Are there two different versions of Islam?

Every time there is an instance of Islamic terrorism, we hear debates about what Islam teaches. Many Muslims say that Islam is a peaceful religion and that anyone who commits violence in the name of Islam is following a perversion of Islam. On the other hand, radical Muslims declare that any Muslims who will not employ violence to further the cause of Islam are following a perversion of Islam. So, which side is correct?

A brief Islamic history lesson will help to properly understand the dichotomy. Note: the following is a condensed and likely over-simplified description of the events.

Muhammad, the founder of Islam, initially began preaching his message in the city of Mecca. In the beginning, Muhammad's message was one of peace. He wanted to convert Jews, Christians, and polytheists to his version of monotheism. His new revelations were not accepted, for the most part, by the populace. Muhammad gained a small following, but was eventually forced to flee from Mecca.

Muhammad fled to Medina, where again, his message was not well received. But, Muhammad steadily grew a devoted following. Once this following of first generation Muslims grew powerful, it turned to violence in order to achieve its goals. The previous message of peace was virtually discarded, and convert or die became the modus operandi. Muhammad and his followers took control of Medina, and then returned and conquered Mecca.

The Qur’an contains record of the revelations, primarily peaceful, that Muhammad received when he was in Mecca. The Qur’an also contains record of the revelations, often violent, that Muhammad received when he was in Medina. Some Islamic scholars argue that the violent verses must be interpreted in the context of the seventh century Middle Eastern culture and/or that they only advocate violence for defense or in response to severe persecution. Other Muslim scholars claim that the newer revelations from Medina supersede the older revelations from Mecca and that therefore the violent version of Islam is the true version.

So, which version of Islam is correct, Mecca Islam or Medina Islam? Who is correct about how to properly interpret the Qur’an, the peaceful Muslims or the violent Muslims? I don't know. I am not a Qur’anic scholar, nor will I ever be. I have tried to read the Qur’an, but got extremely frustrated with how it is organized. The Surahs (chapters) in the Qur’an are not organized chronologically, but by the longest Surah to the shortest Surah. It is very difficult to understand without knowing the context and background of each Surah. If Muslims ever produce a "study Qur’an" and/or a "chronological Qur’an," I might give it another try.

But, my inability to, or, more accurately, my lack of desire to understand the Qur’an is not the point. There are millions of Muslims who believe the Mecca/peaceful approach to be true Islam, and there are millions of Muslims who believe the Medina/violent approach to be true Islam. Apparently, both are plausible interpretations of the Qur’an, and therefore, valid versions of Islam. If significant numbers of Muslims either publicly or privately endorse the Medina version of Islam, it is not a perversion of Islam. Rather, it is a part of Islam. It is a result of Muhammad quickly abandoning his message of peace once he met some resistance.

I completely recognize that the majority of Muslims are peaceful, with no desire for violence and/or acts of terrorism. I also understand that there is far more about peace and submission to Allah in the Qur’an than there is about violence. But, the Qur’an does indeed teach violence. The Qur’an does contain verses that can, fairly easily, be employed to support terrorism.

I suppose if Christians only read the book of Judges, it could lead them to believe that violence was God’s way of accomplishing His will. Yes, the Old Testament contains a lot of violence. Yes, God commanded the Israelites to commit acts of warfare and violence in the Old Testament. But, the vast majority of Christians (aside from the ever present Judaizers) understand that the Old Testament is descriptive, in that we are to learn from it (1 Corinthians 10:6-11), but not prescriptive, in that it is not a message that Christians are to follow (Romans 10:4; Galatians 3:23-25; Ephesians 2:15). The New Testament nowhere instructs Christians to resort to violence. The kingdom of Christ is about salvation and spiritual transformation (Romans 12:1-2). His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36; Luke 17:21).

The Qur’an is the opposite. It began as a message of peace, but quickly turned violent. Muhammad initially attempted to reason people into his peaceful version of monotheism. When that didn't work, he resorted to violence. Historically speaking, violence has always been a core aspect of Islam. It has virtually always been invading and oppressing. Islamic terrorism is simply Islam's violent tendencies applied to the modern easy availability of guns and explosives.

Which version of Islam is the perversion? Both. It does not matter which version of Islam is the true version of Islam. Both are perversions...of the truth. Islam is ultimately a false message about a false god taught by a false prophet.

While I would greatly prefer that all Muslims be of the Mecca/peaceful variety, in terms of eternity, it does not matter which version of Islam a Muslim follows. Islam is a false religion. I would much prefer all Muslims come to know Jesus.

Jesus declared, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

S. Michael Houdmann

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Are there two different versions of Islam?