Islam and Peace

Like many people I suspect, I am bewildered by, on the one hand, acts of terror by Islamist radicals, and on the other, claims that ‘Islam is a religion of peace’. Islam can mean ‘peace’ – it seems that the words that convey the concepts of ‘peace’ and ‘submission’ are closely related – but as I understand it, peace pertains only if you are a Muslim who is submissive to the teachings of the Koran. In some readings of the Koran there is no peace for those who do not submit.

Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo is an Anglican clergyman who works for Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity. He has recently published an article in the current issue of the Spectator which examines the claims of those who propagate the ‘Islam means peace’ line. This is a thoughtful piece which takes seriously what Muslims say themselves. I find these paragraphs most interesting:

It is probably true that in every faith ordinary people will pick the parts they like best and practise those, while the scholars will work out an official version. In Islam the scholars had a particularly challenging task, given the mass of contradictory texts within the Koran. To meet this challenge they developed the rule of abrogation, which states that wherever contradictions are found, the later-dated text abrogates the earlier one. To elucidate further the original intention of Mohammed, they referred to traditions (hadith) recording what he himself had said and done. Sadly for the rest of the world, both these methods led Islam away from peace and towards war. For the peaceable verses of the Koran are almost all earlier, dating from Mohammed’s time in Mecca, while those which advocate war and violence are almost all later, dating from after his flight to Medina. Though jihad has a variety of meanings, including a spiritual struggle against sin, Mohammed’s own example shows clearly that he frequently interpreted jihad as literal warfare and himself ordered massacre, assassination and torture. From these sources the Islamic scholars developed a detailed theology dividing the world into two parts, Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Islam, with Muslims required to change Dar al-Harb into Dar al-Islam either through warfare or da’wa (mission).

So the mantra ‘Islam is peace’ is almost 1,400 years out of date. It was only for about 13 years that Islam was peace and nothing but peace. From 622 onwards it became increasingly aggressive, albeit with periods of peaceful co-existence, particularly in the colonial period, when the theology of war was not dominant. For today’s radical Muslims — just as for the mediaeval jurists who developed classical Islam — it would be truer to say ‘Islam is war’. One of the most radical Islamic groups in Britain, al-Ghurabaa, stated in the wake of the two London bombings, ‘Any Muslim that denies that terror is a part of Islam is kafir.’ A kafir is an unbeliever (i.e., a non-Muslim), a term of gross insult.

In the words of Mundir Badr Haloum, a liberal Muslim who lectures at a Syrian university, ‘Ignominious terrorism exists, and one cannot but acknowledge its being Islamic.’ While many individual Muslims choose to live their personal lives only by the (now abrogated) peaceable verses of the Koran, it is vain to deny the pro-war and pro-terrorism doctrines within their religion.

Read the whole article (you have to register, but it is free, and well worth it just for this article). He goes on to examine the state of the Muslim community in Britain.

Islam and Peace