Is Islam a Religion of Peace?
In Response to Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Is Islam a Religion of Peace? That was the title of a recent presentation by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (AHA), available through PragerU.  Not a new or ingenious title. Rather much discussion and debate has taken place on this theme. But recently the same title surfaced a few days on PragerU, a conservative site dedicated to bring short-videos “to explain and spread … ‘Americanism’ through the power of the Internet.” The site promotes “values that have made America and the West the source of so much liberty and wealth. These values are Judeo-Christian at their core and include the concepts of freedom of speech, a free press, free markets and a strong military to protect and project those values.”
In the contemporary world, Islam is identified as the nemesis of modernity, progress and peace, a view that is deeply and vigorously upheld by, among others, the Christian conservatives. Thus, it is not surprising that even though AHA seems to have no fascination for any institutional religion, when it comes to Islam as the nemesis, the anti-Islam forces can be comfortable bed-fellows. In this article we examine the commentary of AHA on the issue whether Islam is a “Religion of Peace” or not.
What does it mean by "Religion of Peace"?
In my humble view, the very framing of the question is problematic. This expression “Religion of Peace” emerged as some politicians in the aftermath of 9/11 who wanted due to political correctness to distinguish the “radical terrorism” from the broader Muslim community, and some Muslims (including prominent leaders, such as Malaysia’s former PM Mahathir) echoed that Islam is not a religion of terrorism, but a Religion of Peace.
But what does it mean for a religion to be a "Religion of Peace"? Does it mean that the adherents of its people are never asked to take a stand that requires fighting or engaging in war? Or, does it mean that its ultimate goal is peace and in everything it does it aspires peace? As Prof. Sherman Jackson posed: “‘Religion of peace’ does not imply that Islam is a paciﬁst religion, that it rejects the use of violence altogether, as either a moral or a metaphysical evil. ‘Religion of peace’ connotes, rather, that Islam can countenance a state of permanent, peaceful coexistence with other nations and peoples who are not Muslims...This position, I shall argue, is no more than the result of an objective application of principles of Islamic Jurisprudence which no jurist or activist, medieval or modern, has claimed to reject.  AHA does not delve into what it means that a religion is “Religion of Peace”.
In the context of the discourse based on political correctness, the very framing of the question needs scrutiny. I wrote in an earlier article "Toward understanding Muhammad: Some issues in peace and violence":
"All killing, fighting, war and even administration of law and order involve some type of violence. However, the ‘wild, wild West’ did not earn the United States a reputation for violence; the two World Wars - the most violent and the worst killings in human history - did not earn the West in general and Europe in particular a reputation for violence either. The virtual decimation of the Indian people in the United States did not make the country barbaric or uncivilized. The European colonization that ravaged, exploited and dehumanized various parts of Asia and Africa, including the Muslim world, did not make Europe any less civilized. The Spanish Inquisition and the Crusade did not make Christianity violent and barbaric. Even the recent, organized torching of Muslims in India by a Hindu mob does not make Hinduism a burning example of violence and barbarism. Yet, these days there are people who would like to identify Islam and the Prophet Muhammad as violent or symbol of violence."
Just for the sake of a comparative approach, we can explore if Christianity can be categorized as a “Religion of Peace.”
Is Christianity a "Religion of Peace"?
As the Christian conservatives/evangelists are at the forefront of spreading Islamophobia in USA and Europe, for the sake of a comparative reason, let’s see what Jesus (p) himself asserted: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword." [Matthew 10:34]
One can try to explain what he may have meant or have not meant, but the words are explicit. How did the history of Christianity pan out?
After Jesus’ death, the disciples and followers were widely persecuted by the Jews and the Roman authorities. At that time Jews were at the forefront of persecuting the Christians and it is all too well-known (as per the Christian narratives) how the Jews, including one of the betraying disciples of Jesus, facilitated the events culminating in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This changed when Emperor Constantine [d. 337 AD] turned to Christianity and through the Edict of Milan [313 AD] not only full tolerance to Christianity was granted, but also, without declaring it an official religion of the empire, it was accorded official status and privileges that made it the dominant, officially patronized religion of the empire. Initially, he was against Arianism that vehemently rejected the orthodox dogma and notion of Trinity, and followers of Arianism were widely persecuted. Then, the emperor embraced Arianism and the others were treated as heretics and were similarly persecuted.
Ironically, Pope Innocent III declared a Crusade against Catharism, an austere and unorthodox sect of Christianity, and apparently, not so innocently, killed about a million followers of Catharism. This Crusade is known as Albigensian or Cathar Crusade. 
During the Crusades led by Spain, Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians were persecuted widely and Jews and Muslims were forcibly converted. Fast forward to 20th century, before which there were continuous sectarian wars, known the European Wars of Religion (read, Wars of Christianity).
Anyone interested in violence perpetrated by Christianity can do their own due diligence to find out how peaceful the experience under Christianity is. Let’s ignore here the violence and devastation brought by the colonial powers to their colonies and the conflicts and violence that occurred among the colonial powers. The British empire over which the sun did not set was headed by the Queen, the Defender of the Faith (read, Christianity). Indeed, colonialism can be understood as a product of the combination of “Civilization, Christianity and Commerce.”  It was not until two devastating World Wars (actually, the main actors and initiators were in Christian Europe) that a more peaceful and more civilized Europe emerged. As far as the wars in the past few centuries, including the World Wars, and the relevance of Christianity, the readers are invited to read a highly respected scholarly work The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade by Prof. Philip Jenkins, who is a towering figure in religious history and a contributing editor of American Conservative magazine. For those who want to have introduction to the book, you may read an interview with Prof. Jenkins published in Religious News Service. “Was World War I a religious crusade? An interview with Philip Jenkins.”
Much of the contemporary events in the global arena has been shaped by US invasion of Iraq, which opened a horrific Pandora’s box. It started under the leadership of a president who won election with the broad support of the Christian conservatives, who apparently also spoke to God and consulted the Bible in connection with Iraq venture. 
I am sharing this to simply raise the point as to why generally the question about Christianity as a “religion of peace” is not raised, as was not by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but only one religion is not “religion of peace” and that is Islam. Of course, at one time she thought that Christianity would serve her purpose of eliminating Islam by converting Muslims to Christianity. So, she wrote to the Pope “imploring him to capture the hearts and minds of all of these millions of people who are spiritual, in search of redemption’.”  But then she realized the problems with her suggestion and changed her mind favoring “reformation” of Islam and Muslims.
Sometimes we are too much influenced by our personal experience. To distinguish the evil Islam on the one hand and Christianity on the other, she remarks: “The worst thing that a Christian has ever said to me, the rudest thing that a Christian has ever said to me, the thing that made me most uncomfortable that a Christian said to me was ‘I’m going to pray for you. I hope you will be safe. I hope you will be redeemed.’”  How does her personal experience of Christianity tally with the history of violence and persecution in the name of Christianity? Should there be some fairness and consistency in applying one’s standards?
At this point, some diehard Christian conservatives would jump to claim that any such violence in the name of Christianity is not in accordance with the teachings of Bible and Jesus, but the deviant acts of misguided, ignorant or even “fake” Christians. However, given the widespread nature of violence and cruelty throughout history, one can’t simply blame everything on the deviant followers, especially in light of Matthew 10:34 mentioned above.
AHA's marriage trauma
AHA mentions: "At 22 while my family was living in Kenya, my father arranged my marriage to a member of our family clan, a man that I had never met. I ran away, made my way to Holland."
One can understand the trauma she experienced when she was to be married against her will to someone whom she has never met. This is a religion-culture confusion. In many parts of the Muslim world, parents often arrange marriage for the adult children and in some cases parents' choices are imposed. While arranging should not mean more than facilitation, guidance and conferring blessing, any imposition or coercion is against Islam. According to Islam, parents do play a role as guides and facilitators and their blessing/consent is considered beneficial, desirable and important, but no one can be given into marriage WITHOUT their consent.
In many societies the combination of patriarchal culture, male-dominated/male-exclusive religious hierarchy that has shaped Islamic law (fiqh) and its practice in those societies has created an environment that is not necessarily sanctioned by Islam. Instead of educating people, or even challenging her own parents, as to where in Islam an adult can be forced into a marriage, she blames Islam for this and blends into her life's narrative of Islam's violence, persecution and intolerance. Her marriage incident is routinely repeated in her commentaries on Islam, while her experience contradicts the teaching of Islam.
An important footnote is warranted here. The above mentioned observations about AHA’s marriage trauma assumes that she has been truthful about her narrative. Ironically, the story about her marriage and much of her personal narrative stand debunked and exposed. She has been a crafty weaver of a personal narrative masterfully mixing truth and falsehood, fact and fiction, as reported in The Guardian. 
Is "critical examination" RACIST?
AHA writes: "By labeling critical examination of Islam as inherently "racist," we make the chances of reformation far less likely."
I was curious to find out who said where that to engage in critical examination of Islam makes someone a "racist". My search produces no such report. It seems that AHA herself used this term as a strawman argument to present herself as a victim and earn some sympathy by misleading her audience/readership. It would be of interest if anyone can document that someone characterized her "critical examination" as "racist". Otherwise, it seems that she was disingenuous in casting herself as someone accused as a "racist".
Critical discourse is essential for any field of knowledge and religions, a field that also lays claim to the TRUTH, definitely requires critical examination. For a variety of reasons, orthodoxy and obscurantism have gained hold in the Muslim societies. But despite that, Muslims themselves have critical discourses and to suggest that there is no space for critical inquiry and discourse in Islam is simply obfuscating the reality.
Who are the voices of Islam?
AHA thinks that Muslims need a reformation. There are voices among Muslims who not only would agree, but also are actively engaged in that direction. My book Toward Our Reformation: From Legalism to Value-Oriented Islamic Law and Jurisprudence (IIIT, 2011) is part of that critical discourse. 
She would like the West in general and USA in particular to embrace individuals such as Towfik Hamid, Zuhdi Jasser and few others as the reformers of Islam. These people have no credibility within the Muslims. By presenting themselves as “anti-radical Islam”, they seek media promotion, especially through US conservative outlets such as Fox News, Glenn Beck Show, O'Reilly Factor, National Review, etc. For example, Tawfik Hamid's delusions led him to assert: "But the majority of Muslim are all passive terrorists."  No wonder he is an important fodder for the Islamophobes. Towfik further writes: "When you are a child in the Muslim world, the concept of fear of Hell works very well in your mind and makes you fear that if you didn’t obey Allah or the Koran or the prophet Muhammed, you will be tortured in a terrible manner in Hell."
So, how does he plan to bring reformation? By rewriting the Qur'an and hadith, where hell is mentioned and described? Did the reformation in the West require taking out the subject of heaven and hell from the Christian discourse? And, how does this kind of impractical expectations fit into AHA’s call for reform? It seems that she is not concerned about the realism of her ideas, as long as it helps her and her preferred “Islamic reformers” get attention.
So, are their no reformist voices within Islam?
AHA writes: "theologically sanctioned violence is there to be activated by any number of offenses, including but not limited to adultery, blasphemy, homosexuality and apostasy—that is, to leave Islam."
Note that she wants the West to embrace Hamid or Zuhdi as equivalents of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sakharov, and Václav Havel, whom USA supported as dissidents. She specifically mentions the issues of "adultery, blasphemy, homosexuality and apostasy". Unfortunately, she keeps the wrong company and talks to the people who take her seriously and who find her useful for fomenting Islamophobia.
Let's mention here, for example, Prof. Tariq Ramadan. "He was elected by Time magazine in 2000 as one of the seven religious innovators of the 21st century and in 2004 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world and by Foreign Policy magazine (2005, 2006, 2008-2010, 2012-2015) as one of the top 100 most influential thinkers in the world and Global Thinkers." 
In comparison to Prof. Ramadan, Hamid or Jasser is practically nonentities, despite all the promotion they have received from the Islamophobic platforms. Prof. Ramadan has articulated reformist positions on each of those four issues and those are part of the global discourse on Islam. AHA wants to see Islamic reformation, but she does not even bother to mention the real and credible reformist voices. Why ignore voices like Prof. Ramadan, and promote Hamid or Jasser? The reason is simple. Prof. Ramadan is an Islamic insider and his reformist position is articulated with Islamic authenticity and love for Islam. Islah (reformation, improvement, correction, reconstruction) is an Islamic notion and Muslims are expected to continuously improve themselves. When they fail, stumble or fall short of certain expectation, they are expected to seek Islah. The Quran teaches the prophetic legacy of Islah (Quran 11:88) So, the concept is neither alien to Islam nor the process is absent. However, there are internal as well as external dynamics that remain as stumbling blocks, which Muslims need to overcome to fulfill their mission not to conquer or dominate others, but to present as an example and to serve the humanity. (Quran 3:110)
That there is such concept and process within Islam and there are active and dedicated voices for this purpose is not good enough for AHA. Now, the readers might wonder, aha, what's really AHA's agenda?
So, is Islam essentially intolerant and violent or is it essentially tolerant or peaceful? The fact of the matter is that in presenting Islam as essentially peaceful or violent, there is a false and an unacceptable reductionism, and trying to cast Islam in such reductionist framework inevitably leads to either misunderstanding or misrepresentation. How is that so? Well, that was the theme elaborated in my article “Toward Understanding Muhammad: Some Issues in Peace and Violence.”
 Ali, Ayaan Hirsi [October 10, 2016], https://www.prageru.com/courses/political-science/islam-religion-peace.
 Jackson, Sherman (Spring–Summer 2002). "Jihad and the Modern World". Journal of Islamic Law and Culture.
 “The Philosophy of Colonialism: Civilization, Christianity and Commerce,” [ https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/violenceinafrica/sample-page/the-philosophy-of-colonialism-civilization-christianity-and-commerce/]
 Zarley, Kermit (April 6, 2013). “Did President George W. Bush Use the Bible in Deciding that the U.S. Attack Iraq?” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kermitzarleyblog/2013/04/did-president-george-w-bush-use-the-bible-in-deciding-that-the-u-s-attack-iraq/.
 Loconte, Joseph (April 23, 2015). “Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the Jesus Movement,” http://www.weeklystandard.com/islam-ayaan-hirsi-ali-and-the-jesus-movement/article/918196.
 Blumenthal, Max (March 26, 2015). “Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Latest Deception,” http://www.alternet.org/media/anti-islam-author-ayaan-hirsi-alis-latest-deception
 For more information, visit http://our-reformation.blogspot.com.
 Silverstein, Richard (February 3, 206). “Tawfik Hamid ‘Islamic Reformer’ who hates Islam,” http://www.richardsilverstein.com/2006/02/03/tawfiq-hamid-islamic-reformer-who-hates-islam/
 Wikipedia on Tariq Ramadan, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tariq_Ramadan
Topics: Islamophobia Values: Peace