Islam and Violence—What They Won’t Teach You in Public School

America’s public schools claim to teach from a “neutral” perspective. However, this claim is demonstrably false. It is impossible to teach most subjects from a religiously or philosophically neutral position. This is especially true of history.

All you have to do is turn on the TV or read the newspaper to see how much history is slanted. The best current example is seen in the discussion of Islam and violence. Every time there is an Islamic terror attack, the liberal media refuses to blame Islam whatsoever. Even our presidents claim that Islam is peaceful. George W. Bush said this following 9/11, and Barack Obama continues to insist that radical jihadists are “perverting” Islam and following a “twisted interpretation” of Islam.

The sad thing is that the media and politicians get away with this because the general American populace is entirely ignorant of Islam and its history. If they were taught anything about Islam in school, it was likely watered down and politically correct. I would therefore like to offer a short lesson on Islam and violence. 

Is Islam Inherently Violent?

Let me begin by saying that not all Muslims are violent. In fact, many Westernized Muslims are quite friendly and peaceful. But the fact that some Muslims are nice people does not mean that Islam is a peaceful religion, as so many in the West like to claim.

Part of the problem is that Islam is not a monolithic religion. There are even factions within Islam that fight each other, such as the Sunni and Shia. Some groups within Islam do advocate peace and cite verses such as Surah 2:256, “There is no compulsion in religion.” But most of these groups are Westernized and get their values from somewhere other than the Qur’an.

Though not all Muslims are violent, we can say this—Islam has both a long history of violence and a tradition of literal interpretation of violent commands in the Qur’an.

Islam’s History of Violence

Let’s begin by looking at Islam’s violent history. Islam’s founder, Muhammad, began to experience visions in 610 A.D., and when he shared his revelations with the inhabitants of Mecca, the town’s wealthier citizens grew hostile towards him. Muhammad therefore left Mecca for Medina in 622 and became the town’s leader. Muhammad returned in 624 with 300 followers and raided some Meccan merchants. The Arab tribes then united and besieged Medina in 627, but they were unsuccessful and ended up signing a treaty in 628. The treaty was revoked, and Muhammad and his 10,000 followers then easily marched on Mecca in 630. Muhammad died two years later in 632 A.D., but he was able to unite much of Arabia.

Muhammad’s followers carried on his violence, attacking their neighboring lands from 632 to 738 A.D. and creating a vast empire that reached from Spain to India. The Muslims conquered Jerusalem in 638, the Persian Empire by 651, much of the Byzantine Empire by the 690s, and most of Visigothic Spain between 711 and 716. The Franks, under the leadership of Charles Martel, won the monumental Battle of Poitiers (Tours) in 732 A.D., checking Muslim expansion at the Pyrenees (northeast Spain). This victory spared Europe from Muslim invasion.

During the 8th and 9th centuries, Arab scholars developed the concept of jihad to explain and justify the Arab conquests that had taken place following Muhammad’s death. According to their definition, it was necessary for the Dar al-Islam, "House of Islam," to bring Islamic law throughout the entire world, imposing it on the Dar al-Harb, "House of War" (i.e., non-Islamic lands). They taught that Muslims must strive to bring the entire world into a single Islamic state. Jihad therefore aimed at political and legal unification, not a religious unification. Other monotheists could practice Judaism and Christianity (with certain restrictions) within the House of Islam. They taught that Jews and Christians (unlike pagans) should not be converted forcibly. Ironically, the theory of jihad developed as actual Islamic expansion subsided.

The point in all of this is that Islam was spread through violence. This example was set by Islam’s founder, who was a war general. Muhammad's followers carried on his example for the next 100 years by conquering neighboring nations. Islam is not just a religion. It is also a political system. Muslims have always conquered people through the sword and then set up Sharia law. Though Sharia allows for some minority groups to live as non-Muslims, the taxes and laws are so daunting that most people end up converting. This is why Islamic nations are almost entirely Muslim. Islam has never been spread by peaceful persuasion. It has always been spread by force.

Violent Commands in the Qur’an

Considering Islam’s violent history, it is no surprise that its holy book, the Qur’an, contains several passages advocating violence. Westernized Muslims are either unfamiliar with these passages in the Qur’an or they do not accept the plain reading of the text. However, a tradition of literal interpretation of these passages does exist within Islam—and for good reason. On the surface, these passages seem to advocate violence against non-Muslims:

Your Lord revealed to the angels: “I am with you: give the believers firmness; I shall put fear into the hearts of the disbelievers—strike above their necks and strike all their fingers” (Surah 8:12).

[Believers], fight them until there is no more persecution, and all worship is devoted to God alone (Surah 8:39).

When the [four] forbidden months are over, wherever you encounter the idolaters, kill them, seize them, besiege them, wait for them at every lookout post (Surah 9:5).

Fight those of the People of the Book who do not [truly] believe in God and the Last Day, who do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden (Surah 9:29).

When you meet the disbelievers in battle, strike them in the neck (Surah 47:4).

These passages are noteworthy because they command violence towards those who reject Islam. Muslims are to fight unbelievers (8:39; 9:29) and strike their necks (8:12; 47:4) until all non-Muslim religions are extinguished (8:39).

Are These Passages “Out of Context”?

Since we want to be fair to Islam and accurately interpret these passages, let us take Surah 9:29 and examine it in its context.

Fight those of the People of the Book who do not [truly] believe in God and the Last Day, who do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden (Surah 9:29).

This verse refers to “People of the Book,” which means Jews and Christians. Muslims are commanded to “fight” those “who do not believe in God and the Last Day, who forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden.” Notice it does not say to fight those who fight you. It simply says to fight those “who do not believe.” Verses 28–33 make up the entirety of this passage, yet none of these verses mention any violence on the behalf of non-Muslims. Jews and Christians are said to have been led astray by their beliefs (9:30), and “They try to extinguish God’s light with their mouths” (9:32). Surah 9:29 says to fight them simply because they are unbelievers.

It is difficult to see how anyone can say this is taking the verse “out of context.” The only way out is for a Muslim to invoke the doctrine of “abrogation,” where later revelations in the Qur’an supersede earlier passages that are in contradiction. A Muslim may argue that Surah 9 is abrogated by Surah 2:256, which says, “There is no compulsion in religion.” But this cannot work here. For the Hadith (the collected sayings of Muhammad and second in authority only to the Qur’an) says, “The last Surah which was revealed in full was Baraa” (Sahih al-Bukhari 4364). “Baraa” is another name for Surah 9, and the Hadith says it was the last Surah revealed to Muhammad. Therefore Surah 9 cannot be abrogated by anything else in the Qur’an. 

These violent commands in the Qur’an are consistent with other passages advocating violence towards non-Muslims. For example, the following passage prescribes punishment for crimes against Allah:

Those who wage war against God and His Messenger and strive to spread corruption in the land should be punished by death, crucifixion, the amputation of an alternate hand and foot, or banishment from the land: a disgrace for them in this world, and then a terrible punishment in the Hereafter, unless they repent before you overpower them—in that case bear in mind that God is forgiving and merciful (Surah 5:33).

This passage at least limits such violence to “those who wage war against God and His Messenger.” Unfortunately, this can be understood quite loosely. Violent Muslim groups understand “those who wage war” to include anyone who opposes Islam. Such an interpretation means Muslims can commit more than just defensive violence. 

After examining some of the violent passages in the Qur’an, it seems questionable how anyone can understand Islam in its entirety to be a “peaceful religion.” Taken at face value, these passages in the Qur’an sanction the fighting and killing of non-Muslims for no other reason than that they are not Muslim. 

Conclusion

Is Islam inherently violent? The answer appears to be yes. Islam not only has a long history of violence, but its holy book also contains passages commanding violence. Though not all Muslims adopt a pro-violence interpretation of the Qur’an, there is still a strong tradition within Islam that interprets violent commands according to the plain reading of the text. The fact that many Muslims do not adopt such an interpretation does not relieve Islam of the blame for the violence committed by its more “radical” adherents.

There are two options here. Either Islam is peaceful and violent Muslims have been taking the Qur’an out of context since its inception—or maybe, just maybe, “radical” Muslims are the ones following the teachings of the Qur’an and carrying on the early tradition of Islam and its founder. Either way, Islam and violence will be forever linked.