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The Religion of the Sword
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Chapter Five 
                               The Religion of the Sword

In the West Islam is often singled out as warlike and the "religion of the sword" in contrast primarily to Christianity as the religion of peace. Although such a major spiritual test of Hinduism as the Bhagavad-Gita was revealed in the middle of a battlefield and the Old Testament has many more passages dealing with war than the Qur'an.

Very often, we hear about how peaceful Christianity is in contrast to Islam by conveniently forgetting that, according to Spanish chronicles, when the Spaniards invaded the Philippines they defeated the Islamic sultanate, with its seat in Manila, and then slaughtered tens of thousands of Muslims, forcing the rest of those they were able to conquer to convert to Catholicism, as they had done to Jews and Muslims in Spain. Moreover, in the west the spread of Islam is associated with the "sword", while hardly anyone ever mentions the brutal manner in which northern Europeans were forcefully converted to Christianity and the older European religion destroyed. Even the Crusades, carried out in the name of Christianity, did not succeed in changing the Western image of Islam as the "religion of the sword" and Christianity as the religion of peace.

It is true that the sacred history of Islam begins as an epic with the rapid spread of the Arabs outside of Arabia in an event that changed world history forever. But this rapid expansion did not mean forced conversion of Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, or others. In Persia three hundred years after Muslim rule much of the country was still Zoroastrian, and the province of Mazandaran by the Caspian Sea did not embrace Islam until the tenth century. In most areas Islamization was a gradual process. The history of Islam, like that of Judaism and Hinduism, is intertwined with a sacred epic, but that does not mean that Islam is any more or less the "religion of the sword" or the "religion of peace" than any other religion.

Since this accusation against Islam as the "religion of the sword" has continued in the modern West, which has fought more deadly wars than any other civilization, contemporary Muslims have usually developed a defensive attitude and simply respond that the very name Islam is related to the word Salam, which means peace. This response is, however, not sufficient. They need to point out that, since the goal of all authentic religions is to reach God who is peace and the source of all peace, Islam also aims to lead its followers to the "Abode of Peace" and to create peace to the degree possible in a world full of disequilibrium, tension, and affliction.

Furthermore, Islam has sought to limit war by legislating conditions pertaining to it, and succeeded during the fourteen centuries of its history in reaching the goal of creating inner peace to a remarkable degree, while in the creation of outward peace it was certainly no less successful than any of the other major traditional civilizations such as the Japanese, Chinese, Hindu, or Christian.

It is high time to put aside this curious historical characterizations of Islam in a West that has carried out wars over the five continents often in the name of Christianity and even eradicated whole ethnic groups with impunity because they were not Christians. It is easy for Muslims and Chrishentic religions is to reach God who is peace and the source of all peace, Islam also aims to lead its followers to the "Abode of Peace" and to create peace to the degree possible in a world full of disequilibrium, tension, and affliction.

Furthermore, Islam has sought to limit war by legislating conditions pertaining to it, and succeeded during the fourteen centuries of its history in reaching the goal of creating inner peace to a remarkable degree, while in the creation of outward peace it was certainly no less successful than any of the other major traditional civilizations such as the Japanese, Chinese, Hindu, or Christian.

It is high time to put aside this curious historical characterizations of Islam in a West that has carried out wars over the five continents often in the name of Christianity and even eradicated whole ethnic groups with impunity because they were not Christians. It is easy for Muslims and Christians, or for that matter Hindus, Confucians, or Buddhists, to point to episodes of war in the history of other religion. The history of all societies, whether religious or secular, is replete with such examples, because human beings contain in their fallen state the seeds of strife and contention and take recourse in aggression and war, using for their cause whatever idea or ideology has the power to move people.

When most westerners were devout Christians, it was Christianity that was the banner under which wars were fought, and when religion became weak, nationalism, Fascism, Communism, and other ideologies as well as economic interests took its place. In the Islamic world, because religion remains a powerful force, its name is still used in support of whatever causes arise that lead to contention and conflict, although the Qur'an emphasizes that war must be only for defence of one's homeland and religion and not be offensive and aggressive. When we return to the teachings that are at the heart of all authentic religions, however, we see that the role of each religion is to seek to bring about peace and to accentuate those religious teachings that emphasize both heavenly and earthly accord, harmony, and peace. Seen in this light, it becomes clear how central in fact the emphasis on peace is in the teachings of Islam.

Everyone today speaks of the need for peace, thanks partly to modern military technology, which has brought the horrors of war to a level inconceivable to even the most warlike people of old. But there is also an innate yearning for peace in the soul of human beings that is certainly not derived from experience. Even those who have never experienced peace yearn for it. One might therefore ask why people seek peace. Islamic teachings have a clear answer to this question, one that clarifies the concept and reality of peace in the Islamic context. In the Qur'an God refers to Himself as al-Salam, or peace and our yearning for peace is nothing more than our yearning for God. Deep down in our primordial nature there is still the recollection of the peace we experienced when we bore witness to God's Lordship in pr-eternity before our fall into this world of forgetfulness.

For Muslims, only religion is able to take us back to the "Abode of peace," which is ultimately paradisal reality and Divine Presence.
5:16 "God guideth him who seeketh His good pleasure unto paths of peace"

Over and over again the Qur'an identifies peace with the paradisal states: "and they call upon the dwellers of paradise: Peace be unto you" 7:46; the phrase "peace be unto you" is also the Muslim greeting taught by the prophet as the greeting of the people of paradise.
19:62 “In paradise there is not idle chatter but only the invocation of peace”.
36:58 “Peace such is the greeting from the Lord All-Compassionate”.
56:26 “In paradise there is "naught but the saying 'peace, peace”

Peace is not easy to attain either outwardly or inwardly. To have outwardly peace, one must be at peace with oneself, and to be at peace with oneself, one must be at peace with God. Every element of the soul is of some value. The problem is that the soul of the fallen human being has become chaotic, and various elements are no longer in their proper place. The various elements have to be in the proper place before harmony and peace can be established. But it is impossible for the soul to achieve this task by itself. It needs the help of God. Islam insists that without surrender to God, we cannot attain peace, and without peace within ourselves there can be no external peace.

From the Islamic point of view, since Peace (al-Salam) is a Name of God and all peace is a reflection of that Divine Name, the question can be asked why God should allow humanity to live at peace in the forgetfulness of Him, negligent of the goal for which men and women were created?
For Muslims, the idea of living at peace while denying God is totally absurd, because only God can put the chaos and strife within the human soul in order, and when there is no peace within, there will no peace without. The highest goal of Islam is to lead the soul to the “Abode of Peace” by guiding us to live virtuous lives and to establish inner harmony with the help of God.

When speaking of peace, one should never forget the famous Qur’anic verse,
48:4 “He it is who made the Divine peace (al-Sakinah) to descend in the hearts of believers”

The reality emphasized by Islam remains that the source of peace is God Who is Himself Peace and without Whom there can be no peace on earth.


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