Hi Matt, Peace
My understanding of Islam is that it is a religion of peace based on the linguistic definition of the word "Islam". The word is from the Arabic root word SLM which means peace and surrender simultaneously. The religious definition is that Islam is the attainment of peace, security, and safety through the surrender of one's will to God's will.
My position is informed by a nuanced and historically relevant reading of the Qur'anic scriptures. With regard to the question of peace vs. terrorism, I would suggest to you that the Qur'anic text leans heavily in favor of peace but is not squeamish about a physical response to aggression. I will share a few verses that will shed some light to enable us to begin a fruitful discussion.
Some verses on the issue of inter-people relationships:
O men! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes, so that you might come to know one another. Verily, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware. (49:13)
THERE SHALL BE no coercion in matters of faith. Distinct has now become the right way from [the way of] error: hence, he who rejects the powers of evil and believes in God has indeed taken hold of a support most unfailing, which shall never give way: for God is all-hearing, all-knowing (2:256)
And [thus it is:] had thy Sustainer so willed, all those who live on earth would surely have attained to faith, all of them: dost thou, then, think that thou couldst compel people to believe, notwithstanding that no human being can ever attain to faith otherwise than by God's leave, and [that] it is He who lays the loathsome evil [of disbelief] upon those who will not use -their reason?" (10:99-100)
Some verses addressing revelations from God to other prophets and communities prior to Muhammad:
Lo! Those who believe (in that which is revealed unto thee, Muhammad), and those who are Jews, and Christians, and Sabaeans - whoever believeth in Allah and the Last Day and doeth right - surely their reward is with their Lord, and there shall no fear come upon them neither shall they grieve. (2:62)
Say: We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered. (2:136)
Say (O Muhammad): We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and that which was vouchsafed unto Moses and Jesus and the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered. (3:84) And whoso seeketh as religion other than the Surrender (to Allah) it will not be accepted from him, and he will be a loser in the Hereafter. (3:85)
Some verses explaining the arising of differences among human beings over the same message from God:
Mankind were one community, and Allah sent (unto them) prophets as bearers of good tidings and as warners, and revealed therewith the Scripture with the truth that it might judge between mankind concerning that wherein they differed. And only those unto whom (the Scripture) was given differed concerning it, after clear proofs had come unto them, through hatred one of another. And Allah by His Will guided those who believe unto the truth of that concerning which they differed. Allah guideth whom He will unto a straight path. (2:213)
These are the portents of Allah which We recite unto thee (Muhammad) with truth, and lo! thou art of the number of (Our) messengers; (2:252) Of those messengers, some of whom We have caused to excel others, and of whom there are some unto whom Allah spake, while some of them He exalted (above others) in degree; and We gave Jesus, son of Mary, clear proofs (of Allah's Sovereignty) and We supported him with the holy Spirit. And if Allah had so willed it, those who followed after them would not have fought one with another after the clear proofs had come unto them. But they differed, some of them believing and some disbelieving. And if Allah had so willed it, they would not have fought one with another; but Allah doeth what He will. (2:253)
And unto thee have We revealed the Scripture with the truth, confirming whatever Scripture was before it, and a watcher over it. So judge between them by that which Allah hath revealed, and follow not their desires away from the truth which hath come unto thee. For each We have appointed a divine law and a traced-out way. Had Allah willed He could have made you one community. But that He may try you by that which He hath given you (He hath made you as ye are). So vie one with another in good works. Unto Allah ye will all return, and He will then inform you of that wherein ye differ. (5:48)
Some verses on the response to aggression:
Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors. (2:190) And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers. (2:191) But if they desist, then lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (2:192) And fight them until persecution is no more, and religion is for Allah. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against wrong-doers. (2:193)
The above verses, like all verses, always need to be understood in the context of revelation. Muslim scholarship has always maintained the following positions with regard to text:
1. Text must be first understood in the context of revelation, i.e. the circumstances surrounding the actual revelation of the text to Muhammad. Muslim sources have great detail on the context of each verse.
2. The applicability of the text to a differing time and place beyond the original context of revelation is held as a given (based on verses in the Qur'an referring to this possibility) and is constrained by the possibilities of the language (is the text able to be understood only ONE way or can it be read in multiple ways). Muslim scholarship developed the notion of the meaning being "categorically authoritative" i.e. only ONE meaning possible, or "presumptively authorititative" i.e. multiple meanings possible. A great tradition of dissent and acceptance of multiple points of view arose within the ranks of Muslim scholarship as a result of this view of the text. Looking at some of the verses above in the original Arabic, you would begin to get a sense of which verses may be "categorically authoritative" and which may be "presumptively authoritative".
3. In order to become systematic in the application of "categorically authoritative" and "presumptively authoritative" definitions, Muslim scholarship further developed a framework of the "Purposes of Law" or "The Intent of God". This is a proposed framework to attempt to understand the mind of God as revealed in the text of the Qur'an. The framework continues to develop to this day, punctuated by periods of great activity and other periods of inactivity in the past. I believe a period of great activity in this area is being witnessed today in Muslim scholarship after a period of stagnation lasting some 250 years as a result of internal decay of scholarship and the decay of economic and socio-political strengths of Muslim communities across the world.
Matt, I teach a 10 part course on "Understanding Islam and Muslims" at various venues. I would invite you to join a future class to pursue our discussions in detail. I am also copying Justin Peyton, Director of Civil Rights at CAIR-PA Philadelphia office on this email. He is another source for you to speak with.
Best Regards and Peace.
To: Iftekhar Hussain
Subject: RE: your inquiries about Islam
Grace and Peace to you as well Mr. Hussain,Thank you so much for taking the time to correspond with me. I know you probably recieve a number of emails and I really appreciate your willingness to engage in this conversation with me. I would be interested in seeking answers to some more specific questions dealing with particular scriptures that I have been made aware of but first it may be helpful if I had a basic understanding of your position. Is Islam a religion of peace or of terrorism? I know this seems like a very general question and I'm pretty sure I already know the answer but I feel as though I have been bombarded by images of violence and anti-Islamic propaganda for so long that it is important to me to get this out of the way first before we proceed. It would be helpful for me when I am interacting with others if I was able to refer back to your holy book so if you don't mind please provide me with some passages and references for those passages.Matt
From: Iftekhar To: Matt
Date: Tue, 27 May 2008 08:41:53 -0400
Subject: your inquiries about Islam
Dear Matt, Peace
I would like to begin correspondence with you to answer your questions. I fee it would be best for you to pose specific questions that I will then answer. If you feel a phone call is in order, I am available for one as well. Thank you
Sent: Monday, April 21, 2008 6:22 PM
Hi!My name is Matt and I'm a follower of Jesus. I've just recently heard of your organization and was interested to get some support to my own opinions about Islam being a religion of peace that has been hijacked by extremists and terrorist. I have been listening to a man named Robert Spencer speak on Islam recently. I also have had some email correspondance with Spencer (in which he accused me of being an undercover Muslim). I wrote him in response to what I saw as him propagating negative views of Islam on his website (jihadwatch.com). I feel that Spencers site is extremely biased and adds fuel to the fire of bigotry against Islam.I was wondering if you would be able to refute some of his claims and perhaps give me a more indepth understanding of your position based on Islamic scriptures. Also is it true that at one point Mohammed claimed that an earlier teaching was of satan and therefore withdrew it?Just as a side I think that Spencer is politically motivated...what is interesting is that he also claims to be a Christian. At the same time it seems like he is trying to justify violence in the middle east against Muslims. As well as being a Christian I am a pacifist (which goes hand in hand with being a Christian). Regardless of whether Islam is a religion of violence, I do not believe there is any grounds for Christians to respond violently. We will lay our ives down in love before we take anothers life.