The True, Peaceful Face Of Islam 1

The True, Peace­ful Face Of Islam

There are 1.2 bil­lion Mus­lims in the world, and Islam is the world’s fastest-grow­ing reli­gion. If the evil car­nage we wit­nessed on Sept. 11 were typ­i­cal of the faith, and Islam tru­ly inspired and jus­ti­fied such vio­lence, its growth and the increas­ing pres­ence of Mus­lims in both Europe and the U.S. would be a ter­ri­fy­ing prospect. For­tu­nate­ly, this is not the case.

The very word Islam, which means sur­ren­der,” is relat­ed to the Ara­bic salam, or peace. When the Prophet Muham­mad brought the inspired scrip­ture known as the Koran to the Arabs in the ear­ly 7th cen­tu­ry A.D., a major part of his mis­sion was devot­ed pre­cise­ly to bring­ing an end to the kind of mass slaugh­ter we wit­nessed in New York City and Wash­ing­ton. Pre-Islam­ic Ara­bia was caught up in a vicious cycle of war­fare, in which tribe fought tribe in a pat­tern of vendet­ta and counter vendet­ta. Muham­mad him­self sur­vived sev­er­al assas­si­na­tion attempts, and the ear­ly Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty nar­row­ly escaped exter­mi­na­tion by the pow­er­ful city of Mec­ca. The Prophet had to fight a dead­ly war in order to sur­vive, but as soon as he felt his peo­ple were prob­a­bly safe, he devot­ed his atten­tion to build­ing up a peace­ful coali­tion of tribes and achieved vic­to­ry by an inge­nious and inspir­ing cam­paign of non­vi­o­lence. When he died in 632, he had almost sin­gle-hand­ed­ly brought peace to war-torn Arabia.

Because the Koran was revealed in the con­text of an all-out war, sev­er­al pas­sages deal with the con­duct of armed strug­gle. War­fare was a des­per­ate busi­ness on the Ara­bi­an Penin­su­la. A chief­tain was not expect­ed to spare sur­vivors after a bat­tle, and some of the Koran­ic injunc­tions seem to share this spir­it. Mus­lims are ordered by God to slay [ene­mies] wher­ev­er you find them!” (4 : 89). Extrem­ists such as Osama bin Laden like to quote such vers­es but do so selec­tive­ly. They do not include the exhor­ta­tions to peace, which in almost every case fol­low these more fero­cious pas­sages : Thus, if they let you be, and do not make war on you, and offer you peace, God does not allow you to harm them” (4 : 90).

In the Koran, there­fore, the only per­mis­si­ble war is one of self- defense. Mus­lims may not begin hos­til­i­ties (2 : 190). War­fare is always evil, but some­times you have to fight in order to avoid the kind of per­se­cu­tion that Mec­ca inflict­ed on the Mus­lims (2 : 191 ; 2 : 217) or to pre­serve decent val­ues (4 : 75 ; 22 : 40). The Koran quotes the Torah, the Jew­ish scrip­tures, which per­mits peo­ple to retal­i­ate eye for eye, tooth for tooth, but like the Gospels, the Koran sug­gests that it is mer­i­to­ri­ous to for­go revenge in a spir­it of char­i­ty (5 : 45). Hos­til­i­ties must be brought to an end as quick­ly as pos­si­ble and must cease the minute the ene­my sues for peace (2 : 1923).

Islam is not addict­ed to war, and jihad is not one of its pil­lars,” or essen­tial prac­tices. The pri­ma­ry mean­ing of the word jihad is not holy war” but strug­gle.” It refers to the dif­fi­cult effort that is need­ed to put God’s will into prac­tice at every lev­el — per­son­al and social as well as polit­i­cal. A very impor­tant and much quot­ed tra­di­tion has Muham­mad telling his com­pan­ions as they go home after a bat­tle, We are return­ing from the less­er jihad [the bat­tle] to the greater jihad,” the far more urgent and momen­tous task of extir­pat­ing wrong­do­ing from one’s own soci­ety and one’s own heart.

Islam did not impose itself by the sword. In a state­ment in which the Ara­bic is extreme­ly emphat­ic, the Koran insists, There must be no coer­cion in mat­ters of faith!” (2 : 256). Con­stant­ly Mus­lims are enjoined to respect Jews and Chris­tians, the Peo­ple of the Book,” who wor­ship the same God (29 : 46). In words quot­ed by Muham­mad in one of his last pub­lic ser­mons, God tells all human beings, O peo­ple ! We have formed you into nations and tribes so that you may know one anoth­er” (49 : 13) — not to con­quer, con­vert, sub­ju­gate, revile or slaugh­ter but to reach out toward oth­ers with intel­li­gence and understanding.

So why the sui­cide bomb­ing, the hijack­ing and the mas­sacre of inno­cent civil­ians ? Far from being endorsed by the Koran, this killing vio­lates some of its most sacred pre­cepts. But dur­ing the 20th cen­tu­ry, the mil­i­tant form of piety often known as fun­da­men­tal­ism erupt­ed in every major reli­gion as a rebel­lion against moder­ni­ty. Every fun­da­men­tal­ist move­ment I have stud­ied in Judaism, Chris­tian­i­ty and Islam is con­vinced that lib­er­al, sec­u­lar soci­ety is deter­mined to wipe out reli­gion. Fight­ing, as they imag­ine, a bat­tle for sur­vival, fun­da­men­tal­ists often feel jus­ti­fied in ignor­ing the more com­pas­sion­ate prin­ci­ples of their faith. But in ampli­fy­ing the more aggres­sive pas­sages that exist in all our scrip­tures, they dis­tort the tradition.

It would be as grave a mis­take to see Osama bin Laden as an authen­tic rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Islam as to con­sid­er James Kopp, the alleged killer of an abor­tion provider in Buf­fa­lo, N.Y., a typ­i­cal Chris­t­ian or Baruch Gold­stein, who shot 29 wor­shipers in the Hebron mosque in 1994 and died in the attack, a true mar­tyr of Israel. The vast major­i­ty of Mus­lims, who are hor­ri­fied by the atroc­i­ty of Sept. 11, must reclaim their faith from those who have so vio­lent­ly hijacked it. The True, Peaceful Face Of Islam 2

This arti­cle was first pub­lished in Time Mag­a­zine on Octo­ber 1, 2001, Vol. 158, No. 15


Cite this arti­cle as : Karen Arm­strong, The True, Peace­ful Face Of Islam,” in Bis­mi­ka Allahu­ma, April 3, 2006, last accessed May 27, 2024, https://​bis​mikaal​lahu​ma​.org/​h​i​s​t​o​r​y​/​t​h​e​-​t​r​u​e​-​p​e​a​c​e​f​u​l​-​f​a​c​e​-​o​f​-​i​s​l​am/


  1. Dav,

    Sura 9.111 has noth­ing to do with the 911 mur­ders, and Osama bin Laden does not rep­re­sent Islam. The Qur’an does not call for the killing of Jews. The Qur’an does not advo­cate mass murder.

    You are an idiot… how do you come to this web­site and fail to read all the points made in favor of Islam ? How do you still have ques­tions that have been answered on the same web­site you are visiting ?

  2. Why do ppl need to fight for God ? Is God so pow­er­less that He has to ask us to take up arms/​weapon to fight for HIM ? Does He real­ly wants us to kill and be killed just for Heav­en. Then that heav­en is not what we wanted.Can our lifes/​property be giv­en in exchange for Heav­en ? That heav­en is so cheap ?
    Sura 9.111 (Sept.11th, 2001)

    Does Jesus need to return back just to cause the kill all pigs ? Will mus­limks kill all the Jews(pigs/monkey) as men­tion in Koran. the trees and rocks will call out to the saints that a Jews is hid­ing behind them and to kill them.

    What is so peace­ful of all the killings. Does the Koran men­tion when to stop all the killings ?

  3. My dear Amer­i­can reader,
    am sin­cere­ly sor­ry for what hap­pened to Mr. Nick Berg. It is tru­ly shame­ful and evil ! He was an inno­cent man who harmed no one and was not part of any mil­i­tary. On the con­trary, he was there to help rebuild Iraq. The behead­ing of Mr. Nick Berg was absolute­ly bar­bar­ic and sick ! It shows you just how evil and sick humans can be. I am so ashamed from the video clip. I don’t know what to say about it oth­er than to wish Mr. Berg’s soul peace and Mer­cy from Allah Almighty, and offer my deep­est con­do­lences to his fam­i­ly. No one had the right to kill him. Allah Almighty clear­ly pro­hib­it­ed killing inno­cent souls in the Noble Quran :

    …if any one slew a per­son — unless it be for mur­der or for spread­ing mis­chief in the land — it would be as if he slew the whole peo­ple : and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people…(The Noble Quran, 5:32)”

    But while the mur­der­ers who killed Mr. Berg were wrong, not to men­tion the dis­gust­ing slow and painful death that they have put him through, but the US had com­mit­ted atroc­i­ties to lit­er­al­ly thou­sands of Iraqi Nick Berg babies in Iraq !
    The Unit­ed States dur­ing the Per­sian Gulf war had used the Ura­ni­um Bombs” or Deplete Ura­ni­um Bombs” which are equiv­a­lent to small atom­ic bombs (small­er than the ones used on Japan dur­ing W.W.II, but have the same effects of dev­as­ta­tion) on some of the cities in Iraq.

  4. To Abdul Kalimatullah

    You real­ly love your dogs, I can see the resemblance.

    Islam is as it is taught in the Quran.. how­ev­er its not what CNN and your bozos at Kaleemat­ul­lah dot com teach you. Infact com­ing from a guy who fol­lows a reli­gion that has a nice loooooong his­to­ry of bru­tal­i­ty includ­ing the Inquisition(s), Cru­sades, Cul­tur­al Geno­cide of East Asia, ongo­ing Geno­cide in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to men­tion con­tin­u­ing sex scan­dals plagu­ing every sin­gle denom­i­na­tion and church on earth — oooh how can we for­get those moral­i­ty lessons at Abu Ghu­raib, I guess you already have your own set of under­dogs to feed.

  5. If the Islam that is wide­ly taught in the Quran is not the true face, I would hate to look at the tail end of Islam!!

    If they look like a mean dog in the face,
    you don’t want to mess with their tales.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *