Islam: The Missing Piece

Islam missing piece title graphic color 2

(This originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2002 edition of the MCOI Journal beginning page 12)

by Cody Lorance

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that claimed the lives of thousands of unsuspecting people, have prompted widespread attitudes of anxiety and skepticism toward the obscure teachings of Islam. It seems many people are just no longer comfortable being ignorant of a religion that was used by some of its followers as a warrant for crashing hijacked airliners into buildings.

Karen Armstrong, in her article written for Time titled “The True, Peaceful Face of Islam,” suggests, “If the evil carnage we witnessed on September 11 were typical of the faith, and Islam truly inspired and justified such violence, its growth and the increasing presence of Muslims in both Europe and the United States would be a terrifying prospect.”1 Armstrong may be right. Islam boasts of over 1.2-billion adherents globally and is considered to be the world’s fastest growing religion.2 Muslim families live in practically every community in the United States, and mosques exist in every major city in the world. Muslims shop at Wal-Mart, eat at McDonald’s, study at state universities and local colleges, run for public office, serve in the American military, have jobs, and own businesses. The fact is very few people do not have regular contact with Muslims. Therefore, in the wake of September eleventh, the question many people are asking is, “Can I trust my Muslim Neighbors?”

In a noble attempt to answer this question and simultaneously calm the fears of a now-apprehensive American audience, many public figures and so-called “experts” have resorted to preaching an ideology of tolerance, harmony, and mutual respect. On September 20, in a joint session of Congress and the American people, President George W. Bush claimed that the Muslims who performed and supported terrorism represented “a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam.”3 Then, directing his speech specifically to American Muslims, Bush added, “We respect your faith … its teachings are good and peaceful … the terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.”4 Bush has said elsewhere that Islamic terrorists “profane a great religion.”5

Muslim scholar Sayyid Mujtaba Musavi Lari, in his article “Islam and World Peace,” eloquently portrays Islam as a religion that “brings to human living the delicate feelings of brotherhood and of belonging together. It designs a beautiful pattern of longsuffering, gentleness, and goodness in the hearts of people; and omits all the ugly tears and rents and weaknesses that injustice and the pulling and hauling of rival interests cause in a fabric.”6 Finally, Armstrong, who in addition to her article in Time has written a number of books on religion including Islam: A Short History, argues that Islam is essentially a peaceful religion that opposes terrorism and violence.7

While such idealistic sentiments are indeed politically correct and easily palatable for Western consumption, they are factually inaccurate and fail to provide a faithful representation of the inherently aggressive teachings of Islam as set forth in the Qur’an. There are five key mistakes Armstrong, Lari, Bush, and others make when trying to depict Islam as a peaceful religion: they misinterpret the word “Islam;” they misrepresent the historical origins of the religion; they miscommunicate the meanings of various Qur’anic passages; they ignore the misanthropy of Islamic teachings; and they misappropriate responsibility for religiously motivated violence.

Misinterpreting the Meaning of Islam

The first mistake people like Armstrong make regarding the “true face of Islam” is with the meaning of the word Islam itself. Armstrong proclaims the Arabic word islam “is related to … salam, or peace.”8 This idea, however, is, at best, a stretch. While it is true both islam and salam are derived from the infinitive—salama, this does not necessarily mean their definitions are similar. Consider some of the other words derived from salama, like salima which means “to escape danger” or others which mean “the stinging of a snake” or “the tanning of leather.” In reality, Islam is best interpreted by the English word “submission.” Together with its derivative, Muslim, they describe the heart of a religion that emphasizes an attitude of unquestioning obedience to the commands of its god. 

Misrepresenting Islam’s Historical Origin

Armstrong also claims Islam’s founder, Muhammad ibn-Abdullah, was motivated by a personal mission to bring “an end to the kind of mass slaughter we witnessed in New York City and Washington.”9 She says Muhammad’s attention was devoted “to building up a peaceful coalition of tribes” and succeeded through “an ingenious and inspiring campaign of non-violence.”10 Armstrong’s comments, however, could not be farther from the truth.

Islam’s roots are traced back to the birth of Muhammad in Mecca, located in present-day Saudi Arabia, sometime between A.D. 570 and 580.11 Muhammad, the greatest prophet of Islam, began introducing “Islamic Monotheism” in the early seventh century to the idolatrous Arabs after claiming to have received messages from an angel while meditating in a desert cave.12 Undoubtedly a charismatic leader, he quickly developed a following among slaves, the poor, and the oppressed. His movement also quickly amassed opposition from the pagan majority, and Muhammad was forced to flee Mecca.13

On September 20, 622, Muhammad and his band of followers arrived at the predominately Jewish town of Yathrib. He conquered the town, established a theocratic dictatorship under his authority, and renamed it “Medina.” His conquest involved a systematic extermination of the local Jewish community.14 From there, the early Muslims began conquering other Jewish tribes such as the Banu Qurayza, Banu Qaynuqa, and the Banu Nadr. In these cases, men were killed, women and children were sold into slavery, and property was confiscated unless a ransom called jizya was paid to Muhammad.15 In 630, the Muslims conquered Mecca and two years later Muhammad died.16 Islamic conquest, however, had just begun.

In the years following Mohammad’s death, Muslims engaged in a series of brutal conquests that expanded their territory to Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Persia, Egypt, Tripoli, Spain, and India. Future conquests led the Muslims to Crete, Sicily, France, and various parts of Africa.17

Armstrong says by 632, Muhammad “had almost singlehandedly brought peace to war-torn Arabia.”18 Indeed, war had finally stopped, but not until every one in Arabia either had been killed, converted to Islam, or was forced to pay the jizya. After the death of the prophet, there was an era of immediate and widespread apostasy (known as the Ridda) among the conquered tribes, further indicating Muhammad had created anything but a peaceful and content society.19 

Miscommunicating the Meaning of Qur’anic Passages

According to President Bush, those who commit evil in the name of Allah (the god of Islam), “blaspheme the name of Allah.”20 Armstrong agrees: “extremists such as Osama bin Laden like to quote … verses [from the Qur’an to justify their violent acts], but do so selectively.”21 She claims the proper context of the Qur’an’s “more ferocious passages” contains “exhortations to peace … in almost every case.” According to her version of Islam, “warfare is always evil.”22

It’s interesting, however, to actually examine the various texts Armstrong uses in her defense of Islam. She first quotes from Surah 4:89 which orders Muslims not to form friendships with former Muslims who have turned away from Islam. The text teaches if a Muslim should “… turn back [from Islam], then take them and kill them wherever you find them …” (Surah 4:89). Verses like these provided clear justification for the wars of Ridda that immediately followed Muhammad’s demise. Verse 90, which Armstrong uses as her classic example of an “exhortation to peace,” teaches peace should only be offered if the former Muslim joins up with another group with which the faithful Muslims have formed a treaty.

Armstrong incorrectly states that Islamic warfare is only permissible if it is necessary for self-defense.23 She refers to Surah 2:190 which commands all Muslims to “fight in the way of Allah those who fight you.” Muslim scholars Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali and Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan have commented on this verse, saying that it describes, “Al-Jihad or holy fighting in Allah’s cause with full force of numbers and weaponry [which is] given the utmost importance in Islam and is one of its pillars … by Jihad Islam is established.”24

In the verses that follow, “those who fight you” are identified specifically as those who commit Al-Fitnah. Al-Fitnah is generally defined as disbelief in Islamic monotheism. Al-Hilali and Khan translate the word as “disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah.”25 In short, Al-Fitnah describes all non-Muslims. With this in mind, the command of verse 193 becomes very disturbing. It says, “fight them until there is no more Fitnah.” Of course, Armstrong is not completely wrong; there is an exhortation of peace included in the verse. Those who commit Al-Fitnah should be spared if they cease in their disbelief—in other words, if they embrace or re-embrace Islam.

Armstrong is also correct in saying Muslim terrorists like bin-Laden are choosing selectively when they use verses from the Qur’an to justify their actions.26 The fact is, they have to be highly selective when choosing Qur’anic verses that advocate violence against non-Muslims, for the choices seem almost limitless. A person reading just the first several Surahs of the Qur’an will find the plethora of passages advocating violence and enmity against Al-Mushrikun, non-Muslims, impossible to overlook. In the end, the Qur’anic message is very clear:

“Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth among the people of the Scripture, until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued (Surah 9:29).” 

Ignoring Islamic Misanthropy

The word misanthropy describes a generally hateful attitude toward humanity. In the teachings of Islam, misanthropy is codified by numerous verses that express a negative and hateful attitude toward all non-Muslims, but specifically toward Christians and Jews. Armstrong denies such an attitude is prevalent in the Qur’an and instead claims Surah 29:46 is an example of how Muslims are “constantly … enjoined to respect Jews and Christians, the ‘People of the Book,’ who worship the same God.”

A closer examination of the verse, however, reveals the word “respect” is not mentioned or even referred to. Instead, the verse condemns Christians and Jews because they are disobeying the god they claim to be worshipping. The only instruction the verse gives for Muslims regarding Christians and Jews is to not argue with them “unless it be in [a way] that is better,” presumably in order to guarantee winning the debate.

The true face of Islam reveals an incredibly negative attitude toward Christians, Jews, and other non-Muslims. Various Qur’anic passages such as Surah 2:221 and Surah 5:51 denounce marriage or even friendship with people from other religions. Often the Qur’an calls non-Muslims “losers” (cf. Surah 2:27, 121, among others); and in Surah 2:65, it actually warns transgression will cause a person to be turned into a monkey. Finally, the Islamic attitude toward non-believers is expressed in Surah 5:33 which threatens the punishment “of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger,” which includes disbelief or Al-Fitnah, is “that they shall be killed or crucified, or their hands and feet be cut off from opposite sides, or be exiled from the land.”

Misappropriating Blame for Religiously Motivated Violence

Whenever Muslims are confronted about the violent teachings and history of their religion, they inevitably begin pointing fingers at other violence conducted in the name of religion. They are quick to point to the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition as examples of violence within Christendom. In the same spirit, Armstrong equates bin-Laden with people who attack abortion clinics or kill people in mosques saying it is a “grave mistake” to suggest these maniacs are “authentic representative[s]” of their professed religions.27

Pointing fingers at the violent acts of others, however, fails to provide justification for dismissing the inherent violence of Islam. Jihad is not more excusable simply because someone else committed a crime in the name of religion; and terrorism is not permissible simply because “everybody else is doing it.” Muslims should refrain from “tattling” on other religious groups and allow Islam to bear responsibility for the aggression its doctrines have inspired. Besides, neither the Crusades nor the Inquisitions were conducted by or approved of by Christianity’s founder, Jesus Christ, or any of its early leaders. The aggression of Islam, however, was prescribed and modeled by Muhammad himself.

Armstrong closes her article by stating, “the vast majority of Muslims … horrified by the atrocity of September 11.”28 This is undeniably true. Indeed, many Muslims are peace-loving people who sincerely believe such attacks are morally wrong. In fact, non-Muslims have little reason to fear Muslims for the simple reason there is a wide gap between true Islam and the practices of the many people who say they follow Muhammad’s religion and teaching. Nevertheless, Islamic terrorists who wish to engage in unprovoked warfare against Americans, Israelis, or others need to look no further than the Qur’an in order to obtain a divine mandate for their brutal attacks.

Of course, it is understandable with the tensions of recent events and the ever-increasing number of Islamic adherents in the United States, people like Armstrong have tried to dissect and reconstruct the religion of Muhammad in order to make it appear gentle, charitable, and kind. More than ever before, there is a great need to promote mutual respect among religious groups. However, superimposing a false “face” on a centuries-old religion and, thereby, misrepresenting its true teaching is not the way to accomplish that goal. In the end, Armstrong’s efforts resemble someone trying in vain to assemble a large jigsaw puzzle, but never succeeding because they do not have all the pieces. In this case, Islam is the puzzle, and the missing piece is peace itself.Ω

Rev. Cody Lorance is a recent graduate of the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma where he specialized in cross-cultural communication. He is a frequent speaker and Bible teacher currently residing in Oklahoma City where he and his wife, Katherine, serve in the college ministry of Trinity International Baptist Church.

© 2015, Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. All rights reserved. Excerpts and links may be used if full and clear credit is given with specific direction to the original content.

  1. Karen Armstrong, “The True, Peaceful Face of Islam.” Time. (Time Incorporated, 1 October 2001) p. 15
  2. Joseph P. Gudel, “Islam Grows Into a Strong Presence in America.” Christian Research Journal 23, 4. (Christian Research Institute, 2001) p. 7
  3. Pres. George W. Bush. Address to joint session of Congress and the American people. 20 September 2001
  4. Pres. George W. Bush. Address to joint session of Congress and the American people. 20 September 2001
  5. Pres. George W. Bush. Address to the nation. 7 October 2001
  6. Sayyid Mujtaba Musavi Lari, “Islam and World Peace,” Light of Islam. http://home.swipenet.se/islam/articles/Worldpeace.htm,. 2001, p. 1
  7. Karen Armstrong, “The True, Peaceful Face of Islam.” Time. (Time Incorporated, 1 October 2001) p. 15
  8. Karen Armstrong, “The True, Peaceful Face of Islam.” Time. (Time Incorporated, 1 October 2001) p. 15
  9. Karen Armstrong, “The True, Peaceful Face of Islam.” Time. (Time Incorporated, 1 October 2001) p. 15
  10. Karen Armstrong, “The True, Peaceful Face of Islam.” Time. (Time Incorporated, 1 October 2001) p. 15
  11. Bernard Lewis, The Arabs in History, Rev. Ed. (New York: Harper and Row, 1967) p. 38
  12. Robert Payne. The Crusades: A History, (Hertfordshire, Great Britain: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1998) p. 22
  13. Bernard Lewis, The Arabs in History, Rev. Ed. (New York: Harper and Row, 1967), p. 40
  14. Bernard Lewis, The Arabs in History, Rev. Ed. (New York: Harper and Row, 1967), p. 45
  15. Walter Martin. “Islam: The Message of Muhammad,” Kingdom of the Cults, Rev. 30th Anniversary Ed. Hank Hanegraaff, General Editor. (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1997) p. 616
  16. Robert Payne. The Crusades: A History, (Hertfordshire, Great Britain: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1998), p. 23
  17. Walter Martin. “Islam: The Message of Muhammad,” Kingdom of the Cults, Rev. 30th Anniversary Ed. Hank Hanegraaff, General Editor. (Minneapolis: Bethany, 1997) p. 616, p. 616
  18. Karen Armstrong, “The True, Peaceful Face of Islam.” Time. (Time Incorporated, 1 October 2001), p. 15
  19. Bernard Lewis, The Arabs in History, Rev. Ed. (New York: Harper and Row, 1967), p. 51
  20. Pres. George W. Bush. Address to joint session of Congress and the American people. 20 September 2001
  21. Karen Armstrong, “The True, Peaceful Face of Islam.” Time. (Time Incorporated, 1 October 2001), p. 15
  22. Karen Armstrong, “The True, Peaceful Face of Islam.” Time. (Time Incorporated, 1 October 2001), p. 15
  23. Karen Armstrong, “The True, Peaceful Face of Islam.” Time. (Time Incorporated, 1 October 2001), p. 15
  24. Dr. M. Al Hilali and Dr M. Khan trans. The Noble Qur’an, (King Faud Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an) p. 39
  25. Dr. M. Al Hilali and Dr M. Khan trans. The Noble Qur’an, (King Faud Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an), p. 40
  26. Karen Armstrong, “The True, Peaceful Face of Islam.” Time. (Time Incorporated, 1 October 2001), p. 15
  27. Karen Armstrong, “The True, Peaceful Face of Islam.” Time. (Time Incorporated, 1 October 2001), p.15
  28. Karen Armstrong, “The True, Peaceful Face of Islam.” Time. (Time Incorporated, 1 October 2001), p. 15

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