Religions Spread Through Conquest (2402 words) Essay

Religions Spread Through ConquestWhen 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.

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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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