Islam and violence

Hassan Yousefi Eshkevari


Nowadays we are constantly facing questions about the relation between Islam and violence: Is Islam a violent faith? Does it condone killing ordinary citizens? Are Muslims potentially terrorists?
Although the question about the relation between violence and different faiths including Islam is not a new one, in the past few years- especially after the attacks of 9/11 – a new light has been cast upon it. This controversial issue worries not only the western countries, but also Muslims themselves. In the present article, I will be trying to find a brief answer to this question.
Let us start with the new speech by Ayatollah Hoseinali Montazei, an important figure in Islamic revolution of 1979, and a high ranking cleric among Shia’s, whose political and religious views have always been of high importance. He, who was in fact supposed to succeed Khomeini as the second leader of the Islamic revolution, from the very first years had some differences of opinion with him, which heightened during time and led to his being put aside from the governing circle.
The most important issue on which the two clerics didn’t see eye to eye, was the practice of violence and the degree to which they would suppress the opposition and the dissident. Khomeini was of the opinion that founding an Islamic state, is a religious duty and that the leadership of this state should be undertaken by a jurist as the supreme leader and that the power of the Islamic state should be preserved at any cost. He also believed that the religious jurisprudence is the ‘ practical government plan’ and legislation is nothing but scribing the jurisprudence. And finally in his opinion the authority of the leader of the state is unlimited. In short, he believed in a totalitarian theocracy and wanted to guarantee the compliance with religious rules at any cost and obviously, it led to breaching non-Muslims or non-Shia’s rights of free speech and action.
On the other hand, Montazeri also believed in the leadership of a jurist but he had a different take on religion, jurisprudence, and the authorities of the leader. The opinion difference between them was to the extent that it put these two clerics in front of each other. To Montazeri, the authority of the jurist was selective and limited to the law. Preserving state’s power mattered to him as well but not at any cost and he believed that the supreme leader is responsible and accountable to the citizens. He also believed that having oppositions who constantly criticize the state, guarantees the clarity of state’s and the statesmen’s actions. He always rooted for party systems, more democratic elections, and respecting basic human rights. The reason why I point out the differences between these two important Shia clerics, is to show that the question on the relevance of Islam and violence, depends very much on the interpretation that one has of Islam as a faith; either they see it as a tolerance-oriented or an authoritarian religion. A conservative Muslim who is willing to preserve the Islamic government at any cost, cannot use the fruits of modernity like freedom, democracy, and human rights. And even if they want to practice these modern concepts, they will face many different paradoxes. Therefore, we can go so far as to say that Khomeini’s Islam is conventional and totalitarian while Montazeri’s is a more liberal version of Islam. Although there are some differences between different totalitarian factions like Shias and Sunnis, they all have more or less the same attitude when it comes to tolerance. Among these factions, ISIS or the Islamic State is the most radical and fanatic of all but others namely Taliban, Boko Haram, Al-Qaida, Al-Shabaab, and even the radical branches of Ikhwanul Muslimin in the Middle East and radical Khomeinists in Iran would also be included in the same category. Resorting to violence and political dictatorship, religious severity, suppressing the opposition, and in some cases even resorting to torture, execution, and assassination is a requisite in these Islamic factions.
Even if we go back to the roots of Islam and consider Quran and Sunnah -Muhammed’s practice and words- as real Islam, we are faced with the same problem. Because also Quran and Sunnah are prone to many different interpretations and as time goes by, even more new interpretations are added to the old ones. After Muhammed passed away, there were some arguments about who would succeed him and following these arguments, a violence-oriented, authoritarian, hegemonic Arabic-Islamic state was founded and this kind of Islam continued through Islamic caliphates (Omavi, Abbasi, Ottomans) and some conventional kingdoms like Safavi dynasty in Iran.
In the year 1924, with the fall of the Islamic caliphate, the authoritarian Islam was supposed to weaken and be substituted with a more modern, western type of government. Although the fall of Ottoman dynasty, left a big power gap in the Middle East. For less than a decade different Islamic many Islamic groups have tried to fill this gap but none of them has been successful so far. Founding Ikhwanul Muslimin in Egypt in 1928, was an effort to that end that was not successful. After 9/11 and the invasion of the Middle East by American and some European troops, this process has been intensified by the resuscitation of the anti-colonial side of Islam.
“The Arabian Spring” in 2012 which was also searching for an answer for this power gap problem in the Middle East, has only worsen the situation for Islam and the Muslims. Taking all the above mentioned points into account, one can conclude that the phenomenon called violence in Islam, has epistemological, political, social, and financial roots and in other words it stems from the ‘modernity crisis’ which has risen after the fall of ottoman dynasty. Although the long history of western colonialism and the recent interferences in the Middle East by west has definitely had important role in aggravating the violence crisis. And as for the epistemological sources of violence and massacre of the ordinary innocent citizens including Muslims or non-Muslims, the reproduction of violence and exertion of force in human relations or in between the contradictory Islamic groups is a result of the possibility of regenerating violence in historical and religious backgrounds. Islam, just like Christendom, does not have an invariant nature to which we can relate all the good or bad qualities, not at least directly.
What is more, despite all the numerous acts of violence during the long history of Islam, and the many civil wars between Muslims or the wars between Muslims with other states over the past few centuries, the tolerance-oriented face of Islam has always been dominant and most Muslims have been living peacefully with the followers of other religions all over the world. Groups like ISIS abuse some ancient readings of this faith which nevertheless can be proven weak and wrong. In other words those Islamists who are fore the exertion of violence, use the contradictions between the conventional sources of Islam to their own ends. They also take advantage of the challenges that Islam is facing nowadays including the interferences by the west and underdevelopment in Islamic countries. To them, Islam without force and violence, is absurd and desolate.
But the truth is, despite all the violence and the bloodshed, most Muslims are actually peace-loving. As an instance, nowadays in Iran Montazeri’s ideas and beliefs are much more popular than those of Khomeini’s. The Muslims in Europe and the west are the ones suffering most from this anti-humanitarian terror connected to Islam.

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