I’ve heard a lot of people say that Islam is a religion of war instead of
peace, because of Mohammed’s actions, history, references in the Koran,
the terrorists etc. But the God of the Bible murdered and let his people
slaughter many peoples who were not living by his standards. How can I
explain that the God of the Bible isn’t the same as portrayed in the Koran?

You ask a question which is on a lot of people’s mind, obviously, with the
events of September 11th. Muslims claim that their religion is after the
tradition of the Old Testament. In fact they claim Moses, Abraham, David
and Jesus as prophets of Islam. The question you ask, however, is whether
Islam is a religion of war or at least if the Koran supports the doctrine
if killing for Allah. Let us look at this question carefully.

First, you should note that most Muslims would claim that Islam is a
religion of peace, not war. They would claim that jihad is a word which
means struggle, not necessarily war. Many would claim that jihad for Allah
in a modern context is contending and struggling for righteousness through
personal struggle and peaceful means. Is this a correct interpretation of
the Koran? Consider a few passages taken directly from the Koran. Surah
4:95 encourages with rewards for fighting wars for Allah. Verse 104 of the
same Surah encourages the Muslim to follow those enemies who retreat and
kill them. Surah 8:12 commands Muslim soldiers to cut off the finger tips
of the enemies and stab them in the head. Surah 8:16 implies that those
who retreat in Jihad will go to Hell. 8:16 implores Muslims to not take
prisoners, but to kill all the enemies. Surah 11:3 promises salvation to
martyrs and killers for Allah. Surah 47:4 commands Muslims to kill
ruthlessly in Jihad and to go for the neck. One could go on and on quoting
the Koran.

What about Muhammad? The founder of Islam was a ruthless pirate and
general. When a group of Jews in Medina proved unwilling to convert and
began to undermine his leadership, he had all 700 male Jews massacred.
This is mentioned in Surah 33:26,27. Muhammad made a living for his young
movement by raiding desert caravans, killing the people and stealing their
possessions. Judge for yourself whether Muhammad was a man of peace and
whether the Koran is a book of peace.

It is worth noting that the great majority of Muslims are peace-loving and
are certainly not terrorists or even supportive of terrorists. Many of the
laws laid down in the Koran promote justice and fair treatment of people.
However, to claim, as some Muslims do, that the concept of Jihad in the
Koran does not support killing people for Allah is to ignore the facts of
the book itself and of the history of the early spread of Islam. When
radical Islamic terrorists seek justification for their attacks they need
look no farther than the pages of the Koran to justify their actions,
although it is extremely unlikely that Muhammad himself, if he were alive
today, would sanction their murderous deeds.

You ask a very interesting and in some ways difficult corollary question
about Christianity. In reality, you are asking about Judaism and the Old
Testament, not about the teachings of Christ. There is absolutely no
question that Jesus Christ was a man of peace. He is the one who taught
that one should not even have a bitter heart toward one’s enemies, never
mind kill them. Matthew chapter five comes to mind, in which Jesus
famously commanded his followers to turn the other cheek when attacked.
There is absolutely no conceivable justification for a Christian to go
around killing people for God. The crusades of the Middle Ages are surely
an abomination to God. The Roman Catholic Inquisition, which included
killing untold thousands because of real or supposed heresey is an
abomination as well (to say nothing of similar actions by early Lutherans
and other Protestant groups).

Any attempt to compare Christianity and the New Testament to show that
their teaching on violence and warfare in the name of God is similar is
bound to fail. However, you bring up an interesting point about the Old
Testament. In Joshua, most obviously, one can find God’s people clearly
ordered to destroy very sinful peoples who occupied the Promised Land.
This can be a troubling fact to understand for the reader of the New
Testament. Apparently, God allowed the Jews, under his authority, limited
sanction to pursue warfare and even to kill pagans without mercy in order
to allow them to occupy the Promised Land. The Jews were not authorized to
pursue world conquest or to attack any foreign power in God’s name.
However God did allow them to remove the Amelekites and others from
Canaan. It is worth bearing in mind that the Amelekites had such religious
practices as sexual prostitution as part of their religious observance as
well as the sacrifice of children to appease their gods.

In conclusion, both the scriptures and the history of Islam support the
claim that this religion supports using violence to advance its cause. The
New Testament is absolutely and radically in opposition to this. It is
true that the Jews had a very limited sanction to use violence against
some incredibly sinful pagan groups in order to occupy the Promised Land,
but this was a very limited thing and was in no way at all a general
permission to use violence to spread Judaism to neighboring lands.

John Oakes, PhD

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