common to hear about “heretics”). So was Muhammad ‘s teaching one of peace? Here are some direct quotes from Quran to help you decide for yourself:
Quran (9:5) – “So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive 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.”
Quran (3:56) – “As to those who reject faith, I will punish them with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter, nor will they have anyone to help.”
Quran (8:39) – “And fight with them until there is no more fitna (disorder, unbelief) and religion should be only for Allah”
Quran (8:12) – “I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them”
Quran (9:73) – “O Prophet! strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites and be unyielding to them; and their abode is hell, and evil is the destination.”
Quran (9:123) – “O you who believe! fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness.”
Quran (17:16) – “And when We wish to destroy a town, We send Our commandment to the people of it who lead easy lives, but they transgress therein; thus the word proves true against it, so We destroy it with utter destruction.”
Quran (25:52) – “Therefore listen not to the Unbelievers, but strive against them with the utmost strenuousness…”
Quran (66:9) – “O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites, and be stern with them. Hell will be their home, a hapless journey’s end.”
To my mind it was not. Actually, Quran and Hadiths are full of incitements to violence yet this is what Muslims are expected to accept as the word of Allah. But what about the people claiming to be Muslims who do not accept these teachings? Well, according to Muhammad himself they are not Muslims but rather hypocrites/heretics. They are like people who claim to be Christians but do not accept the Genesis or sanctity of Christ. If you heard someone say “I am a Christian but I do not accept what Christ said” you would probably respond “Ha – that means you are not a Christian!”. The same way people who do not accept the holy and infallible words of Quran, including the above blood-thirsty passages, are not really Muslims.
The above steps of logic are very simple. The only reason the issue gets muddied up is that we tend not to apply cold logic in dealing with religion. However, I do not see Islam as a religion because it has political ambitions. This is similar to the way we normally view Nazism. We could call it a “religion” and stop worrying about what it proclaims. People would then be able to gather to read “Mein Kampf”, listen to Hitler’s rants, wear Nazi uniforms, parade with the swastika flags etc. But this is not how we look at it. Nazism is a totalitarian ideology which has historically caused a lot of misery so we outlawed it. Barring the tag “religion” Islam is the same and should be viewed the same – as a totalitarian ideology.
Of course Islam could become a civilized proposition by disowning the violent passages in Quran and Hadiths – this is the “reformation” Hirsi Ali and others have been talking about. It would be a massive theological challenge which would undoubtedly lead to bloodshed in the Muslim world. Alternatively Islam could drop the political ambitions and become a true “religion” – a set of rules which people may choose to follow or ignore in their private lives. But, since Quran instructs Muslims to conquer the World, this will also never happen. So we in the West are caught in this impossible quandary. We are the heirs to the tradition of rationalism yet we feel we have to suspend rational thinking to justify doing nothing about a bunch of misfits in our midst openly following murderous instructions compiled in medieval Arabia.