Violence, Christianity and Islam
By Dr. Ahmad Shafaat, 1983
Christians have often presented their religion as a religion of love and peace while presented Islam as a religion of war and sword. In the modern media Muslims and Islam have often been covered in a way which reinforces this old perception. For Muslims who have time to think about such things the Christian and Western perceptions appear as a complete disregard of the most obvious facts. In what follows I discuss this issue from the point of view of the teachings of the two religions as well as the conduct of their adherents through history
For centuries now Christian nations have been busy beating up one Muslim nation or another. In the Middle Ages they came as crusaders. Then they colonized many Muslim countries and tried to destroy their cultures and religion. During their struggle for independence some Muslims had to suffer terrible violence. The French killed about a million Muslims in Algeria because they wanted independence. In a way this French war against Islam and Muslims is still continuing through the support of the military dictatorship in Algeria against the Muslim party that was set to win elections and persecutions in France of Muslim men with beards and Muslim women with hijab. The USA and Britain killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis (with the approval of about 90% of their people) without letting the world see the blood, thus practicing a lesson learned during the Vietnam war. Serbs have killed hundreds of thousands of Muslims and raped thousands of women in Bosnia and Kosovo. Although in these lands, a combination of rare circumstances put the West (USA and Western Europe) on the side of the Muslims, this did no good to them because the Western powers did not want to loose any of their own soldiers. Had the West left the Muslim Bosnians and ethnic Albanians to their fate without putting an arms embargo on them, their suffering would not have been any greater.
Israel has been for half a century destroying the Palestinian people with the help of arms and financial and moral support provided by the USA, the very sort of crimes that have been committed by the Serbs against the people of Kosovo and which have been condemned by the West, even though there were no cameras to record the cries of the Palestinians and photograph the pictures of the massacred people and burning homes. In Lebanon when Christians were in the majority there was war, but now that the Muslims are in the majority there is peace except in the south of the country where Christians have been helping a foreign enemy against their own countrymen. When an American president needs to divert his people’s attention away from his sex scandal the easiest thing he finds is to bomb Muslim countries — Afghanistan, Sudan and Iraq — because he knows that this will be approved by a vast majority of his people. And then there is the media which is ever busy in maligning the Muslims while they do not at this point in time possess the resources to speak up: for every word spoken/written by a Muslim and heard/read by one person, a thousand words from a Christian are received by a thousand persons in the world. At the international level the voices of the Muslims are all but drowned by the Christian voices and those Christian voices are for the most part condemnatory. If a cartoonist was to depict the situation between the Western and Muslim civilizations, he or she will draw a weaker person not able or inclined to stand up or to speak while another stronger person is standing over him with a big stick, now and then beating him, and all the while shouting to him in a loud voice: you are a violent man.
It is important for both Muslims and Christians to ask: What will the Christian be if the tables were turned and their lands were first colonized by Muslims and then bombed or maligned or ethnically cleansed? If the past is any guide, the answer is clear: There will be a vicious reaction and given the chance an attempt at almost total destruction of the Muslims. For in Spain Muslims lived for about 850 years as rulers. They lived with Jews and Christians for the most part in a spirit of tolerance and cooperation in promoting science and culture to the point that their work prepared for the modern scientific revolution with all its benefits for mankind. But the moment Muslims became weaker, the hate in the Catholic heart came out with a vengeance. Muslims were either killed, converted, or forced to leave Spain and their heritage was as fully destroyed as was humanly possible. Before Palestine and Kosovo, there was Spain.
Above, I have mentioned only what the Christian nations have been doing or are doing to the Muslims. But when we look at what they have done to each other or to other people any validity in their claim of being people of love and peace vanishes, at least as far as Western Protestant or Catholic Christians are concerned. The horrible treatment of the heretics and witches in the Middle Ages probably inspired the tyrants of later centuries. The native peoples of the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand bear a tragic witness to what Christian nations can do to other nations and with the blessings and assistance of Christian churches. In this century alone the Western nations have fought two world wars with tens of millions dead and untold misery for the living. For each victory in these two wars the church bells rang in the victorious countries. The first nation to make a weapon of mass destruction and the only one to use it is a Christian nation.
Had not the toll of death mounted too high for the Americans there can be little doubt that the fate of North Vietnam would have been like that of Iraq: it would have been bombed to submission no matter how many Vietnamese lives would have been lost. The lesson learned in North Vietnam was not that there should be no more war but that never again the American casualties would be allowed to mount so high and never again the cameras would be allowed to get so near the horrors of war that a backlash against the war would be created in the public. Often Christian countries have some hand even in the violent conflicts in non-Christian countries in Africa and Asia. The colonial policy of divide and rule sowed seeds of conflicts that later resulted in violence between the groups that the colonial powers turned against one another. Palestinian-Jewish conflict and the Kashmir issue are among the legacy of colonialism. After the colonial period interference by the Western countries continued in the internal affairs of African and Asian countries. More recently, Iran-Iraq war was encouraged by the West so that the Islamic revolution in Iran may not spread to the Arabian peninsula. The military government in Algeria which cancelled the elections that Muslims were poised to win has the support of France and this support is partly responsible for the violence there, which, it seems, is mostly done by the military.
In Rwanda the tribe that perpetuated a holocaust of another tribe follows the Catholic religion. The most cruel tyrant in history came from a Christian country and there has been no shortage of other somewhat less ruthless dictators in Christian countries, especially in South America and Africa. Even in terrorism, associated in the media mostly with the Muslims, it is the Christians that hold the record when it comes to the number of children and other innocent people killed. The Oklahoma bombing, carried out by people professing to be Christians, claimed more completely innocent victims than any other single act of terrorism. Terrorism in Northern Ireland which is a direct result of a sectarian conflict between Catholics and Protestants and is often supported by the religious leaders, has probably killed more children and innocent people than Middle East terrorism. Moreover, Muslim terrorism is mostly linked to the sort of unjust treatment suffered by the Palestinians whereas the Oklahoma bombing and, to a lesser degree, Irish terrorism is difficult to link in such a way.
Now and then there appear religious sects whose beliefs lead them to violence. David Koreish armed his followers to teeth and led them to their violent death. There seem to exist several Millennium groups who are planning to engage in violence around the year 2000. Several doctors have been murdered by anti-abortionists and some Catholic leaders have not categorically condemned these killings. In some cases the violent impulses in Christian groups turn against the groups themselves. Jim Jones led hundreds of his followers to commit suicide.
Then there is racial violence, by no means dissociated from Christianity. Black churches have been burned in America and recently some Americans tied a black man with a rope and dragged him by their truck until he died. Such acts are often carried out by members of groups who also carry crosses. And in South Africa the inhuman system of apartheid was maintained by the church-going white community with the blessing of the churches and indeed the apartheid was practiced by the churches themselves.
At an individual level, too, most horrible examples of violence are seen in the Western Christian nations. In some American and British cities a car driver may take out his gun and shoot senselessly whoever happens to be passing by. There are many cases of church-going and Christmas-celebrating serial killers who are privately busy sexually attacking young men or women, killing them in the most horrible way, and then burying them in their backyards. Also, prior to the media focus on churches cases of gross sexual and other abuse of orphans by the Catholic priests and brothers were not infrequent. And there are even larger number of examples of church-going parents who torture their children to death or to destroy them mentally by incestuous relations. In one such case, an American father recently killed his son by injecting him with the Aids virus.
One may object that we are concentrating only on the negative, not providing any background analysis, and are not making necessary distinctions between various brands of Christianity and between secular and religious tendencies in the Christian world. But this is precisely what the Christians do to Muslims. They mostly talk and ask about acts of violence taking place in the vast Muslim world without making any distinctions, or analyzing them properly, or balancing them with the positive
In the New Testament there are of course teachings that stress love and mercy. Thus Jesus is reported to have commanded Christians to love their enemies and to turn the other cheek when stricken on one. Also, he is reported to reduce the whole of the Law to loving God and to loving one’s neighbor. He also reduces in the fourth gospel his commandments to the single commandment of loving one another. But all this was not able to save the natives of the Americas, Australia or New Zealand, or the Iraqis or Vietnamese or the Bosnians or Albanians, the millions massacred in Rwanda and earlier killed in the world wars or the sad little children who are tortured by their parents or the prisoners suffering tortures at the hands of the dictators. Why? The talk of love and peace in the New Testament, often repeated from the pulpits, is ineffective partly because of human weaknesses and partly because this is only one side of the Biblical message. The other side is seen in Biblical passages such as the following:
When my angel goes in front of you, and brings you to the Amorites … you shall not bow down to their gods … but utterly demolish them and break their pillars in pieces.
… Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land (Ex 23:23-33; see also Ex 32:25-29, where the sin of making the golden calf by the Israelites leads to the command: “Each of you kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbor”).
But as for the towns of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you must not let anything that breathes remain alive. You shall annihilate them – the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites … – just as the Lord your God has commanded (Deut 20:16-17; see also Deut 7:2-16).
And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city [Jericho]. The city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. … Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys (Joshua 6:16-21; cf. Heb 11:30-33, where a New Testament writer condones such passages in the Old Testament).
Thus says the Lord of hosts, “… Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey” (1 Sam 15:2-3). (Saul did not carry this command fully in that he spared some cattle as booty. For this action God rejected Saul as king of Israel (verses 8-9, 13-15, 26), and gave the kingdom to David, although even David killed only men and women in the conquered lands of other nations and spared the cattle, 1 Sam 27:8-9, cf. 2 Sam 8:2).
They did battle against Midian, as the Lord had commanded Moses, and killed every male (Num 31:7).
These passages relate to the situation when the Israelites had power over some nations. But there are passages which were written about nations against whom they had no power. In these passages annihilation of other nations is of course not commanded but hoped for:
O daughter Babylon, you devastator!
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock! (Psalms 137:8-9).
Such hopes can at times get associated with the messianic times:
For the nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish; those nations shall be utterly laid waste (Isa 60:12). And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom [of Israel which] … shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever (Dan 2:44). Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel (Psalm 2:8-9). Arise and thresh, O daughter Zion, for I will make your horn iron and your hoofs bronze; you shall beat in pieces many nations … (Micah 4:13). And among the nations the remnant of Jacob [=Israel], surrounded by many peoples, shall be like a lion among the animals of the forest, like the young lion among the flocks of sheep, which, when it goes through, treads down and tears to pieces, with no one to deliver (Micah 5:8).
Related with the above teachings of the Bible is the well-known belief of the Israelites in their being chosen children of God while the other nations are like dogs. Another related belief is that the salvation and revelation almost exclusively belong to the Israelites. All this creates certain insensitivity to other peoples, the goyim.
The Old Testament is not devoid of any reference to love and peace (see Ex 22:21, 34:6-7). But nationalism and exclusivism dominates it and this cannot be conducive to love and peace, as the passages quoted above show.
Christians may say that this is the attitude only of the Old Testament. There is, they will point out, growth and evolution in revelation from the Pentateuch to the psalms, then to the prophets, and finally to the gospels. With the coming of the gospels earlier teachings were replaced by the law of love. There is some truth to this view. Thus in the Pentateuch the possibility is not admitted that people from other nations may become worshippers of Yahweh. The division among people is strictly on national or ethnic lines and Yahweh is a national god who expects to be served by only his people. It is because of this that he commands the annihilation of other peoples and the towns inhabited by them are given only the choice of either submitting to forced labor or annihilation. The third choice of submitting to the worship of Yahweh is not even admitted. Later, in prophets like Isaiah there is an improvement of this conception. Yahweh is seen as the universal god and the possibility is admitted that other nations such as Egyptians and Assyrians may join with Israel in the worship of the God of Israel (Isa 19:18-25), although even then Israel is expected to rule other nations (Isa 60:12). But this idea of evolution does not justify the violence to other nations described in the Pentateuch. For there can be no stage in the evolution of divine revelation when killing “everything that breathes” including infants can be justified. Moreover, the idea that the nation of Israel is a chosen nation to which salvation and revelation exclusively belongs and which is destined to destroy or rule other nations with a rod of iron goes through the Bible, from the Pentateuch to the New Testament, like a thread. The passages quoted above from the Old Testament are from different parts of the Jewish scriptures, including from prophets like Isaiah. The New Testament also expresses similar sentiments.
Thus some stories in the gospels present the Gentiles as dogs, as compared to the Jews who are the children of God (Mark 7:24-30 and par). The exclusivism of the Jewish religion is also inherited by the gospels. The fourth gospel says that the salvation is of the Jews (4:22) and according to Paul the church is formed by grafting Gentiles who are like a wild olive on to the remnant of the Israelites who are like the root which sustains the grafted branches (Rom 11:17-18). Indeed, throughout the New Testament it is assumed that the savior had to come from the Jews because salvation is of the Jews. From this it follows that without this Jewish savior Jesus salvation is not possible. Hence the fourth gospel makes Jesus say that no one goes to the Father but through Jesus who is the way, the life and the truth (John 14:6). According to Paul even a different type of Christianity is not to be tolerated:
As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be cursed! (Galatians 1:9).
If in the New Testament Jesus sometimes appears like a lamb, this is so only during his first coming when he had no power. During his second advent when he will come with power and glory he will be like a lion (Rev 5:5, cf. Micah 5:8). The Old Testament hope of the restored kingdom of Israel, destroying or ruling other nations is transferred in the New Testament to Christians and Christ:
when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus (2 Thess 1:7-8). [Christ will destroy] every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet (1 Cor 15:25).
But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to reign over them — bring them here and slaughter them in my presence (Luke 19:27, not a saying of Jesus but of a character in a parable).
only hold fast to what you have until I come. To everyone who conquers (temptation to apostasy) and continues to do my works to the end, I will give authority over the nations; to rule them with an iron rod, as when clay pots are shattered — even as I also received authority from my Father (Rev 2:25-27, cf. Psalm 2:8-9). And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron (Rev 12:5).
It is true that in Christianity the nationalism of the Old Testament and the exclusivism and violence connected with it is considerably toned down but because the New Testament largely affirms the Jewish nationalism, exclusivism, and the messianic hopes and because the Christians accept the Old Testament as word of God and therefore as sacred they are to some degree influenced by it. Indeed, it seems that the Christian nations often subconsciously put themselves in the position of the chosen Israelites while putting other nations in the place of the Amelikes, Hittites, Canaanites etc and feel justified in partially or totally destroying them with “a rod of iron” like a potter’s vessel. Thus what the Catholics and other Western nations did to the natives in Americas, Australia and New Zealand etc or the way they treated the colonized lands as markets to be exploited with the accompanying attempt at the destruction of their cultures and languages or what they in this century assisted the Jews to do to the Palestinian people or what the Serbs almost did to people of Kosovo or what the Catholics did to the Muslims of Spain is very similar to what the Bible commands the Israelites to do to the Amelikes etc or prophesies that they will do to the other nations in messianic times. Even the Nazi holocaust is not too un-Biblical, for in the holocaust probably the Nazis simply turned the tables around: they put the Jews themselves in the position of the Amelikes while they became the New Israel. Thus the seeds of hatred and intolerance sown like weeds along with the wheat of divine revelation by the editors of the Bible came to bear their poisonous fruit that the Jews themselves were made to eat.
For Christians to act violently and aggressively against other nations under the influence of the Bible it is not required that they should have often read such passages as talk about the killing of men, women and children of nations like Amelikes. Such passages are simply a gross manifestation of nationalism, exclusivism, and a very negative view of other nations that is reflected everywhere in the Bible, which no one exposed to the Bible, either by direct reading or through the sermons of the priests and ministers, could possibly miss.
The best attitude that the Bible can show to other nations is that it allows them the benefits of revelation and salvation, of which they are otherwise deprived, through the Jews or a Jewish Messiah, although even that concession was fiercely opposed by some Jews and early Christians. In recent times the church is more willing to recognize truth and salvation in other traditions. But it is most revealing that many Christians still believe that any truth and salvation found in other traditions is the result of Christ acting anonymously in those traditions. This shows how difficult it is for the readers of the Bible, whether Jewish or Christian, to imagine that God might be loving, guiding and saving remnants of other nations independently of Jews or a Jewish Messiah.
Christians also point out that among them there have always been people who have renounced and denounced violence and spoken against the actions of their fellow Christians when they engage in war and violence. This is true. But such voices are almost always too few and too late. They have not been enough to prevent some of the Christian nations and individuals from becoming the most violent and aggressive in whole of human history. Also, they gain strength only after the destruction of other nations reaches a point of no return, that is, the interests of the Christian nations have been completely served or can no longer be served. Thus, far from opposing the colonial powers, an overwhelming majority of churchmen used colonialism to try to convert the people of the occupied countries. Some voices for the natives of North America, Australia and New Zealand are now heard, but the destruction of these natives is more or less complete now. Palestinians are sometimes supported by the Christians but they have already lost their country and are now in the process of loosing their nationhood.
A positive recent development. In the past thirty to fifty years there has been an unprecedented movement in the Western nations in the direction of a genuine tolerance, and even respect, for other groups and nations and hence towards love and peace. This movement cannot be attributed to the Bible or to Christianity, for it is inconceivable that the Bible and Christianity have started to do now what they could not do for the past two thousand years. The roots of this positive development lie in the interest in science and philosophy kindled in Europe by the Muslims through Spain and other areas of contact between the two civilizations. This interest eventually led to the creation of the institution of the University which provided a challenge and a check to the Church. It needed several centuries for the University to gain the sort of influence that could be compared to the influence of the Church. And in recent decades the University has reached a level of influence where it can make some fundamental changes in the thinking of the Western nations. In particular, there is a considerable rejection of exclusivism and nationalism, for the rational thought moves man towards genuine universalism. The terrible experience of the two world wars has also contributed to reduce nationalism in the West. Finally, increasing global trade and international business ties are helping to create a world culture with universal values. These developments are even forcing the Churches to revise their beliefs and practices. Very little credit, if any, is due to the Bible or to Christianity for the apologies that the popes have made in recent decades for the horrible acts of violence that the Catholic Church has committed since the days of Constantine when it gained power. For the Church is now bowing to the new trends whose source is primarily the University.
In the above observations we have used the term “Christian” in a loose sense without making any distinction between good or bad Christians. This is partly because of the difficulty of deciding who is good or bad Christian and partly because the fruits of a religion should be visible in the nations, groups, and/or civilizations that it builds or influences despite the fact that every group, nation or civilization is bound to include both good or bad elements. We can do some justice to the distinction between good and bad Christians by looking at not only the conduct of the Christian nations generally but also what Christians often present to be their ideal.
In view of the teaching of love in the Bible, especially the New Testament, this ideal seems to be a renunciation of almost all use of force. This ideal has inspired many individuals and some groups to devote their lives to helping the needy and to denounce and renounce violence. Saint Francis of Assisi, who was greatly influenced by the Muslim mystics (Sufis), the order he founded in 1209 and Jehovah’s Witnesses provide examples. But such individuals and groups do not possess any political power and when you are not in a position to use force, it is easy to be non-violent, although violent men do not need much power to show their violence. In one passage, the Qur’an says that God has ordained love and compassion in the hearts of those who follow Jesus but that “most of them are rebellious transgressors” (57:27), a statement which takes into account both the existence of individuals and groups practicing charity and non-violence and the historical fact of the most horrible acts of violence committed by the Christian nations, as also the Christians’ holding on to some doctrines in the face of clearest evidence that these doctrines depart from the teaching of Jesus.
Muslims believe that God has sent his revelation to all nations and during all ages which men have corrupted with their own desires and ignorance and the Qur’anic revelation given through the Prophet Muhammad — which is preserved without any tampering in its original form — corrects, perfects and completes all earlier revelations. This is manifested in the balance that characterizes the Qur’anic revelation. For men can come up with all kinds of very good ideas but they cannot keep them in their proper place.
Among the main causes of violence are nationalism and exclusivism. We have seen above that the New Testament tones down the nationalism and exclusivism of the Old Testament but does not completely break free from it. The Qur’an takes this crucial step of breaking free from nationalism and exclusivism. It states clearly that there is no one nation through which revelation and salvation has been made available. Revelation took place among all nations:
And verily We have raised in every nation a messenger, (proclaiming): Serve God and shun at-taghut (evil, rebellious powers, false gods) (16:36; see also, 10:47)
Salvation is based on some universal principles. Anyone who follows those principles can be saved regardless of national or religious affiliation:
And God does not forgive the ascribing of a partner in His Godhead. He forgives other than that (sin) to whom He will (4:48; 4:116).
Lo! those who believe (in Muhammad), and those who are Jews, and Christians, and Sabeans – whoever, believes in God and the last day and does good – they have their reward with their Lord and there shall no fear come unto them neither shall they grieve (2:62; 5:69).
The Qur’an rejects explicitly the Jewish and Christian belief that the salvation is of the Jews and that somehow, deliberately or “anonymously,” man needs to go through Judeo-Christian tradition to be saved:
And they (i.e., the Jews and Christians) say, “None shall enter paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian. These are their vain desires. Say, “Produce your proof (from reason or authentic revelation) if you are truthful!” Nay, – whoever surrenders his whole self to God and he is a doer of good, -he shall have his reward with his Lord; they shall have no fear nor shall they grieve (2:112-113).
No nation or race has any superiority. Only individuals can be superior and the criterion for individual superiority is righteousness:
O humankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other. Verily, the most honored among you in the sight of God is the most righteous among you. Verily, God is knowing, well-acquainted (with who each one of you really is) (49:13).
Like the Bible the Qur’an talks of love and also sanctions some use of force but strikes, I believe, a perfect balance between the two. The use of force proceeds from love and takes place with the possibility of love and reconciliation left open.
The Qur’an talks of “loving” one’s enemy as follows:
The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel (O man) the evil deed with one which is best, then lo! he, between whom and you there was enmity, becomes as though he was a bosom friend. But none is granted (to practice such forgiveness) save those who are self-restrained and patient, and none is granted it save those who are very fortunate (41:34-35).
This verse differs from the New Testament commandment to love one’s enemy in three ways: First, it does not command love. Love is not an act of will but a force in the human heart. It cannot be commanded but inculcated. Second, love is to be expressed in action. The evil deed of the enemy is to be responded by a good deed. Third, the Qur’an recognizes that the genuine ability of responding to evil with goodness comes after a great deal of inner development and therefore should not be imposed before that level of development is reached. For such an imposition only creates pretentious or hypocritical professions and acts of love or suppresses the aggressive and violent impulses into the subconscious where they become more powerful, sustainable and dangerous.
The Qur’an views the coming of the Prophet and the revelation sent down to him as an expression of divine love and grace (rahmah).
We [=God] have indeed brought them a Book which We have expounded with knowledge as guidance and mercy for those who believe (7:52).
O humankind! There has come unto you (in the form of the Qur’an) an exhortation from your Lord and Sustainer, a healing for the (diseases) in the hearts, a guidance and mercy for believers (10:57).
We have sent down to you (O Muhammad) the Book as an exposition of all things and as guidance, mercy and good tidings for those who surrender to God (16:89).
Lo! this Qur’an narrates unto the children of Israel most of that concerning which they differ. And lo! it is guidance and mercy for those who believe (27:76-77).
These are revelations of the Book with wisdom, guidance and mercy for those who do good, those who establish regular prayers and practice regular charity and have firm faith in the hereafter (31:2-4)
Unlike the Messiah or Christ of the Bible who comes with destruction for the nations, the Prophet is said in the Qur’an to come as a mercy and love for all the nations:
And We have not sent you (O Muhammad) except as love and mercy to all the nations (lit. worlds) (21:107).
Consequently, nowhere the Arabs are presented as a chosen people who will rule other nations. The essential division between humankind is between those who have faith in God and do good and those who do not believe in God and do not do good, in contrast to the Bible where along with this division another very important and essential division is between the children of Israel and the other nations, a very racial and nationalistic division.
As is well known, the Prophet Muhammad engaged in warfare, often defensive, but sometimes also offensive. This use of force, however, proceeds from love. Before the Prophet, Arabia was inhabited by tribes who were not under any system of law enforced by a legitimate authority. There was no mechanism to settle disputes which often led to feuds that continued for many generations. The Prophet Muhammad united these tribes into a single brotherhood so that there may not be any violence. The Qur’an itself refers to this:
And remember the favor of God on you: how you were enemies and He reconciled your hearts so that you became as brothers by the grace of God; and how you were at the brink of an abyss of fire and He saved you from it (3:103).
This unification, however, could not have taken place without resistance which made some warfare necessary.
During all the battles that the Prophet fought only a few hundred people were killed. And after victory all those who for years fought the Prophet were forgiven. There was nothing like the treatment of the subjugated people that we see in the Bible. When the city of Makkah was conquered, the Qur’an did not tell the Prophet to kill everything that breathes but rather said the following:
When the help of God came along with victory, you (O Prophet) saw the people enter the religion of God in large groups. So glorify God and seek His forgiveness (110).
Warfare requires some consolidation of one’s troops and in Sura 60 the Qur’an brings its followers on a war footing. But in the middle of preparing the Muslims for war, the possibility of love and reconciliation with the enemies is held out:
It may be that God will generate love between you and those of them with whom you are now at enmity. God is capable (of all things); God is forgiving and merciful (60:7).
No religious tradition can exist for long without some love just as no tradition can exist without some use of force in disciplining its own adherents and dealing with external enemies. What differentiates various traditions is the way the two are mixed. When the Bible talks of love it forgets the very real need for the use of force in human societies and when it talks of the use of force it forgets about love. The Prophet Muhammad shows how to combine the two.
Some Christians, not too informed about either Islam or Christianity, often contrast Jesus and Muhammad by saying that Jesus was a man of love and peace while Muhammad was a man of war. But Jesus’ career was cut short by his departure. Had he succeeded in his first coming to complete his mission there can be no doubt that his career would have involved some use of force. As we have seen, the New Testament says that during his second coming when his mission will be completed he will come with a rod of iron. And there is evidence that even during his first coming, in a lowly and weak position, he was not totally against the use of force. Some gospel traditions suggest that his disciples carried arms which one of them used (Mark 14:47) and he himself initiated the arming of the disciples (Luke 22:35-38), although the gospel writers in various contradictory ways try to minimize the implications of these traditions. He reportedly said that he did not come with peace but with sword (Matt 10:34-39 = Luke 12:51-53, 14:26-27. He turned the tables of traders in the Jerusalem temple (Mark 11:15-19 = Matt 21:12-17 = Luke 19:45-48 = John 2:13-22), an act of physical force. (Some scholars even suggest that Jesus and his disciples were well-armed and they came to Jerusalem to free Palestine from the Romans, but this is highly improbable.)
Had Jesus’ mission come to some type of completion during his ministry he would have looked very similar to the Prophet Muhammad. On the other hand, had the Prophet Muhammad been killed during his flight from Makkah, he would have appeared like Jesus. The prophets and messengers of God are all essentially of the same spirit. Any differences among them are due to the scope of their work and the circumstances in which they operate.
In every religious group individuals have to grow to achieve the level of development that the religion requires. One would therefore find individuals in each religious group at different level of development and behaving accordingly. Some will doubtless perform some reprehensible acts. Thanks to the Western media I need not rehearse acts of violence done by the Muslims. But put all the acts of individual and group violence done by Christians and Muslims on the two sides of a balance and no one with the necessary factual information can doubt that the Christian acts of violence far outweigh those by Muslims in their scope, in their senselessness and in their cold-bloodedness and evil. When Muslims were in a dominating position their treatment of non-Muslim minorities and nations under their control, especially Christians and Jews, have been far more kinder than the other way around. In recent decades there have been deplorably some acts of violence against Christian minorities in such Muslim countries as Egypt, Pakistan and Indonesia. This is probably partly due to a reaction of the news of American, British and Serbian violence against Muslim peoples combined with some very local reasons. Even so, they are nothing compared to what Muslims have suffered and are suffering at the hands of Christians.
The Muslim ideal is not to renounce all use of force and retire to a monastic life or to stay away from politics and thus leave the running of the world to those who do not fear God. Rather the Muslim ideal is the proper use of force, a use which is exercised with fear of God and love of fellow human beings and even other creatures. One of the heroes of Muslim history is ‘Umar, the second Khalifah. At one point he ruled a great part of the then known world. But he sew his own garments. It is reported that at night he used to roam around in disguise to see if someone is suffering from hunger or injustice because he believed that he will be asked about it on the day of judgment. When he conquered Jerusalem he is said to ride his camel with a servant. For half the journey he was on the camel and for the other half his servant was on the camel. Another hero is the fourth Khalifah, ‘Ali. It is said that he overpowered a combatant in a battle and was about to kill him when the combatant spit on him. ‘Ali withdrew his sword. The combatant asked why he let him go. ‘Ali replied, I was fighting in the way of God, but when you spit at me I was no longer sure that my killing you would have been purely in the way of God.
In Islam, one does not give to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s. In Islam what is Caesar’s must be what is God’s. Islam aims to have Caesars like ‘Umar and ‘Ali who fear God and are moved by compassion, wisdom and justice.
Proper use of force can usually take place within a system of law which is enforced by a legitimate authority. Wars and violence are often the result of a lack of existence of such a system of law and a legitimate authority to enforce it. This was the case in the Arabian Peninsula where different tribes lived without any well-defined system of law and without any recognized authority to enforce it. The world as a whole has also been in a similar situation so far. There are often wars because there is no well-established system of law and no legitimate authority to enforce it. After the world war II such a system is slowly evolving. But this process will not succeed without the principles of faith in God and the hereafter and of the brotherhood/sisterhood of all human beings. It is one of the missions of Islam to establish these principles in the world and to thereby lead it to peace and stability. That is, what the Prophet achieved during his life in Arabia in terms of reconciling the hearts of the various Arab tribes, Islam wants to achieve in the world as a whole by reconciling different nations and groups and to bring them under a single brotherhood/sisterhood serving the one true transcendent God.
In comparing any two great civilizations one should not focus on one land or one decade or century, but rather glance over many centuries and over many lands. If we do that, then it becomes clear that whether one looks at the teachings of the two religions or the conduct of their followers there is no basis in fact in the claim that Christianity is more of a religion of love and peace than Islam. Christians have no doubt talked about love and peace more, but Muslims have practiced these values more As a final word, I would say that before preaching love and peace to other nations, Christians will do well to pay heed to the following well-attested words of Jesus
Or, how can you say to your brother, “Friend, let me take the speck in your eye,” when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log in your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Luke 6:42 = Matt 7:4-5 = Thomas, saying 26)
To myself and other Muslims I would say that forever keep reflecting the meaning of the following words of God: We have not sent you (O Muhammad) except as a mercy and love to all the nations (lit. all the worlds).