Guest essay on the topic: Does Islam inspire violence?

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frightening-passages-in-the-koran-that-can-be-linked-to-isis-behavior

Does Islam inspire violence?

Background

As a Kiwi who was in New York during 9/11, I’ve since been consumed by the question of how Islam – a religion and therefore presumably peaceful – could possibly be associated with such abhorrent mass murder. Unfortunately, it’s proven impossible to answer on the basis of secondary sources – being a highly-polarising issue, there’s no end of hyperbole and deliberate misinformation on the topic. So I decided the only way to overcome confusion was to study the most sacred text of Islam for myself. I wanted to know whether the words therein could be linked in any way to the brutality inflicted not only by Islamic terrorists but also by Muslim governments enforcing strict Islamic law (Sharia).

Disclaimer: I’m not an expert on Islam so I apologise if anything below is inaccurate. And having been caught up in 9/11 I’m probably biased. On the other hand, I don’t hold strong political or religious views (I’m essentially a mildly liberal agnostic). I have friends from a wide variety of cultures, and over the years I’ve enjoyed the company of several Muslim acquaintances and colleagues. I have no objection to multiculturalism – as an avid traveller I love spending time with people from different backgrounds and I think migrants often bring enthusiasm, a strong work ethic, and valuable experience. Nevertheless, I’ve come to the conclusion that while Western countries should continue to welcome skilled immigrants from almost every culture, race, and religion, those committed to Islamic ideology may pose a genuine threat to secular society. That’s just an opinion, though I’ll attempt to justify it with verifiable evidence.

The Holy Quran

My main concern is with regard to the Quran itself. I’ve read an abridged, chronologically-ordered version, and supplemented my reading with complete chapters from online translations. I expected to find some rhetoric against non-Muslims, but was surprised at the extent of this. In fact the entire Quran is basically a long, repetitive, angry diatribe against unbelievers – anyone sceptical of Muhammad’s claim there is one true God, Allah, who chose Muhammad as the last of His prophets, and revealed the Holy Quran to him through the angel Gabriel. The Quran is full of historical tales of Allah destroying towns of unbelievers, testing the faith of various Biblical characters, and calling for Muslims themselves to fight unbelievers (purportedly in self-defence). In contrast to some other religious texts I’ve examined, I failed to find anything inspiring in the Quran. Rather, each reading left me vaguely agitated and unsettled (perhaps due to the threats of eternity in hell for those who don’t believe in Allah and his messengers). But it’s crucial that you don’t just take my word for it (or anyone else’s) – please check it out for yourself. Reading the entire text would be very tedious, but in my opinion you can select one or two chapters at random and get a fair idea of the tone of the whole Quran. Here’s one online translation:

Both the Quran (and Hadith – the deeds and words of Muhammad) indisputably contain a lot of aggression towards non-Muslims. It’s all there in black and white for anyone to read (and the message is consistent across different translations). Most Muslim scholars freely admit this, but often assert that it must be interpreted in the context of the period. They say that the Medinan Quran’s repeated calls for Muslims to convert, subjugate, or kill non-Muslims were only supposed to apply to those who were “persecuting” (a broad term that includes ridiculing) Muhammad and his followers in the seventh century. But the more straightforward interpretation (which ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups favour) is that these core principles are meant to be applied to all unbelievers worldwide “until all religion is for Allah”. This interpretation makes more sense for many reasons, the main one being that Allah proclaimed the Quran was to be applied universally for all time – the literal, perfect, eternal word of God. But this article (by a Muslim author) highlights some of the ambiguity:

As an aside, some influential figures (such as the president of the US) often say Islam is a “religion of peace”, and strictly speaking that’s correct. The catch is, Muslims believe that peace will be achieved only when the entire world is Dar al-Islam (governed by Islamic law). Of course, Shia and Sunni sects violently disagree as to who should lead Islam in its global conquest, but that’s another story.

Islamic Law

My second concern is that, however the Quran is interpreted, the various forms of Sharia (Islamic law, derived from the Quran and Hadith) are undeniably oppressive in many of their rules – particularly towards women and girls, homosexuals, and non-Muslims. And many implementations of Sharia in the world today still inflict barbaric punishments such as public flogging, stoning, limb amputation, and various cruel methods of execution. Wikipedia probably has the best general summary:

The Muslim People

The inspiration for oppression and violence in the name of Islam is no mystery to anyone who takes the time to read some of the Quran for themselves, and to examine how Sharia is implemented in Muslim countries. The evidence is clear, and frankly it’s surprising that so many people insist that Islam is essentially peaceful. On the other hand, the Bible and Torah also contain a lot of violence, yet Christians and Jews aren’t known for their global networks of terrorists. So the critical question is: Do the majority of the 1.6 billion Muslims take the teachings of the Quran literally? Or do most Muslims disregard the aggression towards non-Muslims, and resent living under the oppression of Sharia?

As I understand it, most Muslims have not read the Quran, aside from memorising sections for prayers etc. Nevertheless, all Muslim cultures have Quranic values at their core – and many of these values are very alien to today’s Western values. Unlike many modern-day Christians, for example, most Muslims are still ultra-conservative, and the majority believe strongly in the literal truth of their ancient holy text. Even among Muslims who are not particularly devout in their religious practice, these beliefs permeate every aspect of their daily lives, and most accept without question that Islam will eventually dominate the world.

Pew Research Center is a highly-respected organisation that has conducted many surveys of the opinions and views of Muslim people. The most well-known of these is a 2013 study of more than 38,000 people in 39 Muslim-majority countries. This study provides some excellent insights into the Muslim worldview:

Pew’s polls clearly and consistently illustrate the fundamentalist views held by most Muslims. Some examples: Pew’s polls find that the majority of Muslims consider that Sharia is superior to and overrides any man-made law, and should ideally be the law of the land. Most support the barbaric punishments of Sharia. Most agree that women are basically possessions who must always obey their husbands (and cover their bodies in public). Many see nothing wrong with men being allowed up to four wives. Most believe homosexuality is immoral and should be punished, sometimes by death. And most believe that those who criticise or insult Islam or renounce the faith should be executed (apostates face the death penalty in 12 Muslim countries) or at least severely punished.

So however pleasant and polite many Muslim people appear on the surface, some of their core beliefs and values may be quite shocking to the average Westerner.

Muslims in the West

The religious beliefs of Muslims and their way of life might not concern Westerners too much (aside from Sharia’s violations of basic human rights) if it weren’t for the massive migration of these ultra-conservative people with their strong beliefs to Western countries, especially Europe. Despite the EU’s hopes to boost Europe’s working population with young Muslim immigrants (offsetting plummeting European birth rates), Muslims in Western countries have the highest rates of unemployment and welfare dependence. Worryingly, unlike other cultures and religions, Muslims don’t integrate well with Western cultures and don’t generally take up Western values. Surveys suggest Western Muslims do have somewhat more moderate views than those from Muslim-majority countries, but nevertheless, Westerners tend to be shocked into disbelief when they learn of those views. For example, a British ICM survey earlier this year prompted huge controversy, yet the study was rigorously carried out and is consistent with Pew’s findings:

Finally, Muslim communities in the West, like anywhere else, follow Sharia – either covertly, or openly in some countries (such as the UK, which now has nearly 90 Sharia councils ruling on domestic matters). And of course a small but significant proportion of these highly insular Western Muslim communities are fundamentalists planning attacks on unbelievers and their immoral ways (following the “perfect” example of prophet Muhammad). It seems that wherever large Muslim communities establish themselves, Sharia and jihad tend to follow.

Acknowledging the Issue

Probably most of us would prefer to ignore all this and imagine everything’s fine – that Islam is as tolerant and harmless as other religions, that Muslim people have the same values as us, and that terrorist attacks are a rare occurrence committed by a few “mentally-ill” individuals. Western media and political leaders certainly do their best to defend this view. But the more I learn about Islam (and I haven’t even discussed the horrific history of Islamic conquest), the more untenable this view seems to be. So I think it’s important to overcome the fear of being labelled “Islamophobic” and openly acknowledge that there is a direct link between Islamic ideology and violence towards non-Muslims.

If current trends continue, it’s conceivable that European countries with massively-growing Muslim populations will start to resemble Israel, in that terrorism and daily attacks on non-Muslims will become the new norm. I dearly hope New Zealand is spared but I suspect it won’t be, given that our own Muslim population has been growing at a high rate and (like the US) already comprises 1% of the population. Australia’s Muslim population is just over 2% and the Aussies have already suffered a number of Islamic terrorist attacks. Many European countries have far larger (and rapidly growing) Muslim populations – France is now estimated to be nearly 10% Muslim, and experiences frequent terrorism.

Arguably the only real solution to Islam-inspired violence is reform within Islam itself. There are a number of moderate Muslim groups (such as Quilliam Foundation and the Muslim Reform Movement) who oppose Islamic terrorism and the oppressive aspects of Sharia, and are actively attempting to reform Islam. I wish these groups (whose leaders face death threats) the very best of luck. There is also a moderate, tolerant, peaceful Muslim sect known as the Ahmadiyya – but unfortunately they are also treated as infidels by the majority of Muslims:

Conclusion

In a nutshell, if it weren’t for the violence and oppression inflicted by two core aspects of Islam – Islamic terrorism and Islamic law – then Islam wouldn’t be much different from other religions and I’d have no major concerns about its growth in the West. Perhaps Islam will eventually reform itself and somehow excise the violence. But anyone who examines the Quran will quickly realise that aggression towards non-Muslims is central to the scripture. Therefore it’s difficult to see how devout Muslims can ever be genuinely peaceful and tolerant toward non-Muslims without disregarding much of their most sacred text.

Quran (8:12)
Your Lord inspired the angels: “I am with you, so support those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. So strike above the necks, and strike off every fingertip of theirs.”

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