There is only one Islam and it is inherently dangerous...
While I am sure that the author means well, he is wrong when he claims Islam is moderate and peaceful and that terrorists are subverting the religion and giving it a bad name. But to understand why he is wrong one needs a basic understanding of exactly what Islam is. Islam is a set of rules to live by and how Islam developed and what those rules are reveal that the religion is violent to its core and there is no chance that the religion can be rehabilitated in an Internet fueled World wherein anyone can discover what the Qur'an really states.
Americans were inundated with the message that Islam is a religion of peace post- 9/11/2001 to such an extent that it has become conventional wisdom and anyone who challenges that conventional wisdom is often labeled a racist or a bigot. This is true even though Muslims are hardly limited to any particular race. Arabs, for example, comprise less than twenty-five percent of the World's Muslims.
Given the consequences of rendering any opinion that challenges the proposition that Islam is a religion of peace, it is not pleasant to feel compelled to voice a different conclusion. This is especially true about a religious topic that engenders such an extreme emotional response in so many people. However, it is important that we all know the truth so that we can properly exercise our democratic rights. It is ultimately the will of the majority (at least the majority of those who vote) that determines the long-term direction of a democratic society and if we are misinformed our votes will be equally misinformed and misguided.
It is, therefore, crucial that we have an accurate understanding of Islamic terrorists and what motivates them. This is especially true given that Islam is not just a religion, but is a combined religious, political, and social system. Understanding the true nature of Islam is so important because there is a marked difference between a threat that is based on false religious teachings and a threat that truly derives from the actual doctrines of one of the World's most widespread religious faiths. The latter is more likely to cause the threat to endure and spread and to defy resistance.
After intensely studying the question of Islam, I have reached the inescapable conclusion that Islamic doctrine easily supports terrorist activity and offensive (not limited to defensive) warfare. It is patently an error to assert that Islam is universally a religion of peace. I reached my conclusions by, amongst other endeavors, simply reading the Koran and hadiths (Muhammad's recorded life and deeds), both of which are universally accepted as the basis for Islamic doctrine.
My opinion that Islam is not universally a religion of peace does not mean that I believe all Muslims are terrorists. Obviously, most Muslims are not terrorists. I further believe that most Muslims want peace; however, there is a marked difference between certain Muslims as individuals and Islamic doctrine. A writer named Theodore Dalyrymple, in a June 4, 2006, article writing for City Magazine, eloquently assessed the difference between moderate Muslims and Islamic doctrine as follows:
"It is important, of course, to distinguish between Islam as a doctrine and Muslims as people. Untold numbers of Muslims desire little more than a quiet life; they have the virtues and the vices of the rest of mankind. Their religion gives to their daily lives an ethical and ritual structure and provides the kind of boundaries that only modern Western intellectuals would have the temerity to belittle."
Despite the peaceful and sometimes beneficial application of some parts of Islam to some Muslims' lives, it is simply untenable to argue that peace is the main characteristic of the faith of Islam and that Islam offers no true support for some of the violence perpetrated in the name of Islam. The opposite is true. Muslims become moderate by either being unaware of the teachings that comprise Islamic doctrine, by ignoring those doctrines, or by attributing strained meanings or interpretations to the teachings of Islam and Islamic history. It is actually Muslims like the author that have hijacked Islam. Any peaceful Muslim who truly believes that his religion compels him to live in peace with non-Muslims has apostated from Islam. In the Qur'an and hadith Muhammad bluntly commanded Muslims to be ruthless to non Muslims ("Muhammad is the apostle of God; and those who are with him are strong against Unbelievers, (but) compassionate amongst each other…" (48:29), and such incitement to violence is so common throughout Islamic doctrine that the religion is inherently dangerous. Even if you could sucker 90% of Muslims into believing, in error, that the religion is peaceful, the other 10% are sufficient in number and ruthless enough to destroy this country and they will. It is only a matter of time until Muslim terrorists detonate nuclear devices on American soil. Perhaps then Americans will awaken to the danger they face from Islam, but it will be too late and Americans will suffer unprecedented harm.
Because Islam does in fact support terrorism, many "moderate" Muslims respect the fundamentalists as true Muslims and are afraid to speak out against them. In that regard, at least the author has some courage. Regardless as to the fear or other reasons for not speaking out, it is hard for moderate Muslims to speak out because the undeniable fact is that Islam alone among the World's religions commands the Muslim faithful to wage war against non-Muslims until they submit to Islam.
Consider the following verses from the Koran translated from Arabic by Yusuf Ali:
- "But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans [Idolaters or polytheists] wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful." (Koran chapter 9, verse 5)
- "Fight those who believe not in God nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and His Apostle [Muhammad], nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, even if they are of the People of the Book [Jews and Christians], until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued." (Koran chapter 9, verse 29)
To summarize the verses, collectively they mean that Pagans (some Koran translations say idolaters) must convert to Islam or be killed and Jews and Christians must, at a minimum, submit to Islam as the dominant religion, government and social order, and pay a tax, or convert to Islam or be killed. This doctrine comes from Islam's holiest book and, as shown below, there are other aspects of Islamic doctrine that command the same violent and intolerant approach.
These Sword Verses (some call verse 9:29 the "tribute" verse) quoted above speak strongly to Muslim fundamentalists. Because most people in the West are secular, it is often difficult for Westerners to appreciate how deeply religious belief can impact individuals and society. The impact of devout religious belief is magnified in the Islamic World because of the duel nature of Islam as a religious and political system that permeates nearly all aspects of life in most Islamic countries. Try to understand how the foregoing verses would affect you if you believed they were literally the word of God and you lived in a society wherein Islam dominated your religious, political, business and social pursuits. The Koran is the holiest book in Islam. Muslims believe that the Koran is not just inspired by God, but that it is literally the Word of God as revealed by God to Muhammad Ibn Abdullah (Islam's revered seventh century Prophet or Messenger); consequently, verses contained in the Koran impact Muslims' behavior in ways that Westerners have difficulty grasping. The Koran lists four seemingly contradictory ways in which God allegedly revealed his Word to Muhammad: Directly by God (Koran chapters 53 and 81); by God via the Archangel Gabriel (Koran chapter 2); by the Holy Spirit (Koran chapters 16 and 26); and by an Angel (Koran chapter 15).
Regardless as to how they believe the revelations were accomplished, Muslims universally revere the Koran as the literal word of God and they revere Muhammad as God's Prophet and his life and sayings, along with the Koran, complete the core of Islamic doctrine. The University of Southern California's Islamic web site teaches Muslims that Mohammad's deeds and words were literally inspired by God. When Muhammad's life history is studied, it is easy to see why Islamic fundamentalists can justifiably say that Islam supports their actions.
It follows that in order to understand Muslim fundamentalists, we must understand something about the Koran and the life of Muhammad and the roles both play in establishing Islamic doctrine. The Koran differs greatly in format from the Bible and the Koran tends to surprise Western readers because the Koran is not written in a narrative form, it is not in any chronological order, it has very little prophecy, no miracles, very little history, no geography, no parables, and no biography of anyone other than a limited insight into the character and life of Muhammad. The Koran is simply a relatively small book (smaller than the New Testament) of seemingly random verses of positive and negative commandments and dire warnings that Muhammad claimed were revealed to him over a twenty-two or twenty-three year period. One Islamic scholar, Reza Aslan, the author of No god, but God, aptly calls the Koran a rule book for living. But they are rules not too dissimilar from many of the rules of the most ruthless outlaw biker gangs.
Exactly what some of those Koranic rules for living are astonish or even offend most readers who adhere to the type of Western values set forth in the U.S. Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The following paraphrased examples of the teachings in the Koran are some of the most difficult for Westerners to accept:
- There is no separation between Church and State. (Koran chapter 2, verse 193)
- Fighting is prescribed for Muslims. (Koran, chapter 2, verse 216)
- Wives are a field to be used by their husbands as they desire. (Koran, chapter 2, verse 223)
- Men are superior to women. (Koran, chapter 2, verse 228)
- Women have half the rights of men in court as a witness. (Koran, chapter 2, verse 282)
- A man may marry up to four wives at the same time. (Koran chapter 4, verse 3)
- Women have half the rights of men in inheritance rights. (Koran chapter 4, verse 11)
- A man may beat his wife. (Koran chapter 4, verse 34)
- No opposition parties are allowed. (Koran chapter 4, verse 59)
- Stealing is punished by the amputation of the hands. (Koran chapter 5, verse 38)
- A Muslim must not take a Jew or a Christian for a friend. (Chapter 5, verse 51)
- Muslims must fight until their opponents submit to Islam. (Koran chapter 9, verses 5, 29)
- A Muslim apostate (one who leaves the faith) must be killed. (Koran chapter 9, verse 12)
- Muslims must make war on non-Muslims. (Koran chapter 9, verse 73)
- Adultery is punished by public flogging. (Koran chapter 24, verse 2)
- The Koran attributes many negative characteristics to Jews, such as "falsehood" (3:71) and "distortion." (4:46)
- Among other things, the Koran teaches that the Jews have been cursed by Allah, David, and Jesus. (2:61; 5:78-82)
- Allah was so disgusted with Jews that he transformed them into apes and pigs. (5:60-65; 2:65; 7:166)
The life of Muhammad also has a major impact on Islamic doctrine as Muslims are taught that any ambiguity in the Koran is resolved by looking to Muhammad's words and deeds, which, as noted above, Muslims are taught were inspired by God. The Koran expressly admonishes Muslims in several verses to not only obey God, but to obey his Messenger or Prophet, Muhammad. (See, e.g., 3:32, 3:132, 4:59, 5:92, 8:1, 8:20, 24:47) Hence, following what Muhammad said and did is mandated by the Koran.
Accordingly, the Koran is just a part of Islamic doctrine. The hadiths are the reports of Muhammad's words and actions that complete the core of Islamic doctrine. The Koran and the hadiths are the foundations for later Islamic legal rulings known as Sharia Law. The role of the hadiths in Islam is properly explained in the University of Southern California's web site:
"In Islam, the Arabic word sunnah has come to denote the way Prophet Muhammad (saas), the Messenger of Allah, lived his life. The Sunnah is the second source of Islamic jurisprudence, the first being the Qur'an (another way Koran is spelled). Both sources are indispensable; one cannot practice Islam without consulting both of them. The Arabic word hadith (pl. ahadith) is very similar to Sunnah, but not identical. A hadith is a narration about the life of the Prophet (saas) or what he approved - as opposed to his life itself, which is the Sunnah as already mentioned."
The hadiths, which set forth much of the life and deeds of Muhammad, offer no refuge to those who would try to give Islam a softer image outside the Islamic World by labeling it a religion of peace. One of the most widely accepted hadith collectors and editors is Al Bukhari. According to Bukhari:
- Mohammed said, "I have been ordered to fight with the people till they say, None has the right to be worshiped but Allah, and whoever says, None has the right to be worshiped but Allah, his life and property will be saved by me." (Al Bukhari Vol. 4:196)
- Mohammed's last words at his deathbed purportedly were: "Turn the pagans (non-Muslims as that was the practical application) out of the Arabian Peninsula." (Al Bukhari, Vol. 5:716)
- Mohammed said, "The person who participates in (Holy battles) in Allah's cause and nothing compels him to do so except belief in Allah and His Apostle, will be recompensed by Allah either with a reward, or booty (if he survives) or will be admitted to paradise (if he is killed). " (Al Bukhari, Vol. 1:35)
- Mohammed once was asked: what was the best deed for the Muslim next to believing in Allah and His Apostle? His answer was: "To participate in Jihad in Allah's cause." (Al Bukhari Vol. 1: 25)
If anyone believes that I am simply taking a few negative portions of Islamic doctrine from a sea of more enlightened Koranic verses, consider the additional verses from the Koran set forth below. Once again, to try to best understand Islam, imagine as you read these verses that you believe they are not only commandments from God, but literally the word of God as revealed to Muhammad whose words and deeds you also believe to be inspired by God.
- "Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But God knoweth, and ye know not." (2:216)
- "Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, …And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith." (2:190-191)
- "And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God; but if they cease, let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression." (2:193)
- "Fight them, and God will punish them by your hands, cover them with shame, help you (to victory) over them, heal the breasts of Believers." (9:14)
- "O Prophet! strive hard against the unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be firm against them. Their abode is Hell, - an evil refuge indeed..." (9:73)
- "O ye who believe! fight the unbelievers who gird you about, and let them find firmness in you: and know that God is with those who fear Him." (9:123)
- "The punishment of those who wage war against God and His Apostle, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter;" (5:33)
- "Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): 'I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instil terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them.' This because they contended against God and His Apostle: If any contend against God and His Apostle, God is strict in punishment." (8:12-13)
- "In order that God may separate the impure (non-Muslims) from the pure, put the impure, one on another, heap them together, and cast them into Hell. They will be the ones to have lost." (8:37)
- "Muster against them [i.e. non-Muslims] all the men and cavalry at your command, so that you may strike terror into the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others besides them who are unknown to you but known to Allah." (8:60)
- "When We decide to destroy a population, We (first) send a definite order to those among them who are given the good things of this life and yet transgress; so that the word is proved true against them: then (it is) We destroy them utterly." (17:16)
- "Therefore, when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks [chop their heads off]; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them): thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens. Thus (are ye commanded): but if it had been God's Will, He could certainly have exacted retribution from them (Himself); but (He lets you fight) in order to test you, some with others. But those who are slain in the Way of God, - He will never let their deeds be lost." (47:4)
Nicholas Berg was kidnapped in Iraq and later beheaded in May 2004 by Islamic militants. Remember all those so-called Islamic experts that, following the Nicholas Berg beheading, said there was no support within Islamic doctrine for the cutting off of heads? Apparently the experts forgot about chapter 47, verse 4, and chapter 8, verses 12-13 from the Koran.
With respect to the verses regarding Jihad, note that Jihad is an Arabic word which translates to English as "struggle." Jihad can mean striving to be a better Muslim (known as the greater Jihad). The most well known meaning, however, is fighting for Allah (also known as the lesser Jihad). In this sense, Jihad is the struggle for the cause of spreading Islam using all means available to Muslims, including force and deception (Islamic doctrine known as Al Takeyya). The lesser Jihad is what has become to be known as "Holy War." Some critics describe the greater Jihad as trying to find peace after engaging in violent Jihad.
Concerning Jihad, the Koran guarantees Paradise to those who fight for Allah. (4:74) The Koran promises instant Paradise for those who die fighting to advance Islam. (9:111 and 47:5-6) Dying for Allah is presented as preferable to living: "And if ye are slain, or die, in the way of God, forgiveness and mercy from God are far better than all they could amass." (3:157)
Martyrs are promised a secure, sensual (sensual is expanded to erotic in the hadiths) and luxurious life in paradise with beautiful women. (44:51-56; 52:17-29) For example, chapter 44, verse 54 promises: "So; and We shall join them to Companions with beautiful, big, and lustrous eyes." Some disrupted homicide/suicide bombers have freely admitted that it was the Koranic and hadith promises of virgins in paradise that motivated them.
Based on the foregoing, one can begin to understand why Islamic homicide/suicide bombers are willing to sacrifice themselves. In a culture wherein women and men are largely kept separated, it is not difficult to see how young men might become highly motivated by the foregoing teachings. Muhammad Atta, for example, had a wedding suit packed in one of his carry-on suitcases when he boarded what he knew to be a suicide flight on 9/11 as he believed he would be marrying virgins in paradise. We know this because the carry-on bag was not allowed on the plane and it was subsequently searched by the FBI.
In the hadith, Mohammed also urges Muslims to practice Jihad. (See, Bukhari 4:196, 5:716, 1:35, 1:25)
It is the foregoing Koranic verses and others, as well as numerous hadith based on Muhammad's life and words, that have led to the Islamic world view that divides humanity into two opposing spheres: Dar al-Islam, House of Islam where Islam rules and Dar el Harb, the House of War against non-Muslims. This world view mandates that war will continue between these competing ideologies until the supremacy of Islam is fully established everywhere. Jihad in Islamic theology is one of the instruments to bring about the end of Dar el Harb. That is why we so often hear terrorist leaders stating their goals as follows:
- Overthrow the secular or partial secular rulers of Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Pakistan, and Egypt. Note that Saudi Arabia and Iran are currently the only two nations that have imposed full Sharia Law. Saudi Arabia is nonetheless targeted because its rulers (Saudi Royal Family) are not religious leaders and even though their support of fundamentalist Islam is nearly as complete as the Caliphs of old, that is not considered good enough.
- Exterminate Israel. (Drive the Infidels into the sea is a popular way to express the sentiment in the Islamic World.)
- Force the rest of the world to submit to Islam.
The foregoing goals were articulated by the late Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran, a Shiite religious leader. In 1998, Osama Bin Laden, a Sunni Muslim, stated the same goals. (Sheikh Usamah bin-Muhammad bin-Laden, "Text of Fatwah Urging Jihad Against Americans," published by Al-Quds al-Arabi on February 23, 1998.
Osama Bin Laden also defiantly declared that the United States is the prime obstacle to the achievement of the foregoing goals and called on Muslims everywhere "to comply with Allah's order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it."
As can be seen, both Shiite and Sunni Islam have both incited some of the exact same beliefs and goals in Islamic fundamentalists. The reason is the Islamic doctrine set forth above.
So far I have made my case for the proposition that Islam is not a religion of peace by citing Islam's own doctrines and showing how even opposing branches of fundamentalist Islam adhere to and accept the Koran as God's rules for living. However, a more secular analysis supports the same conclusion. Consider the following:
- Polls indicate that high percentages of our supposed allies in Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia support Osama Bin Laden and his terrorists acts. (The higher percentages are in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.) How could a religion of peace engender such support for random acts of murder and violence in two of the more Islamic fundamentalist countries of the World?
- Post 9/11/2001, the name, "Osama" has attained a favored name status for newborn male children in several Muslim nations. Why would a religion of peace allow its adherents to honor such a man?
- Numerous Mosques in Islamic states purportedly exhibit the photo of Bin Laden as a hero of the faith. While I was watching news about the Tsunami relief efforts, I personally saw Osama Bin Laden tee-shirts worn by children.
- In many nations where Muslims constitute a large percentage of the population, the Islamic faithful gather in the streets yelling "Allah Akbar" (Allah is greater or God is great) every time America or Israel suffers from an Islamic terrorist attack. These street demonstration occur in the West Bank and Gaza strip in Israel, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, Sudan, Nigeria, and the Philippines. In America, some Muslims have been observed doing the same. One translator of Iranian descent working at the FBI reported that even FBI translators celebrated 9/11 at work.
- Some Muslim spokesmen who in public spoke against 9/11 were recorded in private supporting terrorism or terrorist acts. Some so-called moderate leaders say the right buzzwords in English and then express their true sentiments in Arabic when they think they will not be exposed. Yasser Arafat was famous for such deceptive tactics.
- Polls in England show that at least half of the Muslim population would like to impose Sharia Law as the law of the land.
- The leaders of the terrorists and or their religious advisers seem to invariably come from backgrounds wherein intense Islamic study was undertaken.
Islam really shows its biker gang colors when it comes to women. Muhammad taught that captured women were lawfully subject to slavery and rape by their male captors. (Qur'an 4:24 and 33:52) Note that in the Quran the references to "those whom your right hands possess" is a euphemism for captives and slaves. Modernly, it is applied to non-Muslim women working for Muslims in Islamic countries. It is common to hear reports of workers in Islamic countries, especially Saudi Arabia, being raped by their male employers.
Islamic history also offers support and inspiration to Islamic terrorists. Muhammad, the revered Prophet of Islam and the man whose words and deeds are believed by Muslims to have been inspired by God and his life held out as the perfect example for living, raided caravans for booty and even asserted that one fifth of the booty was his with the rest to be shared by his warriors. Chapter 8 of the Koran is actually titled "Booty."
Muhammad attacked Arabian tribes who would not voluntarily submit to Islam and slaughtered hundreds of captives. After one Jewish tribe surrendered and sought Muhammad's mercy, he ordered 600-900 of the men beheaded and the women and children sold into slavery except for the women he and his followers took as "wives." Muhammad's aggressive tactics continued after any significant resistance to Islam was eradicated on the Arabian peninsula. Jewish tribes fared the worst which, along with very negative verses about Jews in the Koran, is the genesis of the seemingly ubiquitous, extreme anti-Semitic Muslim view toward Jews.
Muhammad had critics and rivals alike assassinated. In fact, the word assassin derives from a Muslim sect that specialized in terrorizing the Muslim elite of their day with politically motivated assassinations. The assassins were renowned for their willingness to sacrifice their life for their cause. Sound familiar?
Muhammad ordered the execution of some people for nothing more than satirical statements about him. There are currently web sites that expressly advocate the killing of anyone that criticizes Muhammad. Is it really surprising then that a devout Muslim named Mohammad brutally murdered Theo van Gogh in 2004? (Theo van Gogh was a controversial and inappropriately cruel and harsh critic of Islam and Muslims who was killed by Mohammad Bouyeri who then left a five page note that threatened Western governments and Jews.)
The hadiths also show that Muhammad accepted one man's story that he murdered his own wife (she may have just been a sex slave) and gestating child because the man alleged his wife had blasphemed Muhammad. Muhammad ordered that the man should not be punished. (This incident was recorded in a hadith.)
Before he died, Muhammad made preparations to attack Syria. After his death, his followers, some of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs (Caliphs means successors to Muhammad) as Islam calls them, spent ten years fighting to force all of the Arabian tribes to covert to Islam or to return to Islam when they tried to abandon Islam after Muhammad's death. Muhammad's followers eventually conquered the Holy Land and other parts of the Byzantine Empire (last of the Romans) and what remained of the Persian empire. Muslims eventually conquered Spain, parts of France, Constantinople, and, with some setbacks along the way such as the loss of Spain, continued to conquer and subdue until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
One of Muhammad's generals, Khalid Walid, who also served some of the successors to Muhammad known as the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, was known as the Sword of Allah and was renowned for his military prowess and his brutality. Even the highly regarded Saladin slaughtered captives at Hatin (the battle that preceded the Muslim re-conquest of Jerusalem) and motivated his warriors by having the Koranic verses set forth above read to them. The exploits of Saladin, Muhammad, and Khalid Walid are well known to Islamic fundamentalists and they draw inspiration from their recorded actions. Osama Bin Laden seems assured of eventually taking his place amongst these revered Islamic icons.
Critics of my position will argue that there are many verses in the Koran that advocate peace and tolerance. They are correct. However, the Koran was not presented as a complete book by Muhammad and to understand it one must realize how the verses came into existence.
Koran literally means "recite" or "recitation" in Arabic. Muhammad alleged that the angel Gabriel told him to recite. At no time did Muhammad say that he was ordered to write nor was he ever compelled to write down and collect his alleged revelations. He never presented his complete revelations at one time as a complete rule book for living. Rather, the Koran was created approximately twenty years after Muhammad's death. Arab society in the seventh century was an oral society with little writing. Most of the people, and perhaps Muhammad himself, were illiterate. Hence, Muhammad verbally revealed verses sporadically over a period of at least twenty-two years. The verses were revealed based on the circumstances of the time and what Muhammad hoped to accomplish.
The most famous peace verse in the Koran which states, "[t]here is no compulsion in religion," was revealed while Muhammad was in Mecca still trying to convince the people of Mecca (mostly polytheists) to voluntarily convert to Islam. He had very little success and he and his followers were eventually driven out of Mecca to Medina. When Muhammad came to power in Medina, his entire approach changed from trying to persuade others to convert solely by voluntary means and he began to reveal the harsher verses of the Koran. These subsequent verses were meant to replace early verses. "When We substitute one revelation for another, - and God knows best what He reveals (in stages), - they say, "Thou art but a forger": but most of them understand not." (Koran, chapter 16, verse 101) "None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that God Hath power over all things?" (Koran, chapter 2, verse 106)
It follows that what was happening within the Muslim community at the time verses were revealed plays an important role in interpreting the Koran. Sadly, that history, as briefly set forth above, overwhelmingly supports the fundamentalists' interpretation and leads to violence as terrorists mimic the life of Muhammad that they are taught was inspired by God and which constitutes the perfect example for living. The Sword Verses were some of the last verses revealed by Muhammad and it is difficult to convince fundamentalists that earlier verses revealed in Mecca before the Hijrah (transfer to Medina) should guide their behavior.
Regarding the interpretation of the Koran, to put the entire matter into perspective by way of analogy, imagine a student telling a teacher that, following a lecture, an order to take a test was ambiguous because earlier in the day the teacher had said to pay attention to the lecture. We would all agree such a position is strained at best. Those who advocate that the harsher verses of the Koran are unclear because of the earlier peaceful commands are simply ignoring how the Koran came into existence and their position is equally strained.
Based on the foregoing, notwithstanding the diversity of belief in the Islamic World, there will always be fundamentalists who adhere to the "true faith" and advocate violence until the whole World submits to Islam. Can we then honestly claim that Islam is a religion of peace? Of course not.