Sunday, January 13, 2008

Religion as Instrument of War

There is no provision [in Islam], however, for preemptive strikes. Wars of aggression are immoral and forbidden. Wars to spread the teachings of Islam are also not permitted. But seventh-century Islamic warfare was never justified on the grounds of building an empire or even spreading Islam. Mohammed did not want to convert Jews and Christians, since they were already believers in the one God. Islam teaches respect for the revelations of other prophets in other groups.

-From Nonviolence: Twenty-five Lessons From the History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Kurlansky

The above paragraph flies in the face of the anti-Islam rhetoric and propaganda which found increasing favor after 11 September 2001. The current administration would have us believe that surely since the terrorists who attacked our country were Muslim, so then all of Islam is a religion based on war and violence, not peace and diplomacy. Although it tacitly concedes that extremist Islamic radicals are the problem, not the religion of Islam as a whole, the American government implies strongly that Islam does advance a fundamental willingness to wage war. The concept of jihad is the most cited reason that backs up this assertion. Surveying the facts of the matter reveals otherwise.

In the thirteenth century, Muslims became the enemies of Islam when Mongols, who had converted to Islam, invaded and sacked the Islamic cultural center, Baghdad, in 1258. In the midst of the Mongol disaster, a brilliant young Sunni named Ibn Taymiyah, sometimes known as Shaykh-al-Islam, started writing the first of what was to be 350 works on Islamic law. To him, jihad meant violent warfare, and he insisted that it was the obligation of all fit males to fight. It is Ibn Taymiyah who is quoted today by Osama bin Laden and other "Islamic militants."

Christianity and Islam both have been co-opted by the state as a means to consolidate power and make money. Both religions are, at their core, designed to derive common purpose among people, not to divide. Unfortunately, however, in an effort to wield power and generate profit, their founding principles have been used as justification to wage war. Neither Jesus nor Mohammad taught that war served as any means to an end. Rather, the blame rests upon subsequent political leaders and theologians who added self-serving militaristic components on top of original teachings, inserting precepts which fully contradicted the original intent of each faith. There is wealth to be made from division and the forces which keep us apart have a vested interest in keeping us separate and at odds with each other.

I find it distressing that defenders of free speech and open religious expression have not bothered to frame their arguments in these terms. The true teachings of Islam are often misunderstood by Westerners, even religious liberals. Addressing the vast amount of misinformation that exists in public discourse would be an effective way to fight prejudicial attitudes. The key, then, would be to reframe the debate and focus upon what we have in common, rather than what divides us. Many Christians themselves are unaware that their faith was never designed to be used as an tool for violent expression. Neither are they aware that their true enemies are not members of other faiths, but people in positions of power with ulterior motives of greed and evil.


Westcoast Walker said...

I appreciate your thoughtful and sensible posting!

Comrade Kevin said...

I thank you for your kind words!