Is Islam a peaceful religion? Is it a violent one? Does Quran teach violence? Does it teach love and peace? Are all Muslims violent? Are some of them violent while a majority of them just wants to live peaceful lives?
Questions like these and many more have been asked many times over, specially in the West and specially after the 9/11 attacks. President Bush has gone from emphasizing that Islam is a peaceful religion to using the term Islamo-fascists. So how do we make sense of what really is Islam? Or, for that matter, how do we make sense of any other religion? If we cannot answer this fundamental question, then we will never be able to answer the more obvious ones that I enumerate at the beginning.
To be able to answer that question, we first have to answer an even more basic question. Is religion a static entity, as defined in its holy books, or is it a living, breathing entity, as defined by the lives led by follower of that religion at a given period? I would assert that religion is a living, breathing entity as defined by the lives of its followers in the present. Going by that definition, one simply cannot assert or ask the question, “Is Islam a peaceful religion?” for that question is too absolute. The question that needs to be asked is, “Is Islam a peaceful religion today?”
If asking the right question was tricky, answering it is bound to be more so. What criterion does one use to quantify one’s answer? Should we find out the ratio of violent verses to non-violent verses in Quran? Should we find out the ratio of violent Muslims to non-violent Muslims (this criterion is often used when people assert that there are “millions of Muslims practicing their religion peacefully”)?
I think the answer can be found in one of the very basic observations that Mahatma Gandhi made about human nature – that if you want to find out the true nature of a person, find out how he treats a weaker person. Let us apply that simple test to present day Islam. We can say that Muslims are in “strength”, that is able to dictate political, social and religious decisions in countries or regions where they are in majority. Of course, in certain instances, they might be able to dictate terms even in regions where they are in minority but for now, we can simply focus on Muslim majority regions. Let us think of Muslim majority regions and nations like the Middle East, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, certain regions of Africa and Indonesia and see how the “weaker party” that is, non-Muslims have been treated in those regions? Is there freedom of religion? Is there freedom of speech? Can you openly practice your faith? What about civil laws?
In a nutshell, what kind of society have Muslims created in places where they had the power to create the kind of societies that they wanted to create?
Now compare those societies with the societies created by Christian majority states, like those of the Western Europe or in the US. Or the society created by the Hindu majority state of India.
There, you’ve answered the question that “Is Islam a peaceful religion today?” The real violence committed in the name of Islam was not committed when those planes hit the twin towers, not even when those bombs went off in the streets of London or in the trains of Mumbai. The real violence in the name of Islam is committed every single day in those Muslim majority countries like Saudi Arabia where you cannot freely practice any other religion, cannot have a free civic discourse and cannot have basic human rights. That is the real Islamic terrorism, Islamo-fascism or whatever other term that you fancy. The people ramming those planes into the twin towers were only the end result of that terrorism.