One of the greatest academic, religious, and political debates in our day is the topic of whether Islam is a religion that actively promotes war or one that agitates for peace. Certainly, there are many examples in the world that would lead one to think that Islam is one of the most garrulous organized religions to ever exist. On the other hand, Islamic theologians and social justice activists constantly proclaim that the perpetrators of religiously-motivated violence in Islam are among the fringe elements of the religion, and that Islam is, for the most part, wholly dedicated to world peace. The readings for this week tell a more complicated story. While at its most elevated levels of theological thought, Islam indeed seems to idealize the notion of peace, what seems to be at stake are several passages within the Qu’ran that justify violence as a means of promoting one’s survival. What much Islamic violence that we see in the world today, then, appears to be self-justified as fending off a threat, and the question of what “survival” means to these perpetrators of violence now becomes the major question. For example, did the men who flew planes into the Twin Towers in 9/11/2001 believe that their own lives or the lives of their wives and children were in direct danger? Clearly, the suicidal pilots cared not a lick about their own bodily survival, and if that was the motivation for their warlike actions, then we might presume the “survival” they had in mind was that of the larger Islamic civilization, in which case Islamic scholars should make a serious effort to promote the notion among their adherents that there is no concerted Western assault on the Islamic civilization, and that acts of war are in no way justifiable, as no one’s survival is truly at stake.
Indeed, Abu-Nimer and Kadayifi-Orellana have stated that there is a need for prominent Islamic scholars to reinterpret sacred texts, especially with regards to calls for war and the justifiability of the use of the “sword” when one’s “survival” is threatened (551). Too many Islamic extremists are interpreting these passages too broadly in their calls for global jihad against “Western crusaders,” and they are debasing the Islamic religion into gross tribalism and ethnocentrism. As all the readings point out, the overarching themes of the Qu’ran are those of cooperation, toleration of difference, and peaceful living. Additionally, violent and warlike behavior appears to be something that is prescribed only sparingly, and that is justified only in times of real physical threat, not when someone is offended by the depiction of Muhammad in a European satirical magazine.
While Islam, as a whole, is not currently behaving as a religion of peace, I believe that in its highest form, it is very much a religion of peace. However, Islamic scholars and theologians are going to have to stand up and take the reins from “jihadists” who manipulate the uneducated masses into believing their “survival” is being threatened by “infidels,” and thus violent behavior is justifiable. The individuals who are engaging in this reckless misinterpretation of key Islamic principles are most likely psychopaths who enjoy seeing if they can get others to engage in unspeakable acts in the name of God, and then laugh about it. Only when the true Islamic scholars, who understand the nuances of the phrase “survival,” “war,” and “peace” in the Qu’ran make their knowledge well-known and publicized, can the religion as a whole have any hope to gain back its reputation as a world religion of peace.