Is Islam a Religion of Peace?

There’s a lot of talk about Islam in the news periodically. Every time ISIS does something, or there’s a terrorist attack, the discussion about whether Islam promotes peace or violence comes up. Hopefully this post will answer a couple questions you may have/hear regarding the religion.

*(All passages from the Qur’an cited from the Sahih International translation)

The first thing to point out is that you never judge a belief system by its adherents. What I mean is that anyone can claim to believe in something, but if what they say/do is contrary to that belief system, then they are an unfair representative of it. This is why when people make comparisons of ISIS and the Crusades, it’s not necessarily a fair comparison. When violence is perpetrated in the name of Christ, it can easily be shown that said violence is out of step with the Bible. The question that should be asked is whether or not ISIS is acting consistently with Islamic teaching or if they are bad representatives of the religion.

In the Qur’an, you’ll find all sorts of Surahs, covering a wide variety of topics. (Side note: You don’t read the Qur’an in chronological order, like you do the Bible. Here is a suggested reading order.) Here are a few example passages relating to the discussion at hand:

“And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace,” – Surah Al-Furqan 25:63

“Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors.” – Surah Al-Baqarah 2:190

“And kill them wherever you overtake them and expel them from wherever they have expelled you, and fitnah is worse than killing. And do not fight them at al-Masjid al- Haram until they fight you there. But if they fight you, then kill them. Such is the recompense of the disbelievers.” – Surah Al-Baqarah 2:191

“And if they cease, then indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” – Surah Al-Baqarah 2:192

“Fight them until there is no [more] fitnah and [until] worship is [acknowledged to be] for Allah . But if they cease, then there is to be no aggression except against the oppressors.” – Surah Al-Baqarah 2:193

“And if any one of the polytheists seeks your protection, then grant him protection so that he may hear the words of Allah . Then deliver him to his place of safety. That is because they are a people who do not know.” – Surat At-Tawbah 9:6

“O you who have believed, fight those adjacent to you of the disbelievers and let them find in you harshness. And know that Allah is with the righteous.” – Surat At-Tawbah 9:123

Right now you might be thinking “wow, that seems to completely contradict itself!” and you’d be right. The issue has never been that the Qur’an does not speak of peace, because it very clearly does. However, it also speaks of violence, and two are held in tension. The way we can understand this is by realizing that there is an interpretive philosophy called the “Two Houses” within Islam. The two houses are Dar al-Harb (House of War) and Dar al-Islam (House of Islam/Submission [Islam means submission]). This is how the world is divided, and there are particular texts which take precedence, depending on which house an area is deemed to be in.

In order for a country to move from Dar al-Harb to Dar al-Islam, some conditions have to be met. Classically, the three conditions are as follows:

  1. Muslims must be able to enjoy peace and security with and within this country.
  2. The country should be ruled by a Muslim government.
  3. It has common borders with some other Muslim countries.

These are not set in stone definitions, and there can be nuance involved such as a parallel legal system (Sharia courts in a country that isn’t run by a Muslim government), but these are some broad parameters. The meeting of this conditions is done by jihad, which can include war/physical violence, but does not have to. Jihad can be political/cultural just as easily as it can be military-based. Basically, a “whatever works best” approach is taken, and then, once it is decided that the Muslims in the area have gained the upper-hand, then they can transition from the House of War to the House of Islam.

Another thing which makes reading the Qur’an confusing is that the Surahs (chapters) and Ayahs (verses) from two periods of the life of Muhammad (Side note: Muslims believe that the angel Gabriel visited Muhammad and dictated the Qur’an to him.). These two periods are when he lied in Mecca, and when he lived in Medina. The texts from the two places tend to feel different, and contain different topics. The Meccan texts were earlier, and generally are more peaceful, while the Medinan texts were later, and are more violent. Depending on the situation, Meccan texts can supersede Medinan ones (or vice-versa) based on which house the country is in.

How can there be such a contradictory “whatever works” approach to Islam? Well, one of the 99 Names of Allah is “The Great/Best Deceiver“. So if their god is known to be the best deceiver, then it’s no surprise that they follow suit. Which is why one way to answer the question of whether Islam is a religion of peace or violence is to say “whatever works”. However, what we can say for certain is that violence can be justified by using the Qur’an.

Hmm. The Great Deceiver. Does that sound like anyone you know?

 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44

– Jesse