Saturday, September 30, 2006

Islam vs. Rest of the World II

Is Islam a violent religion?

I am neither a theology expert nor a historian. I would like to address this from a different angle. There are many articles, analysis, blogs written on this topic where the so-called experts dig into Mohammed’s personality, Koran, and Islamic history to find selected examples and instances to justify their accusation that indeed this religion is mired in violence.

Let’s compare the founders of some of the religions. These days Mohammed is considered a violent man by other religions. I want to understand if his personality has any bearing on how Islam has transformed itself into fifteen hundred years later. Agreed, this religion came into existence in violent and oppressive conditions prevailing at that time. Does that mean this religion is destined to be violent forever? Even if we were to assume Mohammed was a violent man (for the sake of the discussion) does that mean being violent is a second nature to the people of this religion?

If this explanation is so true, then people of each faith should act accordingly with the character of their founder, their holy book and their history. Let’s look at Christianity- their founder (Jesus) is supposedly a mild and loving character, but just look at its history- it’s written in blood from the time of its inception- they put to stake everyone they didn’t like or agree with. They blamed Jews for the punishment induced to Jesus and that stigma legitimized persecution of this people for two thousand years which culminated in Holocaust- the greatest crime humanity has ever committed. The Bible, which itself has undergone many changes, is considered milder, benevolent and all-loving compared to Koran (by the same so-called experts). Why then did we have Crusades which upheld massacre of other religions to uphold a god who preached love? Why then did we have Inquisition where the choice was to convert or die? How does one explain the completely opposite nature of if followers and its history founded by someone who is considered a pious man? Let’s take another case. Buddha is supposedly a very gentle person and is known for his pacifism, but just look at what Japanese have done in WWII, look at what Khmer Rouge did to its people, look at what Mao did to intellectuals, and now look at what Sinhalese do to Hindu Tamilians? As suggested by these experts, if the followers were to take on the nature of its founders, I should expect Japan to be extremely pacifist in its history and all Christians to be mild and loving. But somehow I don’t see that. There is no correlation. Therefore, I discard the explanation that a religion and its people are in anyway similar to its founder.

Another favorite accusation that is thrown at the present-day Islam is that Muslims intend to convert everyone into Islam- "they propose to convert every kafir to make this whole world one large Ummah". If I look at our history, I see many occasions when Muslim rulers could have put this into action and by now we should have seen a much higher population of Muslims than what we actually see. India despite being ruled for many centuries by Muslim rulers is predominantly Hindu. Though Muslims ruled a great portion of Europe, it is still predominantly Christian. Even the holy land which came under Islamic rule has people of many faiths. If Muslims had this agenda written in Koran, and if they were so focused on achieving this, they should have converted all these populations under their rule. In comparison, I see effective drives from Christianity which has been able to convert most of Western Roman Empire into Christians kicking out the Moors, who were the last Muslims in that region, five hundred years ago. I see an effective Orthodox Christianity which is still fresh and young and is thriving in the Russia and East Europe. It took less than three hundred years to make whole of South America completely Christian. In contrast, Jews, who were persecuted in every Christian kingdom, were given homage and better protection in the Muslim world. The argument that only Islam inherently believes in converting every one on the earth is untenable. Each religions consolidated itself in different geographies as much as Islam.

Coming to religious texts, Yes, I do agree that Koran has aggressive tones when it comes to dealing with people of other faiths- but again they have been interpreted differently in different times. For every aggressive sentence in Koran, there is an equivalent sentence which instills responsibility and equanimity on its followers to other kinds of people. Idolatry as pagan practice was definitely abolished initially but over a period of time, Islam co-existed with other major religions in peace. While the Christian world was plunging itself into Dark Ages, it was the Muslim world which kept the torch of enlightenment lighting, which it later handed over to Western Europe to pave the way for Renaissance, Age of Reason and Age of Enlightenment, and to eventually Modern Science.

If religious text is the core reason why Islam is violent, then every Buddhist state should be extremely pacifist (like Tibet), and every Christian state should be people-loving. I don’t see that in their history. Each religion irrespective of its text has been aggressive, brutal and violent at some times, and benevolent, caring and peace-promoting at other times, in almost similar proportions. Therefore, I tend to disagree with the explanation that religious texts shape the nature of its followers.

The reasons why some of the Muslims of the present-day are violent are found elsewhere. Looking for answers in the nature of its founder, its religious text and nature of its history is futile and completely useless. The Rest of the World, instead of waking up to recognize its posture and stance, rectify its mistakes, admit its wrongs, is unnecessarily trying to find faults, flaws and explanations in the origins and practices of Islam. Rest of the World has to realize that ‘problem with Islam’ is rooted in certain historic mishaps, prolonged mistakes, and continued alienation that it has imposed onto Islam in the last hundred years. Only when this Rest of the World wakes up to admit it and take measures to correct itself shall we see Islamic world take a step back and be at peace with itself and the Rest of the World.

Update: October 05, 2006

Polite Indian discusses various religious texts and their violent content


  1. Sujai,
    Regarding the violent verses in Quran, well those verses were revealed at particular instances and were applicable there only. If those verses are applied today then it will be the same as applying Newton's laws of motion in an accelerating frame (You need to bring in the pseudo component right?)
    Similarly many other verses have been misinterpreted. I have a small collection

    just scroll down for answers. I sometimes wonder that in spite of scholar's continuous refuting of these inane claims, people are still so prejudiced against Islam. I think it has to do with the current stage of transition Islam is under. I think I should write something on it. Excellent and rational analysis again.

    BTW are you in IISc?

  2. Religion is completely different from politics. What the founder of the religion like Buddha, Jesus, Krishna or Mohammad wrote in religious books is different from what selfish people 'born into'those religions do to gain more land and power ! Even Ramayana and Mahabharata is the story of 'good over evil' but in reality is just another war over a woman and kingdom.

  3. Sujai

    At this rate, you will soon be the most unpopular non-muslim in India.*gigle*

    I am at awe at your integrity.

    Peace and Regards

  4. Sharique > Very good comment.

    The blogger needs to make postings a little concise.. long postings are difficult to read.. and lose their impact.. Just a thought.


  5. @Sharique:
    I am not in IISc.

    @Indian - Lets make Progress:
    I shall try to make my blogs concise for easy reading :)

  6. deepbluenpurple:
    Its 'Inquisition' not 'Insurrection'. Thanks for pointing it out. I will make the corrections.

  7. Sujal said:

    Buddha is supposedly a very gentle person and is known for his pacifism, but just look at what Japanese have done in WWII, look at what Khmer Rouge did to its people, look at what Mao did to intellectuals.

    Sometimes I wonder how people who are so ignorant of facts do not hesitate to argue their wishful thinking. Mao and Pol Pot were buddhists? Come one, give me a break.

    But then as you have very aptly quoted Russell that fools are always sure of themselves.

  8. Anonymous:
    Mao and Pol Pot were buddhists? Come one, give me a break.

    Lest other fools out there start thinking like you. Let me clarify what this means.

    Akbar is a Muslim to most of us (though he started Din-i-llahi, which may have been denounced by Muslims themselves). Kemal Ataturk is a Muslim to most of us (though he adopted a secular version for his country).

    Mao Zedong was born into a Buddhist family. His mother, Wen Chi-mei, was a devout Buddhist.

    Pol Pot's party embraced a version of Buddhism called Theravada Buddhism.

    They have both later renounced their version of Buddhism and targeted their some of their own people (including Buddhists).

  9. then every Buddhist state should be extremely pacifist (like Tibet)
    Well, the Buddhists living there are pacifists. It's the godless Chinese government ;) that has persecuted them and flooded the country with people from mainland China. So, your reasoning there is flawed.

    Also, if certain people act violent and dedicate their actions to their religion, it is logical to look into the history of the religion, the sacred books, the founder - along with US foreign policies and thirst for oil - to figure out what is inspiring them.

    Also, I hope you can try and distill your posts a bit and make your points in a concise manner. Too long. :)


  10. Amit:
    So, your reasoning there is flawed.

    OK. Thanks.
    Read some of my comments on this topic. I don't want to repeat myself.

    And read my article once again.

    When did terrorism start? And what was happening to Islam during Ottoman Empire? Why was it not as violent as Christianity during the same time?

  11. @ Sujai,

    You must know that i have been following your blog for a month now and have found your opinions very radical and thought provoking. I really appreciate your effort So dont take this as a rant by some facist Hindu going by my name. Im agnostic by the way and just seek a healthy debate here.

    Coming to this article i had the following assumptions of you
    1.Sujai is an Athiest who has no problem with Christians practicing Chritianity , Hindus practicing Hinduism , Muslim practising Islam and so on.
    2.Sujai being an Athiest believes that every religion in the world is flawed(In MOral terms at this point of time) as are the believers of the faith.

    But reading this post i somehow get the feeling that you believe Islam and the Muslim world to be righteous in the present day predicament(Islam and The Rest of the World). Do clear me on this if you dont mind. Is that what you think?

    Anyway i found the following debatable.

    Does that mean this religion is destined to be violent forever?

    I believe God dint make man,Man made God and has since been using religion(s) to justify this creation. Followers in time modify these religion(s) to keep the faith alive for their own mostly selfish desires. So No Islam is not destined to be violent forever. It will be reformed to co-exist with the modern world (hopefully sooner).

    I discard the explanation that a religion and its people are in anyway similar to its founder.
    So are u saying that a founder of a religion has no influence on his/her religion and the followers? I Think there always is an influence.

    Only when this Rest of the World wakes up to admit it and take measures to correct itself shall we see Islamic world take a step back and be at peace with itself and the Rest of the World.
    Its like saying if only all hindus in India abide by the rules of the Hindutva will the later take a step back and be at peace with the rest of India. Although this is potentially a solution its not a plausible one. I am stressing at the solution provided by you because you have used the word 'ONLY' here.

    I believe one possible solution would be that set by the west. When the catholic Church and Christinaity was the reason for much of the havoc in the middle ages it was the free thinkers of the same faith or AThiest's with names of the same faith that helped with the transition to the renaisance. Im talking about the likes of the Galilios, David Humes and the Newtons. The islamic world needs more Sulman Rushdies to co exist with the Rest of the world.

    Would love to hear your thoughts.


  12. about the muslim conquerors being potentially able to convert most of India to islam - it is a weak argument. Although a lot of India was under their rule, it was hardly direct and hardly uncontested. And a handful of conquerors being able to convert a third of india to islam is aggressive enough. Also - remember, Hinduism India has a history of atleast 2000 years, out of which roughly 250 years were predominantly under islam rule. This would be insignificant time for complete conversions.

    Christianity had its dark ages, but that is not an argument to say islam is right. The issues you have mentioned are irrelevant to the basic argument. Same holds for the other analogies you have presented. there is a problem with this community as of date, and we need to accept that and be aware. While intellectuals can go about arriving at the psycho-sociological factors why things are as they are, the rest of us will need protection from the onslaught - surviving bombs in buildings, trains and parks - which may happen tomorrow. We need it now. This can come only be realizing the threat on the ground.

    with due respect to your analytical abilities, wish you have some inkling of realities on the ground. I live close to a muslim community - and no chance in hell I will be caught on fridays or nights or on their festivals alone. there is no concept of law - anything acquired by force is fair game (muggings, encroachments and kidnappings). This is in a progressive city like bangalore. I have personally been mugged twice. Do take a look at statistics in local police stations as well.

    Well anyways, I dont see anyone from their community talking so much about how their ideology teaches peace etc., as much as outsiders do. When you defend one community to the extent of being passionate, the arguments can be hardly taken as neutral. Wish someday you will write about the plight of the majority community in their own lands.


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