Does Islam promote violence?

No.  It’s pretty clear that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are peaceful, just like the overwhelming majority of adherents of most religions.  Does Islam promote violence more than other religions?  It seems to be one would have to be willfully obtuse to say otherwise?  While it may have been popular hundreds of years ago, you don’t see a lot of people killing in the name of Jesus these days  (Westboro Baptism and similar groups are horrible, but they don’t encourage violence).  Or Buddha for that matter.  Or Judaism.  Yes, of course, most Islam is actually peaceful, but it is also eminently clear that, in the present world, unfortunately, Islam is far more likely to be associated with violence conducted in its name.  Now, does that mean Islam “encourages violence” more than other religions?  Maybe it’s a semantic debate, but it also seems to me that the answer is “yes” and I don’t think saying so makes me one bit of a religious bigot.  But apparently, we actually have quite an interesting– and new– partisan divide on this.  From a new Pew study:

Growing partisan gap in views of whether Islam encourages violence

Anyway, pretty interesting.  That said, if I were asked this survey question, I might actually answer “no” to suggest that I think Islam is fundamentally a peaceful religion, despite what ISIS and Al Qaeda believe.  But again, based on the real world we live in, it seems to me hard to argue that those 68% of Republicans aren’t right given the number of groups that do promote violence in the name of Islam.

Also in this study it is nice to see that a solid majority of Americans do not think American Muslims should face extra scrutiny (only conservative Republicans disagreeing):

Should Muslims be subject to greater scrutiny because of their religion?


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

4 Responses to Does Islam promote violence?

  1. ohwilleke says:

    The question itself is something of a category error.

    There is not one single “Islam” any more than there is one single “Christianity”. There are four main schools of Sunni Islam, and at least half a dozen major divisions with Shi’ite Islam. There are also movements within Islam like Sufism that cross boundaries of Islamics sects in much the same way that the Charismatic movement within Christianity crosses denominational boundaries. Indeed, Islam’s divisions arguably predate the divisions not just between different branches of Western Christianity that split of Roman Catholicism ca. 1500 CE in the Reformation, but also between Orthodox and Western Christianity which arguably isn’t mature until 1000 CE. (The division between Coptic Christians and other Christians predates Islam at all, but isn’t very relevant to modern intra-Christian differences).

    Some sects within Islam are greater problem children than others, just as some Christian sects (e.g. white Evangelical Christians) are far more violent than others (e.g. mainline Christians), and just as some divisions of Judaism are more prone to condone violence than others.

    Buddhism isn’t associated strongly with violence today, but it was in its early phase of evangelism and missionary work. In the U.S. we don’t think of Hinduism as violent, but the BJP in India has backed what amount to lynch mobs in the 21at century. Sub-saharan African Christians have been know to obliterate Muslim villages in ongoing tit for tat genocidal warfare in the Sahel, and to burn witches all across sub-Saharan Africa.

    This said, the proportion of Muslims who feel that corporal punishment and capital punishment are appropriate in circumstances where Western Europeans and people in the Anglo-American tradition would almost uniformly find those punishments to be inappropriate, while it varies a great deal, is still very high. Razib Khan at his blog Gene Expression has cited the General Social Survey and similarly credible large sample size, long time series international statistics to support that proposition while simultaneously noting huge differences between, for example, quite liberal leaning Turks (with Kurds tending to be even more liberal leaning) on one hand and quite conservative Egyptians and Arabs on the other.

    Likewise, few members of major world religions practice polygamy more frequently than Muslims do and Islam does tend to be used to justify violence at multiple scales that has been rejected by other faiths were faiths coexist. The ISIS reinstitution of slavery comes less out of nowhere when one recognizes that Kuwait had slavery when we rescued it from Iraq in the first Gulf War of 1991.

    The problem with the “category error” implicit in the question is that it implies that a direct examination of the Korean can be used to accurately predict the beliefs and day to day actions of modern Muslims, which isn’t any more true than the claim that you can accurately predict the beliefs and day to day actions of modern Jews from reading the Hebrew Bible (i.e. the Old Testament). Religious beliefs influence values and actions only mediated through culture and that culture is generally specific to particular ethnicities and isn’t strongly generalizable beyond that.

    For example, many Near Eastern Muslims engage in the practice of honor killing, even though this is an ethnic practice rather than an Islamic one per se. Indeed, honor killing would have been a very natural concept for the Christians of Elizabethian Verona, Italy in Romeo and Juliet.

    I find it useful to compare where the plurality and probably even majority of Muslims in the world are at in terms of economic and cultural development to where the West was around the mid-19th century. (Unlike many pundicts who compare it to the Middle Ages).

    • Mika says:

      I also find the question somewhat strange since, like you write, “There is not one single “Islam”…” And when you write “This said, the proportion of Muslims who feel that corporal punishment and capital punishment are appropriate in circumstances where Western Europeans and people in the Anglo-American tradition would almost uniformly find those punishments to be inappropriate…” I immediately started to think about death penalty which a lot of American Christians think is an appropriate punishment.

      • Jon K says:

        In America we have the death penalty, but it is only carried out against the most heinous murderers. In certain Muslim countries you can be executed for a lot more than murder (eg being gay, converting to Christianity, blasphemy, etc). Saudi Arabia uses corporal punishment by lashing and cutting off the hands of thieves. I don’t think it is comparable to American jurisprudence.

  2. R, Jenrette says:

    Religion is just as malleable as any other pillar of human society.
    To study violence, it seems most productive to look at other primates. The chest thumping and the marauding groups of gorillas or chimpanzees does bear a certain resemblance to certain human behaviors. No names here.

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