Tue | May 23, 2017

The use and abuse of Islam

Published:Monday | January 19, 2015 | 1:00 AM

Michael Abrahams, Online Columnist

Regarding Islam, political correctness dictates that one refers to it as a religion of peace. But while the majority of Muslims may not be perpetrators of religion-inspired violence, most of the violent acts affiliated with religion over the past decade or so have been carried out by self-professed Muslims. This latter observation has led many to ask the question: "Is Islam really a religion of peace?"

Since 9/11, there have been bombings in Madrid, London, Bali and Jakarta, attacks in Benghazi, massacres at a Kenyan shopping mall and at a school in Pakistan, hostage drama at a cafe in Sydney and fatal shootings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine and at a kosher deli in Paris, all in the name of Islam.

The deadly consequences of activities of groups and organisations such as the Taliban, al Qaida, Boko Haram and Islamic State are well documented. We see the government of Saudi Arabia, an Islamic country, condemn the attacks in Paris and simultaneously brutally prescribe 1,000 lashes for a blogger who 'insulted Islam'.

According to the website thereligionofpeace.com, there have been 24,875 deadly attacks by self-proclaimed Muslims since 9/11. The website also claims that during the week January 10-16, 2015, there were 53 'jihad' attacks and 10 suicide attacks globally, resulting in 267 deaths and 268 persons being critically injured.

And there are no signs to suggest that these incidents with be abating any time soon. As a matter of fact, threats against potential targets are being made with regularity.

The frequency and magnitude of these attacks, which are often unprovoked, have caused much concern, not only among those outside the faith, but among Muslims themselves. As a matter of fact, Muslims who do not share the same views as the extremists in their faith constitute a sizable proportion of the casualties of violence associated with Islamic proclamations.

With 1.6 billion followers, Islam is the second-largest and one of the fastest-growing religions in the world. Most Muslims are peaceful and will tell you that their religion is one of peace, but radical Islamic extremism has now established itself as genuine threat to world peace.

Islam's main competitor, and the world's largest religion, Christianity, has had a chequered past of using violence and oppression to control the masses. But in the 21st century, most branches of that faith have discarded the eye-for-an-eye ideology, in favour of a gentler Christlike approach, at least regarding physical violence.

And while Jesus Christ did not resort to roughness in his interactions, with the exception of money changers in a temple and an ill-fated fig tree, Muhammad was a warrior. Similarly, his followers not uncommonly adopt a militant approach when defending him, and those who choose to disrespect or even illustrate him may be placing their lives in grave danger.

But the problem is not just about Islamic ideology, but also about the use of religion to manipulate the vulnerable and marginalised. The combination of power-hungry zealots with false interpretation, poverty, political corruption and oppression, lack of education, and real and perceived interference from Western nations all make for a volatile and conflagrational cocktail.

Religion may be the opium of the people, as German economist Karl Marx, had so eloquently opined, but in the hands of a despot or the dispossessed, it can morph into a dangerous weapon, being used to control, oppress and exact revenge.

Once a religion is based on a holy book that contains passages condoning violence, as in the sacred texts used by the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the possibility will always exist that these religions will be used to perpetrate evil. Fundamentalists are not concerned with 'context', and will gladly use their scriptures to justify violence. So, yesterday for Christianity, today for Islam. Maybe it is just best to abstain from the 'opium'.

Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.