The recent Chattanooga shootings sparked the same debate that gets started every time the alleged perpetrator happens to be a Muslim. Islamophobes pounce on it like a drooling dog jumps on a bone. While the rest of the nation is deeply pained by such a horrible tragedy and is offering condolences to the afflicted families, Islamophobes are busy accusing Islam of violence and bloodshed. The notion that Muslim youth are being radicalized because of the violent teachings of Islam is lopsided. It is also absurd to suggest that Muslims who commit violence are the true representatives of Islam. An honest reflection on the Quran, the life of the Prophet Muhammad and the conduct of the majority of the Muslims in the world shows that Islam does not condone such violent actions.
Then why do we see violence committed by Muslims? The short answer is that committing violence is a human behavior that needs to be understood on a case-by-case basis, not on the basis of someone’s skin color, race or religion. There are numerous factors that determine the behavior of an individual and his or her tendency to be violent. According to Dr. Kathy Seifert, a forensic psychologist, “these factors include biological traits, family bonding, individual characteristics, intelligence and education, child development, peer relationships, cultural shaping and resiliency.”
I don’t intend to deliver a psychology lecture, though. I understand that perception is reality and that perception is too often shaped by a sensational rendition of world events. From this point of view it is only fair to expect questions such as ‘why is ISIS committing atrocities while calling themselves “Islamic.”?’ Or ‘why do we find verses in the Quran that enjoin Muslims to fight against the disbelievers and why did Muhammad take part in wars and order the execution of certain individuals?’ These questions bear answering.
How can an organization be called “Islamic” while the majority of its victims are Muslims? When Muslims were busy fasting and engaging in charitable giving during the month of Ramadan, ISIS was on its brutal rampage quite contrary to the “Islamic” purpose. Calling ISIS un-Islamic is a fact, not an excuse.
As for the Quran, it is a book of spiritual guidance for Muslims. In the very beginning of the Quran there is a disclaimer that it provides guidance only for those who are God fearing (2:3) meaning those who don’t take things out of context for their own ulterior motives. The Quran only allows fighting in self-defense. It is stated “permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged.” (22:40) Related verses in the Quran that speak about killing pertain to the conditions of the battlefield and must be understood in the right context. Such a defensive fight or killing is mentioned in 37 verses of the Quran, whereas there are over 300 verses that speak about God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Finally, one analytical mistake critics make when interpreting the actions of Muhammad is that they fail to acknowledge that he was not only a spiritual leader, but also a successful general and an astute statesman. He developed war strategies when it was waged against him and dealt with his adversaries by making treaties and pacts with prudence. He made a peaceful pact with all the tribes (including Jews) living in Medina upon his arrival and they all unanimously accepted him as their leader. Generally Muhammad’s mercy always dominated his decision-making. He pardoned the people of Mecca who persecuted him and his community for thirteen years. However, no head of state, in his or her right mind, will allow treasonous and disorderly behavior in society. When the overall peace of society was at stake Muhammad also took necessary actions as head of the state. “It is this unparalleled combination of secular and religious influence,” writes Michael Hart “which I feel entitled Muhammad to be considered the most influential single figure in human history.”
Painting Islam or for that matter 1.6 Billion Muslims with a broad brush as violent is a fallacy. It is the overall belief system of Islam, traditions of its founder, Muhammad, and the predominant practice of its adherents that characterizes Islam, not the outliers.