Since 11 September 2001 when Islamic extremism really thrust itself to the forefront of the Western mind with deadly venom, there has been much talk of the 'subversion' of the 'true Islam'. Repeatedly we have been told that Islam is a religion of peace. Indeed the Home Secretary Theresa May as recently as September 2014 stated that the actions ISIS 'have absolutely no basis in anything written in the Quran'.
For the most part this trend has continued in the aftermath of the appalling attacks in Paris. The French President Francois Hollande is quoted as saying the recent attackers have 'nothing in common' with Islam. There has recently, however, been some divergence from this view. The most well publicised on social media has probably been American comedian Bill Maher's attack on Islam as a whole, the broad thrust of his argument being 'when there's this many bad apples, there's something wrong with the orchard'.
Many people seem to have condemned these attacks of Islam as a whole as being either 'bigoted' or 'racist' and thus tried to shut the argument down before it has even begun. I do feel though that this will no longer wash with the general public. I sense that there is a genuine need and desire for the public to be informed as to exactly what 'mainstream Islam' does teach. There has been virtually no sustained public academic and theological argument in the face of extremism that I am aware of. Without such an argument I fear that there is an increasing danger of all Muslims being tarred with the same brush.
There is also a tendency in the media to simply shrug Islamic extremists off as slightly unhinged individuals motivated in the main by factors other than Islam. To ignore the Islamic element is in my opinion a cheap cop out that only serves to silence the voices of peaceful Muslims who, I hope, are looking to defend their religion that is apparently being so gruesomely twisted. The gunmen in the recent attacks were heard to say 'we have avenged the Prophet Muhammad'. There can be no doubt that Islam, twisted by fanatics or not, is a central motivation in Islamic terrorism.
Therefore what does Islam say about violence and martyrdom? In trying to find the answers to these questions I stumbled across a rather interesting website (right at the top of any google search) called, www.thereligionofpeace.com. The website quite clearly has an agenda to give a negative view of Islam, however I do feel that it raises some important questions. Aside from the rather crude counting of Islamic terror attacks since 9/11 on the homepage (24826 by its reckoning) the website provides the reader with direct quotations from the Quran, something curiously absent from the public debate, compared with the way Leviticus is thrown about in Christian debates for example.
The website claims that the Quran has at least 109 verses sanctioning violence against non-believers amongst them verses 2:191-193 that state: 'And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah [disbelief] is worse than killing...but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful. And fight them until there is no more Fitnah [disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah] and worship is for Allah alone. But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against Az-Zalimun (the polytheists, and wrong-doers, etc.)" This example taking particular priority according to the website as it does not relate to war in terms of 'self-defence'.
The website is littered with other such examples of Quranic quotation on various topics. Now I am no way advocating such a one sided view of Islam and I am sure (or at least I hope) that there are many other verses in the Quran promoting tolerance and peace. The simple truth is the public does not get to hear them. It is time for there to be a serious effort from the mainstream Muslim community to put their views in the public domain and condemn in academic and theological terms the ideas of ISIS and Al Qaeda.
It is no longer in anyone's interest for the silent majority of Muslims to remain silent. To do so would not only risk the Muslim community losing the battle with extremism from within but also I fear lead to a backlash from society at large. It is not bigotry or racism to ask questions about a religion. Now is the time for answers.