Реферат: Religions Spread Through Conquest Essay Research Paper

Religions Spread Through Conquest Essay, Research Paper

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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