Religions Spread Through Conquest


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 of Islam preaches decidedly against violence and speaks out 
against aggression. "The concept of jihad refers to. inner spiritual 
struggle of Muslims for self control in order to do good (Sudo, 5)." 
Actually, the average Muslim is not violent, nor is he driven by any 
form of holy conquest. Islam has been unfairly depicted as a religion 
spread through Jihad and the lure of riches and conquest. But Islam, 
the most unlikely of candidates, has been, throughout the centuries, a 
relatively tolerant religion. It has never believed in any form of 
religious genocide, nor had any inquisitions or messianic crusades, as 
religions of many other parts of the world did. In fact Akbar I of 
1556-1605 AD, the third ruler of the Mughal Empire, took the ultimate 
steps toward tolerance, by marring a Hindu princess, and allowing 
Hindus a strong role in the government (Ahmad, et. al., 187). The 
wars that Islam fought have been rather secular, despite the fact that 
their government often was not. However, the same cannot be said of 
Christian, Hindu, and Aztec government, all which had strong ties to 
both violence and conquest, and indeed, while often are characterized 
as non-violent forms of religion (with perhaps the exception of 
Aztec), are equally as violent as Islam, if not more so.
 Perhaps the religion which has perhaps shaped the world, for 
better or worse, more than any other religion, has been Christianity. 
 This is not to deny the roles of the vast numbers of religions in 
many parts of the world, nor which is to say that Christianity has 
been particularly unique. Despite the fact that the Western world 
likes to set European man and Christians apart from the rest of the 
world, their connection to imperialism, mercantilism, and social 
conquest is undeniably real. While Islam is seen by many as a violent 
religion because of its origins and the popularization of the term 
'jihad,' they have never had far-reaching imperialistic goals, nor 
have they preceded their soldiers with missionaries. Christians, 
however, as we have studied, were instrumental in the undoing of 
Africa, and in fact the seeds that the pious missionaries of Europe 
planted into African society eventually lead to the destabilization of 
centuries of culture and hierarchy. The missionaries poured into 
Africa, only to be followed by soldiers and company men - it was the 

foothold of the missionaries that allowed Europeans to eventually 
dominate the continent All of which was done in the name of "saving 
enlightening the heathens." Christianity is certainly not without its 
bloody conquest, as the most blatant example is that of the Crusades, 
which were, to Christians of the middle ages, the very symbol of their 
faith. The Christians ventured towards the holy land with the sole 
purpose of killing the 'infidels' and ridding the holy land of all 
Islamic influence, bringing it back into the light of Christianity. 
However, the Muslims in the holy land provided important technology 
for the Christians. In all truths, Christianity was spread to Latin 
America in a most brutal fashion. The Spaniards murdered millions of 
Indians, and wiped out civilizations of peoples not for the purpose of 
not only religion, but gold! The primary reason that Christianity 
remains the ubiquitous religion in Latin America is because the 
Spaniards forced conversion of their Indian slaves - something that 
Islamic conquerors rarely did. In fact they charged a tax on their 
non-Muslim subjects, which eventually lead to conversion by choice 
rather than by force. Christians in the Americas came to dominate the 
continent by using their superior technology to forcefully overwhelm, 
enslave, or force conversion on inhabitants, in contrast to the 
Islamic people, who attracted converts from an economic standpoint, 
but also came to absorb many conquered peoples, as evident in the 
cultural blending of South Asia, which eventually fell apart for 
secular reasons (Ahmad, et. al., 186). Spaniards burned books, 
temples, and sculptures, and quelled all rebellion by the once mighty 
Americans (Ahmad, et. al., 46). The Spanish enslaved the Indians of 
Central and South America, while the British, Dutch, and French 
enslaved the Africans. 
 Another religion with ties to violence is Hinduism. While that 
may perhaps be a startling revelation, history proves that it has had 
many violent incidents and tendencies. It was originally a product of 
the early Aryans, a war-like people who stormed into South Asia, 
sacking cities and eventually covering virtually all traces of the 
early culture of the Indus Valley. These Aryans transmuted their 
beliefs onto the now helpless people of the Indus river, and created 
what would eventually be Hinduism. While Hinduism remained relatively 
non-violent throughout the centuries, when the first Muslim invaders 
appeared and they clashed in both a philosophical and violent sense. 
Hindu violence returned in the mid-twentieth century, when they 
finally regained control of India. They smashed a Muslim temple at 
Ayodhya (Ahmad, et. al., 207), and Sikh and Tamil rebel groups rebel 
against their authority. However, what is even more notable about 
Hinduism, is its rigid caste system, in which peoples have set social 
classes, that are totally unchangeable, and are products of the 
religion. The untouchables were considered as low as animals, and 
forced to do menial work such as sweeping and leather working. They 
were forced into a life of separatism, and the rest of Hindu culture 
either ignored them completely or hated them. And on the other side 
of the world, in Central America, the Aztec people were powerful 
warriors, who swept across the Mexican plains, conquering villages and 
whole peoples (Ahmad, et. al., 450). Their religion consisted of 
brutal human sacrifices of enemy slaves - in fact the sacrifices grew 
so many in number that they were watching their population decline 
significantly, which eventually allowed the Spanish invaders to 
overcome them. When we look at the aggregate spectrum of cultures and 
religions, we see a significant relationship between religions and 
violence, one could conclude that much of the world's problems today 
are echoes of past religious exploits in places such as Latin America, 
India, and Africa.
 To say that religion on a whole is violent and counter 
productive would be a massive abstraction - and a false one too. In 
fact, the purpose of this essay is not to denigrate the notion of 
organized religion, but to clarify the purpose of the Islamic 
religion, and to dispel the commonly held notion that Islam is solely 
a cult of violence. Through the ages, religion brought light to 
literally billions of people. It has inspired artists, scientists, 
writers and scholars. It was the founding basis of Western 
Civilization, and our entire society. We cannot deny it's overriding 
role in our history. The purpose of this essay is also not to 
contrast Islam as good and Christianity as bad. Truly, Islam, when 
closely examined, is a rather tolerant and non-violent religion - it 
has no history of imperialism, nor has it ever forced the conversion 
of mass people. Whatever violence it has created, it is at least not 
any worse than any other religion. In summary, it is not fair to say 
that religions are fundamentally violent, nor does it do justice the 
study of history, which indeed proves to us that often religion had a 
far nobler purpose. Would our world perhaps have been a better place? 
 That question can never be answered We do know, however, that 
religion was both violent and beneficial - to classify it as one or 
the other would not do it justice. However, we will continue our 
search for the universal constant, and perhaps the study of religion 
will someday bring us closer to the truth.


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