Which Are the Religions of Violence?

In the context of a young woman from Ohio who fears the jeopardy of an Honor Killing based on her conversion from Islam to Christianity, the recent shoot out with an Imam in Detroit, a father running over his own, “overly westernized” daughter and Fort Hood it is worth revisiting the arguments over religious violence.

A frequent, albeit, shallow argument, should you venture into a discussion of Islam and violence is that; Christians and Jews have violence in their histories just like Islam. The implication being that you can’t make the “violence” argument against Islam since all three faiths have a measure of violence in their history. That argument is based on the logic that three wrongs make a right and if someone else did it than it must be OK for me to do it too.

The intellectual disconnect revolves around what is history and what is doctrine. Clearly, violence is present in the histories of all three major monotheistic faiths. In Judaism and Christianity violence is a historical fact; however, there is no open ended doctrine urging the faithful to ongoing violence as a commitment to faith. This fact is the most important and most frequently ignored portion of the “everyone was violent” argument. In Islam, ongoing violence as a means to propagate the faith is well ensconced both historically and, most importantly, as a matter of doctrine. Both the Quran and the Hadith sanction violence both generally and specifically, there are 26 sections of the Quran dedicated to militarism and violence. Jihad is to be never ending until the world has recognized or submitted to the supremacy of Islam, Allah, and of the Prophet Mohammed as his messenger. As a matter of long standing doctrine, Infidels must be converted, subjugated or killed.

Further, if you consider the Islamic idea of abrogation where later verses of the Quran supersede earlier ones and apply that standard to the evolution of Judaism as the foundation for Christianity the relativity argument simply does not hold up. Christianity, as doctrine, calls on its adherents to “love thy neighbor”, “turn the other cheek” and so on. Violence as an institutional prerogative does not exist in Judaism or in Christianity. It can be argued that Christianity “abrogated” the violence of the Old Testament with the pacifism of the New Testament. The fact remains that in neither Judaism nor Christianity is the application of violence a matter of fundamental doctrine.

That is clearly not the direction abrogation took in Islam. In the earlier portions of the Quran the Prophet was frequently engaged with and was clearly influenced by Jews and Zoroastrians. This was a period of relative calm in Islam as the Prophet received his first visitations from the Angel Gabriel and began his mission of propagating Islam.

In later times as Mohammed encountered resistance, in some cases armed resistance; his visions took on a different tenor and began to adopt a distinctly militaristic tone. It is these verses that abrogate and replace earlier ones according to many Islamic scholars. It is clear that as Mohammed faced specific challenges, more violently orientated visions conveniently addressed the challenge of the day abrogating earlier ones more in line with the initial influences on Mohammed. The Imperialism of early Islam grew ever more dependant on the later versus of the Quran to justify ongoing violence.

In the case of both Christianity and Islam, Jesus and Mohammed, respectively, are held out as perfect examples of a perfect life. Violence, in the case of Jesus, is essentially absent from the telling of his life and teachings. Not so the case in Islam as the Hadith recounts many circumstances where Mohammed was involved in directing, motivating as well as participating in violence against those that stood against him. This is a fundamental rational in Islam regarding the acceptability of violence as the foundation of Jihad, a theme well evolved, interpreted and communicated by fundamentalists. If the Prophet engaged in any particular behavior, the Prophet, as a representation of a perfect life justifies the behavior in others.

The occurrence of violence is a fact in religious history but in Islam violence is a matter of prescribed doctrine.

 While we observe the ongoing search for politically correct justifications of Islamic behaviors, the facts of the belief system must also be considered. It is, thankfully, true that most Muslims eschew the violence we have seen over the last month. Consider however, that if only 10% of worldwide Muslims adopt a more fundamentalist view promulgated by Jihadists that 10% population represents over one hundred and twenty million people.