5
Feb

We Muslims like to believe that ours is “a religion of peace,” but today Islam looks more like a religion of conflict and bloodshed. From the civil wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen to internal tensions in Lebanon and Bahrain, to the dangerous rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Middle East is plagued by intra-Muslim strife that seems to go back to the ancient Sunni-Shiite rivalry.

Religion is not actually at the heart of these conflicts — invariably, politics is to blame. But the misuse of Islam and its history makes these political conflicts much worse as parties, governments and militias claim that they are fighting not over power or territory but on behalf of God. And when enemies are viewed as heretics rather than just opponents, peace becomes much harder to achieve.

This conflation of religion and politics poisons Islam itself, too, by overshadowing all the religion’s theological and moral teachings. The Quran’s emphasis on humility and compassion is sidelined by the arrogance and aggressiveness of conflicting groups.

This is not a new problem in Islam. During the seventh-century leadership of the Prophet Muhammad, whose authority was accepted by all believers, Muslims were a united community. But soon after the prophet’s death, a tension arose that escalated to bloodshed. The issue was not how to interpret the Quran or how to understand the prophet’s lessons. It was about political power: Who — as the caliph, or successor to the prophet — had the right to rule?

Published in the nytimes.com by

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