After the events of September 11th, the issue of Islam and violence once again came into intense discussion and debate because of its historic correlation to jihad, intolerance and terrorism.
Not aimed at presenting an ‘Islamphobia’ post, this post aims at presenting the religious dimension of violence that goes back to the heart and origin of Islam. Despite various political, socio-economic and cultural factors contributing to the rise of violence and terrorism in fundamental Islam (as with all religions), Muslims who commit acts of violence and terror in the name of Allah can find ample justification for their actions based on the open-ended verses and teachings of the Qur’an and the saying of Muhammad (Hadith). Islam’s doctrines and texts are associated with violence, with laws requiring the eradication of what is considered evil by Islamic standard and law, sometimes using violent means. Throughout history, Islam’s religious texts or precepts have been used to promote violence. Classically, and in the modern era, Muslims and their leaders, including a large number of jurists, have upheld Islamic ideas, concepts, texts and themes to justify warfare against non-Muslims. Some suggest that the Qur’an contains at least 109 verses that call Muslims to war with non believers for the sake of Islamic rule, verses that are mostly open-ended and therefore are not restrained by historical context of the surrounding text. To offer a general illustration of the inherent relationship, it would do to point out that the root word for Islam is al-Slim which means submission or surrender. The Qur’an not only calls Muslim to submit to Allah, it also commands them to subdue people of other religions until they are in a full state of submission to Islamic rule. Evidently, this has inspired the aggressive history of Islam and its success in conquering other cultures.
“And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the place whence they drove you out, for persecution of Muslims is worse than slaughter of non-believers, but they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful! And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah.” – Qur’an 2:191-193
Many claim that the verses in support of fighting in the Qur’an were for a special historical situation concerning the beginning of Islam. They argue that since prophet Muhammad was persecuted in Mecca for the first 13 years of his ministry, he was justified in his military actions in the last 10 years of his life in Medina and for the support of the budding Islamic movement. The problem arises however in that nowhere in the Qur’an are the commands to fight restricted to a special time period of against a special group of people. Far from being mere history or theological construct, the violent verses of the Qur’an have played a key role in very real massacres and genocide. This includes the brutal slaughter of tens of millions of Hindus for 5 Centuries beginning around 1000 AD with the Mahmud of Ghazni’s blood conquest. Both he and the later Tamerlane (Islam’s Genghis Khan) slaughtered an untold number of men, women and children. Muhammad was a military leader, laying siege to towns, massacring the men, raping their women and enslaving their children. On several occasions he rejected offers of surrender from the besieged inhabitants and even butchered captives. One prominent example is of the Qurayza Jews, who were completely obliterated only 5 years Muhammad arrived in Medina. Their leader opted to stay neutral when their town was besieged by a Meccan army. The tribe had killed no one from either side and even surrendered peacefully to Muhammad after the Meccans had been turned back. Yet the prophet of Islam had every member of the Qurazya tribe beheaded, and every woman and child enslaved. He actually inspired his followers to battle when they did not feel it was right to fight, promising them slaves and loot if they did and threatening them with Hell if they did not. Evidently, Muslim armies waged aggressive campaigns and the religion’s most dramatic military conquests were made by the actual companions of Muhammad in the decades that followed his death.
“In the Jihad which you are seeking, you look for an enemy and invade him. This type of Jihad takes place only when the Islamic state is invading other countries in order to spread the word of Islam and remove the obstacles in its way.” – Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Egyptian Islamic theologian
Aiming to avoid a concentrated view on the historic study of Islam’s birth through blood and genocide, Islam as an ideology brings contempt and violence as well. That Islam sees itself as a theocracy has enormous ramifications for how it regards itself and for the behavior of Muslims. First it means that Islam is not only a religion but also a political ideology, as Muhammad was a political, military and religious leader. If the government of the Muslim community is simply God’s community, then no other governments can be legitimate. Thus, they are all at war with God and as a result, Muslims have divided the world into two spheres known as Dar al-Islam – “the house of Islam” – and Dar al-Harb – those who are at war with God. Second, it means that Muslims have believed themselves to have manifest destiny. Since God must win in the end, the Dar al-Harb must be brought under the control of the Muslim government and made part of the Dar al-Islam. Third, since the Dar al-Harb by its nature is at war with God, it is unlikely that it will submit to God without a fight. Individual groups might be convinced to lay down their arms and join the Muslim community by various forms of pressure – economic or military. Because of the need to expand God’s domain by wars of conquest, Islam’s ideology imposes on Muslim the duty to fight for God’s community. This duty is known as Jihad. The concept of holy fight or struggle has been particularly incumbent on those on the edges of the Muslim world, where there was room for expansion. Though highly radical, 9/11 still serves as an example of the intrinsic violence involved in fundamentalism, as the terrorists believed their sacrifices as a just part of Jihad.
“He (the Messenger of Allah) did that and said ‘There is another act which elevated the position of a man in Paradise to a grade on hundred higher, and the elevation between one grade and another is equal to the height of heaven from the earth’. He (Abu Sa’id) said: ‘What is that act?’ He replied: ‘Jihad in the way of Allah! Jihad in the way of Allah'” – Muslim 20:4645
The examples of international directed violence committed in the name of Islam is endless. The affiliation of violence and this religion is made most evident by the religious organizations associated with Islam; Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hezbollah. The acquisition of the enormous land that belonged to the caliphates was through military force and the brutal suppression of opposition. However, the golden age of the Muslim Empire began to dwindle after the death of Muhammad. Following his death, there lacked a clear line of succession which resulted in perpetual internal war. Sunni and Shia Islam are two major denominations of Islam and therefore, for the sake of simplicity, this post will focus on their internal violence as an illustration of the evident nature of bloodshed that is inherent to Islam. Sunnis believe that abu Bakr, the father of Muhammad’s wide Aisha, was Muhammad’s rightful successor and that the method of choosing or electing leading endorsed by the Qur’an was in the consensus of the Ummah, the Muslim community. Shias believe that Muhammad divinely ordained his cousin and son-in-law Ali (the father of his grandsons Hasan ibn Ali and Hussein ibn Ali) in accordance with the command of God to be the next Caliph making Ali and his direct descendants Muhammad’s successors. This difference has resulted in a jagged schism that has left Shias and Sunnis at odds to this day.
“They but wish that ye should reject Faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing: But take not friends from their ranks until they flee in the way of Allah (From what is forbidden). But if they turn renegades, seize them and slay they wherever ye find them; and (in any case) take no friends or helpers from their ranks.” – Qur’an 4:89
The Battle of Siffin was the first open hostility between the two sects. It was fought between Ali and Muawiyah I, on the banks of the Euphrates river. Following the controversial murder of Uthman ibn Affan, Ali became Caliph but struggled to be accepted as such throughout the Muslim Empire. Muawiyah, the governor of Syria, was a kinsman of the murdered Caliph, and wanted the murderers brought to justice. For this reason, Muawiyah rebelled against Ali, who attempted to put down the rebellion. The battle ended in stalemate and in thousands of casualties. To the Shia, Ali was the first Imman. To the Sunnis, Ali was the fourth Caliph Rashidun Caliph, and Muawiyah was the First Caliph of the Ummayyad dynasty. The event surrounding the battle are highly controversial between Sunni and Shia, and serve as part of the split between the two groups. More modern examples of the violence conflict are seen in Libya, Syria and Iraq. In Libya, the tribal organization of the region has left the transitional government unable to stabilize the country because the different Islamist sects are raiding each other’s territories. In Syria, the opposition forces are mainly Sunni Muslim whereas the leading government figures are Alawite, affiliated with Shia Islam. As a result the opposition is winning support from the Sunni Muslim states and the regime is publicly supported by the Shia dominated Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah. The division of Sunni and Shia Islam is also demonstrated in post-US Iraq, in which over 1,000 people have died because of a new wave of sectarian violence. After the election of the Iraqi Transitional Government, a wave of suicide bombers, believed to be mainly disheartened Iraqi Sunni Arabs, Syrians and Saudis tore through Iraq. Their targets were often Shia gatherings or civilian concentrations of Shias.
“The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement.” – Qur’an 5:33
The intolerance and hypocritical nature of Islam is evident by it Qur’an verses and history. Islam is intolerant towards the notion of gender equality. Islam is militaristic, considering Muhammad organized 65 military campaigns in the last 10 years of his life and personally led 27 of them. Islam is intolerant to other religions, as they discouraged such practices by slaughtering them by masses. Islam also permitted ownership of slaved the freedom to sexually exploit slaves. Moreover, despite the fact that Islam prohibits the killing of innocent people, the definition of innocent is rather flexible and has been graded down to the fundamental rule that if someone rejects Muhammad, they are no longer innocent. Lastly, the incompatibility of Islam and Democracy is also noteworthy, as it bespeaks of its intolerance and tendency to favor dictatorships, repressive regimes and widespread inequality. Under Islamic law, only Muslim males are entitled to full rights. Islam is a theocratic system with Allah alone at is head. Allah’s law is interpreted by a ruling body of cleric. There is not room for a secular political system in which all people are treated as equals. The price of challenging Islam is seen by various modern examples of its violent practices. Hashem Aghajari, an Iranian professor, was given a death sentence because of a speech that criticized some of the present Islamic practices. Theo van Gogh was assassinated by Mohammed Bouyeri for producing the 10-minute film Submission, critical of the abusive treatment of women by Muslims. Ehsan Jami was nearly beaten to death in The Netherlands by 3 Muslims for his activities in the Central Committee for Ex-Muslims. Of course, the more resonating example of Islamic terror and suppression is the Ayatollah of Iran. Along with announcing Jihad against the US, he has also carried out such practices against Kurds in Iran and categorized the Iran-Iraq war as holy war. The Ayatollah, along with many Wahhabi fundamentalists, have vocalized their belief in world domination through the Islamic faith; thus, the violent nature of Islam becomes rather apparent.