The recent violence in Paris, along with on-going struggles in the Middle East have kept radical Islam in the forefront of the news. The things that get the biggest headlines are the attacks on the West, but there is a lot of fighting between Muslim groups in other parts of the world. Our local paper recently published two opinion pieces by U. S. Muslims saying that this violence is not part of the Muslim Religion, but is motivated by political considerations. The first of these was written by a man who writes for the Washington Post, is a CNN host and is a contributing editor for The Atlantic. He says that there is nothing in the Quran which would justify what happened in Paris, No where, he says is there any prescription for punishment for “blasphemy or abuse of the Prophet”. The second piece was written by a man who is an M.D and the general secretary or the Tulsa Chapter of The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam. He cites verses from the Quran such as one that says “there should be no compulsion in religion.” He is also obviously bothered by what he calls vocal Islamophobes who continue to insist that Islam is an inherently violent religion and are insisting on the forceful stamping out of Islamic ideology.
The existence of radical violent Muslims who say they are acting in the name of Allah is undeniable. Yet here are two seemingly respectable and responsible people saying that this is not what Islam is about. In fact they are saying just the opposite, that Islam is a peaceful religion. Who’s right? Is it an inherently violent religion, that will do us in if we let it? or has it been politicized for by those aspiring to political power? Not being an in-depth student of the Quran, I don’t think I can answer that with certainty. But I do think that the better question is: How should we respond?
Most religions have different interpretations of their scriptures. If that were not so, there would not be so many different Christian denominations. And Christians have had their violent practitioners also. So why would we assume that Muslims would be different? The facts that Muslims sects are disagreeing would indicate a non-uniform interpretation. But besides that, a fairly recent Gallop poll of the world’s Muslim Population found that well less than 10% of world’s Muslim population supported the violent radicals. That would seem to be growing, but that may be because they are not respected by the West. Rather than do things to alienate these folks further, would it not be better to try to win them over by accepting them as friends? They might then have a chance to influence the direction of religious interpretations. May be it won’t work, but what have we got to lose? And after all, Peace and Love of our Neighbor is supposed to be a Christian Principle as well.
We obviously need to defend ourselves against the violent radicals. But should we condemn all Muslims? Or should we accept those who seem to believe that the violent people don’t represent the religion? It seems to me that there is no advantage in condemning all Muslims. If the Gallop poll is anywhere close to right, the radicals have the challenge of bringing others into their camp. The radicals have the advantage in the ability to publicize their position. Any violence against the West is guaranteed to get front page headlines, and be the lead story in the electronic media (“if it bleeds, it leads”) The radicals have some control of their publicity. If that results in a general condemnation of all Muslims by people of the West, it is likely to have the effect of driving more of the world’s Muslim population into their ranks. We may or may not have a true religious war now, but we could certainly escalate ourselves into one. If there are those that say that violence is not part of the religion, condemning them will not be helpful. What would serve us better would be to help them get their point of view out to all. A more intelligent, and fair, response would be to find a way to let the peaceful adherents to the religion get their story heard. Our best response would be to give them acceptance and help. There are more than a billion and a half Muslims in the world. If we could avoid having all them upset with us, it would no doubt be helpful. The people who can best convert the Muslim population from radical to peaceful should be those who all ready have studied and committed to it.
“Who is right?” is not the point. The point is that how we react can make a difference in where we end up. If there are adherents to the religion out there who could be helpful in having us avoid more, or more extensive, armed conflict, we should embrace them as friends. An armed conflict with 1.5+ billion people is not an appealing alternative. We should do what we can to help those who would be our friend.