What does it mean to ask: Is Islam a 'religion of peace'?


Where is the Muslim peace movement? Put another way, if Islam is a peace-loving religion where are the Muslim voices for peace?


“Islam is a religion that preaches peace,” U.S. President Barack Obama told CBS last September, and likewise President George W. Bush’s mosque speech after 9-11 said “Islam is peace.” Yet there’s continual violence committed in the name of Islam. Analysts are abuzz over a major article in The Atlantic by Graeme Wood, who contends the bloodthirsty Islamic State Caliphate is thoroughly grounded in one understanding of end-times theology and “governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers.” Wood cites especially the research of Princeton University’s Bernard Haykel.

In this tangled discussion one point is obvious: This great world religion is embroiled in an increasingly dangerous internal conflict as an expanding faction of militant “Islamists” or “jihadis” works to abolish Muslim thinkers’ consensus across centuries about justifications for violence, the proper conduct of warfare, and who has the authority to decide such matters. John Esposito, a Georgetown University expert, calls it a “struggle for the soul of Islam.”

“Jihad” is a duty of all believers but the term means simply “effort” or “struggle” in the faith. Teachers have called spiritual exertion the “greater jihad” and violent struggle, when necessary, the “lesser jihad.” As with Christianity’s “just war” concept, Muslim authorities have said the holy Quran allows warfare to defend Islam and its followers but forbids wars of aggression: “Fight for the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not be aggressive. Surely Allah does not like the aggressors. ... Drive them out from wherever they drove you out” (2:190-191). Of course, adherents of both religions haven’t necessarily honored such niceties.

Mainstream imams cite this  scripture on treatment of civilians: “Allah does not forbid you, regarding those who did not fight you and did not drive you out of your homes, to be generous to them and deal with them justly” (60:8). And they say this verse condemns forced conversions: “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256). The authorities have said codified teachings of Muhammad (Hadith) said when conflict was justifiable protection was required for innocent non-combatants, the aged, children, women, Christian monks, people attending worship, and prisoners of war.

Amid the general mayhem now afflicting the Muslim world, that venerable understanding of Islam is defied by a rising movement that’s attractive to a subset of young Muslims.

Continue reading "Is Islam a 'religion of peace'?" by Richard Ostling.

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