Ever since I decided to pursue the path to become a philosopher, I have been trying to find ways to fund this dream. During these weeks of frantic brainstorming, I have browsed numerous pages on taobao and Alibaba, bought craft supplies at Michael’s, and even created several gigs on Fiverr, one of which promised that I would answer any question about Islam based on the Qur’an for $5.
Although hopeful, I didn’t actually expect anyone to ask me any questions, but I received my first order after only one week! It was incredible. I probably should thank the incessant news report on “Islamic” terrorism these days. But even more should I thank the person who asked the question. He must be a very open-minded and intellectually humble individual with a strong desire for the truth to be willing to pay a Muslim to answer his questions about Islam.
One of the questions he asked was: Is Islam a religion of peace or violence? I think a lot of non-Muslims must have this question in mind (especially in the recent Islamophobic climate) so I will share my answer here for the benefit of other open-minded truth seekers. Of course, I am not saying that what I say is the truth. No one has the total truth. I am just saying that if you are curious, here is something that I have personally verified to be true.
Islam is a religion of peace, not of violence. I will support this answer using Qur’anic evidence by 1) explaining how the commonly cited “verse of the sword” does not support the claim that Islam is a religion of violence, and 2) showing how Islam encourages peace, again using support from the Qur’an.
Explaining the Verse of the Sword
The most commonly quoted verse from the Qur’an to support the claim that Islam is a religion of violence is verse 9:5 (verse 5 from chapter 9):
“But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever you find them, an seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.”
However, if you read verses 1 through 4, you would know that the “Pagans” do not refer to just any disbeliever, but specifically those who have repeatedly failed to abide by the treaties they have made with the Muslims. Furthermore, the command in the verse above only applies after a 4-month grace period; after 4 months, if they remain aggressive and insist on fighting the believers, then the state of war is unavoidable, and in such a war, as in any others, one party may attempt to seize, kill or imprison the other party. However, the Qur’an is quick to mention that if the enemy seek protection at all, then the believer should grant them immediate protection so that they may hear the words of God (9:6). What’s more, if any of these Pagans have previously fulfilled their treaty made in the Sacred Mosque, then they are exempted (9:7). Thus it is clear, when read in the Quranic context, that verse 9:5 does not allow the wanton killing of people who choose not to believe in Islam. (You may read the entire chapter 9 here: http://quran.com/9)
Really, any other verse from the Qur’an that is said to support violence is full of nuance when examined closely. Too often, Qur’anic verses are pulled out of context to support whatever claim that one is trying to make. According to the Qur’an, the ideal relationship between believers and nonbelievers is actually one of mutual respect and non-compulsion, as captured in verse 2:256:
“Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And God hears and knows all things.”
This verse clearly expresses the Islamic attitude towards those who are not Muslims: Do not compel anyone to believe in Islam. Truth will forever be the truth; those who seek will find. It is futile to use violence to subdue anyone to the religion because forced faith is not real faith.
You may also be interested to read chapter 109 of the Qur’an, which is one of the most often recited by Muslims around the world in our prayers: “Say : O you that reject Faith! I worship not that which you worship, nor will you worship that which I worship. And I will not worship that which you have been wont to worship, nor will you worship that which I worship. To you be your Way, and to me mine.”
Basically, the most important thing in Islam is one’s direct relationship with God. Although we are encouraged to “Invite (all) to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious” (16:125), we are not really encouraged to get into other peoples’ problems or businesses if they don’t want us to.
Verses that Encourage Peace
Since there are so many verses in the Qur’an that encourage peace, I will list just a few from the first few chapters (there are 114 chapters in total). Please note that the parentheses in gray were added by me, and the parentheses in black are from the original translation by Yusuf Ali.
- [2:208] O you who believe! Enter into Islam (peacefulness)* whole-heartedly; and follow not the footsteps of the evil one (Satan); for he is to you an avowed enemy.
- [2:224] And make not God’s (name) an excuse in your oaths against doing good, or acting rightly, or making peace between persons; for God is One Who hears and knows all things.
- [4:114] In most of their secret talks there is no good: But if one exhorts to a deed of charity or justice or conciliation (peace-making) between men, (Secrecy is permissible): To him who does this, seeking the good pleasure of God, We shall soon give a reward of the highest (value).
- [5:15-16] O people of the Book!** There has come to you our Messenger, revealing to you much that you used to hide in the Book, and passing over much (that is now unnecessary): There has come to you from God a (new) light and a perspicuous Book, -Wherewith God guides all who seek His good pleasure to ways of peace and safety, and leads them out of darkness, by His will, unto the light,- guides them to a path that is straight.
- [6:54] When those come to you who believe in Our signs, Say: “Peace be on you: Your Lord has inscribed for Himself (the rule of) mercy: verily, if any of you did evil in ignorance, and thereafter repented, and amend (his conduct), lo! He is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
- [8:61] But if the enemy incline towards peace, you (also) incline towards peace, and trust in God: for He is One that hears and knows (all things).
*In Arabic, “islam” literally means “submission (to God)”, but it also shares its roots “sa-laa-maa” with the word “peace and security” in Arabic, which is “salam”.
** In the Qur’an, “People of the Book” refers to Christians and Jews.
Another very important fact is that every chapter in the Qur’an, except one (chapter 55, which starts with only “The All-Merciful”), starts with “Bismillahi rrahmani rraheem”, for which the best English translation would be: “In the name of God, The All-Merciful, The Ever-Merciful”.
In Islam, “The All-Merciful, The Ever-Merciful” are called “names” or attributes of God. There are 99 famous ones, and these two are by far the most often mentioned in the Qur’an and the most important.
According to the Qur’an, God breathed His Spirit into the human being when He made him, creating the human soul (38:72). Muslims believe therefore that our soul is the spirit of God, and we should always exemplify divine attributes in our lives to show mercy, compassion and forbearance to others.
Also, as Muslims, we greet each other everyday by saying “Assalaamu alaikum!” and “Wa alaikum assalaam!” which mean “May pace be upon you!” and “And may peace be upon you, too!” respectively. Although the Qur’an does not explicitly command Muslims to greet using these phrases, it’s a convention that has been inherited from the first generation of Muslims. (Also, they don’t have to be said in Arabic; it’s just a convention.)
As you can see, the very concept of peace permeates the life of Muslims. More importantly, mentions of peace or peace-making are pervasive in the Qur’an. Based on Qur’anic evidence, we can thus conclude that Islam is a religion of peace and not of violence.