“The failings and successes of religion, when all is said and done, are the failings and successes of the human race.” – Anis Obeid, author of The Druze & Their Faith in Tawhid (Contemporary Issues in the Middle East)
All authentic religions encompass the entirety of the human experience. While religions may appear to differ in terms of how they define God or the Divine, or Ultimate Truth/Reality, their moral teachings, their views of life after death, and how to relate to other humans as well as to the Divine, they are all challenged by the full range of human behavior.
The religions rooted in Abraham (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) can be seen as one continuously evolving tradition – the “religions of the book” in that each produced a sacred book or testament. For Judaism, it is the Torah and what we now know as the Old Testament. Christianity is based upon the Old Testament laws and prophets, but adds a New Testament that reveals the life and teachings of Jesus, the spiritual way of love. In Islam, the revelation comes through the Koran, dictated through Mohammed who never claimed to be more than an ordinary illiterate man, and referring often to both the teachings of the Torah and of Jesus. The step that Islam takes beyond that of Judaism and then Christianity is the step into brotherhood. It takes the teaching of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you,” and makes it central to daily life and spiritual connection. I have personally witnessed and experienced the depth of brotherly (and sisterly) love in Islam, and can vouch for the fact that I have never seen its corollary in the churches of my experience here in the West.
As in all things, one can take a religion, or any teaching, at a whole succession of levels from primitive to enlightened. It has to do, of course, with the level of development of the individual practicing the religion. As people grow into spiritual maturity, they become more humble, more inclusive, more merciful and kind, more light-hearted, and more gentle with all living things. Those who have fully embraced the teachings of Islam with their hearts abhor violence, as do the spiritually awakened of all religions. It is simply a higher state of consciousness that has come to realize that we are all interconnected, that ultimately we are one unity of being.
At earlier stages of development, things seem much more black and white. Religion here tends to be exclusive (‘if you don’t share our beliefs, you are an animal, or a devil, but not truly human in a good way – and therefore it’s okay to annihilate you in order to purify our world. We’re actually doing God’s cleansing work’). That kind of thinking has led to genocides based on spiritual, rather than political, considerations. The Catholic Church, via a Papal Bull in the 15th century, declared all non-Christians to be sub-human and therefore to be treated as any other animals – domesticated, enslaved, exploited, etc. It was originally aimed at Africa’s Ivory Coast, but was applied in America from the time of the first European settlers. Our Native Americans are still managed by the Department of the Interior, along with other flora and fauna of our great nation. This reflects a state of consciousness – a stage of human development – that is still quite limited in scope and understanding.
So my answer to the question is: as long as human beings are the ones practicing Islam or any authentic religion, we can expect to see the whole range of human behaviors from love to violence, with selective spiritual teachings or scriptures offered as rationales for those behaviors. It is not the religion itself which at times leads to appalling situations, but rather how that religion is interpreted by its less matured adherents.