So the debate between me and my cohorts raged on in a discussion on whether Islam is a religion of peace or one of violence. There are a lot of sayings in the Quran that call for violence. Some are calls for defensive violence, that they are to defend themselves and their faith when they are persecuted by non-believers. Some are calls to offensive violence, and they are definitely disturbing.
The thing is that some Muslim theologians have said that the Quran is eternal, that it’s always applicable and is not meant to be understood only in the context of its time. That is a dangerous interpretation of the meaning and efficacy of the Quran, as that very meaning has been used by radical Muslims to say that the call to violence was not only meant for Muhammad in his time, but for Muslims in all times. Those who interpret the Quran, and subsequently Islam, in this way are men who have sought to pervert the religion to achieve their own goals. Those goals are to see the realization of their ideology across the globe, and also to grab a larger piece of the prosperity pie that Arab nations have been denied for the most part over history.
Just as Christian clerics and clergymen have had political goals, I believe that these radical Muslims also have goals that go beyond worldwide Muslim conversion. They may be Muslims, but they are human. To assume that all they want is for the entire world to convert I think is to ignore the lessons of history.
Look at Christianity, for example. Horrifying things have been perpetrated by Christians, and they used the bible to justify these things. The Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery, the conquest of the New World by the Conquistadors, the Salem Witch Trials: all perpetrated in the name of God—all to win souls for Christ—all supported by the words of the bible. I submit to you that it was never Christianity that was at fault, but rather the men who used it for their own earthly gain. Christianity has never needed reform: it was Christians that needed reform.
There are millions of Muslims all over the world today who live peaceful lives and abhor the violence that their brethren commit. Most adherents of Islam live in North Africa and the
I’m sure that most Christians know that there is no difference between Yahweh, God, or Allah. They are the same deity, but each branch of the Middle Eastern religions claim that he favors one over the others. So what do we make of that? We have three religions who all claim, with absolute certainty of truth, that this one deity has revealed to them the fullness of his will.
I see it this way. All three iterations contain one central message that is important for everyone to understand. There is a God, one that created existence itself, who is not entirely comprehendible yet one that has revealed himself to us through various channels. That God wants us to be happy. That God wants us to experience the fullness of human life, because this life was given to us as a gift. We will only find true happiness, and only experience the fullness of what it means to be human when we seek a relationship with him.
This is why the ministry of Jesus becomes important, because it gives us a different message. We’re not to be militant for God, because that leads to human misery. If we’re to be happy, we are to love one another and live in peace. We must submit ourselves to God’s will (interestingly enough, “Muslim,” literally means “one who submits to God”). That doesn’t mean that God has a plan for all of us, or that we’re supposed to listen to what we think is God speaking. We’re humans, created in his image, who have the capacity to be free and to choose the best way to live a happy life. God’s will is for us to be happy.
We can’t be happy if we’re forcing each other to believe in a specific interpretation of his nature. We can’t be happy through violence, bigotry, or persecution. Jesus’ message is important because it is at once both human and divine. It is human in the sense that it is a pathway to leading a fulfilling life, and it is divine in the sense that it calls us to act against our human nature. God is infinitely loving and merciful, and that sort of God is not one that desires violence or hatred. Humans are imperfect: we are violent and spiteful, and it’s only through empathy and compassion that we learn to tame the imperfection of our humanity.
I can’t say that Jesus fulfilled some sort of blood debt that humanity owed to God, because that sounds like we’re placing a human constraint on something beyond human comprehension. I think his death and subsequent resurrection mean something far more complex than the ancient idea of a scapegoat. He taught us that we must transcend our humanity to enjoy it fully; in a world of sin and death there is still hope; and that life is fragile, easily broken by the evils that surround us, but there is something more to it.
There are evil Muslims in the world, evil Christians. But neither Islam or Christianity are inherently evil. When you decide that one or the other is wholly wrong, you are no better than an atheist. Atheism signifies defeat, giving up the search for Truth in deference to gaiety of heart. That, to me, is no different than closing your mind to theological contemplation.
God gave us reason for a reason, and I urge all people of all faiths to use it.