I am an atheist. Now, why do I want to understand religion?
I started out as radical atheist, engaging people in discussions and debates, talking about God, showing people the flaws and inconsistencies in their belief systems, and I did all this just to get kicks. I was young. Now, I see religion from a different perspective. I don’t think religion can be done away with. looks like it serves a purpose for humans. From what religious people tell me, it gives hope, it gives them order, a sense of meaning to their life, answers some of the arcane and metaphysical questions. According to some others, it binds people together, brings them closer, gives them faith and confidence in times of crisis. The more I understood history, human psychology, our need for social order and structure, the more I began to become tolerant of religion and its existence. Looks like humans will create an institution similar to religion even if one were eliminate it in the present form. Hence, I attempt to understand religion.
However, religion has its own demerits. The way science and technology can be used to blow up people, make war and even destroy countries; religion can blow up people, make war and destroy countries. It all depends on humans on how they want to use it.
Islam is under question from all quarters. Many of us from non-Islamic religions are in the process of demonizing Islam, citing texts from Koran and incidents from the life of Muhammad, its history and the present events to prove how it is inherently violent and intolerant. I have read many articles that talk about texts from Koran to explain why Islam is a violent religion and how it is incompatible with other religions.
Here’s a site that gives a different perspective- The American Muslim. I have taken some articles from that site and linked it here.
Dr. Hesham Hassaballa has posted five-part series explaining how Islam does not sanction the murder of ‘infidels’; that the verses in the Koran, which tell the believers to ‘fight the infidels’, are speaking of those who were directly attacking the Muslims at the time of the Prophet Muhammad. He adds, “There is nothing, nothing, nothing in Islam that says ‘all infidels must be killed. Nothing.” He clearly mentions, “Fighting in Islam is permitted only in self-defense.” And he agrees, “Unfortunately, the definition of ‘self-defense’ has been grossly distorted to justify inhuman acts of terror and violence.”
Writing about September 11, he says, “This sort of logic was used to justify the attacks of September 11. It is evil; it is diabolical; it is twisted; it is inhuman; it is morally reprehensible. Call it what you wish, but one thing you can’t call it is Islamic. Islam does not sanction or condone the murder of any innocent human being, be he or she Muslim or non-Muslim. Islam teaches that it is wrong, and if it’s wrong, it’s wrong.”
The Grand Sheikh of the al-Azhar mosque, Sheikh Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, who is acknowledged as the highest spiritual authority for nearly a billion Sunni Muslims, said Islam condemned terrorism in all its forms. He added, “Islam considers anyone who kills an innocent person as killing the whole of humanity.” He says that in the name of Islamic law he rejected and condemned the aggression against innocent civilian people, regardless of whatever side, sect or country the aggression came from.
For example, this article says, “There is no part of the Qur’an that says that Martyrs go immediately to Paradise.”
Dr. Javeed Akhter, Executive Director, The International Strategy and Policy Institute, writes that reader of Koran should keep the context in mind. The reader ‘should study, at the least, the preceding and following verses for a sense of the immediate context.’ For example, he gives his interpretation on this verse:
"put down the polytheists wherever you find them, and capture them and beleaguer them and lie in wait for them at every ambush” (Koran 9:5).
He explains, “the immediate context is that of a ‘war in progress’ and not a general directive. It was an attempt to motivate Muslims in self-defense.” He writes:
Muslims were given permission to defend themselves just before Prophet Muhammad’s migration from Makkah (where he grew up) to the city of Madinah, which occurred in the 13th year of his 23-year mission. The danger to Muslims in Makkah at this time was extreme and there was a real possibility of their total eradication. They were permitted to fight back in self-defense against those who violently oppressed them. “Permission is given (to fight) those who have taken up arms against you wrongfully. And, verily, God (Allah) is well able to give you succor. To those who have been driven forth from their homes for no reason than this that, say ‘Our Lord is God.”
He concludes, “It is clear from even a cursory study of the Koran that Islam does not permit, condone or promote violence. Just the opposite, it abhors violence and allows it only in self-defense. A claim to the contrary is no more than bad fiction.” Writing about Bible, he says, “The critics of the Koran should remember that if the Bible were similarly quoted out of context it would appear to be an extra ordinarily violent scripture.”
Many non-Muslims ask why Muslims do not speak up against terrorism. This site lists many articles where many Muslims have raised voice against Terrorism.
Here the author contends that Islam did not spread by sword. That must be hard to prove. He cites the following reason to make his case (a bit flimsy, I would say).
- War was an exception than a rule in Islam
- Muslims ruled Spain for 800 years without using sword to convert.
- 14 million Arabs are Coptic Christians though Muslims ruled for 1400 years.
- More than 80% non-Muslims in India under Muslim rule.
- No invasion into Indonesia and Malaysia.
- No invasion into East Coast of Africa.
- Koran quotes “Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from error".
- Islam is the fastest growing religion in America and Europe without sword.
Muzammil H. Siddiqi, Ph.D., writes, “Jews were among the earliest converts to Islam (in Medina) and, throughout the Middle Ages, Jews found sanctuary to practice their own religion under Islamic rule.” Writing about Jews, he says, “The Qur’an speaks extensively about the Children of Israel and recognizes that the Jews are, according to lineage, descendants of Prophet Abraham through his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. They were chosen by God for a mission and God raised among them many Prophets and bestowed upon them what He had not bestowed upon many others. He exalted them over other nations of the earth and granted them many favors.”
Aisha Harris, an English Muslim lawyer, writes, “In the Prophet's time and indeed in moderate forward thinking Muslim countries today, women are respected and honored.” She adds, “The Prophet Muhammad said it was the duty of every Muslim, male and female, to be educated. He did not say females could only learn to read the Qur’an, and then stop at the age of eight years.” And writing about use of veil, she gives an example, “Indeed, in the Hajj, no woman is permitted to wear any sort of veil.”
She considers Taliban ”unbelievers, the un-Islamic, the oppressors, and the blasphemers.” According to her the Shariah law is a compassionate law. She exhorts the regimes to read the Shariah ‘and act upon it correctly, not superimpose their own interpretation.’