Interpretion Is Everything
It certainly cannot be denied that Islam was founded as a rather war-like religion. (I’m NOT saying here, as one anti-Muslim reader of this article has falsely claimed, that Islam at its core is an actual religion of war. I’m saying that Islam was founded within the context of wars taking place at its genesis. Consequently, war-related language can be found throughout the Koran, which in certain verses gives rules of conduct applicable during times of war; hence, my use of the term war-like.) The year 610 AD fell into an extraordinarily violent era marked by full-out wars. And the early Muslims—much like the early Israelites (Judaism)—lived in a constant state of violent struggles for land, wealth, power, and political domain.
Life, religion, and politics were very different in 610 AD. Politics/Religion were usually inter-woven. This same kind of intertwining was also present in early Christianity in the form of the Roman Catholic Church. These two powerful religio-political powers — Islam & Christianity — eventually fought several wars for power/land in what has come to be known historically as the nine crusades (c. 1095-1272). In fact, it was Islam’s philosophy of holy war (Jihad) that actually inspired the Roman Catholic Church toward adoption of the “Warrior Saint” concept so popular throughout the Crusades. (I’m NOT saying here, as one anti-Muslim reader of this article has falsely claimed, that Islam at its core was founded as a violent faith, in contrast to Christianity. I’m saying that Islam, because it was founded within the context of regional wars, included war-related instructions throughout the Koran; instructions which ended up influencing Christianity by showing Christian leaders how faith could operate as a guide of conduct for faithful soldiers during times of war.)
Richard A. Gabriel of HistoryNet.com, writes: “The ideology of holy war (jihad) and martyrdom (shahada) for the faith was transmitted to the West during the wars between Muslims and Christians in Spain and France, where it changed traditional Christian pacifistic thinking on war, brought into being a coterie of Christian warrior saints, and provided the Catholic Church with its ideological justification for the Crusades” (see “Muhammad: The Warrior Prophet“).
So, to be clear, Islam was indeed founded as a national faith/political movement built on the use of military force to establish rule over enemies of Islam. (I’m NOT saying here, as one anti-Muslim reader of this article has falsely claimed, that Islam at its core is a violent/militaristic religion. I’m saying that Islam was founded within the context of the wars taking place at that time. Consequently, war-related language can be found throughout the Koran, which in certain verses gives rules of conduct applicable during times of war.)
For example, through numerous military campaigns, Syria, Egypt, and Persia/Iraq all fell to Muslim control in 638, 642, and 644 respectively. Historically, there was indeed a great deal of fighting, killing, and destruction done by early Muslims — just as much as was done by their enemies. Everyone was fighting for political/geographic control of the Middle East. It was 7th century! It was an era of wars. Consequently, a lot of militaristic language is found in the Koran, including general instructions on warfare, rules for military engagement, and guidelines for behavior of military personal during campaigns and after cities had been conquered. Consider, for instance, the rules outlined by Abu Bakr, the first caliph of Islam:
“Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy’s flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone” (see Aboul-Enein, H. Yousuf and Zuhur, Sherifa, Islamic Rulings on Warfare, p. 22, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, Diane Publishing Co., Darby PA).
There also seems to have been a prohibition against forced conversions. After the Muslims captured Jerusalem, for example, a treaty that was signed that included the following provisions:
“In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. This is the assurance of safety which the servant of God, Umar, the Commander of the Faithful, has given to the people of Jerusalem. He has given them an assurance of safety for themselves for their property, their churches, their crosses, the sick and healthy of the city and for all the rituals which belong to their religion. Their churches will not be inhabited by Muslims and will not be destroyed. Neither they, nor the land on which they stand, nor their cross, nor their property will be damaged. They will not be forcibly converted. No Jew will live with them in Jerusalem” (quoted in The Great Arab Conquests, from Tarikh Tabari).
The context of war is obvious when one reads the previously listed verses from the Koran/Hadith/Sunnah. These were certainly applicable in a literal way during the early days of Islam. However, Islam—like most other religions—has evolved over time. And as time passed and the wars ceased, these verses came to hold more varied meanings in addition to their original meanings limited to just warfare. They became far more spiritual in nature, rather than just literal. They no longer needed to be limited to literal war. They could be applied to personal/spiritual warfare in the heart, mind, and soul. “Jihad” against infidel nations could be taken as a holy war against the internal self. “Death” of the enemy could mean death to the sinful soul (the worst and truest enemy of every Muslim).
Unfortunately, terrorists/extremists reject such re-interpretations. More significantly, they also selectively pick Koranic verses to conveniently justify their evil deeds. And then, to make matters worse, they totally ignore various prohibitions and restrictions that would hinder/forbid their terrorist acts (see, for example, the above war rules by Abu Bakr, the first caliph of Islam). Jihadists/Terrorists also tend to just take part of a verse to justify their actions, while at the same time dismissing any remaining part of the same verses that might prohibit terrorism (see “Islamic State group uses only half of a Quran verse to justify beheadings — see what’s in the other half,” a PBS video/article on how terrorists falsely justify beheading captives).
In other words, even if we were all still living in the 7th century, and even if Islamic wars were still raging, then today’s terrorists/extremists would still be in violation of the passages they quote to justify their terrorism. For example, in the context of war during the 7th century, Sahih Muslim 19:4294 reads: “Fight in the name of Allah and in the way of Allah. Fight against those who disbelieve in Allah. Make a holy war . . . and do not mutilate (the dead) bodies; do not kill the children. In other words, terrorists/extremists would have been in disobedience to Islam then, just as they are in disobedience to Islam now.
To be clear, today’s radical Islamist terrorist represent neither modern Islam, nor the original Islam—even though original Islam was at war. What they’ve done is cherry-pick certain Koranic verses that were applicable to early Islam at war, pervert those verses, then add their own concepts born of hate to those verses. Armed with this evil fantasy of divine sanction, they’ve gone out into the world to cause mass carnage, calling themselves the Allah’s righteous warriors of the Koran. But they are, in reality, a cult of Islam—just as much a “cult” as Christianity’s murderous People’s Temple (Jim Jones), the child-abusing Branch Davidians (David Koresh), the Christian Identity/KKK movements, and the sexually perverse Children of God (David Berg).
Islam—when it comes to most Muslims in the world—is indeed a religion of peace.
Equating extremists/terrorists with the broader religion of “Islam” does nothing but reduce a complex, multi-faceted, religion of great variance down to the worst of the worst examples of it. The comparisons are not justified. It’s like condemning Christianity by reducing it down to its backwoods snake-handlers, suicide cults, white supremacists/Klansman, and a myriad of other nasty “churches” that have committed all kinds of atrocities, including murder/violence, in the name of Jesus. It’s factually wrong, ignorant, prejudiced, and dangerous.