IS ISLAM A RELIGION OF PEACE?
Don Walker, 11 October 2001
In recent weeks a lot has been said about the religion of Islam. Undoubtedly, some of what has been said is for the purpose of creating political alliances and a climate of tolerance. Islam has been described by some as "a religion of peace." In fact, it has been pointed out the word "Islam" itself means "peace." We are told that the acts of the Islamic terrorists are an aberration of the true Muslim faith. It has been said that, "The terrorists are to Islam what the Ku Klux Klan is to Christianity." Is this really the case, or are the terrorists acting within the borders of an Islamic worldview and an interpretation of the Koran believed by many of their clerics?
Let us begin with the word "Islam." It is an Arabic word that is etymologically related to the Hebrew word "Shalom," which is translated as "peace." In the Western world, our understanding of "peace" differs to a great extent from that of the Middle Easterner. To the Middle Easterner, "peace" connotes the idea of "having your foot on your enemies neck" i.e.; "surrender" or "submission." To the Muslim, peace can only come when there is a surrender and submission to Allah. I dare say, this is a far cry from what most Westerners mean by "peace." The noted historian Paul Johnson, writing in National Review, makes this comment, "The word Islam does not mean peace but submission." He goes on to say that Islam is "an imperialist religion, more so than Christianity has ever been and in contrast to Judaism."
We, in the Western world, are far too ignorant of the second largest religion in the world. We are naive regarding the intentions of Islam and ignorant of its history. The very "root" of Islam is in military conquest, and the "fruit" we observe today springs forth from this root.
Here is a little history lesson. Muhammad, whose name means, "highly praised," was born approximately 570 A.D. in Mecca. He lived a rather unremarkable life until, according to Islamic tradition, the angel Gabriel visited him at 40 years of age and called him into the service of Allah. Judaism and Christianity probably influenced Muhammad, along with the folk religions of the region.
As he sought to propagate his new religion, he was met with opposition. Town after town rejected Muhammad, as he sought to establish himself as Allah's messenger. Finally, the little town of Yathrib invited him and his small band of followers to take up residence. The town later changed its name to Medina ("the prophet's city") to honor him. Muhammad's move to Medina is called "the Hegira," meaning the "breaking off of one's own tribe." Today this marks the beginning of the Muslim era: September 622 A.D.
With the Hegira began a period of Muslim expansion. The people of Mecca who had rejected him became Muhammad's enemies; and in the name of Allah he began to prepare a "holy war" (Jihad) against them. Arming his followers, Muhammad conquered one village after another, building strength for an assault on Mecca. In 630 A.D. he entered Mecca as a conqueror and ordered the over 350 idols worshipped in the chief shrine, Kaaba, be destroyed. He declared that no unbeliever should enter Mecca again.
Two years later, having returned to Medina, Muhammad became ill and died at the age of 61 on June 8, 632 A.D. By this time he had conquered most of Arabia.
As I trust you can see, from its very beginning Islam was spread by the edge of a sword. The history of Islam is replete with violence and warfare, from its birth to the present day. When the Muslims invaded Spain, it took over seven centuries to drive them out. The Muslim Ottoman Turks slaughtered a million Armenians in 1915-16 (a fact still ignored by much of the Western world). Today, in the Sudan over two million Christians have been slaughtered, and many more sold into slavery, all under the direction of the Islamic General Umar Bashir. In Indonesia, Muslims have killed over 300,000 East Timorese Catholics since 1975.
Please understand I am not ignorant of the Crusades, the Spanish conquistadors, or other deeds done in the name of Christ. I am well aware of the abusiveness of "Christianity" over the centuries and find it repugnant. But I do not find conquering by the sword the standard M.O. of Christianity. Unlike Muhammad, Jesus and His followers did not initiate the spread of their faith by military force.
What does Islam teach regarding the concept of jihad? One finds many injunctions with in the Koran exhorting believers to defend and spread the faith. The character of this defense is determined by how one interprets the doctrine of jihad ("struggle for the faith"), which is discussed in numerous verses in the Koran. In one sense, it is understood as the individual's struggle with his own nature to follow the precepts of Allah. But one cannot deny that it also calls for one to literally fight for his faith. Philip K. Hitti, in his book entitled Islam in the West, describes it this way:
The doctrine of jihad ("holy war") divided the world into two realms, the abode of peace and the abode of war, and made it incumbent upon the believer to keep on pushing the wall between the two until the whole world is Islamized - reminiscent of the modern communist theory. He who fell on the battlefield was promised immediate entry into Paradise.
Allow me to quote from the Koran. From reading its injunctions, it is quite easy to see the justification the Islamic terrorists find for their actions.
O believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Let them find firmness in you. (Sura:9, Ayat:123)
Fight those who believe not… even if they be People of the Book until they have willing agreed to pay the tribute in recognition of their submissive state. (Sura:9, Ayat:29)
You will be called to fight a mighty nation; fight them until they embrace Islam. (Sura:48, Ayat:16)
Then fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them. And seize them, beleaguer them and lie in wait for them, in every stratagem (of war). (Sura:9, Ayat:5)
Is Islam a religion of peace? The actions of Muhammad, its history, and the words of the Koran seem to say otherwise. Therefore, the real answer to Islamic terrorism will not be found in physical weapons of war. It is a religious system which will continue to produce followers, who will faithfully wage jihad against the "infidels." They will not play the game of "leave us alone and we will leave you alone." It's against their religion. The real answers is in converting them to Christianity (as the Celts did the barbarous Vikings) and, thus, transform the Islamic nations into Christian ones. Is that not what the Great Commission tells us to do? To disciple the nations and teach them to obey Christ's commandments (Mt. 28:19-20).
It maybe that the current situation is part of God's strategy to open the Islamic world to Christian missionaries in an unprecedented way. I pray that this is so, because I know of no other hope for the world apart from the Prince of Peace and His gospel.
Don Walker is the pastor of Christ Covenant Church, Kansas City, Missouri. He is currently directing The School of Applied Theology and Church Leadership, located in Santa Rosa, California.