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Religions Spread Through Conquest

Essay by   •  October 1, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  2,513 Words (11 Pages)  •  1,901 Views

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When studying history, both in a professional and academic sense, we try to make connections between civilizations and time periods. Historians have attempted to discover universal constants of human nature, a bond that forms from continent to continent, human being to human being. Is there a constant quality that all peoples posses, and is reflected in all civilizations? Indeed, it is extremely difficult to make generalizations about centuries of modern history. To say that something is true of all of history is virtually impossible, as a counter-example exists for just about anything that can be said of any group of civilizations. To say that all religions are spread by violence is equally unfair and untrue - because contrasted religions has been spread in exceedingly diverse regions of the world, by vastly different cultures. Islam, as a prime example, has been characterized inequitably by historians and the media as a religion of violence. To put it bluntly, as this article does, "Islam was mainly spread through Arab territorial conquests (Sudo, 4)." However, upon examination, it is not fair to make the generalization that Islam is a religion of violence, and one notices when looking at world religion on a whole, one finds that Islam was no more violent than any other religion. In fact, not only is Islam not a fundamentally violent philosophy, but we can also see that many other religions normally considered "non-violent," such as Christianity or Hinduism, have been spread through bloody conquest. Thus, in searching for a universal constant of history, we ought not fall into the "fallacy of abstractions," as Sydney J. Harris keenly puts it, and assume that because of isolated incidents and conflicts of territorial ambitions, that all religions have violent tendencies. Islam has, throughout the centuries, been somewhat a victim of circumstance - indeed it has been perceived by many as oppressive and cruel. This belief originated over a thousand years ago, when Islamic peoples first threatened the western world. As they slowly undermined Byzantine authority, Christians became terrified of their presence, resulting in widespread animosity and aversion. Hindus and Buddhists of the South Asian subcontinent lived under Islamic law for hundreds of years (Ahmad, et. al., 186), and eventually, in the twentieth century, split the region into angry factions (Ahmad, et. al., 207). Mohammed, the prophet of Islam, was a great warrior. This invariably lead defeated peoples to believe that he begot a cult of war and violence. Over the centuries, it also has developed the ability to instill a sense of holy purpose onto its believers and soldiers, where they go into a battle of certain death for their faith in the jihad, or holy war. Even today, the jihad is still a potent source of conflict and aversion, as the many of the problems in the Middle East center around the issue of Islamic Fundamentalism and the jihads. Originally, Islam was perceived by western historians as a religion of violence and conquest; "by preying on the caravans of the Quraish, [Mohammed] weakened them to the point of submission (Mohammed and Islam, 1)." In fact, Mohammed was a warrior, aristocrat, and brilliant strategist - a stark contrast to many other holy men of history. He was forced to both defend his cities and force submission, as the passage had shown, because of the strong military powers of his religious predecessors and oppressors, the pagans of the Middle East. Islam means "submission" according to the Islam discussion in class - and one might assume that the submission was attained through military and forceful means. In fact, while Mohammed preached peace from 610 to 622 AD, he attracted few converts and was persecuted by the current ruling paganistic regime. After the visions of 622 AD, he realized that his cause was even more urgent than before, and only at that point did he begin to utilize his military skills (Class Discussion). However, despite the more violent nature that his quest took, even after the revelations by Gabriel in 622 AD, "by reciting his revelations aloud, Mohammed made many converts, (Mohammed and Islam,1)." Mohammed was not a purely violent man, but also a great speaker and demagogue (Mueller, 2). He did not solely attack the pagans of the Middle East, he also attracted a great deal of converts by the truths he spoke. "If he could be ruthless, he was more often gentle, kind, generous, magnanimous. He could be Christ-like in his sympathy for the poor (Mueller,2 )." Another non-violent way of spreading Islamic culture was through the merchant system which developed around its new centers of trade and culture in both Mecca and Medina (Ahmad, et. al., 572). People from all around the region would come to those cities to trade, and were attracted by the religion. As Islam developed and spread rapidly, its control quickly began to encroach on Byzantine territory where it found diverse groups of people, who resented the foreign control of the flailing western power. The people viewed the Middle Eastern Islamic conquerors as liberators from the oppressive Byzantine Empire, and welcomed both Islamic soldiers and religion. In addition to other non-violent means of conquest, when Muslims actually did militarily gain territory, they allowed other religions to grow around them. They did not force conversion by slaughter in the name of Allah, as Christians often did. The Muslims were tolerant of both foreign religions, peoples, and traders. They welcomed Far Eastern merchants into their territory. In India, while they did militarily gain control of the South Asian subcontinent, they never forced conversion, nor did they enter the territory with a religious intent. Indeed, the reason that the Hindu and Muslim clashes arose was based on religious differences, which were largely initiated by the Hindus, who viewed their conquerors as heretics - not the opposite (Ahmad, et. al., 186). In fact, that page of the text also notes that the first Delhi sultans set up hundreds of schools, hospitals, and other public establishments. The Koran was very tolerant, accepted many beliefs, and was another basis for the peaceful spread of Islam. The Koran, according to "The Koran" article and class discussions, appealed to the impoverished and the destitute - people from all walks of life could embrace the Koran, because it was targeted at them, not at the government-ranking aristocrats that most other religions were centered around, as those religions had been created for the purpose of social control, rather than deep spiritual convictions or for spiritual well-being. The Muslim needs no priest nor intermediary to pray to Allah - the only spiritual transmitter to god he needs is prayer - Islam does not even require a mosque or temple for litany. The actual religion

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