Those who seek to justify Islamic terrorism, often do so by stating that both Judaism and Christianity also have violent histories. Islam, they insist, is being ‘unfairly’ singled out, even though the other Abrahamic faiths are also inherently violent.
The two favourite and increasingly weary examples offered are the slaying by the Hebrews of the Canaanites (Judaism) and the bloody crimes of the Crusades (Christianity).
And this tactic by apologists for Islamic terrorism often works. It helps shore up the pervasive yet false premise that Islam is ‘just like other religions’. Or, to put it another way: it is not Islam that causes Islamic terrorism, but rather human nature.
One of the best responses I’ve read to this apologist tactic, comes courtesy of writer and expert on radical Islam, Raymond Ibrahim. Here is what he says on the issue of whether Judaism and Christianity also promote violence in the same manner as Islam (emphasis is mine):
“Such questions reveal a great deal of confusion between history and theology, between the temporal actions of men and the immutable words of G-d. The fundamental error being that Jewish andChristian history—which is violent—is being conflated with Islamic theology—which commands violence.
Of course all religions have had their fair share of violence and intolerance towards the “other.” Whether this violence is ordained by G-d or whether warlike man merely wished it thus is the all-important question.
The Israelites’ violence is an interesting case in point. G-d clearly ordered the Hebrews to annihilate the Canaanites and surrounding peoples. Such violence is therefore an expression of G-d’s will, for good or ill. Regardless, all the historic violence committed by the Hebrews and recorded in the Tanakh is just that—history. It happened; G-d commanded it.
But it revolved around a specific time and place and was directed against a specific people. At no time did such violence go on to become standardized or codified into Jewish law (i.e. the Halakha).
This is where Islamic violence is unique. Though similar to the violence of the Tanakh —commanded by G-d and manifested in history—certain aspects of Islamic violence have become standardized in Islamic law (i.e. the Sharia) and apply at all times. Thus while the violence found in the Koran is in fact historical, its ultimate significance is theological. Consider the following Koranic verses:
Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the pagans wherever you find them—take them [captive], besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due [i.e. submit to Islam], then leave their way free. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful (9:5).
Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger [i.e. Islamic law], nor acknowledge the religion of Truth [i.e. Islam], from the people of the book [i.e. Jews and Christians], until they pay tribute with willing submission, and feel themselves utterly subdued (9:29).
As with Tanakh verses where G-d commanded the Hebrews to attack and slay their neighbors, these Koranic verses also have a historical context. Allah (through Muhammad) first issued these commandments after the Arab tribes had finally unified under the banner of Islam and were preparing to invade their Christian and pagan neighbors.
But unlike the bellicose verses and anecdotes of the Tanakh these so-called “sword-verses” subsequently became fundamental to Islam’s relationship to both the “people of the book” (i.e. Christians and Jews) and the “pagans” (i.e. Hindus, Buddhists, animists, etc).
In fact, based on the sword-verses (as well as countless other Koranic verses and oral traditions attributed to Muhammad), Islam’s scholars, sheikhs, muftis, imams, and qadis throughout the ages have all reached the consensus—binding on the entire Muslim community—that Islam is to be at perpetual war with the non-Muslim world, until the former subsumes the latter. (It is widely held that the sword-verses alone have abrogated some 200 of the Koran’s more tolerant verses.)
Famous Muslim scholar and “father of modern history” Ibn Khaldun articulates the dichotomy between jihad and defensive warfare thus:
In the Muslim community, the holy war [i.e. jihad] is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force...
The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense... They are merely required to establish their religion among their own people.
That is why the Israeilites after Moses and Joshua remained unconcerned with royal authority [e.g. a “caliphate”]. Their only concern was to establish their religion [not spread it to the nations]…
But Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations (The Muqudimmah, vol. 1 pg. 473, emphasis added).
Even when juxtaposed to their Jewish and Christian counterparts, the Islamic sword-verses are distinctive for using language that transcends time and space, inciting believers to attack and slay non-believers today no less than yesterday.
G-d commanded the Hebrews to kill Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites—all specific peoples rooted to a specific time and place. At no time did G-d give an open-ended command for the Hebrews, and by extension their descendants the Jews, to fight and kill gentiles.
On the other hand, though Islam’s original enemies were, like Judaism’s, historical (e.g. Christian Byzantines and pagan Persians), the Koran rarely singles them out by their proper names. Instead, Muslims were (and are) commanded to fight the people of the book—“until they pay tribute with willing submission and feel themselves utterly subdued” (9:29) and to “slay the pagans wherever you find them” (9:5).
The two conjunctions “until” and “wherever” demonstrate the perpetual nature of these commandments: there are still “people of the book” who have yet to be “utterly subdued” (especially in the Americas, Europe, and Israel) and “pagans” to be slain “wherever” one looks (especially Asia and sub-Saharan Africa).
Aside from the divine words of the Koran, Muhammad’s pattern of behavior—his “Sunna” or “example”—is an extremely important source of legislation in Islam. Muslims are exhorted to emulate Muhammad in all walks of life: “You have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern [of conduct]” (33:21).
And Muhammad’s pattern of conduct vis-à-vis non-Muslims is quite explicit. Sarcastically arguing against the concept of “moderate” Islam, terrorist Osama bin Laden, who enjoys half the Arab-Islamic world’s support per a recent al-Jazeera poll, portrays the prophet’s Sunna thus:
“Moderation” is demonstrated by our prophet who did not remain more than three months in Medina without raiding or sending a raiding party into the lands of the infidels to beat down their strongholds and seize their possessions, their lives, and their women” (from The Al-Qaeda Reader).
In fact, based on both the Koran and Muhammad’s Sunna, pillaging and plundering infidels, enslaving their children, and placing their women in concubinage is well founded (e.g. 4:24, 4:92, 8:69, 24:33, 33:50, etc.).
While law-centric and legalistic, Judaism has no such equivalent to the Sunna; the words and deeds of the patriarchs, though recorded in the Tanakh never went on to be part of Jewish law. Neither Abraham’s “white-lies,” nor Jacob’s perfidy, nor Moses’ short-fuse, nor David’s adultery, nor Solomon’s philandering ever went on to instruct Jews. They were merely understood to be historical actions perpetrated by fallible men who were often punished by G-d for their less than ideal behavior.“
And regarding the Crusades, Raymond Ibrahim points out:
“In fact, far from suggesting anything intrinsic to Christianity, the Crusades ironically help better explain Islam. For what the Crusades demonstrated once and for all is that irrespective of religious teachings—indeed, in the case of these so-called “Christian” Crusades, despite them—man is truly predisposed to violence and intolerance. But this begs the question: If this is how Christians behaved—who are commanded to love, bless, and do good to their enemies who hate, curse, and persecute them—how much more can be expected of Muslims who, while sharing the same violent tendencies, are further commanded by the Deity to attack, kill, and plunder non-believers?“
Read more of Raymond Ibrahim’s excellent articles here