Islam: A Religion of Peace?

Islam means “voluntary submission to God,” and Islamic adherents are called Muslims. The defining belief of Islam is that there is only one god, Allah (known as Yahweh in the Bible), and that Muhammad was his final prophet. Muslims comprise nearly a quarter of the world’s population with nearly 1.7 billion followers. Islam is the 2nd largest religion behind Christianity, though as one of the fastest growing religions, it is predicted to take the top spot within decades.

Islam and the Bible

Muhammad (whose name means “praiseworthy”) is claimed to have been born around 570 C.E. in the Arabian city of Mecca in present-day Saudi Arabia. Muslims believe that Muhammad, believed to have been a decedent of Abraham, was the last in a long line of prophets, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and others. Muslims view Muhammad and all of these prophets, including Jesus, to be mortal humans and not divine, although some could perform miracles. They believe that the Bible (both the Old and New Testament) is a divine and true revelation from God, but that it has been corrupted by men over time, and therefore God had to give Muhammad a new revelation to correct the message.

This final revelation and only existing literal word of God was revealed to Muhammad over 22 years and written down as the Quran sometime after Muhammad’s death in the year 632 C.E. Quran means “the recitation,” and Muslims believe that the only pure form of the Quran is when it is recited out loud in Arabic. Muslims also consult the “hadith,” a collection of Muhammad’s sayings, actions, and characteristics (written down 200 years after his death), which is considered to be an essential supplement to the Quran.

Basic Beliefs

According to Islamic belief, Muhammad was a merchant and a shepherd in Mecca until the age of 40, when he claimed to have begun receiving a revelation from God through the angel Gabriel and continued to periodically receive such revelations for the next 22 years of his life. He preached these revelations to his companions, who memorized them and helped spread them throughout the territory with the intent of driving out paganism. He became a military leader of his followers, leading battles against Meccan tribes who were hostile to his teachings and followers. By the time he died in 632, Muhammad had conquered Mecca, destroyed all the pagan idols in the city and had united the many tribes of Arabia under a single Islamic faith.

Muslims collectively believe that the Quran is the literal word of God, and that Muhammed was his last and most important prophet. They believe in angels as divine messengers of revelation. Muslims also believe in the “Day of Resurrection,” when God will resurrect everyone that has ever died and judge the living and the dead according to his or her own deeds in life. There are several sins that could condemn one to Hell, but forgiveness is possible if repentance is made. Those deemed worthy will enter Paradise, where everything that you have longed for in this life will exist, including servants, hangover-free wine, jewels, and yes…virgin wives. Muslims also believe in predestination, the idea that nothing good nor evil can happen without God’s permission, although paradoxically they see humans as having free will in their personal actions. Angels, on the other hand, do not have free will, although a third kind of being that God created, called jinns, do have free will. Iblis is a Shaytan, or bad jinn, who casts evil suggestions into the hearts of men.

The Five Pillars of Islam are the five basic obligatory acts that all Muslims must perform. 1) The Shahadah, or basic creed of Islam, must be stated as follows: “I testify there are no deities other than God alone and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” 2) Ritual prayer, or Salah, is performed 5 times a day, with Muslims kneeling in the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca, mostly reciting Quran verses in Arabic. Muslims meet to pray and study together in Mosques. Jurists, the clergy of Islam, are considered less of a divine authority and more of a class of highly educated Muslim scholars. 3) Alms-giving, or Zakat, is the duty to give a fixed portion of your accumulated wealth (if you can afford it) to the poor and needy and to help with the spread of Islam. 4) Fasting from food and drink is done from dawn to dusk every day during the holy month of Ramadhan. 5) Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must make the pilgramage, or Hajj, to Mecca at least once in their lifetime, including walking 7 times around the Kaaba, the supposed first stone house of worship built for Allah toward which all Muslims pray.

There are 2 main holidays in Islam. Eid Al-Fitr is celebrated at the end of Ramadan, and Muslims usually give zakat (charity). Eid Al-Adha is celebrated at the end of Hajj, and Muslims usually sacrifice an animal and distribute its meat amongst family, friends and the poor.

Criticism and Extremism

Immediately following Muhammad’s death in 632 C.E., Islam split into 2 factions. Those that believed that Muhammad had appointed his son-in-law as his successor became known as Shias. Those that instead believed Mohammad claimed no successor wanted Muhammad’s father-in-law to be the new leader, and became known as Sunnis. Today, 75 to 95% of Muslims are Sunni, while 10-20% are Shia, and there are several other small factions and denominations. These groups have been engaged in perpetual argument and war against each other ever since their inception.

While Islam has given humanity many great works of art, architecture, music, and culture, there are plenty of things to criticize about this self-proclaimed religion of peace. Muhammad himself was either crazy or a liar for claiming to talk to angels. He was known to have several wives, including one who became his bride at the age of 10. He owned slaves and led armies in battle who killed many Meccans. the Quran itself, although it has many verses prescribing peace and virtue, also endorses violence, slavery, spousal abuse against disobedient or unsubmissive wives, and apostasy– the idea that the penalty for leaving the Islamic faith is nothing less than death. As author Sam Harris wrote, “The truth that we must finally confront is that Islam contains specific notions of martyrdom and jihad that fully explain the character of Muslim violence.” Check out the online Skeptic’s Annotated Quran for plenty more examples of such violent and repressive principles.

Unlike the secular government of the United States, many Muslim countries incorporate religion into their governments through Sharia law, which is based on precepts of the Quran and the hadith. These laws address all aspects of Muslim life and are considered the infallible law of God. There are many concerns from reasonable people about Islamic law’s harsh, oppressive, and at times incredibly violent views regarding women, homosexuals, slavery, human rights, and free speech.

While of course not all Muslims are terrorists, and though the majority are peaceful and non-violent, Islamic extremism still abounds and has been terrorizing the world for centuries. Terrorists use the more violent aspects of the Islamic texts to justify extreme violence and jihad holy war against anyone they perceive as a threat to the Islamic faith. The United States is seen as a Christian Nation (Muslims consider Christians to be pagans because they believe in the Holy Trinity), and the U.S., along with all of Western Culture in general, is perceived by many as a direct threat and insult to Islam. In addition many Muslims are resentful of American occupation of their lands. Muslims are particularly enraged by any blasphemy of their prophet, causing many to protest, attack and even murder over such things as poorly made movies and harmless cartoons. All of these hostilities led to the attacks of 9/11 on American soil and the recent attacks on America’s foreign embassies, and they continue to be a direct threat to freedom of speech as well as global safety.

Again from Sam Harris: “It is time we recognized—and obliged the Muslim world to recognize—that “Muslim extremism” is not extreme among Muslims.  Mainstream Islam itself represents an extremist rejection of intellectual honesty, gender equality, secular politics and genuine pluralism. The truth about Islam is as politically incorrect as it is terrifying: Islam is all fringe and no center. In Islam, we confront a civilization with an arrested history. It is as though a portal in time has opened, and the Christians of the 14th century are pouring into our world…

“…Our press should report on the terrifying state of discourse in the Arab press, exposing the degree to which it is a tissue of lies, conspiracy theories and exhortations to recapture the glories of the seventh century.  All civilized nations must unite in condemnation of a theology that now threatens to destabilize much of the Earth.  Muslim moderates, wherever they are, must be given every tool necessary to win a war of ideas with their co-religionists.  Otherwise, we will have to win some very terrible wars in the future. It is time we realized that the endgame for civilization is not political correctness.  It is not respect for the abject religious certainties of the mob. It is reason.”

To learn more on your own, start with: 

~ by christhehumanist on October 1, 2012.

2 Responses to “Islam: A Religion of Peace?”

  1. Very interesting reading. I’ve always wondered what Islam was all about and why I’ve known some very wonderful, peaceful followers of Islam- yet we have such extremists that seek to do harm in the name of their God. I suppose most major religions are divided that way- those who do great things in the name of God, and those who do great harm supposedly for the same God. Sometimes it’s very difficult not to be disgusted with the bulk of humanity! So do you have any thoughts or opinions on Buddism? I’ve always thought it to be one of the most peaceful religions, but I haven’t done any research on the subject.

    • Hey Lisa, thanks again for your thoughts. You’re right. Every religion and philosophy produces its extremists. The fact is, there are just good people and bad people everywhere you go. However, religion sometimes makes good people do bad things directly because of its core beliefs. As for Buddhism, it is one of the most practical and relatively harmless of the world religions in my opinion. Wisdom, Mindfulness, and Compassion, as well as daily meditation practice, are huge parts of my philosophy that come directly from Buddhism. The Buddha had a fantastic grasp of brain function and chemistry that we are only now verifying with neuroscience. But, I maintain that ALL religions are wrong and harmful, and Buddhism has its faults as well. I am planning to write a post about each of the world’s major religions, including Buddhism, in the same manner that I presented this post, with the history, basic beliefs and practices, along with my compliments and criticisms. I started with Christianity and Islam, since they are the most dominant at the moment, and the most dangerous in my opinion.

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