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Religious Tolerance logo

Part 1: Recent religiously-motivated hatred,
conflict & violence by followers of Abrahamic

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Abrahamic religions include those faiths that revere the patriarch Abraham: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Sometimes, the Bahá’í faith is also included. Together, they include slightly more than half of the world's population. These religions are global in scope, and are considered the official religions by some of the world’s governments. This essay will focus on the largest world religions: Christianity and Islam.

The term "Abrahamic" is rapidly falling out of favor and out of use. Each of these faiths has evolved to have many differences from the others. They interpret the life of Abraham differently. To have a common term linking them together makes progressively less sense. We use the term on this web site to refer only to the historic connections among the three or four religions.

We do not wish to imply that religiously inspired conflict and violence are limited solely to the Abrahamic religions. It is widespread among other monotheistic religions as well. Violence is relatively rare among polytheistic and non-theistic religions. However, even in Buddhism -- which is generally free of such inter-religious hatreds -- there have been instances of violence. For example:

  • By Buddhists, currently directed at Muslims in Myanmar (a.k.a. Burma)

  • The Buddhist government in Sri Lanka (formerly called Ceylon) conducted a "bloody military campaign against the [Tamil] Tigers..." in their country. The Tamils are a Hindu group with restricted human rights in the country. 1

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The role of scapegoating or collective responsibility:

One of the major contributors to the world's religiously motivated hate, conflict and violence is the concept of collective responsibility. A comment in states:

"Humans seem to have a natural tendency to attribute collective guilt, usually with tragic results. History is filled with examples of a wronged man who tried to avenge himself, not on the person who has wronged him, but on other members of the wrong-doer's family, or ethnic group, or religion, or nation, or tribe, or army [or gender, or sexual orientation, or age group, etc]. ... Terrorism is commonly rationalized by its practitioners on ideas of collective guilt and responsibility." 2

Scapegoating is found throughout the Bible where passages teach that when a person commits an evil deed, the guilt and punishment is transferred to innocent people who happen to be associated in some way with the guilty person. One example is the second of the Ten Commandments which plainly states that God transfers:

"... the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me."

A very well known example of scapegoating is the Christian concept of the Original Sin in which God punished a sin by Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden, and the guilt was transfered to their children, grandchildren, and down through the centuries to everyone alive today.

Thus, a perceived injustice by one person is too often seen as justification for retaliation against an entire group of uninvolved and innocent individuals who are connected to the injustice only by their religion, skin color, hair covering, language, ethnicity, or some other factor. Sometimes, centuries can pass between the injustice and the terrorist act.

Two examples of collective responsibility, -- some 3 generations apart, one massive, one much involving a single person -- are:

  • The German Nazis set up an industrial killing system -- the Holocaust -- a.k.a. the Shoah. It was mainly aimed at making Europe "Judenfrei" -- free of Jews. A secondary goal was to exterminate all Roma in what the latter called the Porrajmos (devouring.) About six million people were murdered, all justified in the minds of the Nazis by an imaginary betrayal of the German people decades earlier.

  • Erika Menendez, 31, was charged with 2nd degree murder as a hate crime in New York during 2012-DEC. She allegedly pushed Sunando Sen off a subway platform into the path of a train. Her lawyer paraphrased her as saying that she pushed a Muslim off [sic] the train tracks because she hates Hindus and Muslims ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers. Her victim was raise a Hindu. In reality, no Hindu was involved in the 9/11 terrorist attack. In fact, far fewer than 0.001% of all Muslims were in any way involved.

The concept of scapegoating -- of punishing the innocent for the transgressions of the guilty -- is a theme that runs through the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and Christian Scriptures (New Testament). If the authors of these passages had stressed instead how important it is to take action only against those directly involved in the crime or sin, and to make a major effort to protect the innocent, we might be experiencing a different world today.

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The most distressing feature of Islamic extremist terrorism is that that the perpetrators believe that they have the right to murder people in order to achieve religious and political goals. It is especially the theological framework developed by the Egyptian writer Sayyid Qutb in the 1950s and 1960s that made the killings committed by terrorist groups seem reasonable and necessary. Sayyid Qutb himself was hanged in 1966. The assumed right to kill is an extension of traditional Islamic rules concerning apostasy, which historically called for the death penalty against ex-Muslims who abandoned the faith.

It is of vital importance that the perpetrators are precisely identified. To judge by the E-mails that this web site receives, a significant percentage of North Americans blame all Muslims and/or all Arabs for high profile terrorist acts. Others blame all Fundamentalists within Islam. But in fact, the responsibility lies with extreme, radical, violent, Fundamentalist Muslims, a numerically small group among the world's approximately 1.6 billion Muslims.

One such group claiming the right to kill is Hamas (Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya), which is a Palestinian Sunni Islamist militant organization. They are listed as terrorist organization by Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Israel, and the United States. Past Hamas attacks against Israel have included large-scale suicide bombings, such as that of the Netanya hotel in 2002, in which 29 people were killed and 133 were wounded. Hamas has used female suicide bombers, including a mother of six. In recruiting the bombers, Hamas leaders taught that the perpetrators of suicide missions would receive in heaven seventy virgins and seventy wives (some put the numbers at seventy-two; others suggest that promised virgins are a mistranslation of the Qur'an; the actual reward is seventy dates or an other fruit). Their families received a cash payment that used to be worth 12 to 15 thousand US dollars. In 2002, funds from Iraq and Saudi Arabia doubled this amount.

The Shi’a Iranian leader and holy man Ayatollah Khomeini is quoted by Amir Taheri to have said:

"Islam makes it incumbent on all adult males, provided they are not disabled and incapacitated, to prepare themselves for the conquest of countries so that the writ of Islam is obeyed in every country of the world. But those who study Islamic Holy War will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world. Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those (who say this) are witless. Islam says: Kill the unbelievers just as they would kill you! Does this mean that Muslims should sit back until they are devoured? Islam says: Kill them, put them to the sword and scatter. … Islam says: Kill in the service of Allah those who may want to kill you! … Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for Holy Warriors! There are hundreds of other psalms and Hadiths urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all this mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who made such a claim." 3

Other Muslim leaders frequently refer to other passages in the Qur'an which considers the unjustified murder of one person as being as serious as if the entire human race was destroyed.

Iran (together with Syria) control the Shi’a terrorist group Hezbollah (also called Hezb Allah and many other transliterations).

The religiously motivated bombings and attacks by terrorist Muslim groups are too numerous to be listed here. Among the attacks with major loss of life between 1983 and 2008 were:

bullet Continuing intermittently to the present time: Multiple, indiscriminate, random, mass murder throughout the world.
bullet 2008: Mumbai (Bombay) terrorist attack (Three days; over 172 killed, over 307 injured).
bullet2005: Delhi bombing (over 60 killed, over 180 injured).
bullet2005: Sharm el-Sheikh bombing (64 killed).
bullet2005: London Underground bombing (53 killed, nearly 700 injured).
bullet2004: Beslan school occupation by Chechens (344 civilians killed, incl. 186 children).
bullet2004: Madrid train bombing (191 killed, 1,460 injured).
bullet2002: Bali nightclub bombing (202 killed, 300 injured).
bullet 2001: World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks (nearly 3,000 dead).
bullet1998: U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania bombings (225 dead, over 400 injured).
bullet1988: Lockerbie crash (killed 259 aboard the plane, 11 on the ground).
bullet1983: U.S. Embassy in Beirut bombing (63 killed).
bullet1983: Beirut U.S. military barracks suicide bombing (241 killed).
bullet1983: Beirut French military barrack suicide bombing (58 killed).

Terrorist attacks also occur within predominately Islamic countries -- generally between the Sunni and the Shia traditions of Islam, most often in Iraq and Pakistan.

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Jewish terrorist actions are performed on a much smaller scale, and are limited to the Near East. (The Jews comprise only 0.2% of the world population.) However, the sentiment behind those actions appears to be similar to the sentiment governing the Islamist attacks:

Karen Armstrong notes that in 1980 Rabbi Israel Hess published an article entitled "Genocide: A Commandment of the Torah" in the official magazine of the Bar-Ilan University. In it he argued that:

"the Palestinians were to the Jews what darkness was to light, and that they deserved the same fate as the Amalekites". 4

And just what fate is that? According to 1 Samuel 15:3 the Hebrews were told:

"Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass."

Among the best known cases of Jewish terrorism is the 1994 machine-gunning of Muslim worshipers at a mosque in the town of Hebron. A single terrorist killed 29 people and wounded about 150 before being killed himself. The killer, Baruch Goldstein, was an American medical doctor and a devoted follower of Rabbi Meier Kahane. He became a hero to the extremists, and the marble plaque on his grave reads: "To the holy Baruch Goldstein, who gave his life for the Jewish people, the Torah, and the Nation of Israel".

Among the cases involving less loss of life are:

bulletUnsuccessful attempts to destroy the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aksqa Mosque in Jerusalem, combined with the killing of Muslim worshipers at the site,

bulletThe killing of three and wounding of 33 students during a noon-time assault of Israeli terrorists on an Islamic college in Hebron in 1985. In the latter case, the terrorists had rabbinic dispensation.

bulletThe killing of the Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin by a Jewish religious fanatic Yigal Amir was motivated by the Israeli-Palestinian accords. Extremist rabbis had reportedly ruled that the Prime Minister deserved to die because of his role in these accords.

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References used:

  1. "Sri Lanka's Buddhist monks are intent on war," The Telegraph, 2007-JUN-17, at:
  2. "Guilt,", at:
  3. Amir Taheri. "Holy Terror. Inside the World of Islamic Terrorism," Adler & Adler, (1987).
  4. Karen Armstrong, "The Battle for God," HarperCollins, (2001).

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This topic is continued in the next essay

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Site navigation:

 Home > Religious hatred > here

 Home > Religious conflict worldwide >  here

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Copyright © 2006 to 2018 by Vladimir Tomek
Original publishing date: 2006-SEP-21
Latest update on: 2018-MAR-20
Author. Vladimir Tomek & B.A. Robinson

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