Monday, August 21, 2006

Is Islam a Religion of Peace?

Over and over, we are told, despite such terrorist attacks committed by Muslims as the one on the Marine barracks by Hezbollah in Beirut when Reagan was President (the Marines being part of a peace-keeping force, not an invading army), and in the case of the first bomb attack on the World Trade Center, and as the near simultaneous bombings of American embassies in two countries in Africa, and as the second, especially murderous attack on 9/11/2001 on the WTC and the Pentagon, and as the bombings of mass transit systems in London and Madrid, etc., that Islam is nevertheless a religion of peace. How is it possible that this religion of peace can have such murderous acts done in the name of the God of this religion, the same God, ostensibly, of the religions of those that they are killing?

I have turned to the web to try to answer this question and have been reading Muslim Herald for enlightenment. There are probably better sites and perhaps readers will direct me to them in comments. At this site it claims that Islam denounces terrorism and goes on to say
In recent times, 'violence' & 'terrorism' has [sic] unfortunately come to be associated with Islam and Muslims. For a religion called "Islam", which derives its meaning from the arabic root word "salama" (meaning: peace/submission), and whose followers do not get tired of greeting each other with "assalamu'alaikum" (meaning: peace be on you), association with the term of 'violence' is quite ironic.
I suppose this would be ironic if it were true, but the linguistic claim being made is misleading.

Arabic words are formed from (normally) three letter roots with no vowels and a large number of words can be formed off that root. At a Handbook for Students of Arabic it is noted that
The root word s-l-m is a common example. From the basic verb salima, “to be safe,” we can derive other verbs such as sallama, “to hand over or deliver;” aslama, “to submit;” and istaslama, “to surrender.” The nouns salaam, “peace;” salaama, “health or safety;” and muslim, “a Muslim,” derive from the same roots. Most Arabic-English dictionaries, such as the Hans Wehr Arabic-English Dictionary, will list their entries in root order.
I have used italics to highlight cited words to clarify the text here and elsewhere.

Still another linguistic analysis claims:
Many words can be derived from the same root, but they don't necessarily have to have any similarity in their meaning. The word Islam, which means `submission', is derived from the infinitive Salama. So is the word Salam, which means `peace' and so, is the verb Salima. Salama means `the stinging of a snake' or `the tanning of the leather'. Hence, if the word Islam has something to do with the word Salam i.e. `Peace', does that also mean that it must be related to the `stinging of the snake' or `the tanning of the leather'?
As this site should make clear, trying to make the case that Islam is somehow the religion of peace because the word Islam is related to a word meaning "peace" just doesn't fly. The origin of the name of the religion and of its followers is irreleveant to the teachings of the religion.

In fact, Islam was spread in some cases due to he use of violence and of threats to use violence by Muhammad. At this last mentioned site it goes on to say
Muhammad used to send letters to the kings and leaders of the surrounding countries and tribes, inviting them to surrender to his authority and to believe in him as the messenger of Allah. He always ended his letters with the following two words: "Aslem, Taslam!" [snip] The sentence means `surrender and you will be safe', or in other words, `surrender or face death'.
Islam is not unique in the use of violence to spread a religion. Catholic missionaries accompanied Spanish Conquistadors though the New World and their joint efforts spread Catholicism throughout much of Spanish speaking America. There is a difference. Jesus didn't use violence to spread Christianity, nor did his early followers to my knowledge.

At heart of terrorism by Muslims is the concept of "jihad." At the Muslim Herald web site cited earlier it is said
Jihad in Islam is waging peace and justice. Jihad is a war against unjust, oppression, exploitation, tyranny, fear, corruption and denying the masses basic human rights (4:75-76) and to establish justice, peace, freedom, especially freedom of religion, security, equity and social justice (2:193)
I think we must conclude that any claim to the effect that Islam is a religion of peace must be balanced by a recognition that it also supports the use of violence. The linguistic claims made by the Muslim Hearald mean nothing as compared to the actions of Muslims and this includes not just acts of terrorism around the world, but the brutal killings of Muslims by Muslims in Iraq.

Muslims are not alone in engaging in violence. But let us not be fooled by linguistic analyses that suggest that Islam is a religion of peace. When I was a kid, the lesson that sunk home with me most about Christ was that his was a message of love. But, of course, that message was as irrelevant to the actions of Christians around the world as is the meaning of "Islam" is to the actions of Muslims.

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Blogger Larry Kollar said...

This is easily the best analysis of the whole peace/jihad dichotomy I've seen to date.

As I understand it, there's jihad and then there's jihad. The meaning that most of us Westerners are familiar with is the kind that involves spreading Islam by force — but even in that case, there are strict rules. For example, jihadis are not allowed to harm women, children, the elderly, or men who put down their weapons. But there's another kind, the jihad against one's own sinful nature.

Yet even if we are to consider only the "holy war" kind of jihad, it's clear that Al-Queda and Hezbollah have violated its rules of engagement… and seem to do so with pride. Much like "Christian" radicals repeatedly violate the teachings of Christ and are proud to do so.

10:51 AM

Blogger Mr K said...

Hmm, well it's certainly a lie to proclaim that Islam does not talk about violence to some... but then so does the bible. It is often frustrating that the principle proponents that Islam is a religon based around violence are fundementalist christians, who have apparently not read the old testemant...

I don't know fully about sikhism, hinduism and buddishm, but with Islam and Christianity it seems that it's all in how you interpret it. Both religons can, and have, been used to justify abhorrent practices and prejudices, but at the end of the day religon has a tendency to surrender to the culture it is within, which is why christianity seems mostly more moderate, while Islam a bit more oppressive. Religon seems to rarely be a force for social change, although I imagne I am now going to be given hundreds of examples where this is not true.

11:59 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that interpreting "surrender and you will be safe" to mean "surrender or face death" is quite a leap. We should not take all religious scriptures or tales literally. "Be safe" could also mean "Be safe from a world of sin", "Be safe from all worldly tribulations", the list could go on.

I could slice and dice the Bible to justify the most heinous crimes. In fact many people have done it. What terrorists are doing with the Koran is just that.

12:16 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I had written a very similar post quite a while ago, and it's here. Particularly, I find Sam Harris's views on the subject to be very pertinent.

12:34 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops, sorry. I forgot to include the link. Here it is: Terrorism and Islam.

12:36 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

I agree with this but at the end of the day religon has a tendency to surrender to the culture it is within, I would add religion by it's nature is self-serving.

Jesus was a person but Christianity is religion. As Muhammad the person is different then the religion of Islam.

But, the truth is "religion" has nothing to do with peace, anyway.

1:05 PM

Blogger Le vent fripon said...

Contradiction, I think, lies at the heart of all religions and their texts. So a completely literal, rational reading of the Koran is impossible.

There are certainly some very violent passages in the Koran, but I think that all they need are the right readers. We've had interpretations of the Bible that make it compatible with science, from the middle ages up to today.

Just as mainstream Christianity doesn't read the six days of creation as six calendar days, Islam may learn to interpret the violent passages as something other than a call to arms.

5:43 PM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

I'm just going to leave the general comments about religion alone.

I think it's bizarre, LG, that anyone would actually claim that X is Y because X is called Y. That's patently ridiculous. What's even more insane is that anyone would buy that argument. If I was the most brutal dictator on the face of the earth, I would call my soldiers Peacekeepers, or something to that effect. Partly for the psycho-linguistic effects it may have, but mostly because I love irony.

And Devo, I don't think there's anything wrong with LG's reinterpretation of the surrender statement. In context, the alternative to "surrender" is always further war, i.e. death. He might have also meant what you said, but the other message I'm sure was quite clear.

11:02 AM

Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

I would suggest that the "stinging snake" who should undergo a "tanning of the hide" is that Anneqed character.

I have the Wehr dictionary of Modern Arabic ("pocket-book size" but complete) referred to and I find no mention of snakes stinging or tanning under the verb salima, which is not an "infinitive" but the 3rd person singular masculine past tense form, meaning "he/it was safe and sound, unharmed, unimpaired, intact, safe, secure; unobjectionable, blameless, faultless; certain, established, clearly proven (=a fact); free (from something); or he escaped". Variations on the basic stem add meanings of "handing over, surrendering something". From which it's not too much of a leap to "surrendering oneself, submitting". The idea of peace comes from the nuances of "safety" and reconciliation. It's interesting that both 'islaam and jihaad are formed from their roots by the same morphological process (the latter from jahada, "he endeavored, struggled"; note the i-aa vowel sequence used with the root consonants), as are muslim and mujaahid (I can't recall at the moment why the aa occurs in the latter; the expected mujhid is an adjective meaning "strenuous"; mu- is like English -er in "fighter").

If "Christianity" can be a religion of Love, I have no problem with Islam being a religion of Peace (although based on the meaning, Submission is more correct). Both religions are equally culpable in their creation of mental and social environments for the excesses of their adherents.

2:56 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Hugh, if you can't see the difference between referring to linguistic sources for linguistic facts, facts that all such sources seem to be agreed to, and citing Chomsky as a political authority, whose views unlike those of dictionaries, are quite controversial rather than being factual, you are a fool who is not worth spending time on. Please go away. No one should waste his time reading a blogger who is a hypocrite.

11:27 AM

Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

(I wouldn't even cite Chomsky on something linguistic, unless I could find a confirming non-Chomskian secondary source. But maybe that's just me?)

3:34 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Full scale censorship Language Guy?, very impressive, that's one way to respond to criticism I suppose; it seems that two of Bloggidge's posts have been removed recently!

You two must hate one another!


5:26 PM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

Sorry, anonymous, but he's never removed any of my posts, no matter how strongly we disagree with each other. It's the way you argue that's the problem, and LG is absolutely right in that category.

And I think it's quite clear that you're not "Ricardo", are you, Hugh?

12:21 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah yes Kelly Sir.

You are of course quite right, and I felt that I had no other options under the circumstances.

Howewever I have now activated my own blog, which will not be censored incidenatlly.

My topic is that of censorinng blogs and LG you are welcome to comment, I will not be deleting your posts Sir, nor those of your faithful follower "Kelly" who it seems wholeheartedly supports censoring dissent, somewaht unsettling for a student of law.



PS: Should you elect to delete even this harmless post,I will contact every one on your blog that has ever posted and notify them myself.

8:31 AM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

I will try to be sure never to go there. Thanks for the fair warning.

3:20 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Ah, threats from Hugh.

Hugh, the fact is that a blog is not a democratic instrument. There is the blogger, who controls the form and content of the blog, and then there are the commenters. My power is limited. I cannot stop anonymous comments. All I can do is delete them. Nor can I stop individuals from commenting by blocking their isps, as some blog platforms allow. I can force commenters to register with the blog but that would be a burden I wish not to impose. All I can do therefore is delete offensive blots. You are being asked to leave because you are insulting not because you disagree. I cannot for the life of me understand why you cannot debate in a civil manner. That is all you had to do. It is characteristic of your out of control actions that you make a threat like this.

I presume your new blog will be a tool for whacking away at me. That could be amusing.

9:40 AM

Blogger Full Metal Attorney said...

I'm not sure, Hugh, why you call me "Kelly" in snigger quotes like that. This is my real name. If it wasn't my real name, then why in the heck would I pick a girl's name for a pseudonym when I clearly am not female?

I think it's also quite bizarre that you think I am LG's lackey. If you had been on this blog for more than a few months, you would know that LG and I vehemently disagree with each other on a number of topics, ranging from abortion, to homosexuality, to all manner of different political topics. Yet I have always been allowed--nay, welcome--to voice my dissent. This is because I do so according to rules of logical argument. I bring in only facts from outside sources, whereas you bring in opinions. It's okay to bring in an opinion of another as a matter of interest, but it does nothing to support an argument. I find it incomprehensible that you cannot appreaciate the distinction.

11:08 AM

Blogger Unknown said...

Islam is a religion of hate and is not a religion of peace. Now I am not a hate monger and I will substantiate what I say. (As against blind faithed muslims who have nothing to back up their peace loving credentials). Islam is based on the Koran.

The Koran contains five commands to kill and 12 commands to fight (literally, “try to kill”). Most are found in the second (verses 190, 191, 193, 244), fourth (vv. 76, 84, 89, 91) and ninth (vv. 5, 12, 14, 29, 36, 123) suras.

The commands address a number of different situations, from “fighting those who fight you” to “fighting totally.” The objects of the fighting and killing include the unbelievers, the “associators” (mushrikin, or polytheists) and “the friends of Satan.”

In classical Muslim discussions of these verses, two verses attracted more attention than any others. They came to be known as “the sword verse” (9.5) and “the verse of tribute” (9.29).

The verse of tribute concerns the “people of the book” — generally understood by Muslims to be faith communities possessing a scripture, especially Jews and Christians. The command is to fight those who have been given the book “until they pay the tribute (jizya) out of hand and have been humbled.” The command in the sword verse is to “kill the associators (mushrikin) wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush.” At face value, therefore, polytheists appear to be at greater risk than Jews or Christians.

What follows are selected Koranic references to fighting and killing infidels.


Baqara (2):190 - “And fight (qaatiloo) in the way of Allah those who fight you.”

Baqara (2):193 - “Fight them (qaatiloohum), till there is no persecution and the religion is Allah’s”

Baqara (2):244 - “So fight (qaatiloo) in the way of Allah, and know that Allah is all-hearing, all-knowing.”

Nisaa’ (4):76 - “Those who are believers fight (yuqaatiloona) in the way of Allah, and the unbelievers fight in the idols’ way. So fight (qaatiloo) the friends of Satan; surely the guile of Satan is ever feeble.”

al-Anfaal (8):39 - “Fight them (qaatiloohum), till there is no persecution and the religion is Allah’s entirely.”

al-Taubah (9):12 - “But if they break their oaths after their covenant and thrust at your religion, then fight (qaatiloo) the leaders of unbelief.”

al-Taubah (9):29 - “Fight (qaatiloo) those who believe not in Allah and the Last Day and do not forbid what Allah and his messenger have forbidden — such men as practise not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book — until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled.”

al-Taubah (9):123 - “O believers, fight (qaatiloo) the unbelievers (kuffaar) who are near to you, and let them find in you a harshness (ghilza).”

Baqara (2):191 - “And slay them (aqtuloohum) wherever you come upon them”

Baqara (2):191 - “But fight them not by the Holy Mosque until they should fight you there; then if they fight you, slay them (aqtuloohum) — such is the recompense of unbelievers.”

Nisaa’ (4):89 - “then, if they turn their backs, take them, and slay them (aqtuloohum) wherever you find them”

Nisaa’ (4):91 - “If they withdraw not from you, and offer you peace, and restrain their hands, take them, and slay them (aqtuloohum) wherever you come on them; against them we have given you a clear authority.”

al-Taubah (9):5 - “Then when the sacred months are drawn away, slay (aqtuloo) the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush.”

Nisaa’ (4):74 - “So let them fight (yuqaatil) in the way of Allah who sell the present life for the world to come; and whosoever fights (yuqaatil) in the way of Allah and is slain, or conquers, we shall bring him a mighty wage.”

Muhammad (47):4 - “When you meet the unbelievers, smite (darba) their necks, then, when you have made wide slaughter among them, tie fast the bonds; then set them free, either by grace or ransom, till the war lays down its loads.”

12:12 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

I think you should stick to English linguistics because you have unfortunately oversimplified and at the same time overanalyzed the Arabic language, because you've learned the meanings of a couple of new words. Even if the world "Islam" does not mean Peace per say, the fact that Muslims greet each other with "Peace be upon you" should mean something.
Contrary to what you preach, the root of the words iSLaM and SaLaM are both incoincidentally the SLM, therefore Islam is the Peaceful submission to the will of God.
The verses which you decided to quote are completely out of context. Why dont you try quoting verses in the Quran about how the people of the Book ie Jews and Christians are mentioned in a positive light and Muslims are commanded to treat everyone fairly. Islam is a religion that stresses the need for social justice, which, yes, would include fighting back when anyone transgresses their boundaries. Stop spreading hate and tell MIT to refund the tuition money you paid them.

Salam! Peace! Pax!

7:05 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

Human nature is very deceptive. While we find some people have stressed upon 12 verses of waging war in the Koran, they've not shed light upon the 82 times that Moses is mentioned there or 40 times that Jesus is mentioned in the best of contexts.
When newly converted muslims were facing oppression at the hands of polytheists in Makkah, a handful of them faced the fear of death at the hands of the Quraish (the tribal heads) and were allowed to flee to Abyssinia, which was ruled by a Coptic Christian King. He asked them what does the Koran have to say about Jesus, and the answer that he got brought a deep respect for this religion and he allowed them to live freely in his kingdom without fear for as long as they wished.
It would be a grave injustice to 'ourselves' if we allow others to shape our opinions regarding any religion. While it is true that there have been Muslim rulers who have behaved in the most inhuman manner with not only the non-Muslims but also with those who opposed them in their times, at the same time it is also true that there have been Muslim states like Al-Andalus in Spain and Jerusalem under Saladin where Muslims, Christians, Jews and others lived together in the most secular manner and contributed towards learning and wisdom. It is an undeniable fact that Europe was brought out of the Dark Ages by the stress on education that Muslims had from their Prophet Muhammad, Peace be upon him as they say.
My dear friends, peace be upon us. For peace, we need to shatter our walls of biased opinions and short sighted polemics. We need to give a sincere thought to our existence, to the reason of our existence, if at all, there is a reason to our existence.
For texts related to Islam, please refer to:
Prof. Godlas' page on Islam

6:12 PM


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