Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of His Servant?

Islam and Peace – Part Deux

 Here I am working hard on an essay about peace in Islam.  And I am having a hard time to come to a conclusion.  Is Islam really a religion of PEACE (as George Bush and many others said after 9/11), or is it a religion of pieces (if you don’t convert to Islam you will be blown to pieces – as one blogger put it)? 

Remember also the case of the Afghan man who converted from Islam to Christianity:

Senior Muslim clerics demanded Thursday that an Afghan man on trial for converting from Islam to Christianity be executed, warning that if the government caves in to Western pressure and frees him, they will incite people to “pull him into pieces.”

So – which one is it, a religion of peace, or a religion of pieces?  It is not an easy question.

The word for peace in Islam (salam) is a cognate to the Hebrew shalom. And their semantic range is remarkably similar.  They are both used in greetings (the greeting in Islamic Paradise [which is Dar as-salam = Realm of Peace] is simple: Peace), and they both mean much more than peace (absence of strife/war).  They refer to wholeness and well-being, health and perhaps even prosperity.  It covers inner peace, a lack of fear, and it is closely related to righteosness.  Shalom/salam cannot exist in a society without justice and fairness.

But what are the differences?  It seems that the differences are mainly on HOW this peace is to be achieved.  Even though Islam is (in a way) one religion, it seems that it is a “many splintered things.”  There are at least two views on peace in Islam: that of Sayyid Qutb (a main intellectual force behind Osama), and that of Shiite Imam Muhammad Shirazi (as an example of what I call a moderate).  They both discuss the life of Mohammed and his followers, and use the Koran and the Hadith (traditions) to arrive to their conclusions.

Shirazi basically maintains that Islam has always tried to be (and avoided) non-violent and peaceful, and in this it simply follows the example of Mohammed and his followers.  It is a view of history and of the Koran that is NOT share by many today.  Especially NOT by those who are outside of the Muslim religion.

Sayyid Qutb uses the same texts and examples to show that Islam can and should be violent and militant in certain situations.  More specifically, the pure Islam (the one which follows the Koran and the Prophet) should go to war (they must use physical power and jihad to overthrow governments and attack societies) to establish a just society. (The only just society is the one in which God rules through his laws = Sharia Law. No just/right society can exist where humans live governed by human laws; it means that they usurped the role of God) all over the world (Islam is also a universal religion).

This kind of Islam is clearly militant and justifies war for the “good intention” to bring the blessing of Islam to everybody.  It does not force one to become a Muslim (he quotes many times from Sura 2: There is no compulsion in religion), but Islam must control the whole world and impose Sharia everywhere – so that people can live in real “freedom.”

Ayman Zawahiri was an ardent follower of Qutb and is also the mentor of Osama bin-Laden.  One can see the connection to peace and non-violence that they have.

But – is there another Islam?  Is there a purer Koranic Islam which denounces violence and is not characterized by the “tearing in pieces” and by the sword?  Or is the true Islam that of Sayyid Qutb? There are very very many Muslim scholars that consider Osama and the other”fanatics” a deviation of Islam.  Edward Said said that “September 11 is an act of cultic religion…[done] by a small group of deranged militants.”

One sure hopes that this is the truth.  However, there remain many questions.

How does one (a “moderate”) interpret the following text from the Quran?

9.5 So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful…

How many moderates are out there who would allow a Muslim to change his religion without condemning him to death?  For even if one accepts the theory that Islam was NOT spread by sword, if it is being KEPT by the sword (don’t change religion or you will die) – then there is no real FREEDOM in Islam.  Then, there IS COMPULSION in religion…and the prospects of democracy and peace with others are dim, if not impossible. 

These are some of my questions and thoughts.  Is Islam a religion of peace? I do not know, but I am willing to learn more.

3 responses

  1. Rahela

    Interesting…. looking forward to read your article…
    What I just read makes me even more aware of the lie these people live in… andtheir desperate need of the True peace that surpasses all understanding, the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ!

    January 24, 2008 at 5:23 am

  2. Daniel Berry

    I’ve heard it said (secondhand) by a Muslim missionary in America (?) to a Christian interlocutor that of course there is choice: you can convert or you can lose your life. There is no compulsion! We Christians apparently simply fail to understand this…;)

    March 7, 2008 at 12:06 pm

  3. Well…that is what I heard too. I’d like to hear a different opinion on this. BUT – I have not yet…

    March 7, 2008 at 1:26 pm

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