Is Islam an inherently violent belief system?

I am not even close to being a scholar of Islam.I have read, but certainly not studied, the Qu’ran. I am, for the most part, ignorant of Muslim history and have no exposure to Muslim theology. To my shame, I cannot really even claim to personally know a person who practices Islam.

But I do think about religion. And I know that currently Islam is being cited as one of the culprits in perpetuating violence in the world.

So, given our current context, it is worthwhile to ponder the question of Islam and violence.

Does belief in Islam compel followers “to use violence and force to murder anyone that doesn’t share their radical faith or to forcibly convert them”? When such a claim is made by a man who would be President, it is important for thinking people to try to assess such a statement and not just accept on faith the claim because it comes from a person who seems to consider himself qualified to speak with authority on the topic.

There can be no question that aspects of Islam can be and have been used by some people within the Muslim community to incite and justify horrific actions. Equally there is no question that throughout the sad journey of human history, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, atheism, communism and most belief systems have, and continue to be, marshaled in the interests of justifying and promoting the use of violence.

Does this make each of these belief systems inherently violent?

There are currently roughly 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. This is nearly ¼ of the world’s population. The estimated membership of all known Islamic terrorists groups operational in the world today makes up less than 1% of those who claim adherence to Islam. The vast majority of Muslims live peaceably within modern societies. It is ignoble and offensive to characterize the majority of Muslims by the abhorrent behaviour of a tiny minority.

The fact that Ku Klux Klan members may call themselves Christian does not mean it is accurate to characterize all Christians by the actions and teachings of the KKK. Tragically many antisemites in history have assumed the label “Christian;” this does not mean that Christianity is inherently antisemitic.

Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world today. 88% of Indonesia’s population (203 million people) is Muslim. According to the 2015 Global Peace Index (GPI) report, Indonesia has shown the greatest improvement in the world as a peaceful nation. In 2009 the New York Times, reported that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after visiting Indonesia in February stated,

Indonesia has experienced a great transformation in the last 10 years….If you want to know if Islam, democracy, modernity and women’s rights can coexist, go to Indonesia.

Joko WidodoIn the wake of the attacks in Paris on Friday 13 November 2015 the President of Indonesia Joko Widodo, a Sunni Muslim, stated that,

Indonesia condemns the violence that took place in Paris.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S., described the killings as “heinous” and “horrific” stating that,

These savage and despicable attacks on civilians, whether they occur in Paris, Beirut or any other city, are outrageous and without justification. We condemn these horrific crimes in the strongest terms possible. The perpetrators of these heinous attacks must be apprehended and brought to justice.

It is not religious dogma that makes people violent. It is the misappropriation of belief systems by violent people for political and economic ends that that leads to heinous acts of terror. No responsible belief system is inherently violent. The roots of violence lie deeper than religion and are invariably curtailed by a heart that is truly surrendered to the power that is the source of the human religious impulse.