In the wake of the horrendous attack by Muslim terrorists on the USA on 11 September 2001, the question of whether Islam is peaceful or not became acute. Politicians such as President George W. Bush of America and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, maintained that Islam is a religion of peace. That was to be expected. Western countries did not want to endanger either their diplomatic relations with Muslim countries or the oil that they received from them. These politicians also did not want to stir up hatred against Muslims in their own countries as it may have led to violence. And of course, all these pronouncements were in keeping with the principle not to give offence. Others blamed the victim for the attack and claimed that America’s arrogant foreign policy had provoked what they called a fringe extremist group. But what those who made pronouncements on the subject should have done was to establish beforehand where the truth lies. Few, however, showed any interest in doing so. One of them was the ex-nun, Karen Armstrong. In an essay written directly after the attack entitled “Was it Inevitable? she maintained in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that “Muslims have never nurtured dreams of world conquest” and at no stage had any designs on Europe.
Western apologists for Islam, desperate to portray it as benign, assure those of us who are non-Muslims that we have nothing to fear from it. It is, after all, like Judaism and Christianity one of the so-called trio of Abrahamic religions all of whom, they say, worship the same god. But contrary to what is claimed, the Christian Trinity is, according to its description alone, a polytheistic god and cannot be the same deity as the monotheistic Hebrew god Yahweh. Both of them have further nothing in common with the Muslim god Allah. According to Ibn Warraq (Why I am Not a Muslim P42) Allah was in fact one of the tribal gods of the inhabitants of Mecca from before the time of Mohammed, the self-appointed “prophet” and founder of Islam. Moreover, according to mythology, Allah had three daughters namely al-Lat, al-Uzzah and al-Manat. Although these three deities were initially introduced by Mohammed in the so-called Satanic Verses of the Koran (see below), he later rejected them, withdrew the verses and eventually became, like the Jews, a strict monotheist.
Opponents of Islam had nothing kind to say about it after the shocking events of 2001. Christian evangelist Franklin Graham called Islam “a very evil and wicked religion”, while his fellow preacher Jerry Falwell denounced Mohammed as a “terrorist”. Secular opponents argued that in view Islam’s stated goal of world domination one cannot trust any Muslim who claims that his religion is a peaceful one. Such a person would be like the Hitler in Mel Brooks’ film To Be Or Not To Be who initially proclaims that “All I want is peace” but later confesses that “All I want is piece of Poland, all I want is piece of France.”
Of course, the question of whether or not Islam is a violent religion can only be answered by examining its history and tenets. Muslim violence has a very long history dating back to Mohammed’s lifetime (570 – 632 CE). Although he was himself initially driven from Mecca by the townspeople who felt threatened by his revolutionary religion, Mohammed settled in Medina and later took revenge by successfully attacking the caravans of Mecca in 624. During the time that Mohammed was in Medina, in May 627 to be precise, he perpetrated a shocking massacre of a Jewish tribe of the area who had refused to convert to his newfangled faith. He had between six and eight hundred men beheaded while he watched and sold the women and children into slavery. Not long after this act of barbarism, a truce was concluded between Mohammed and the town of Mecca. Mohammed, however, subsequently violated the truce, successfully attacked the town with his army and, as might be expected, forced the inhabitants to embrace Islam. He continued to subdue the other towns until, at the time of his death, the whole of the Arabian peninsula was Muslim.
At his farewell address in March 632, shortly before his death, Mohammed claimed that “I was ordered to fight all men until they say ‘There is no god but Allah.'” His followers were so inspired that they subsequently took up arms in order to fight a holy war (Jihad) for their new faith. The promises that were made to them, namely that they shall immediately go to paradise if they die for their religion on the battlefield or share in the spoils of war if they succeed in conquering the enemy, proved irresistible. Droves of men volunteered to enlist. These armies of Allah found the countries of the Middle East at the time an easy prey. The Sassanid (Persian) and Byzantine empires were exhausted waging war against each other while Egypt and Syria were weakened by internal religious strife. Some of the citizens of the countries that had been oppressed resented their rulers and as a result, viewed the invaders as liberators. Moreover, what the Muslim armies lacked in skill and training, they made up in religious zeal. Within a period of 120 years after the death of Mohammed, his followers had conquered an area extending from the western border of China, through the north of India, the whole of the Middle East (excluding what is today known as Turkey) and North Africa. They even invaded Europe; first by subjugating Spain and Portugal and then attacking France. They were finally stopped in their tracks by Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in central France in 732. Although the Muslims withdrew from France, they hung on to Spain and Portugal until 1492 when they were forcibly expelled. Even after that the Muslims still menaced Europe. The Turkish Ottoman Empire had meanwhile conquered the whole of Turkey and the Eastern Roman Empire in 1453, occupied the Balkans and imposed its Muslim rule on the inhabitants. The Ottomans even unsuccessfully besieged Vienna on a number of occasions, the last being in 1683.
One often reads that after the early conquests by the Muslim armies, their vanquished foe, particularly the Christians and Jews who were referred to as the “people of the book”, were permitted by their Muslim rulers to live in peace as long as they paid tribute. We are for example told by Lewis Feuer in his book Imperialism and the Anti-Imperialist Mind (P60-1) that the Jews enjoyed unparalleled prosperity in Muslim Spain and that the period is known in Jewish history as the Golden Age of Spain. The truth is, however, very different. The Muslims divided the world into two camps: dar al-islam (the sphere of Islam) and dar al-harb (the sphere of war). It is the duty of all Muslims, Mohammed decreed, to make war upon the infidels outside the sphere of Islam. Once they had been subjugated, but refuse to convert, the Muslim priests (or imams) could do with these Dhimmis, as they were called, what they like. And what they did to Jews and Christians, even with their supposedly protected status, was simply shocking. Andrew Bostom describes in his book The Legacy of Jihad; Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslims (P. 56 – 60) how atrociously the Dhimmis were treated in Al-Andalus (Spain) after it had been overrun in 716. (See also Why I am Not a Muslim P. 236 -7). A hierarchy was imposed with the Arabs at the top and the Berbers, who were never recognized as their equals, beneath them. They were followed by the Spanish Muslim converts and at the bottom of the pyramid were the majority of the population, the native Dhimmis. Violence against the latter was an ever-present threat and both Jews and Christians were targeted. Between 1056 and 1066 the Jewish viziers Samuel and Joseph Ibn Naghrela were for instance murdered in Granada followed by a pogrom of the Jews by the Muslims in which it is estimated that 5,000 Jews were butchered. Between the years 1130 and 1232, the fanatical Almohad Berber Muslims forced Jews and Christians to convert, took them otherwise captive or massacred them. The renowned Jewish philosopher Maimonides who lived in Cordoba during this time was forced to disguise himself as a Muslim and flee for his life to North Africa with his family in 1148. Although Maimonides is often held up as an example of how the Jews flourished under the supposedly “enlightened” Muslim rule in Moorish Spain, he debunked claims of a so-called “golden age” during this period with the following words:” [T]he Arabs have persecuted us severely, and passed baneful and discriminatory legislation against us …Never did a nation molest, degrade, debase and hate us as much as they.” (Quoted in Bostom P.60.)
Belligerent as the Muslims are, all their empires crumbled over the centuries, the last being the Ottoman Empire that was dissolved in 1919 at the end of the First World War. Empires may have gone out of fashion in the rest of the world, but the Muslims pine for the restoration of theirs, which they call a Caliphate. They also blame the West for its demise and in particular the loss of their former colonies in the Balkans and Spain and Portugal. The loss of influence and status of the Muslims was a bitter pill for them to swallow and have contributed in no small measure to recent Muslim terrorism. The Palestinian group Hamas, for instance, states in it’s Constitution that “When our enemies usurp some Islamic lands, Jihad becomes a duty binding on all Muslims”. Osama Bin Laden likewise gave as reason for the 9/11 attacks, the West’s dismemberment of the last great Islamic power, the Ottoman Empire, which he considered to be a grave historical injustice. It was his view too that all former Muslim lands, including the Philippines and Spain, must be restored to Islam. The Muslim terrorists who perpetrated the 2004 Madrid bombings in which 193 people were killed, also stated explicitly that it was done to avenge the loss of Spain in 1492. (See Efraim Karsh Islamic Imperialism P.214 – 231) As Karsh remarks on page 230 of his book, Arabs today act “…as if they were Spain’s rightful owners and not former colonial occupiers of a remote foreign land, thousands of miles from their ancestral homeland.”
In addition to political terrorism, the Muslims are exceptionally thin-skinned, violent and vengeful when it comes to criticism or perceived insults of their religion. They simply do not believe in free speech and reasoned debate. There have been far too many incidents demonstrating this principle to discuss them in any depth, but let me mention a few of the most prominent ones in the past 30 years. On 14 February 1989 the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the supreme leader of Iran at the time, issued his infamous fatwa or death sentence on British author Salman Rushdie (a Muslim apostate) for writing the novel The Satanic Verses. He also extended the fatwa to include the editors and publishers of the book and offered a reward of up to $3 million for anyone who would kill Rushdie. What was Rushdie’s “crime”? He had written a fictionalized account in his novel of how Mohammed had introduced the satanic verses into the Koran. Although the incident was initially blamed on Satan by believers, modern Muslims deny that it ever took place and regard the story as blasphemy. Rushdie’s other crime was to have one of the characters in his book refer to Mohammed as “Mahound”, a name used by Westerners in the past to denote a false prophet or god. Rushdie was, fortunately, never killed but the translator of the book into Japanese, Hitoshi Igarashi, was. Meanwhile, the burning of books and bombing of book stores that sold the book caused havoc and those who spoke out in favour of free speech was attacked by Muslim mobs. Iran went so far as severing diplomatic ties with Britain whom it accused of being behind a plot to insult Islam. Although Rushdie formally apologized, his apology was never accepted. The fatwa was also never revoked; on the contrary, as recently as 2016 Iran increased the amount that will be paid out to any Muslim who succeeds in murdering Rushdie.
As might be expected, the attacks of 9/11 in 2001 engendered more hatred and criticism of Islam in the West. Muslims struck back in the only way they knew – with more violence. In 2004 the Dutch film director and frequent critic of Islam, Theo van Gogh made a film on the treatment of women in Islam. The Dutch Muslims, however, expressed their outrage at the film. One morning, as he was cycling to work, Van Gogh was attacked by a Muslim immigrant and stabbed and shot to death. Western journalists discovered meanwhile that an excellent way of tormenting Muslims is by drawing cartoons of their religion, particularly of their “prophet” Mohammed. Although Mohammed was an ordinary man and the Koran does not forbid any depiction of him, Muslims somehow managed to get it into their heads that it is “blasphemy” to do so and that it is such a heinous “crime” that it is punishable by death. Accordingly, when the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 such cartoons in 2007, the Muslims were up in arms. The cartoonists themselves escaped death, but around 200 people died in worldwide protest and violence while embassies and churches were damaged in attacks. Not so fortunate were the journalists and cartoonists of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo. When they too published cartoons of Mohammed, two gunmen from the Muslim terrorist group Al-Qaeda burst into their offices on 7 February 2015 and killed 12 people while wounding 11 more.
While the facts set out above clearly demonstrate that Islam is a violent religion that brooks no opposition or dissent, Western apologists insist that it is not the case and that it is a religion of peace. But if that it is so, then it means that Mohammed himself and all his followers that I have referred to have over the centuries all been mistaken or deluded. How is that possible? In order to establish where the truth lies, one has to examine what the Koran has to say on the subject as well as what the pronouncements of Mohammed are in this regard. These have been collected in the so-called Hadith and are regarded as one of the main sources of Islamic law.
Apologists love to quote what is stated (presumably by the Muslim god Allah) in Koran 2.256 “There is no compulsion in religion.” There are, however, numerous verses that say the exact opposite. In sura (or chapter) 47 ayah (or verse) 4 we read for instance “When you meet the unbelievers, strike off their heads; then when you have made wide slaughter among them, carefully tie up the remaining captives.” This does not, however, mean that a person can choose the verse he or she likes best. Mohammed himself realized that the numerous contradictions in the Koran are problematic. He consequently had a very convenient revelation to solve the problem. In Koran 2:105 Allah tells his flock that whenever new verses are in conflict with old ones, the new ones must take precedence because they are an improvement on the earlier revelations. (Why an omniscient and infallible god cannot get it right the first time we are not told.) This process of substitution is known as the doctrine of “abrogation”. There is further widespread agreement among Muslim theologians that the tolerant conciliatory verses in the Koran are the early ones and that these have been abrogated by the later bellicose ones. To modern man, this sounds bizarre. Isn’t it better to live and let live? But there is a good reason for this state of affairs that has nothing to do with divine revelation and everything with human expediency. Both Ibn Warraq (Why I am not a Muslim P.214-5) and Taner Edis (The Ghost in the Universe P.128) point out that during the time when the earlier conciliatory verses were supposed to have been received from Allah, Mohammed was actively engaged in open hostilities with Mecca. His situation was at that stage precarious. It would have been to his advantage to sound as if he eschewed violence. Once he had vanquished his enemies and acquired power, however, his revelations and pronouncements became increasingly belligerent.
That warfare and violence is expected of Muslims outside the community of believers (or umma, as it is called) is supported by the Hadith. The relevant passages are quoted in Bostom (P. 136 – 140). Mohammed may even have encouraged modern day terrorism with his pronouncements. “The sword” he said “is the key of heaven and hell: a drop of blood shed in the cause of God, a night spent in arms, is of more avail than two months of fasting or prayer…” (Quoted in Edward Gibbon The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire chapter 50. Page 679 in D. M. Low’s one-volume abridgement).
Even in modern times, Muslims are not averse to encouraging violence against unbelievers. Khomeini (who was a cleric) made a speech in 1942 in which he stated that Islam is not a religion of pacifists and that its goal is to conquer the world. “I spit upon those foolish souls who…claim that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war”, he said. (Bostom P226). An unrepentant Osama bin Laden echoed this sentiment in a speech he made after the 9/11 attacks. “I was ordered to fight the people until they say there is no god but Allah, and his prophet Mohammed”, he declared in November 2001. (Quoted in Karsh P.1).
It may on the face of it seem as if the Muslims want to live in peace with their unbelieving neighbours when they immigrate to countries where they form a minority. After all, once they have settled in such countries they are in no position to take up arms against the infidels who are an overwhelming majority. But this a complete anomaly in terms of Muslim law. Because it was initially assumed that no Muslim would want to live in a non-Muslim country out of his own free will, Muslim law only makes provision for those cases where a Muslim finds himself an unwilling inhabitant among the unbelievers. Such a person may not remain there and must leave the country at the first available opportunity, even if he was born there and later converted to Islam. It is regarded as an act of impiety to remain, for it is a breach of an obligation in terms of the holy law. Because of this, Muslim countries did not even send ambassadors to non-Muslim states until the 18th and 19th centuries. (See Bernard Lewis From Babel to Dragomans P. 131 – 132).
It is often argued by apologists that Islam cannot be a violent religion because the silent Muslim majority desire peace and that they represent what Islam stands for. But in terms of what I have said, the Muslim warriors, murderers and terrorists must be regarded as “true” or “good” Muslims and not the silent majority who are lukewarm or nominal adherents or have in some cases even apostatized. Fortunately, however, it is the latter group who have made the world a better and, in particular, a more tolerant place. It would help a great deal if apologists were to admit this fact instead of pretending that those Muslims who condemn violent crimes committed by their co-religionists are the “true” representatives of their faith.