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Religions Spread Through Conquest

.. (with perhaps the exception of Aztec), are equally as violent as Islam, if not more so. Perhaps the religion that has perhaps shaped the world 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 is it 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, 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 (Beichler, 1998). Christianity is certainly not without its bloody conquest, as the most blatant example is that of the Crusades.

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The Christians of the middle-ages interpreted the Crusades as 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 and bringing it back into the light of Christianity. 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 people not for the purpose of not only religion, but gold as well. The primary reason that Christianity remains the ubiquitous religion in Latin America is that 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, the Islamic people attracted converts from an economic standpoint and came to absorb many conquered people, as evident in the cultural blending of South Asia (Cobb, 1998). Spaniards burned books, temples, and sculptures, and quelled all rebellion by the once mighty Americans. 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 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 transmitted 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 (cobb, 1998), and Sikh and Tamil rebel groups rebel against their authority.

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. 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 (Anonymous, 1996) 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 Dominate 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 false 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 more noble purpose. Would our world perhaps have been a better place? That question can never be answered. We do know 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. Bibliography Flint, Julie. (November 1995) On the wrong side of a jihad.

World Press Review, v42n11 37-38 Betts, Robert Brenton (September 1997) The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude/ Traditional Egyptian christianity: A history of the Coptic Orthodox Church. Middle East Policy, v5n3 200-203 Johnson, James Turner (October, 1997) Aristocratic Violence and Holy War: Studies in the Jihad and the Arab-Byzantine Frontier. American Historical Review, v102n4 1195-1196 Anonymous (January 1996) Religion in review — Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam. Publishers Weekly, v243n2 32 Cobb, Paul M (July, 1998) Aristocratic Violence and Holy War: Studies in the Jihad and the Arab-Byzantine Frontier. Speculum, v73n3 813-814 Beichler, James E (Winter 1998) The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From Jihad to Dhimmitude, Seventh-Twentieth Century. Journal of Ecumenical Studies. V35n1 v35n1 22-58 Thomas, David (May 1998) The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam, From Jihad to Dhimmitude.

British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies v25n1 183-185.


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