Why is Islam the most violent religion?
Transcribed by: Keshavgopal Das
Question: Why is Islam the most violent religion?
Answer: I will talk about this in three different ways.
First, it is not just the religion which makes the people violent. It is people who are violent and find some reason in religion to be violent. World War I and World War II are two of the biggest wars that have been fought in recent history, but there was no religion involved in these wars. Then in the communist era in China and Soviet Russia, these two countries, without any war, killed three times more people (their own citizens) than the number of peoples killed in World War I and World War II combined. They wanted to establish communism and wanted to eliminate all those opposing communism. From Gita we understand that there are three modes of material nature – goodness, passion and ignorance. Generally, passion combined with ignorance is the cause of violence. People who are situated more in mode of passion-ignorance in a race, country, ideology, cast, or religion, they would be violent.
Second, historically speaking in most religions spiritual powers and political powers are separate from each other. For example, in sanatana dharma, the spiritual powers are vested in the brahmanas whereas the political and martial powers are vested in the kshatriyas. In Buddhism also, Buddha was a spiritual teacher, whereas King Ashoka, after accepting Buddhism became the political leader and propagated the teachings of Buddhism. In Christianity also, Jesus was the spiritual teacher, but Christianity spread because of Paul who was both spiritual as well as political. Then later when the Roman emperor accepted Christianity, it spread very fast.
In Islam, however, there is a combination of both spiritual and political powers in one. Mohamed happen to be both a spiritual teacher as well as a political leader. Politics in this world is a dirty business. Even people with purest of intentions on entering politics have to do dirty things. Mohamed did the spiritual teachings and following those many people practised Islam and lived pious and godly lives.
Today in this world, one out of every four-person is a Muslim. If all Muslims were violent, then world would have been a hellish place. Not all Muslims are violent. At individual level, Muslims when they follow Mohamed’s spiritual teachings they give charity, offer namaaz, and in many ways lead a godly life. However, at a political level, many of the leaders of Islam, they focus more on Mohamed’s political example than his spiritual example. When they focus on political examples, then they try to imitate what Mohamed did politically. That is why at an individual level Islam may be a path to godliness for many people, but at a social level Islam become less a path to god and more a tool to political power. Mohamed fought wars and following his example, many of the Islamic leaders do fight wars or justify fighting of wars. That is why Islam is associated with much more violence than any other religion.
The third and last point is, we as individual need to be aware of both the political and the transcendental aspect of Islam. I am a part of internet conferences where I have Muslim friends. One of my Muslim friend told me that he can communicate better with moderates of other traditions than extremists of his own. Moderate means balanced people who are more in the mode of goodness. Extremists are people in mode of passion and ignorance. We find moderates and extremists in all religions. The moderates who are more in mode of goodness think very differently when compared to extremists who are in mode of passion or ignorance. What can we do as outsiders to Islam? We have to be aware that there is a threat of extremism and violence in Islam, which is quite real, and we have to be prepared for it. Muslims are quite strong and demanding for their right to practice their religion in other countries where they are in minorities. However, in countries like Middle East where they are in majority, they do not allow any other religion to be practiced publicly. When we go to Middle Eastern countries, we cannot go in devotional attire, we have to wear civil clothes to go in their country. Of course, some Islamic countries are more liberal than other, and we cannot paint all of Islam by the same brush. However, there is a threat, no doubt. If an extremist in Islam gains power, then they will make practice of bhakti almost impossible. However, at the same time we have to see that this is not representative of all of Islam. There may be extremism in Islam, but Islam is much bigger. The more the rest of the world equates Islam with extremist Islam, then the extremist get more and more power. Those who are moderates if we label them also as extremists we disempower the moderates and thus end up making Islam more and more extremist.
At the same time, we should not close our eyes and say that there is no extremism in Islam or there is only tiny fringe of extremism in Islam. It is not a tiny fringe, it is a significant number. If we keep our eyes blind, we will set ourselves up for trouble. A balanced attitude will be that rather than looking at Islam as a religious group, we can philosophically look at people in goodness, passion or ignorance. People in passion and ignorance, they will use whatever reason to justify for their fighting and in this case, they use Islam as rationalising for their actions.
We need not have a negative attitude towards Islam but at the same time we have to be aware and cautious about extremism in Islam. In general, if the mode of goodness rises in the world then we can have more sanity and order. However, if the mode of passion and ignorance rises because of Islam or other reasons, there will be violence.
How can we empower moderates in Islam? First and foremost, we ourselves have to be in goodness. If we have a fragmental tendency that all Muslims are extremists and we ourselves are in passion and ignorance, we are simply increasing the influence of lower modes.
Second, we need to engage in a dialogue. ISKCON has had Christian-Vaishnava dialogues for almost twenty-five years. At one time, ISKCON was accused of brain washing people. At that time many Christian organisations supported us. They said that we are not brain washers but part of ancient traditional religion. It is not that they loved us. They had their reasons to support us. They wanted to protect their own religious freedom. They thought that today, if the Hare Krishnas are labelled as brain washers, tomorrow Christians can be also labelled as brain washers. However, the point is, their support made a big difference for us. Now ISKCON is also working towards having a Vaishnava-Muslim dialogue. In December, the first Vaishnava- Muslims dialogue will happen in Noida temple. Through such dialogues we can connect with and empower the moderates and thus foster the mode of goodness. At the same time, we also be aware that there are modes of passion and ignorance which can also create trouble. If we have a holistic picture we can respond maturely.
End of transcription.
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