Is Islam Violent? | Funding Moderation



Pic IslamThe 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


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5 responses to “Is Islam Violent? | Funding Moderation”

  1. I recommend reading the book “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It is her autobiography about growing up in a variety of Islamic states, including Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya, and how she ended up in Dutch Parliament. Not only is it captivating, but it is also revealing, showing the everyday workings of Islam in a variety of contexts.

  2. Some books by Princeton Professor Emeritus Bernard Lewis may be helpful. I have found his books on Islam helpful… of course so did many of the Bush neo-cons who used his writings to justify invading Iraq.

  3. Sounds good. Just read a very good article in Prospect this month, interviewing the brother of the guy who co-ordinated the London bombings.
    Get it here
    What’s interesting is how the guy became radicalised… and much of it seems to have been a reaction against parents and their ‘dead’ Muslim faith, as against ‘the West’. He certainly saw his violence as totally in keeping with Mohammed’s campaigns.
    So the question still remains: can you have a religion of peace if your founder wasn’t a man of peace? I guess it’s the same question the communists had: do you have a bloody revolution to bring about the new world order? I’d say it’s clear you can’t…

  4. Richard Sudworth

    Would love to chat to you about this fully Kester. Serious reading would be Tariq Ramadan, “The West and the Future of Islam”, anything by Dilwar Hussein and Tim Winter. And for an easy read, “The Islamist” by Ed Hussein: his own journey into Islamism, “what he saw and why he left”. It’s a warts an’all picture but tempered by his resolution into a peaceful pietistic Islam. I’d balance Bernard Lewis’ more Republican influenced book by John Esposito’s work.
    Your question, in essence, probes at what the nature of true religion actually is…Crusades, Rwanda, N Ireland are “aberrations” but often perpetrated by spirit-filled, Bible believing Christians.

  5. Isn’t the description of certain things as “abberations” just our own rationalisation of violent acts that we can’t come to terms with in our own history.
    One man’s terrorist in another man’s freedom fighter. Whilst it’s too easy to project our shadow onto demonised groups, but I think the (genuine) question about the origins of Islam is a valid one.