Is Islam Compatible with Peaceful Coexistence?
The horrors taking place at the hands of Muslims around the world, in The Middle East in general, in Gaza and in Africa, have set me to wondering what it is about Islam which precipitates this violence, violence which is, as often as not, Muslim-on-Muslim. A similar question could be asked as to what it was about the statist ideologies of the twentieth century which precipitated the carnage of Communism and Nazism. This, I think, is an easier question to deal with. If one assumes, as I do, that Communism and Fascism are twin Socialist ideologies, then it requires only a moment’s reflection to realise that violence is the sine qua non of Socialism. Stalin, Pol Pot and Hitler were not aberrant. You can’t have Socialism without violent tyranny.
The difficulty with Islam is that we think of it as a religion. We put it into the same category as Buddhism or Mormonism. We don’t immediately think of religions as being essentially violent (though of course violence has been perpetrated even by Buddhists). We can say, ‘Of course Fascism is violent; it is a form of socialism’. We don’t think it right to say, ‘Of course Islam is violent; it is a religion’. Militant atheists might disagree; but this is not the place for that particular argument. Are we right? Is Islam a religion?
On the surface, Christianity and Islam have some things in common: both assert the existence of God; both are concerned with ethical behaviour. However, I am coming to the view that Islam has more in common with Communism and Fascism than with Christianity or Buddhism. I know that it is disputed whether Buddhism is a religion but, again, this is not today’s argument.
Karl Marx (and even Adolph Hitler) had a vision of the perfect society. We might declare that his vision was A) unobtainable, B) flawed and that C) the effort to establish it would inevitably be nightmarish. Christians believe that God’s kingdom is not of this world. We believe that a better society is always possible but that, given the fact of Original Sin, perfection is not possible.
Mohammed too was a visionary. He believed that if only everyone would follow his prescriptions, society would be perfect. Indeed, Muslims say that Islam is God’s religion. Muslims might agree that most men are sinful but they do not have a well-developed doctrine of Original Sin. This doctrine is Judeo-Christian.
I have recently learnt that Mohammed’s career as a prophet was divided into two distinct periods: Meccan and Medinan. During the first period he was, first and foremost, a spiritual leader and teacher. He was also singularly ineffective, only managing to make something over one hundred converts. Nearly all the tolerant and peaceful of his teachings date from this period. In the Medinan period he reinvented himself as a military leader. As such he converted thousands. He seems to have had second thoughts about the ‘people of the book’ (Jews and Christians). His teachings from this period are startlingly bloodthirsty. What is more, Islam has an explicit doctrine of Abrogation, which says that later revelations abrogate earlier revelations. How Muslims can reconcile this doctrine with the doctrine that the Koran is perfectly existent from all time defeats me. It is literally Orwellian: All the Koran’s Revelations are Perfect; but some are more Perfect than others. This doctrine explicitly violates the logical law of non-contradiction: the propositions A and Not-A cannot both be true.
Muslims, all Muslims, believe that they are in possession of God’s handbook for producing a perfect society. Who would not want a perfect society, especially if God Himself has revealed the plan? How can we, then, expect any but the most lukewarm Muslims to consent to live in peaceful coexistence with Christians, Jews and polytheists? Fortunately for the rest of us, most Muslims are lukewarm.
What we witness in Iraq and Syria and Pakistan is warfare between the sects: Sunni Islam and Shia Islam. What seems to outsiders to be a clash between indistinguishable theologies turns out to be a political war. The historical divergence between the two sects arose from a political dispute as to who should have succeeded Mohammed.
We do have disputes in Christianity (heated ones). Nearly all Christians believe that their political beliefs should be informed by their religious convictions. This can and does result in very different political/social attitudes. For example, for most Christians derive their opposition to abortion from their faith. Some Christians derive Pacifism from their faith. Some Christians derive political Collectivism from their faith. Fortunately, this does not lead to Christians of a leftish complexion and Christians of a rightish complexion cutting each other’s throats. We do not attack each other’s politics from a religious point of view, but from an intellectual point of view. The great Jay Richards does not see Christian Socialists as necessarily damned but perhaps confined to the ‘bad economics’ section of Heaven. As I see it, Both Sunnis and Shias have political/social systems which are mandated by The Almighty. So, they walk into each other’s mosques with Kalashnikovs.
Is there any reform of Islam which could give us hope? The great reformer will be he who develops an Islamic doctrine of Original Sin. The seeds of it must be there already. Ideas matter!
It will be clear that I prefer Christianity to Islam. I, like all Christians, must face the historical fact that Catholics and Protestants waged horrid and interminable wars upon each other. God forgive us! However, I reject the notion that Christianity is essentially violent. Regrettably, since the Medinan period Islam has been essentially violent. It will remain so until it sheds its political carapace, until it accepts a loving God, who hates none of His creation.
Christopher Hitchens and many of his ilk became strident in their denunciation of all religions after 9/11. He was wrong. The perpetrators of 9/11 were much more political than religious, though they thought God was on their side – a poisonous cocktail.