“Controversial” doesn’t cut it. Merely the mention of Islam stirs heated and impassioned political debate—that is, if the ensuing exchange of ignorance and insults can even be called a debate. The cries of “Not all Muslims” and “Let’s not chance it” ring clear and repeatedly, albeit, occasionally in alternative or indirect forms. The crux of this argument, however, lies within the nature of Islam itself, specifically, in regards to the question as to whether Islam is uniquely promotive of violence, in contrast to the other great religions of the world. This is to say, the heart of the issue is determining if Islam is in and of itself—in its pure and unperverted form—the promoter of extremist violence, rather than external factors, causing violent men and women to use Islam as a justifying scapegoat.
[Note: Departing from the usual on this site, the citations are in MLA format]
It is of the utmost importance here to make, and remember, the distinction between people and their claimed ideologies. Just as the Ku Klux Klan may claim to be representative of Christianity, yet exist, apparent to all but themselves, in contradiction to the teachings of Christ, so too may Islamic extremists claim to be representative of Islam while contradicting it. Yet, considering the other side of the coin, we must not lose this distinction when considering good and virtuous people. Just as one who is Hindu, in name only, may exist as a benefactor to society without being representative of his or her religion, aside from the occasional visitation to a temple and the celebration of central holidays, so too Muslim people may be benefactors to society, while still maintaining only their surface adherence to Islam, following it to the extent that they are comfortable with.
The inquiry at hand is not questioning the goodness or badness of these people, but the goodness or badness of the ideologies of which they claim allegiance to; consequently, this calls into question the level to which they may actually align themselves to their religion, regardless of what they may claim. Are bad men good Muslims, or are good Muslims also good men? Such is essentially what we aim to answer. This requires, of course, that we must determine, using historical data, religious documents, Islamic scriptures, and other secondary sources of information which we have at our disposal, to determine what it truly means to be a good Muslim.
First, let us examine the traditional Islamic social doctrines which are found in the Koran, Hadith, Ijama, and other texts (“Islam”). While, primarily, doctrines regarding the nature of God, salvation, and the like are found within the Koran, it touches on social laws as well (“Qur’an”), as “there is practically no aspect of life with which it does not deal” (“Koran”). Keep in mind, unlike the Bible, which is held by Christians to be subject to the biases and temporal limitations of the human authors of each of the books within it (Catholic Church), the Koran, by Muslims, is considered “the eternal, literal word of God,” (“Qur’an”) being given to Muhammed “word for word and sentence by sentence through the agency of the archangel Gabriel” (“Koran”). The title of the book itself, “Koran,” literally means “recitation” (“Koran”). Thus, while, certainly, the Koran may be interpreted to a degree and is said to have multiple levels of meaning (“Koran”), simple decrees made in a matter of fact way within the Koran need not to be considered as temporally limited and subject to substantive interpretation, since God, in Muslim theology, has no temporal limitation (“Islam”).
The Koran certainly does, in some places, condemn some forms of violence (especially all unprovoked violence), but, what the Koran considers as suitable provocation for violence is any violation of its laws, which lays forth the cruel punishments which are to be inflicted on those who have violated them, those laws being held as being eternally binding in accordance with God’s will (“Koran”). These cruel punishments—which are not limited temporally, according to Islamic theology (“Islam”)—are called “Hadd” (“Sharia”). The specific crimes and their corresponding necessary punishments enumerated by the Hadd include execution or, alternatively, eternal banishment for apostasy; death by stoning or, alternatively, one hundred lashes for illicit sexual relations; and limb amputation for theft (“Hadd”). As the researchers for the Encyclopedia Britannica have pointed out, “such a philosophy of law clearly poses fundamental problems of principle for social advancement in contemporary Islam,” saying that “this is now the central issue in Islamic law” (“Sharia”).
Moving on now to the Hadith, which provides the “contextualization of Koranic revelations, and Islamic law,” as it too is considered as an “authoritative source of revelation, [being] second only to the Koran” (“Hadith”), we find it contains “a whole array of moral, social, commercial, and personal matters… All reaches of public and private conduct may be found there” (“Hadīt”). Being, more or less, a biographical text of the life and sayings of Muhammad, the Hadith provides the elaboration and context of Koranic law in allowing its readers to consider Muhammad’s exercise and interpretation of it, via “his tacit approval of what was said or done in his presence” (“hadith”), as the Koran itself “explicitly mandates Muslim obedience to the Prophet in legal and ritual matters” (Hallaq).
Most notably, the Hadith provides context for the term “jihad.” At the mention of this term, two reactions are common, one tends to either hold destain and speak accordingly, or, alternatively, one will take the place of an apologist, saying that “jihad” is merely an internal struggle, not an outward physical war. Well, let’s consider how Muhammad himself, as recorded in the Hadith, used the term—context is key here of course. In the Hadith, Muhammad references the term “jihad” as follows: “There is no migration (from Mecca to Medina) after the conquest (of Mecca), but jihad and good intention remain, if you are called (by the Muslim ruler) for fighting, go forth immediately” (Al-Bukhari, Book 56, Hadith 2). Muhammad responds, also, to another man’s reference to the term “jihad”—and his question as to whether or not any act incurres a greater reward than it—by referencing, again, directly, soldiers of war (and, no, not metaphorical soldiers, the context here is, again, the setting of an actual war). Muhammad answers the man by saying, “I do not find such a deed [equal to jihad in reward]… The Mujahid (Muslim soldier) is rewarded even for the footsteps of his horse” (Al-Bukhari, Book 56, Hadith 4). Muhammad also makes a distinction between faithful Muslims who conduct jihad, and faithful Muslims who dedicate their lives to the worship of Allah, without Jihad—he calls those who engage in jihad greater (Al-Bukhari, Book 56, Hadith 5). Thus, there must be some distinction between jihad and an internal struggle of good and evil, which anyone who dedicates their life to Allah would face. Further, this being in the same book as the prior two quotations, the context of jihad here is, again, actual war. In fact, in his calling of the jihadists “the best among the people” (Al-Bukhari, Book 56, Hadith 5), he is merely continuing his praise for the Mujahid (Muslim soldiers), as the verse in which he proclaims this follows immediately after the prior noted quote on jihad—which speaks of soldiers and their horses. This is why the so called Islamic “extremists,” who are actually more rightfully called “faithfuls,” obsess over the concept of jihad. After all, Muhammad himself said, again, in the same book, in the very next verse, still discussing real, actual soldiers,“Allah guarantees that He will admit the Mujahid (Muslim warriors) in His Cause into Paradise if he is killed, otherwise He will return him to his home safely with rewards and war booty” (Al-Bukhari, Book 56, Hadith 6). Such instances of direct reference to jihad as an external, physical war could be enumerated further, yet, doing such would be hardly necessary after already presenting the references above—It’s clear Muhammad intended jihad to be a real, physical, bloody, and religiously based war. To use the words of the scholarly Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached” (“Lecture of the Holy Father”). Therefore, as the great philosopher and Saint, Thomas Aquinas said, “It is thus clear that those who place any faith in his words believe foolishly” (Aquinas).
Now, moving forward to the historical exercise of Islamic law and and the precedence of practice set forth by Islamic religious authorities, it becomes—even more so—apparent that Islam inherently promotes violence. Where better to start than from the beginning? It has been shown above Muhammad himself was promotive of large scale violence, but what of the Islamic leaders who followed him? Moreover, how do we know who is to be properly considered an Islamic “authority?” Well, the most proper authority on the interpretation and exercise of the Islamic religion would be a Caliph—“ruler of the Muslim community” and “successor of the Messenger of God” (“Caliph”). The Caliphs, as they are considered second only to Muhammad and the holy texts of Islam in religious teaching authority, were once even called “perfect;” they are nearly equatable to the Catholic Pope (“Caliph”). The authority of a Caliph, however, was not limited to religious rule alone, but also governmental rule (“Caliph”), and the full office continued to exist up until the 1920’s, when the political authority of the Caliph was stripped—causing many Muslim scholars to doubt if a Caliph without political authority could even be considered legitimate (Kayali). As the Columbia Encyclopedia points out, “in principal, Islam is theocratic” (“Caliphate”). Regardless, let us consider the historical precedence set by the early Caliphs—those who had both religious and political authority. Right from the onset, the Caliphs sought bloody conquest, attacking the Christian lands of Cyprus, Palestine, Heliopolis, Alexandria, Syria, Antioch, Spain, Southern Italy, etc and eventually brought the mighty Byzantine Empire—the bastion of of the Eastern Church—to its knees (“Spread of Islam, The”).
The people of these conquered lands had a few options, which differred depending on your religious affiliation (“Spread of Islam, The”). If you were considered a “person of the book,”—Zoroastrians, Catholics, Orthodox, and Jews—you could either convert to Islam, or be a second class citizen, paying a religious tax (“Spread of Islam, The). However, if you were anything other than a monotheist, you were converted to Islam by force (“Spread of Islam, The”). All of this ensued, in accordance with Islamic law, under the command of a Caliph (“Spread of Islam, The”)—“Successor to the Messenger of God”—in his exercise of united political and religious authority, a rightful combination, according to Islamic theology (“Caliph”). These conquests would continue until, upon request by the Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church would call for the Crusades to take back the Patriarchal Sees held under Islamic occupation—Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem: four of the five great Sees of Christianity had been taken into Islamic hands by way of the sword. The Roman Pontiff wasn’t too keen on having Rome—the First See—fall next. Pope Urban II spoke thusly, addressing the Crusaders, saying that “a barbaric fury has deplorably afflicted and laid waste the churches of God in the regions of the Orient. More than this, blasphemous to say, it has even grasped in intolerable servitude its churches and the Holy City of Christ, glorified by His passion and resurrection… We visited the regions of Gaul and devoted ourselves largely to urging the princes of the land and their subjects to free the churches of the East” (Krey).
Again, all of this is not to say there is a total lack of good found within Islam, or that there are no Muslims that are good people, despite them being, consequently, to use Muhammad’s own words, not “the greatest” Muslims (Al-Bukhari, Book 56, Hadith 5)—Islam does, indeed, promote many good things, such as respect for the environment (“Koran”). Yet, as it has been shown, peace is not one of those many good things, at least not in any meaningful way. In Islam, punishments are to be severe and cruel (“Hadd”). In Islam, the most righteous men are those who are violent conquerors in the name of Allah (Al-Bukhari, Book 56, Hadith 5). In Islam, there is a longstanding tradition of the violent subjugation of those who are not Islamic (“Spread of Islam, The”). Islam is, inherently, a religion of violence—not one of peace, nor one of tolerance, but one of cruel, bloody, and pervading violence. From the standpoint of Islamic scripture, Islam is violent. By the rule and teachings of Muhammad, Islam is violent. And from a historical standpoint, by rule of the Caliphs, Islam is violent. Islam is, truly and inherently, a violent religion.
The promotion of violence in Islam even shines through in the way Muslims tend to answer polls. Sharia law itself, according to Islamic theology, should be in place as political law (“Sharia”), and the general acceptance of Sharia tends toward universality, as the Pew Research Center has found that “overwhelming percentages of Muslims in many countries want Islamic law (sharia) to be the official law of the land,” that is, at least for the Muslim populations within them (“The World’s Muslims”). Of those supporters, majorities tending near 50-60% back the violent punishments imposed by the Hadd when asked specifically about them (“The World’s Muslims”). Interestingly, the Pew Research Center has also found that the more devout a Muslim is, the more likely they are to support full Sharia law becoming political law, further evidence for the fact that it is Islam itself which drives its followers to promote violence—in this case, the violent repercussions for legal violations under Sharia law (“The World’s Muslims”).
Surely, though, external factors must contribute to the grooming of extremists—who shall be referred to correctly as “faithfuls” from now on—as well. The most apparent factor contributing to Muslims supporting or answering the call of jihad seems to be Islamic homogeneity, although homogeneity alone does not cause this impeccably, otherwise the percent of Muslims in Muslim nations who view civilian aimed suicide bombings as being justifiable would be far greater, being not just a sizable minority—the exception here being in Gaza, where they are the majority (“Concerns About Islamic Extremism”). Further, this being a primary motivator is supported by the fact that American Muslims—who are in a heterogeneous nation and are here the minority—tend to, in vast majority (99%), hold that suicide bombings are never justified on civilians (“Muslim Americans”).
Yet, unfortunately, we have almost no idea how reliable these statistics actually are, because, as Muhammad himself said, “He who makes peace between the people by inventing good information or saying good things, is not a liar” (Al-Bukhari, Book 53, Hadith 3), and Islam today generally holds that deception for the purpose of preserving and/or promoting Islam or oneself is, actually, a good thing—this doctrine is called “al-Taqiyya” (“Al-Taqiyya”). Now, this is by no means to say that all of the Muslims who claimed to be against violence in the Pew Research Center’s studies are liars, but only to note that it is entirely within the realm of possibility that some are, given that they felt either themselves or Islam would be endangered had they answered otherwise. Such acts of deceit have been attested to as being true and, in some cases, common by former faithful Muslims in the UK (Vine).
Continuing on external factors, these do not include poverty or lack of education (Ullah). As Dr Haroon Ullah, a key member of the US State Department and adjunct professor at Georgetown University, points out, when it comes to Islam:
Education had little to do with who became an extremist, poverty even less. Many of those I have met and subscribe to religious extremism, and are prepared to murder and die for their cause, are from the middle class, and many had a university education. These are not poor people, and these are not uneducated people. They are well-fed, and well-read. (Ullah)
What does drive people to jihad is a sense of something better—a solution to the problems of a corrupt government, for example (Ullah). After all, it was under the rule of the Caliphs—under a government faithful to genuine Islam and Sharia law—that Muslim civilization flourished and grew into a stable empire (“Spread of Islam, The”). Such a historical motivating factor, combined with the promise of Muhammad that those who die in jihad will be admitted to Paradise (Al-Bukhari, Book 56, Hadith 6), makes answering the call to violence irresistible to many.
External factors, then, are secondary at best in causing Islamic violence. They either reinforce Islamic thought in an echo chamber—as is the case with the cause of homogeneity—or appeal to the Islamic Ideal, calling to mind what some call the Golden Age of Islam—as is the case with those seeking a sense of something better. External factors merely build upon those which are Inherent in Islam, essentially acting as reinforcers and promoters of Muhammad’s teachings.
So we have arrived at our answer to the question “Is Islam in and of itself—in its pure and unperverted form—the promoter of extremist violence, rather than external factors, causing violent men and women to use Islam as a justifying scapegoat?” It’s obvious, plainly so, that Islam promotes violence. External factors serve merely as the push needed—if it is needed—to bring some Muslims to be “the best among the people” (Al-Bukhari, Book 56, Hadith 5).
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