Islam Means Peace

I have been called a bigot twice in the past week. To be honest, I am not at all offended. Whatever the origin of the word “bigot” (from French meaning a religious hypocrite, perhaps originally from German “bei Gott” or by God), the contemporary meaning of the word is increasingly one who tells truths the left doesn’t want to hear.

The first time was I was called a bigot was over my insistence that Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner is still a man no matter how strongly he feels that he is a woman. To tell the truth, I am just about over that particular struggle against reality. In fact, I would have nothing to say about Mr. Jenner’s life choices were it not that it illustrates a distressing tendency among our intellectual and media elite to consider that feelings and words determine the nature of reality better than actual, empirical observations and facts.  But enough of that.

The second time, I was not personally called a bigot. A Facebook friend of a friend posted a link and video describing some recent atrocities committed by some practitioners of the Religion of Peace. Someone commented that these people were violent extremists and their actions in no way reflected the real beliefs of the vast majority of peaceful Moslims. After all, he asserted, Islam means peace. I, and several others, including the author of the post, responded by posting quotations from the Koran and pointed out that people in the Islamic State have been following the example of Mohammed. He responded in the usual logical fashion by calling the lot of us bigots. Naturally, I was intrigued by the question of the etymology of the word Islam so I did a little research.

Islam is an Arabic word, of course, and Arabic is a member of the Semitic family of languages along with Hebrew, Aramaic, Amharic, and many others. One thing that the Semitic languages have in common is that most words are formed from roots, usually of three consonants, with express basic concepts. The actual words are formed by adding vowels and affixes. The triconsonantal root that seems to be most often used as an example in textbooks and Wikipedia is K-T-B, which essentially means to write or something written. Some of the words in Arabic formed from the root K-T-B include kataba “he wrote”, yahtub “he writes”, kitab “book”, katib “writer”, maktab “desk” or “office” and many others. Hebrew also forms words from the K-T-B root, such as katabu “I wrote”. The word Islam is derived from the root S-L-M, which does mean peace, among other concepts. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, is derived from the S-L-M root as is the Arabic for peace, salaam. Jerusalem and Solomon are names derived from S-L-M. So, etymologically, Islam is derived from the same root as peace.

But, there is more to the meaning of S-L-M than “peace” and the word peace itself often means more than simply the absence of conflict. The full meaning of S-L-M includes the concepts of being whole, safe, secure, in health. Shalom and salaam used as greetings mean more than simply wishing the person greeted to be at peace, but also include a wish that for the person to be in good health and to prosper. And, as we have seen from the words derived from K-T-B, a concept expressed by a triconsonantal root can cover a range of meanings. The more precise meaning of the word Islam is submission to the will of Allah, which brings peace and well being.

Most people in countries that have been attacked by Islamic terrorists believe that these terrorists are monsters, or cowardly extremists who have distorted the peaceful tenets of Islam. Surely, most the majority of Muslims want to live in peace. Only a bigoted Islamophobe would state that all Muslims are violent or that Islam encourages terrorism. This belief may be comforting to those who do not wish to face hard facts, but it is not useful because it is not true.  The terrorists have more support in the Islamic world than many in the West are willing to acknowledge. This does not mean that all Muslims are terrorists or killers, but a large number are on the side of the terrorists and we ought to try to understand why.

Few people fight wars just for the sake of fighting. In almost every case, those who go to war fight to make a peace more advantageous or more just for their side. The allies went to war against Nazi Germany in order to bring about a peace in which the Nazis were destroyed. If the Nazis had been victorious in World War II, there would have been peace, but not the peace that the allies would consider a just peace. When the Muslims say they follow a religion of peace, they are being completely honest. Extremists like the late Osama bin Ladin and the Islamic State do not fight and commit terrorist acts just for the sake of violence. They want peace as much as we do. The difference is that their idea of a just peace is one where the entire world is in proper submission to Allah and Islam is the the dominant, if not the only, religion. A peace in which Islam co-exists peaceably with other religions would not be not a just or honorable peace since it leaves large numbers of people still in rebellion against Allah.

We like to say that the terrorists are monsters and their acts are senseless, but they do not see themselves in that way. They believe that they are fighting for a better world and from their point of view, we in the West, are the aggressors. The West and particularly the United States plays a vastly disproportionate role in setting the cultural and political norms throughout the world and our values are often hostile to the values of many devout Muslims. We believe our values, like treating women like human beings, not stoning gays, democratic governments that protect freedom of religion, are universal value held by all people of good will. They find such such values to be alien and repugnant, an offense against the divine law. When Westerners state that Islam should modernize and become more tolerant, they interpret it as an invitation to return to the state of Jahiliyyah, the time of pre-Islamic ignorance. Imagine how you might feel if your faith and your cherished values were under attack in the books, movies, music, etc put out by a foreign culture that dominates the world of entertainment. (Well, actually if you are a conservative Christian you don’t have to imagine it.) Mark Steyn and others worry about the emergence of Eurabia. Many in the Islamic world worry about the seductions of Western culture.

This is why many Muslims who are good people who do want to live in peace feel sympathy for terrorists and Jihadists. They want a world at peace and in its proper place under submission to Allah and His law. That is also why drawing a connection between Islam and terrorism is not ignorant bigotry but an understanding why many Muslims believe we are an enemy that they must fight. Pretending a problem does not really exist does not make it go away and ignorance is seldom bliss.

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