Is Islam inherently violent?

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In Tuesday’s mail I received a nine page typed critique of a sermon I preached recently on refugees and asylum seekers. It was clear that my critic was very unhappy with a number of things, including my assertion that we had nothing to fear from Muslim immigrants. Islam, he strongly implied, was inherently violent, a claim I often hear.

Now any of us can selectively quote the Koran to demonstrate either that Islam is a religion of violence or conversely that it is a religion of peace. The real issue is not what this or that verse says, but what adherents of Islam understand the Koran to say. And here there is considerable diversity, with the Islamic faith being appropriated by groups such as Al Quaeda and ISIS to justify violence and by others to promote peace. So it would appear that when it comes to how the Islamic faith is understood by its own adherents it is not necessarily nor inherently given to violence.

But what of the fact that most of the world’s violent conflicts are occurring in countries where Islamic populations are in the majority? Does this not suggest Islam is inherently violent? A little perspective helps.If we broaden our historical perspective to consider the entire period from 1946 to 2013 it becomes clear that violent conflict has occurred across all religious boundaries. The table below, sourced from a paper by Peace Research Institute Oslo, shows the incidence of internal armed conflict between 1946 and 2013 according to the dominant religion of the country where the conflict occurred.

Religion No. countries in Conflict % countries in conflict
Buddhist 9 45%
Christianity 56 51%
Hinduism 2 67%
Islam 36 72%
Judaism 1 100%

This suggests that either all religions are likely to produce violence or that violence is explained by factors other than religion. Both the Peace Research Institute Oslo and the Institute for Economics And Peace have explored these questions and concluded that religion is not the driving force behind the presence of conflict. PRIO state “Islam did not make a significant contribution to explaining the frequent incidents of conflict in the Middle East once regime type, level of development, and other variables had been accounted for.” (Gleditsch & Rudolfsen, β€œAre Muslim Countries More War Prone?” 2015)

A paper by the Institute for Economics and Peace looked at conflict zones across the world in 2013 and found that there was no significant correlation between religion and war. Of the 35 conflicts in 2013 almost all had multiple drivers, such as the desire for a change of government, identity politics, competition for control of resources, conflict over territory, et cetera. 40% of conflicts had a religious dimension but not a single conflict had religion as the sole dimension. Moreover the authors note that “when parties to a conflict are divided on religious adherents, the conflict often becomes framed as religious even though the parties have originally fought over other issues.”

The Institute for Economics And Peace paper found that the greatest factors influencing peace were political. Countries with low levels of corruption, well-functioning governments and good relations with neighbours were much more likely to be peaceful than those without. It seems then that it is not religion that is inherently violent, but that corruption, poor government and poor external relations can give rise to violence. In this respect it is notable that 70% of Muslim majority countries are authoritarian regimes, there are only three flawed democracies and no full democracies. There are many reasons for this, including the legacy of colonialism and global geopolitics. It is reasonable to assume that as more Islamic dominated countries become politically liberal, as poverty levels decrease and respect for human rights increases, the incidence of violent conflict will substantially decline.

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Paul Banjo Fairlie
4 years ago

Paul Banjo Fairlie liked this on Facebook.

Anne Hyde
4 years ago

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George Hayward
4 years ago

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Gary Low
Gary Low
4 years ago

Thanks Scott. You always have a way to articulate things that challenges my world views πŸ™‚ always have and continue to do so! Thanks! πŸ™‚

Martin J Cowling
Martin J Cowling
4 years ago
Reply to  Gary Low

amen

Gary Low
Gary Low
4 years ago

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Rose Young
4 years ago

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Alistair Sim
4 years ago

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Thomas W Schmid
4 years ago

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Steve Tuck
Steve Tuck
4 years ago

Only half right. If by Islam you mean what Muslims living out their religion, everyone would agree that Islam, by this definition, is NOT inherently violent, because the vast majority of Muslims don’t practice violence as part of their religion; but if by Islam, you mean the doctrines promoted by the Quran than you would have to say it is inherently violent.

mj
mj
4 years ago
Reply to  Steve Tuck

you missed Scott;’s article.

Steve Tuck
Steve Tuck
4 years ago
Reply to  Scott

True there are various schools of thought among Muslims; some advocating for a peaceful understanding of Islam such as the Sufi, and other schools that argue for a violent expression of Islam, such as Wahhabis and Salafist branch of Islam dominant in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim-majority countries. When you have these divergent expressions of Islam and you want to get a sense of who is right and who is wrong, one way to decide is by asking ‘what expression of Islam, peaceful or violent, is most consistent with the example of Muhammad?’. Here a case could be made for… Read more »

Steve Tuck
Steve Tuck
4 years ago
Reply to  Scott

I think Good historical method would require that we give preference to the earliest sources on the life and teaching of Muhammad which would be the Hadiths rather than suggest because no one has direct access to Muhammad or we have is interpretations and competing viewpoints. We wouldn’t accept this if it was said about Jesus and we shouldn’t accept this conclusion about Muhammad either. Another line of evidence to consider is what did the original followers of Muhammad understand he was teaching? And they understood he was calling for violent Jihad as was practiced in the first 100 years… Read more »

Steve Tuck
Steve Tuck
4 years ago

You are right to advocate for refugees and asylum seekers because this is essentially what Jesus taught in the parable of the Good Samaritian and the Golden Rule, and also as Christians with a Great Commission focus we should see refugees coming to Australia as, first and foremost, an opportunity for outreach.

Andrew Geddes
4 years ago

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Joanne Elliott
4 years ago

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James Clarke
4 years ago

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mj
mj
4 years ago

Let us not forget that for at least a century, the west has forcibly used the Middle East to get oil so we have supported corrupt and cruel regimes who have acted violently toward their people and bombed their opposition. L

Philip Zylstra
Philip Zylstra
4 years ago

Thanks again Scott, excellent.

Richard Baldacchino
4 years ago

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Philip Zylstra
Philip Zylstra
4 years ago

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Christian Wright
4 years ago

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Barbara Higgins
4 years ago

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Dan Walz
4 years ago

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DouginCanberra
4 years ago

problem is the category of religion. This is a category which is infinitely expansible and which sociologists find it hard to agree on a definition. The use of the term religion occludes from view the sacral character of the state and the claims it makes on our bodies. For an discussion of this issue see William Cavanaugh The Myth of Religious Violence.

Shirley Moore
4 years ago

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Shona Adams Sim
4 years ago

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Elizabeth Jenner
Elizabeth Jenner
4 years ago

The current Terrorism seems to be a Muslim problem. They have resources to combat it in schools and mosques, but are they seeking to take the opportunity to de radicalise? I would like to see Their leaders much more vocal in condemning it.

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