Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Islam: A Religion of Violence?

My first encounter with extreme violence perpetrated by a person or persons professing the Islamic faith was the 1998 bomb attack on the United States Embassy in Nairobi. I was about to leave the house to visit a friend at the Teacher’s Service Commission offices at Co-Operative House, which was separated from the embassy by a smaller building called Ufundi House when the attack took place.

The bomb as many of you will recall, completely leveled the small building and extensively damaged the other two. Over 200 Kenyans and 12 Americans were killed, and thousands others injured.  A simultaneous attack took place at the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Aftermath of the blast in Nairobi

There have been other acts of violence attributed to Muslims in this country, including the bomb attack on Paradise Hotel in Kikambala in 2002, the attempted downing of an Israeli airliner and the grenade attacks we have witnessed in recent times.

The same pattern of violence has been replicated in other parts of the world by Muslims who claim to be fighting a Jihad or Holy War. Of course, the most spectacular of them all was the attacks on US soil in 2001 by Al-Qaeda, in which over 3,000 people lost their lives.

The second plane approaches the South Tower of the World Trade Centre

Now, a legitimate question has to be asked: why is all this violence carried out in the name of Islam? Why have Muslim fundamentalists and extremists been allowed to hijack that religion to advance their own causes and agenda by violent means? Why is the ordinary Muslim likely to react violently to any slight directed at his religion?

Does Islam sanction the use of violence to advance its causes and to protect its integrity?

It is believed that out of 6,000 verses in the Qur’an, 109 of those expressly advocate and encourage violence against unbelievers. For instance, Qur'an 9:5, known as "the verse of the sword," declares, "Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem."

The other verses carry on in the same vein; any person or society that does not believe in Allah in the way prescribed by Islam is to be vanquished and dominated. Now that sounds like some pretty scary stuff to me! But are there verses in the Qur’an that teach peace and coexistence with non believers?

Sure. Qur’an 17:53, 54 says, “And tell my servants that they should speak in a most kindly manner (unto those who do not share their beliefs). Verily, Satan is always ready to stir up discord between men; for verily; Satan is man’s foe.... Hence, We have not sent you (Unto men O Prophet) with power to determine their Faith.”

So, is there a contradiction in terms here? It is confusing to hear the likes of extremists like Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, the guys who run Iran and many others all over the world quoting verses that call for violence against “infidels” as the basis for their activities.

On the other hand, there are moderate Muslims, also known as Sunni, who practice a more peaceful brand of Islam. They say that their brothers, the Wahabis, are wrong and that their interpretation of the Qur’an is misguided. Who is to be believed?

I am not a scholar of religion, let alone Islam. I only know what I observe. Right now, there is a slow burning war being directed at non Muslims, particularly those of the Christian faith. This is happening in many parts of the world, and more so in Africa. The Boko Haram in Nigeria have been slaughtering Christians in their hundreds over there and burning their churches. The same thing, though on a smaller scale is happening in North Africa. Closer to home, the Al-Shabaab wants to impose Sharia law in the horn of Africa, and if they are to have their way, they would dominate the whole of the Eastern African region.

So, as a Christian, perhaps I might be forgiven if I believe that Muslims are waging a war against people who are not of the Islamic faith going forward in the 21st Century. But I also think that that might be a rather pedestrian way of looking at it. Muslims do not really believe that they can dominate the world in this day and age, do they?

Of course not! But I must say that they are not doing themselves any favours by perpetuating the image of their religion as being supportive of violent means to solve differences. A person who can only be described as an idiot recently made a 14 minute film called the Innocence of Muslims that disparaged and made a mockery of the Prophet Muhammad.

I watched that movie on YouTube. It was poorly shot on green screen and the acting was terrible. But as a Christian, I must say that even I found it to be extremely offensive. Like I said, the guy who made it is an idiot! But, several other movies have been made that portrayed Jesus Christ in very bad taste. Corpus Christi is a play that was staged a few years ago. It depicted Jesus as a homosexual living in 1950s Texas! Were Christians offended and outraged? Of course they were! Did they express their anger in violence and senseless destruction? No, they did not. They protested peacefully.

What we saw in Cairo and Benghazi last week in reaction to the Innocence of Muslims was despicable, and I do not care how offended you are, but do not take it out on innocent people!

Protestors attacking the US Embassy in Cairo
Having said that, I know that there are many Muslims who are not violent. In fact, the majority of people who profess Islam are peace loving, normal, regular folks who just want to get on with their lives without troubling anyone, and practice their faith peacefully.

The reality of the world we live in is one torn apart by religious differences. You would think that in the 21st Century, we would all just get along, right?

You think about that.

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