Is Islam peaceful, or is it violent?

October 16, 2006

In all his speeches, the president never misses the opportunity to remind us that Islam is a peaceful religion. Every newspaper and every magazine that write on the subject invariably stress that same point.

But such perception of Islam was not always the case. In fact, it was not the case until quite recently, as I happened to discover by rather aimlessly poking through the not-so-old books.

Consider this sentence commenting on a drawing of Arab horsemen on page 102 of Desmond Stewart’s admiring “The Alhambra: A History of Islamic Spain” that was published in the series “Wonders of Man” by Newsweek in 1977: “Islam is a militant faith, and even a mounted contingent embarking on a pilgrimage can project a martial aura.”

Or how about this one, that concludes the chapter on the decline of the Roman empire in the “Empires Besieged” part of the magnificently illustrated series “TimeFrame” that was published by Time Life Books in 1988: “And in A. D. 570 a boy named Mohammed was born in the city of Mecca in the Arabian desert, whence would soon blow the storms of the militant new faith.”

Or this analysis of the reasons for the success of Arab conquests in the century that followed Mohammed’s death, given on page 43-44 in “The Enterprise of War” volume of the same series (1991) : “Inspired by the belief that death in battle would win them the automatic admission to Paradise, they burst out on the Arabian peninsula with a relentless ferocity that initially swept all before them.”

It is worth noting that all these books were published before 9/11. Did that tragedy have anything to do with the change in the western perception of Islam?

The answer just has to be “yes.” It was on 9/11 that the question of the role of Islam in violence became more than academic; and it having been politically prudent to distance Islam from violence, the view of Islam as a peaceful religion was aggressively pushed.

But politics apart, is Islam peaceful, or is it violent?

The answer to this question depends on whose Islam you are talking about. The moment Mohammed died, Islam – fully in accordance with the problem of the third party – split into as many Islams as there are those who care to have an opinion on what Islam is ought to be; some of these Islams are peaceful, some are violent.

Which one is yours? Its up to you to decide.

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