Irrespective of religion, violence is intrinsic to human beings
I must admit to a sense of fatigue. Being a Muslim is really a high-pressure commitment. There are far too many Muslims all over the world that it is only understandable that someone somewhere would either say or do something incorrigible. Then the burden falls on people carrying the mantle of being progressive to explain the misdemeanour or justify it. Every time something happens in any part of the world and if a Muslim or Muslims are even remotely associated with it, I feel the enormous burden of trying to explain why it could or should have happened.
Take the episode of poor Pope Benedict XVI. I know the issue has been done to death by now by protestors and commentators alike and the poor soul has even apologised to end the fracas, I feel that as a responsible Muslim (see the pressure of the mantle) I must make my position very clear. To begin with, what was so horribly wrong with what Pope Benedict XVI had said and even if there was why did the Muslims the world over felt that we needed a certificate from the Pope about the greatness and peace-loving nature of our religion?
And why should we collectively feel better that he has apologised after we threatened him and the whole world with dire consequences? I mean, what does an apology extracted under duress mean? Does he have greater respect for Islam now that we have twisted his arm? Or has enlightenment dawned on him and his brethrens about the true nature of Islam after we burnt his effigies? When I was growing up, a single sentence which my mother used ad nauseam to control her brat pack defined faith for me. ‘Allah miyan sees everything.’ While she used this to discipline the kids, for me it also meant that nothing happens without his will. So if I did something good it was his will and if I did something wrong, again it was because for some reason he wanted me to do it. Extending this logic, I believed that since he rewards those who do good he would punish the wrong-doers. While this conveniently relieved me of the responsibility of my actions (but the fear of all-seeing Allah miyan ensured that I didn’t cross the line), it also meant that as god-fearing Muslims we had no responsibility towards punishment as Allah miyan would take care of that. Somehow, it seems that today we have become bigger than God. Instead of him taking care of us, we have to take care of him, decide the right and wrong on his behalf and mete out punishments on his behalf. Anyway, these are complicated questions so I’ll leave them to the mob. My point is much simpler.
In his address, the Pope referred to a 14th century text in which King Manuel of Byzantine apparently said that the only thing original in Islam is preponderance of violence. That Prophet Mohammed sought to spread Islam through sword. While this comment is not entirely true, it is not entirely false either. It is true that in terms of origin and history Islam followed the Biblical texts. Like Jews and Christians, Islam also traces its origins to Adam and Eve. So in that respect it does not have an original history. But it is also true that unlike Jews and Christians who do not recognise Mohammed as a Prophet, Muslims hold Abraham, Moses and Christ as holy Prophets. In fact, the Muslim festival Eid-ul-Zuha and the pilgrimage Haj to Mecca trace its origins to Abraham. However, just as Islam inherited its historicity from faiths preceding it, the violence was also inherited and not a contribution of Prophet Mohammed.
It is an amazing irony that while all religions propagate peace and universal brotherhood, the maximum number of killings has been done in the name of religion. But it would be naïve to blame violence on religion, because violence is intrinsic to human beings. The first incidence of violence can be traced to the Genesis, when Cain slained his brother Abel. People of all religious persuasions have indulged in mass violence at various points in recorded history, whether for territorial expansion or in the name of God. While Jews killed the Canaanites, Christians killed both Jews and Muslims and Muslims have killed Christians and Jews in the names of their respective religions. The Christian Crusades, which started in the 11th century saw unprecedented killing of everyone whom the zealous Crusaders considered anti-Christ. And violence has not been the exclusive domain of the Semitic faiths. Even Hinduism has a history of violence. In fact, both religious texts, Ramayana and Bhagwad Gita deal with wars, though couched as righteous wars. Religious wars aside, even greater number of people have been killed by secular regimes, whether it was the Nazis in Germany or the Communists in the USSR.
So while it is true that early Islamic years were marked by both defensive and expansionist wars, it was neither the first nor the last time that violence was being perpetrated to propagate an idea. Moreover, to blame the wars of early Islamic years for al Qaeda type terrorism today would be like blaming the Crusades for George Bush’s adventurism in the Middle East.