Is Islam a religion of peace? The full debate from NUI Galway

by Michael Nugent on October 13, 2014

This is the full debate hosted by the NUI Galway Literary and Debating Society debate last week on the topic ‘Is Islam a religion of peace?’ The speakers are:

For the motion

  • Dr Oliver Scharbrodt, Prof of Islamic Studies at the University of Chester
  • Shaykh Dr Umar al-Qadri of the Al-Mustafa Islamic Cultural Centre
  • Abdullah al Andalusi, co-founder of the Muslim Debate Initiative

Against the motion

  • Mr Ian O’Doherty, journalist at the Irish Independent
  • Dr Mark Humphrys, lecturer at Dublin City University (DCU) and writer on religion and politics
  • Mr Michael Nugent, Chairman of Atheist Ireland

You can view and read my contribution here.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lancelot Gobbo October 13, 2014 at 10:09 pm

Good work, Michael.

2 JetLagg October 14, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Nice speech. I was frustrated by Dr Scharbrodt’s opening statements though. It seems to be a common tactic among academics (particularly philosophers, and particularly more so theologians) to begin splitting hairs until sight of the original question has been lost and victory can be claimed by default. Notice how he tries to reframe the question as one of whether or not Muslims, as individuals, are violent, ignoring that an individual’s actions will necessarily be driven by ideology, making the question “is Islam a religion of peace?” once again relevant.

It’s telling that you’ll hardly ever see a layman trying this trick (or being fooled by it).

3 piero October 14, 2014 at 8:10 pm

Thank you Michael.
I was, as usual, extremely frustrated by Islam apologists. Not only are they dishonestly refusing to see the evidence, but they do so in a snake-oil salesman style that’s really infuriating.

4 piero October 14, 2014 at 11:22 pm

I am also frustrated by the deafening silence of skepchick-brand feminists concerning violence against women in Muslim countries. It is not only judicial violence they are up against: their whole lives are punctuated by violence and oppression, every single day. Ooops, sorry: I’ve just realized that the skepchicks are cis hetero white affluent females, and hence don’t give a damn.

5 Aneris ✻ October 15, 2014 at 7:59 am

Very interesting debate and excellent job Michael, and your both fellows on your side of the motion. I liked a lot how you tackled it from various sides, by describing it in all its “rainbow colours” and how it is shackled to the past.

I think the motion “Is Islam a religion of peace?” should be fairly easy to shoot down. With the following idea.

For something to be “of peace” it must be specifically about peace. Islam is not about peace, therefore it is not a religion of peace. Most religions are not “of peace” which is not to say that they are “of violence” or “of war”, they just don’t meet the criteria to make them “of peace”.

Are there then ideologies or religions of peace out there?

Pacifism for example is a worldview of peace, since it is about the opposition to violence and war. Jainism is a religion of peace, since its core tenet is nonviolence. It is therefore possible to have a worldview or religion that deserves to be considered “of peace”, yet Islam does not meet that criteria at all and does not come even close to these two examples that can be reasonably considered “of peace”.

In fact, Islam is a religion of war and spread through fire and sabre. To say that this religion is a religion of peace is ludicrous. Islam has tenets such as jihad, which was originally understood as physical struggle, and only later, acquired the secondary meaning of internal struggle. The violence of other religions through the ages, Christian crusades for example, don’t make Islam any more peaceful.

It was rightly pointed out that Islam is a religion that is rather intimidating, as shown in the reactions to the Danish cartoons or towards Rushdie. People are rather afraid to openly criticize Islam and there are cases where organizers have cancelled events that could potentially enrage Muslims.

According to a recent study, Islamic religious fundamentalism is widespread even in Europe.

http://www.wzb.eu/en/press-release/islamic-fundamentalism-is-widely-spread

Religious fundamentalism is not a marginal phenomenon in Western Europe. This conclusion is drawn in a study published by Ruud Koopmans from the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. The author analyzed data from a representative survey among immigrants and natives in six European countries. Two thirds of the Muslims interviewed say that religious rules are more important to them than the laws of the country in which they live. Three quarters of the respondents hold the opinion that there is only one legitimate interpretation of the Koran.

It is fairly consistent with everyday observations that Muslims do not appear to fully stand behind western values and do not make a point that they value freedom of expression and other values that are a fundamental part of our western civilisation – values that are more conductive of peace than religious orthodoxy.

Unfortunately, I have the impression that at the very moment Muslims would have the opportunity, they would abolish freedoms we have in the western world. The question is not if most Muslims would do it, but what most Muslims would do if the most radical members took that action. Given the choice between modern western values or something that is closer to the identity of the Islam, would most Muslims really defend the western system? I doubt it. They don’t do it now, why would they do it then, when it’s even harder?

Lastly, if Islam was a religion of peace, then why are the areas of the world with Muslim majorities not peaceful? Once again, other places of earth are also war-torn, but the motion is specifically about the Islam. When Islam is a religion of peace, yet many Islamic countries are war-torn, then Islam is either a religion that is ineffective in bringing peace – then it wouldn’t deserve the status “of peace”. The countries in question aren’t “really Islamic” but that is clearly false or third most plausible explanation, Islam does not specifically promote peace. It is not enough here to point out that wars were fought for other reasons, since the people fighting these wars are still religious Muslims and if their religion somehow fails to make them any more peaceful, it simply is not deserving the byname “of peace”.

Finally, it would be interesting to know where this meme “religion of peace” comes from. It looks like as if it was invented by missionaries of that religion and gullible faux-liberal western media has helped to spread it with the journalist trick of adding a question mark behind it. Maybe the idea was noble, like countering bigotry and hatred against neighbour Muslims for Islamic terrorism that flickered over the news, maybe reformers of the religion started it as a goal to aspire to.

Whatever the idea was, in the past and at present, Islam is not a religion of peace.

6 Carrie October 15, 2014 at 5:45 pm

Thank you for this upload, I was able to watch it today and I agree with those who felt that the tactics of the apologists for Islam were frustrating and that your side did a great job. I also agree with

Aneris who says: For something to be “of peace” it must be specifically about peace. Islam is not about peace, therefore it is not a religion of peace. Most religions are not “of peace” which is not to say that they are “of violence” or “of war”, they just don’t meet the criteria to make them “of peace”.

They cannot be “of peace” if their holy texts, which must be believed, contain violence.

7 Michael Nugent October 15, 2014 at 11:43 pm

Jetlagg, I agree, that’s the first line of defence for Islam, conflating Islam as an ideology with Muslims as people. I always try to pre-empt that by explicitly stating that Muslims as people are as ethical as anyone else, but their natural ethics are corrupted by the ideology of Islam.

Aneris, you make some excellent points. In particular, that the areas of the world with a majority of Muslims are not peaceful. That’s also an issue that will come up in Ireland next year in our coming referendum on removing blasphemy from our constitution. We’re told that blasphemies such as the Danish cartoons lead to violence, but violent opposition to blasphemy typically takes place in Islamic countries where there are laws prohibiting blasphemy.

Carrie, yes, the texts are key to the ideology. If you build any values on supposedly unchangeable texts from a more violent era, it is inevitable that it will lead to violence.

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