Religion of Peace

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A sign in Brazil reads "Islam is peace". Early Gallup Poll data suggests that 50% of Muslims worldwide (that is about 700 million Muslims) think the 9/11 attacks were completely unjustified. On the opposite end, a more vocal 7% (49 million Muslims) may be "Politically Radicalized".[1]

The religion of peace is a political neologism used as a description of Islam. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, some politicians described Islam as a "religion of peace" in an effort to differentiate between Islamic terrorists, islamism, and non-violent Muslims.[2] Subsequently, some critics of Islam have adopted the phrase, using the term "Religion of Peace" in a sarcastic manner as a pejorative synonym for Islam. [3][4]

Research continues on the Koran, but also the beliefs of Muslims around the world, and relevant data is emerging.[1] For instance, a majority of Muslim political leaders and organizations have flatly condemned the attacks of September 11.[5][6] In some cultures, Muslims may report very violent views: 86% of Muslims in Jordan believed that death is an appropriate punishment for leaving the Muslim religion (a form of apostasy).[7] The views of Muslims can vary widely by area, however: The Pew Research Center found that the percentage of Muslims who thought that "suicide bombings are often or sometimes justified" was 46% in Nigeria, 29% in Jordan, 15% in Britain, and 8% in United States.[8]


History of the term

The Arabic term Islam (إسلام) is derived from aslama, which means "to surrender" or "resign oneself".[9][10] The Arabic word salaam (سلام) ("peace") shares the same abstract consonantal root with the word Islam.[11] This has led to a widespread misinterpretation that the word Islam means peace.[12][not in citation given]

There are critics of Islam who have argued that the underlying cause and motivation of the September 11, 2001 attacks was the doctrines and beliefs of Islam, and that Islam is intrinsically violent.[13][14][15][16] However, many notable Muslims have maintained that terrorism against civilians is motivated by a misunderstanding of Islamic doctrine. Mahathir bin Mohamad, the former Prime Minister of Malaysia said,

Clearly Islam the religion is not the cause of terrorism. Islam, as I said, is a religion of peace. However through the centuries, deviations from the true teachings of Islam take place. And so Muslims kill despite the injunction of their religion against killing especially of innocent people.[2]

President George W. Bush publicly adopted this latter view, stating that "Islam is peace":

The English translation is not as eloquent as the original Arabic, but let me quote from the Koran, itself: "In the long run, evil in the extreme will be the end of those who do evil. For that they rejected the signs of Allah and held them up to ridicule." The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war.[17]

This prompted criticism from some quarters[13] and a poll of Evangelical Protestant leaders taken in 2002 revealed that only 10% agreed with Bush that Islam was synonymous with peace.[18]

Muslims who are keen to emphasise their rejection of violence have used the term "a religion of peace” as a description of Islam, like Dalil Boubakeur, mufti of the Paris Mosque, who said, "The prophet did not found a terrorist religion, but a religion of peace."[19] After the 7/7 London bombings, some Muslims in the West increased their efforts to present Islam as a peaceful religion.[20]


The description of Islam as a "religion of peace" has created a great deal of controversy. Neuroscientist and New Atheism writer Sam Harris wrote, "The position of the Muslim community in the face of all provocations seems to be: Islam is a religion of peace, and if you say that it isn't, we will kill you."[21]

Sherman Jackson believes that the comments of Western politicians about Islam being a "religion of peace" is an attempt at "political correctness." However, Jackson asserts that:

'Religion of peace' does not imply that Islam is a pacifist religion, that it rejects the use of violence altogether, as either a moral or a metaphysical evil. 'Religion of peace' connotes, rather, that Islam can countenance a state of permanent, peaceful coexistence with other nations and peoples who are not Muslims...This position, I shall argue, is no more than the result of an objective application of principles of Islamic jurisprudence which no jurist or activist, medieval or modern, has claimed to reject.[22]

This use has also been criticised by both Islamists such as Sayyid Qutb,[23] and former Islamists such as Hassan Butt, who said,

Only when Muslims admit that 9/11 and 7/7 were the work of Muslim terrorists can we move forward to the next juncture: which is recognising the hard truth that Islam does permit the use of violence. Muslims who deny this, preferring instead to mouth easy platitudes about how Islam is nothing but a religion of peace, make the job easier for the radicals who can point to passages in the Koran, set down in black and white, that instruct on the killing of unbelievers.[24]

That is, he suggests that the religion can only be a religion of peace if followers explicitly denounce the terrorist actions.

The term "The Religion of Peace" is used sarcastically by critics of Islam, such as Ann Coulter.[4] This is sometimes the case on anti-Islamic web sites and blogs, such as the web site, which counts Islamic terrorist attacks[25][26]

Pope Benedict XVI refused to agree that Islam was a religion of peace. However he stated:

It certainly contains elements that can favor peace, it also has other elements: We must always seek the best elements.[27]


A leaked report by the Centre for Social Cohesion, from January 2009, discussed US plans to get involved in empowering UK Muslims to "mobilize against extremism". The leak also stated that roughly 30% of British Muslims believed killing in the name of religion was justified, and 40% wanted Sharia Law.[28]

Writing for the National Post, Barbara Kay stated that honour killing is not strictly a Muslim phenomenon and that it is enabled by factors including sexism, dowries and a lack of a dependable legal system. Nevertheless, Kay says that the murders are a Muslim phenomenon in the West, where 95% of honour killings are perpetrated by "Muslim fathers and brothers or their proxies". Kay warns that females do not dissent as one might expect either: The women may describe victims of honour killing as having needed punishment.[29]

Pew research in 2010 found that in Jordan, Lebanon, and Nigeria, roughly 50% of Muslims had favourable views of Hezbollah, and that Hamas also saw similar support.[7] The Pew Research Center also found that support for the death penalty as punishment for "people who leave the Muslim religion" was 86% in Jordan, 84% in Egypt, 76% in Pakistan, 51% in Nigeria, and lower in some other countries.[7]

According to 2006 data, Pew says that 46% of Nigerian Muslims, 29% of Jordan Muslims, 28% of Egyptian Muslims, 15% of British Muslims, and 8% of American Muslims thought suicide bombings are often or sometimes justified.[8] The figure was unchanged - still 8% - for American Muslims by 2011, although Muslims did become more satisfied with the way things were going, and with president Obama's job performance.[30]

Gallup poll

John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed present data relevant to Islamic views on peace, and more, in their book Who Speaks for Islam? The book reports Gallup poll data from random samples in over 35 countries using Gallup's various research techniques (e.g. pairing male and female interviewers, testing the questions beforehand, communicating with local leaders when approval is necessary, travelling by foot if that is the only way to reach a region, etc.).[1]

There was a great deal of data. It suggests, firstly, that individuals who dislike America and consider the September 11 attacks to be "perfectly justified" form a statistically distinct group, with suddenly more extreme views. The authors call this 7% of Muslims "Politically Radicalized".[1] They chose that title "because of their radical political orientation" and clarify "we are not saying that all in this group commit acts of violence. However, those with extremist views are a potential source for recruitment or support for terrorist groups."[31] The data also indicates that poverty is not simply to blame for the comparatively radical views of this 7% of Muslims, who tend to be better educated than moderates.[31]

The authors say that, contrary to what the media may indicate, most Muslims believe that the September 11 attacks cannot actually be justified at all. The authors called this 55% of Muslims "Moderates". They applied the same label to an additional 12% who said the attacks almost cannot be justified at all. To be clear, 67% of Muslims were classified as Moderates, meaning 26% of Muslims are not quite Moderates, and the remaining 7% are Politically Radicalized. Esposito and Mogahed explain that the labels should not be taken as being perfectly definitive, however (e.g. there may be individuals who would generally not be considered radical, although they believe the attacks were justified, or vice versa).[1]

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e Frequently asked questions about "Who Speaks for Islam?", by the book's authors
  2. ^ a b Islam, Terrorism, and Malaysia's Response Asia Society
  3. ^ e.g Craig Winn when writing about a debate with Jalal Abualrub said For, how could a "religion of peace" have such an open-ended and encompassing edict to destroy anyone who chooses not to submit to it?
  4. ^ a b Siddiqi, Imraan (2003-06-05). "Ann Coulter's Foul Mouth: The Blond Hate Machine". Counterpunch. Retrieved 2007-11-22.
  5. ^, Muslim Condemnations of 9/11: Muslim leaders condemn violence and terrorism
  6. ^ "Attacks draw mixed response in Mideast". CNN. September 12, 2001. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
  7. ^ a b c Most Embrace a Role for Islam in Politics - Muslim Publics Divided on Hamas and Hezbollah, December 2 2010, PewResearchCenter
  8. ^ a b Muslim Americans - Middle class and mostly mainstream, May 22 2007 report, PewResearchCenter
  9. ^ L. Gardet; J. Jomier. "Islam". Encyclopaedia of Islam Online.
  10. ^ "Lane's lexicon".
  11. ^ "Islam". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 2007-11-22.
  12. ^ Simkins, Ronald A. (2007). "The Contexts of Religion and Violence". Journal of Religion and Society Supplement Series 2. Retrieved 2007-11-22.
  13. ^ a b Till, Farrell (2001-11). "The Real Culprit". The Skeptical Review. Retrieved 2007-11-22.
  14. ^ "Suicide bombing, in the Muslim world at least, is an explicitly religious phenomenon that is inextricable from notions of martyrdom and jihad, predictable on their basis, and sanctified by their logic. It is no more secular an activity than prayer is."Harris, Sam (2004). The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.. p. 251. ISBN 0-393-03515-8.
  15. ^ Sperry, Paul (2005-12-14). "The Pentagon Breaks the Islam Taboo". FrontPageMagazine.
  16. ^ "Suicide bombers follow Quran, concludes Pentagon briefing". World Net Daily News ( September 27, 2006.
  17. ^ ""Islam is Peace" Says President" (Press release). Office of the Press Secretary. 2001-09-17. Retrieved 2007-11-22.
  18. ^ Green, John (2003-04-07). "Evangelical Views of Islam". EPPC and beliefnet. Retrieved 2007-11-22.
  19. ^ "Prophet cartoons enraging Muslims". International Herald Tribune. 2006-02-02. Retrieved 2007-11-22.
  20. ^ Nickel, Gordon (2006-06-13). "Islam: A religion of peace?". National Post. Retrieved 2007-11-22.
  21. ^ Sam Harris: Losing Our Spines to Save Our Necks. Retrieved on 2011-03-19.
  22. ^ Jackson, Sherman (Spring / Summer 2002). "Jihad and the Modern World". Journal of Islamic Law and Culture. Retrieved 2007-11-22.
  23. ^ "The defeatists should fear Allaah lest they distort this religion and cause it to become weak on the basis of the claim that it is a religion of peace. Yes, it is the religion of peace but in the sense of saving all of mankind from worshipping anything other than Allaah and submitting all of mankind to the rule of Allaah" Qutb, Sayyid. Fiqh al-Da’wah. IslamQA. pp. 217–222. Archived from the original on 2006-10-17. Retrieved 2007-11-22.
  24. ^ Butt, Hassan (2007-07-14). "Muslim heads stuck firmly in the sand". The Times. Retrieved 2007-11-22.
  25. ^ Mitchell, W. J. T. (Winter 2007). "Picturing Terror: Derrida's Autoimmunity" (– Scholar search). Critical Inquiry (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press) 33 (2): 277–290. doi:10.1086/511494. Retrieved 2007-11-22.[dead link][dead link]
  26. ^ "Homeland Security: So Far, So Good". Investor's Business Daily. 2007-05-11. Retrieved 2007-11-22.
  27. ^ "Pope won't call Islam religion of peace". Word Net Daily. 2005-07-26. Archived from the original on 2005-12-20. Retrieved 2007-11-22.
  28. ^ The latest WikiLeaks revelation: 1 in 3 British Muslim students back killing for Islam and 40% want Sharia law, Daily Mail, Mail Online
  29. ^ [Continue calling ‘honour killings’ by its rightful name, Barbara Kay, September 21, 2011, Full comment, National Post.]
  30. ^ Muslim Americans: No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism
  31. ^ a b What Makes a Radical?: An excerpt from the book Who Speaks for Islam?


External links

List of sites using the term "Religion of Peace" in a sarcastic manner

List of web pages discussing if Islam is a "religion of peace"