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Is it a religion of violence or of peace?

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There is no consensus on the nature of Islam.

Some commentators state that Islam is a religion of peace and moderation, "which is tolerant and encourages inter-religious dialogue for the benefit of humanity:" 1 For example:

bullet The President of the United States from 2000 to 2008, George W. Bush, emphasized that "Islam is Peace" on a number of occasions. 2 This was both before and after the 9/11 terrorist airplane attack on New York and Washington DC which resulted in the death of over 3,000 persons.


A sizeable percentage of North Americans view Islam in a positive light. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press conducted a public opinion poll among 1,500 adults on 2001-NOV-13 to 19, about two months after 9/11. Muslms numbered 2.75 million in the U.S. at the time. 11 Americans, particularly "conservative Republicans" repudiated an unfavorable view of Islam. The survey found that:

  • The percentage of Americans with a favorable view of Muslims rose from 45% in May to 59% in November.

  • The percentage of conservative Republicans with a favorable view of Muslims rose from 35% to 64%! 3

In 2017, the number of Muslim in the U.S. increased to 3.35 million. The percentage of U.S. adult who had "warm feelings" towards Muslims is continuin to increase. They numbered 40% in 2014 and 48% in 2017. In comparison, during 2017, 50% of Atheists and 54% of Mormons received "warm feelings." 11

bullet John L. Esposito, one of America's foremost authorities and interpreters of Islam, rejects as far too simplistic the concept that Islam is a militant, expansionist, and rabidly anti-American religion. In his book: "The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality," he demonstrates the diversity of the Islamic resurgence -- and the mistakes our analysts make in assuming a hostile, monolithic Islam. 4

Others, ranging from evangelical Christians to Atheists, believe that Islam is a religion of hatred and warfare:

bullet Jerry Falwell said that "...Muhammad was a terrorist. I've read enough of the history of his life written by both Muslims and non-Muslims, that he was a violent man, a man of war." 6,7 Falwell's comment triggered a riot in India which resulted in the deaths of at least 14 people.


The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) singled out a statement by leading evangelical Christian Franklin Graham. He allegedly claimed:

"... terrorism is part of 'mainstream' Islam and that the Quran, Islam's revealed text, 'preaches violence.' Graham also called Islam an 'evil and wicked religion.' "


CAIR listed two additional leading conservative Christian pastors -- Pat Robertson and Chuck Colson -- who, they say:

"... have echoed Graham's Islamophobic smears."


CAIR listed a number of socially conservative commentators such as William Lind, who suggests that American Muslims

"...should be encouraged to leave [the U.S.]. They are a fifth column in this country."

They also listed Ann Coulter, Jerry Vines, and Paul Weyrich.


Bill Maher, who is known for his attacks on all forms of religion, said:

"What it comes down to is that there is one religion in the world that kills you when you disagree with them. They say, ‘Look, we’re a religion of peace and if you disagree we’ll cut your f---ing head off." 8


Conservative Christian author and radio pastor Dave Hunt claims:

"...there are more than 100 verses in the Qur'an advocating the use of violence to spread Islam. In the Qur'an, Allah commands Muslims, 'Take not the Jews and Christians as friends....Slay the idolaters [non-Muslims] wherever ye find them. ... Fight against [who don't believe] in Allah...' (Surah 5:51; 9:5,29,41, etc..). Though most Muslims would shrink from obeying such commands, this is official Islam and it cannot change without admitting that Muhammad was a false prophet and murderer." 5


Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists posted a message on his facebook page saying:

"Never give up a right without a fight. I will defame Islam if I want to. It doesn't mean I hate Muslims. It means Islam is a sh---y religion that worships a pedophile as morally perfect." 9

bullet Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) had a famous meltdown during an 2010 interview by Anderson Cooper on CNN. Gohmert discussed "terror babies:" a plot by Middle Eastern Muslim extremists who allegedly were sending pregnant Muslim women to the U.S. -- presumably so that the babies could be born as U.S. citizens. The babies would then return to their country of origin, be trained in violence and terrorism, and be able to reenter the U.S. to cause death and destruction. Gohmert beliefs appear to have been largely derived from a conversation of a female stranger on an airplane. No other evidence has been uncovered.

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Which point of view is right?

They both are.

Islam, like Christianity, is not a homogenous religion. It is divided into many traditions, the main ones being Sunni, Shi'ite, and Sufi.

A very small, radical, hate-filled, extremist, fundamentalist, terrorist wing does exist. Many of its followers follow a fundamentalist version of Islam called Wahhabi. However, Islam also has a much larger peaceful, moderate wing. Unfortunately, the former seem to capture all the media's attention, while the latter is rarely heard from or even discussed by non-Muslims.

It obvious that no one individual speaks for all Muslims. Islam has no single central human authority, comparable to the pope and Vatican for the Roman Catholic Church, or to various General Assemblies and the Lambeth Conferences for the Anglican Communion. Rather, it is divided into many traditions and schools.

The spread of terrorism within Islam appears to be due to the presence and interaction of a number of factors:

bullet A general renaissance of the religion of Islam throughout North Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia. This produces change and change often results in instability.

bullet The after-effects of previous colonial oppression of Muslim countries.

bullet The presence of American military bases in predominately Muslim countries. This appears to have been the main factor motivating Al Qaeda to organize the 9/11 terrorist attack.

bullet Authoritarian dictatorships in the Middle East -- many of which are artificially propped up with American foreign policy -- with their depressing record of corruption, civil rights violations, and low standard of living. This results in rage and a loss of hope among their public.

bullet The lack of separation between religion and the state in Muslim countries.


Four main conflicts:

  • The Ottoman Empire was founded in the late 13th century. It fought with Germany during World War I, and was abolished in 1924. They had treated Christians and Jews according to the Dhimmi ["protected"] regulations in Sharia law which involved giving non-Muslims additonal taxes and more limited rights. This degenerated into anti-Christian:

    "... sporadic violent persecution throughout the empire's history. Notable events include the Batak massacre, the Hamidian massacres, the Adana massacre, the destruction of the Thracian Bulgarians, ... the Armenian Genocide, Greek Genocide and Assyrian Genocide. 10

  • One of overwhelming importance in the Middle East is between Jews and Muslims. It involves Israel, the Gaza Strip, the occupied territories, the future of Jerusalem, and the right of return for Arabs and other Muslims who fled when their country when the state of Israel was declared by the United Nations in 1948. The eventual terms of settlement -- involving a two neighboring states living in peace -- are obvious to all commentators and politicians. However, it cannot be agreed to by the groups involved because each side would first have to give up more concessions that their own public will currently tolerate.

  • One in Sudan between the predominately Muslim north and the predominately Christian and Animist south. This conflict resulted in the deaths of at least two million persons and a major flow of refugees. However, a path towards peace is being implemented and a plebescite in the south of the country was successfully conducted in early 2011. The resultant separation of Sudan into two countries has resulted in a lessening of violence.

  • One between Hindus and Muslims in in Kashmir. This is a state claimed by both India, a predominately Hindu country, and Pakistan, a predominately Muslim country. Both countries have nuclear weapons and long-term animosity towards each other. Again, the solution is obvious: to allow the people of Kashmir to determine their own future through a plebescite. Options would be to join India, to join Pakistan, to become an independent state, to split Kasmir along the existing Line of Control -- or a line to be negotiated -- and have one part join India and the other join Pakistan. However, polls currently show that a plebiscite would have Kashmir join Pakistan. Thus, India will not agree to holding a vote.

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Books about Islamophobia:

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 Nathan Lean, "The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims," Pluto Press, (2012).

Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
Available from in paperback for $10.85 plus postage, or $9.88 in Kindle format.

From the foreward by John L. Esposito:

"Nathan Lean’s The Islamophobia Industry could not be more timely or critical. This is an extraordinarily important and groundbreaking study. It exposes the multi-million-dollar cottage industry of fear mongers and the network of funders and organizations that support and perpetuate bigotry, xenophobia, racism, and produce a climate of fear that sustains a threatening social cancer."

book cover image Peter Gottschalk & Gabriel Greenberg, "Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy," Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, (2007).

Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
Available from in hardcover for $13.01 plus postage, or $12.36 in Kindle format.

From Amazon's book description:

"The term 'Islamophobia' accurately reflects the largely unexamined and deeply ingrained anxiety many Americans experience when considering Islam and Muslim cultures. Historically, Americans have seldom given voice to these anxieties since they have had, until the last half-century, few connections to Muslim cultures and a small domestic Muslim minority. However, in times of crisis, such as the Iranian hostage situation or, most recently, the September 11th attacks, the long-simmering resentments, suspicions, and fears inherited along with a Christian European heritage manifest themselves most directly in conditions that appear to affirm Americans' darkest concerns. Like a vicious cyclone feeding off of its own energy, Islamophobia takes uncommon events as evidence fitting its worst expectations and turns these into proof that perpetuates those ill-informed expectations."

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  1. "UN 1st Millennium Peace Summit: Uzbek President Islam Karimov honors Shaykh Muhammad Nazim & Shaykh Hisham Kabbani," 2000-SEP-8, at:
  2. " 'Islam is Peace' Says President: Remarks by the President at Islamic Center of Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C.," 2002-SEP-17, at:
  3. "U.S. Muslims' Image Gains, Poll Finds," Associated Press, 2001-DEC-7, at: The poll's margin of error is within 3 percentage points.
  4. From a review of the book by John L. Esposito, "The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality, 3rd Edition," Oxford University Press, (1999). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store
  5. Dave Hunt, "A Moment for Truth," The Berean Call, 2002-SEP, at:
  6. Program "60 Minutes," CBS-TV, 2002-OCT-6. Jerry Falwell was interviewed by Bob Simon.
  7. Jan Russell, "Falwell is America's hate machine," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, at:
  8. Chris Stedman, "Atheists Ignore Islamophobia at their Peril," Religion Dispatches, 2013-AUG-29, at:
  9. Facebook posting, 2011-DEC-13, at:
  10. "Christianity in the Ottoman Empire," Wikipedia, as on 2017-SEP-09, at:
  11. Michael Lipka, "Muslims and Islam: Key findings in the U.S. and around the world," Pew Research Center, 2017-AUG-09, at:
  12. "Americans Express Increasingly Warm Feelings Toward Religious Groups," Pew Research Center, 2017-FEB-15, at:

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Site navigation: Home page > World Religions > Islam > here

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Copyright 2002 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-SEP-9
Latest update: 2017-OCT-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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