The History of Religion and Violence

Nabeel Qureshi and myself are much more similar than we realize. We both grew up in the West as Muslims and members of the same sect. We both were impacted by the repercussions of 9/11 on Muslims in America. And we both made a decision in our pursuit of religion.

One may wonder why I didn't choose Christianity like Nabeel. Islam was being maligned by both extremists and the media. Of course, being named Osaama did not help.

In his recent piece, Nabeel presents the conundrum he faced when trying to understand Islam. Growing up, I too faced this same struggle. Every person who is born into a faith needs to go through their own conversion to solidify their convictions. Like Nabeel, I too looked at Islam and other religions holistically. But unlike Nabeel, I didn't choose Christianity. I chose Islam.

From Seeking Allah Finding Jesus to Answering Jihad, Nabeel's works stem from his conversion to Christianity from Islam. Nabeel has become renown for being the Christian who has seemingly unmasked Islam's deceptively curated past. An example of his work is seen recently, which takes Islamic text out of it's historical, literary, and holistic context. It was this facile analysis of a 1400-year-old religious book and it's early history that lead to Nabeel's conversion to Christianity.

One should not question the spiritual reasons for which a person accepts a religion, but the rational views of such a thought can always come under scrutiny. After all, if a religion claims to be the Truth then it can withstand the crucible of a rational examination.

One wonders if Nabeel overlooked the same questions he has of Islam for Christianity. In the Bible, Jesus unequivocally states "I came not to bring peace, but to bring a sword." (Matthew 10:34). Moreover, God in the Bible commanded Joshua to commit genocide by eradicating the Canaanites, including women and children. The Bible tells us, "utterly destroyed all that was in the city [of Jericho], both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.... [T]hey burned the city and all that was in it with fire." (Joshua 6:21, 24).

This isn't the only example of where the Bible has seemingly advocated for a violent proposition. Deuteronomy provides instructions to parents of how to deal with their disobedient son: bring him to the elders of the city and stone him "with stones, that he may die." (Deuteronomy 21:1-21). In Leviticus, the Bible promotes slavery and says your "male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves." (Leviticus 25:44). Indeed, there are 842 cruel or violent passages in the Bible.

History also demonstrates the violence perpetrated by Christians. Crusades, warrior popes, physical punishment under the façade of "spare the rod and spoil the child," slavery, systemic colonialism under pretense of spreading Christianity were all examples of violence or cruelty in the name of Christ. The Gesta Francorum, a Latin chronicle written in 1100-1101 described the Crusade in 1099 stating, "the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles." History cannot forget the atrocities that occurred during the various Christian Inquisitions. During the Spanish Inquisition Jews and Muslims, forced to convert to Christianity, were tortured in ways that are unfathomable to even believe. All these actions supposedly sanctioned by Christianity.

But is it fair to say that Jesus promoted the violence promulgated by warrior popes and the crusades? Is it fair to say that the Bible's recommendation of slavery promoted the slave trade? No. The life of Jesus and the Bible he brought were for a specific time and specific people. To take Jesus' statements and the Bible's teaching out of their literary and historical context to support violence that Jesus himself would condemn is unfair to Christianity.

History is also relative and repeats itself despite us being unable to learn from it. For example, Islam has been in existence for 1400 years; Christianity at 1400 years was establishing the Spanish Inquisition. Had we been born in the 15th century, Christianity would have been the culprit of spreading violence by the sword.

To say that the Quran promotes the violence of ISIS is analogous to saying that the Bible promotes the violence of the KKK. This overlooks the rich complexities and nuances of both religions. As historian Matthew Rowley has put it, "violence in the name of God is a complex phenomenon and oversimplification further jeopardizes peace because it obscures many of the causal factors." By stating that Islam is a religion of violence, Nabeel and authors like him fall in the same ideology of warrior popes than that of the peacefulness of Jesus himself.