There was a debate at the Richmond Forum on Saturday night featuring Feisal Abdul Rauf, Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation and Ayan Hirshi Ali. The question was “Is Islam a violent religion?”
I personally found Maajid Nawaz’s arguments to be the most honest and coherent. The truth is that Islam is a very eclectic religion and has a broad range of interpretations. It and has been interpreted and reinterpreted many times over the centuries by various scholars in various places and continues to be reinterpreted today. It is many different things to many different people. For example, a few hundred years ago slavery was considered to be permissible by Muslims – and every other religion. Sex slavery was also common in some lands – to include Muslims. But what Muslim, in her/her right mind would argue that sex slavery is permissible today? In modern times, just over a decade ago here in the United States, many Muslims believed and preached that it was an act of “disbelief” to vote in democratic elections. Today, it is generally considered to be part of one’s duty as a good Muslim in the United States. So the interpretation of Islam has changed and will continue to do so.
In short, Islam is exactly what Muslims make it in a particular time, place and particular context. The unfortunate intra-Muslim killing happening in some countries is partially because some Muslim imams and preachers teach that their interpretation is the one and only “correct” one and all others are “kufaar” (non-believers). Therefore (they reason) it is permissible to kill others who may have a differing interpretation of Islam. Hence we have bombings of mosques and shrines by Muslims who dislike or disagree with what they are doing. This is a huge problem. So, we must admit that some Muslims are indeed violent and defeat them in the arena of ideas.
I also agree with Imam Faisal in that Islam for me is a personal relationship between a person and their Lord. No one else can interfere in that relationship. In our increasingly diverse societies, we must not only “live and let live”, but find ways to work together for the improvement of our local communities. If not, then we will be at perpetual war because all of us will never be a hiveminded mass in perfect agreement on every issue.
I invite you all to watch the debate at this link and give me your thoughts.