Islam and Violence: A Debate

headsIn late September, amid ASIO raids and media images of a small boy holding aloft a severed head, Quadrant Online contributor Clive Kessler,  Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of New South Wales, addressed Islam’s penchant for violence and the stock-standard response of defenders and apologists that terrorism, beheadings and calls to wage bloody war on unbelievers do not represent the true spirit of “the religion of peace”.

Kessler wrote:

“The question is not, as the apologists offering this approach always suggest, “Who is behind this misappropriation of Islam?” It is not a matter of finding a puppet-master or evil operator who, by misrepresenting the faith, is constantly manipulating good and decent people within the local Muslim community or worldwide ummah.

One must ask, and be brave enough to ask, a different question: What is it, within formal, doctrinal Islam and then, on that (perhaps selective but still identifiable) basis within the Islamic tradition and in Islamic history from which that powerful tradition is “sedimented”, that underpins and drives—and perhaps, as some see it, validates—this kind of gruesome, barbaric action: by Muslims, acting as committed Muslims, and in the name and in the “defence” or “promotion” of Islam?

The interpretation of Islam that is provided by the militants is not the only possible construction of the Islamic inheritance and agenda. And it may not be the preferred version of the moderates and the liberals and of Islam’s well-meaning apologists. But it is a version, and one that can be constructed on grounds that are indisputably internal to Islam, not some external intrusion or imposition implanted by the ignorant or the ill-intentioned.

The militant and fundamentalist versions of Islam are forms or variants that can be “sourced” and derived directly—dare one even say “authentically”?—from Koranic writ, from early formative Islam as recorded in the traditions and practices (hadith and sunnah) of the Prophet in his own lifetime and worldly career, and within historical Islam as it developed on that foundation. The militant version is a reading or construction of direct intellectual lineage and identifiable descent within historical Islam. It has its foundations—genuine, not spurious or fictive or prejudicially confected foundations—in what, from the outset in the Prophet’s own time and career, Islam is and has been in its worldly history and evolution.”

Those thoughts and others prompted the ABC’s Religion and Ethics Report to match Kessler with Professor Sahar Amer, chair of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Sydney University, in a discussion about the Koran’s advocacy of violence. Their debate went to air on October 15, but can be heard by clicking the link below.

Does Islam promote violence

While much has been written and said of Islamic violence in recent months, Kessler and Sahar in their opposing views distill that debate to its erudite essence.


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