Are Muslims a people of peace?

Since the rise of ISIS (not my friend’s cat Isis, but the extremist terrorist organisation) and the terrible videos being released of hostages being killed, many people have taken to social media to defend Muslims from any criticism for these acts. Are they right to?

Since the rise of ISIS (not my friend’s cat Isis, but the extremist terrorist organisation) and the terrible videos being released of hostages being killed, many people have taken to social media to defend Muslims from any criticism for these acts.

I have largely avoided these discussions because I don’t believe it is helpful to enter these discussions in most cases. Or perhaps I am not courageous enough to express my viewpoint. In an ever increasing politically correct, the general censuses seems to be that freedom of expression is important, until someone disagrees with your viewpoint – especially if that person is a Christian. Then it seems it’s fair game to throw personal insults and deride that person publicly instead of engaging in fair, reasoned debate.

My second reason for not taking on the defence of Muslims is that I am very aware that Christianity is far from perfect. We have our own issues to deal with, many of them. And on a personal level, I am far from perfect. And so as I look at the behaviour of Muslims I am very aware that often my own behaviour does not hold up to scrutiny. And as I look at the world Church I am often sad at how fellow Christians behave, especially some Christian leaders. And therefore who am I to make judgements?

However it does seem to me reasonably okay to throw just a few counter arguments out there, that may be helpful to the discussion. And secondly it does seem to be less about the behaviour of most Muslims, and more to do with the thoughts/views from Muslims that worries me.

The two questions that people seem to be debating are:
1. Are Muslims a peaceful people?
2. Is Islam a peaceful religion?

Clearly these are two different questions. Just like Christians, there are different levels of religious practice between Muslims. Many of those people around the world who describe themselves as Muslim are actually cultural Muslims. They don’t often attend their local mosque, they don’t adhere to the strict requirements on covering up, and they don’t pray five times a day.

At the opposite end of the scale are the extremist Muslims who adhere to all these rules, are evangelists for the faith, and will kill to achieve their ideological aims. And somewhere between these two points sit an awful lot of Muslim families. Over 1 billion around the world.

Now the second of those questions about the peaceable nature of Islam is a question I just don’t feel qualified to answer. I have read large parts of the Quran and see the violent commandments within it. But I have never been taught either the context of the verses or the history behind it. And it would therefore be a case of me picking verses randomly from that book, with little understanding of their context – exactly the sort of thing that people do with the Bible which is incredibly frustrating.

But on the first question I don’t believe that enough people who talk about peaceable Muslims have really investigated the views of the majority of Muslims around the world.

I recently read this quote, which is the findings from the Pew Research Center Report – a survey of Muslims carried out by an American independent nonprofit, nonpartisan and non-advocacy research organisation. They surveyed 38,000 Muslims around the world in a report published in April 2013.

The quote reads:

…88 percent of Muslims in Egypt and 62 percent of Muslims in Pakistan favour the death penalty for people who leave the Muslim religion.

This is also the majority view among Muslims in Malaysia, Jordan and the Palestinian territories.

It’s important to note, though, that this view is not widely held in all Muslim countries or even among Muslims in these regions. In Bangladesh, another majority Muslim South Asian state that has a shared heritage with Pakistan, it is about half as prevalent, with 36 percent saying they support it. Fewer than one in six Tunisian Muslims hold the view, as do fewer than one in seven Muslims in Lebanon, which has a strong Christian minority. The view is especially rare among Central Asian and European Muslims. Only 6 percent of Russian Muslims agree that converts from Islam should face death, as do 1 percent of Albanian Muslims and, at the bottom of the chart, 0.5 percent of Kazakhs.

Pew Research Center Report

In these findings we discover that a very large number of Muslims, polled independently, believe that those who leave the religion should be sentenced to death. Clearly that is at odds with the narrative here in the UK that Muslims, in general, are a peaceable people. Interestingly the report tries to play down the numbers involved here, but even if it’s an average of 40-50% across all Muslim nations, isn’t that a huge number of Muslims who advocate death to those who freely choose to leave Islam? Because I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot recently, I wanted to find out what these percentage figures mean in real terms. How many people are we talking based upon these percentages?

Here is a table I put together to get an idea of numbers, based upon the countries mentioned in that quotation:

CountryMuslim Population% in Pew reportNumbers that agree with death penalty for ex-Muslims

So from the one paragraph, that doesn’t even include the largest and most fundamentalist Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and India, we see that based upon the data sampled from 38,000 people, over 200 million Muslims would agree to the use of the death penalty on those who wish to leave that faith.

Interestingly enough, Saudi Arabia and a few other countries were not part of this survey for the following reason:

…in a few countries we were unable to conduct face-to-face interviews, primarily due to cultural and political sensitivities associated with the topics of religious identity and belief… we decided that we could not safely and reliably conduct face-to-face interviews on religion in a few countries, including Saudi Arabia, India and China.

Pew Research Center

So the very report that that is investigating the radical beliefs of Muslims, were not able to carry out research in some countries because the interviewers could not do this safely – presumably because of the threat of violence or imprisonment. The report goes on to discuss data on issues of Sharia law and other beliefs of Muslims.

My point in all of this is not that it’s ok to attack, provoke or point the finger at Muslims for what they believe. But to make the point that it’s very easy for people to go along with a narrative that sounds good, sounds nice, but is actually not really that accurate.

This is just one small bit of data that would suggest the assertion that most Muslims around the world promote freedom and non-violence – is just wrong. Clearly at least 200 million of them do not based upon this evidence. And is this surprising? Well of course there is a clear distinction between those fighting for ISIS and Al-qaeda, and your average Albanian or British Muslim. But those at the radical end of the Islamic spectrum got their beliefs from somewhere. They didn’t grow up in a vacuum and stumble upon these ideas. They went to mosques with their families, they read the Quran at school, and these ideas were then developed by other Muslims. There are no other sources to input into the equation. The radicalisation comes from inside the Muslim community unfortunately. And this is why I do get frustrated when Islam is not critiqued over this issue of putting it’s own house in order. Because it really, really should.

I’ll end this blog post by saying I don’t know any Muslims. And some people will say, but if you got to know some you would change your views. In actual fact I don’t have any negative views of Muslims on a personal level.

If I saw a Muslim man or woman fall over in the street I would happily help them back on their feet and check that they are ok. (I don’t expect any sort of special praise for this – we should all be behaving like this regardless of our religious beliefs or lack of.)

Or if the mosque down the road asked to form a closer partnership with my church I would wholeheartedly endorse this. Community engagement between faiths is something I really think we should do much more of in the UK. And actually one of the few things I like about the UK is that we have a multi-cultural nation. I love going into my home town and hearing accents and languages from different parts of the world. It’s so vibrant and exciting.

But when it comes to looking at Islam, and putting out views based on a perception we would LIKE to be true of Muslims, perhaps we need to look at the evidence first, and make our statements based upon the actual evidence at hand.

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