The government has just announced £1m funding to support Islamic Studies courses at universities, in the hope that wider student bodies and better courses will encourage moderate Islam to prosper where fundamentalism currently reigns.
It’s a course I’d be interested in doing, if only to answer some troubling questions even my basic explorations have thrown up. The most immediate is this: is Islam a more basically violent religion than others?
The reasons I keep pondering this question are perhaps many and obvious: there is rarely a day that goes by when some act of terrorism perpetrated by Islamists is reported on the news. I have just been reading What is the What – which details the horrific violence and genocide brought about when fundamentalist Muslims took control of the government in Khartoum.
Of course – these are simply the things that get reported the most, and it only takes a little digging beneath the surface to reveal horrific violence done in the name of all religions: the Lord’s Resistance Army, the many years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Hindu clashes in the Indian subcontinent…
But I’m still left wondering whether something to do with the very genesis of Islam is still problematic: when Mohammed was forced out of Mecca and fled to Medina, he grew the number of Muslims, and, through both conquest and conversions, eventually went back and took Mecca. In other words, there is a military and political force element to the spread of Islam, even under the leadership of its founder.
We can talk about the terrible atrocities of the Crusades – and they were awful – but they were not performed by Christ himself, and we can hopefully look back at them as an abberation of ‘true’ Christianity. Bloody awful things happened throughout the Old Testament too, but perhaps we might look on those times as almost ‘prehistoric’, and expect that in the 7th Century expectations of a spiritual leader might be higher, especially given the way Christ himself eschewed violence.
I am genuinely interested in how moderates would treat such events now. Let’s be quite clear – there is so much in Islam that is beautiful and clearly pro-peace and justice, and much that I truly deeply respect. Yet that some of these Islamic conquests were very violent is not doubted – so does Mohammed’s own violence somehow impact the views of modern Muslims when it comes to violence too? Did he have no other choices? I’d love to know what people think. And sincerely hope someone can tell me without themselves resorting to promising to kill me for even asking…