Today I want to address one of the biggest misconceptions about Islam: that it is inherently a more violent religion than others.


The way Islam is represented in the media, it is easy to see why so many people would think that. All I see on the news in the United Kingdom and the United States are extremist terrorist groups, attacks, bombs, the oppression of women in countries like Saudi Arabia, honor killings, female genital mutilation, and on and on. And then on the other side we have reactions such as banning headscarves from public places, forcing Muslims to register with the government and be kept track of, and inherent suspicion of any brown man with a long beard and any woman with a covered head, which, in the end, leads to just as much fear of Muslims as the awful news stories these policies are reacting to.


What I am here to argue: none of those things that the news shows you are Islam. They are how certain people, groups, and governments either conflate Islam with their own culture, or how they use and abuse “Islam” to suit their own violent whims and unjustified hatred.


Lets begin with the most basic unit: the linguistics of the word Islam. In Arabic word groups or families come from a single set of root letters. Islam, then, comes from the three root letters s, l, and m. The main word that comes to mind when I think of the group of words formed by these root letters is salaam.


Salaam means peace. It is what Muslims use to great each other, similar to the “shalom” of the Jewish people.


So, Islam not only means a state of submission to God, but also has a deeply rooted connotation of peace.


In the Qur'an it states:


“...and do not kill a soul that God has made sacred, save lawfully.” 6:151

“Whoever kills a soul unless it be for murder or wreaking corruption in the land, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind; and he who saves a life, it shall be as if he had given life to all mankind.” 5:32


Just from these two verses we can see that killing for the sake of killing is forbidden to the believers. The two cases where causing someone's death is acceptable are in the case of the law, i.e. state death penalty for serial killers, and the case of lawfully waged warfare.


As for what is lawful within the bounds of war—this is what many of the “violent” verses cited by critics of Islam are referring to.


Yes, there are verses in the Qur'an that instruct the believers to “fight and kill the disbelievers wherever you find them in the land,” and I will not sweep that under the rug like many often seek to do.


But what needs to be kept in mind is that the Qur'an was not revealed in a vacuum. Just like some of the very violent passages of the Old Testament, these verses of the Qur'an were revealed ina very specific historic context, in accordance with the social customs of that time.


At the time when these types of verses were being revealed, the Muslims had just undergone upwards of ten years of brutal torture, starvation, and outright murder at the hands of the Quraish tribe of Mecca. They had fled their homes, which were then looted for all the property they had to leave behind, to go into exile in the city of Medina.


In these “violent” verses they are, for the first time, being given permission from God to move from peaceful resistance and patience in times of intense suffering, to actually fighting for their lives, their religion, and their property.


Much the same as in the United States, if an armed intruder breaks into your house in the dead of night, it is your right to shoot him on the spot, or at the very least incapacitate him, in order to protect your person, your family, and your belongings.


“Permission to take up arms is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged and God, indeed, has power to help them—Those who have been driven out from their homes unjustly, only because they said: 'Our Lord is God.'” 22:39

“But if the enemies incline towards peace, then do you also incline towards peace.” 8:67

“Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! God loveth not the aggressors.” 2:190


And among the laws of legal warfare is that no woman, child, elderly or sick person should be killed, nor towns razed to the ground, nor any fruit bearing trees be cut down.


How many nations can say they follow this code today? How many drone strikes do not kill hundreds, if not mostly, women and children?


As per the previously cited verses, we can see the killing randomly is clearly forbidden in the doctrine of Islam, and it is always better to “incline towards peace.” So why is there so much killing done in the name of Islam?


Just like with any other holy book, the Qur'an can easily be taken out of context, and one verse being used to justify any sort of oppression. Taking ISIS as an example: they firmly believe they are a “true” and “lawful” Islamic state (though they do not meet most of the criteria for a lawful Muslim nation and they are, for the most part, self taught with no actual scholars of Islam among their numbers). They also firmly believe that everyone that does not agree 100% with the way they practice Islam is a “disbeliever” and is “making war” on them, thus justifying their brutalities with the one or two verses (out of 114 chapters) on fighting those who corrupt the land or wage a war against you.


If you look at the many people they target, it is not just Christians and Jews and Westerners, but the Muslims themselves that live in these countries that do not subscribe to ISIS's way of living.For example: I do not cover my face, and I do not wear all black on a daily basis. Under their rule, though I profess myself to be a Muslim and uphold all of the pillars of Islam, I could be flogged in the streets for my “immodesty.”


Which makes no sense if they are practising any sort of pure Islam.


And the exact same thing is and has been done by many, many hateful groups throughout the history of the world: the KKK, the Nazi Party, the Jewish colonisers in Palestine, the Hindus and the Buddhists that torture and kill Muslims across Asia, the Catholics verses the Protestants.


What we need to do is stop taking Muslims as a monolith, just as we don't believe that because the perpetrators of school shootings in America are white men, that all white men must be inherently evil, just because most terrorists proclaim themselves to be Muslims does not mean that every Muslim is inherently violent and hateful. And we need to look far beyond the practices of certain groups and governments to what the actual texts say and how the majority of Muslims live their everyday lives.


As this post has gotten quite long, I think I will stop here. Next week I will continue with an article on mixing of culture with Islam and the issues that this has led to, and in the following weeks I hope to address the so-called Islamic oppression of women, and in particular the issue of veiling.


Image sourced from

Published by Ashley Bounoura