Is Islam A Religion Of Peace?

October 13, 2010

NPR Staff

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In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, President George W. Bush characterized Islam as a religion of peace. Many people agree with that belief, saying the vast majority of Muslims live peaceful lives.

But others counter that the roots of Islam include violent leaders, teachings and scripture.

A team of experts argued both sides of the motion "Islam Is a Religion of Peace" in a recent Intelligence Squared U.S. debate. Two argued in favor and two against.

Before the Oxford-style debate at New York University's Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, the audience voted 41 percent in favor of the motion and 25 percent against. Thirty-four percent were undecided. After the debate, however, 55 percent disagreed that "Islam Is a Religion of Peace," 36 percent supported the motion and 9 percent were still unsure.

John Donvan, correspondent for ABC News' Nightline, moderated the Oct. 6 debate. Those debating were:

FOR THE MOTION

Maajid Nawaz is director of the Quilliam Foundation. Formerly, Nawaz served in the U.K. national leadership for the Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir and was involved in HT for almost 14 years. He was a founding member of HT in Denmark and Pakistan. He eventually served four years in an Egyptian prison and was adopted by Amnesty International as a "prisoner of conscience." In prison, Maajid gradually began changing his views until he finally renounced the Islamist ideology for traditional Islam and inclusive politics. He now engages in counter-Islamist thought-generating, writing and debating.

Zeba Khan is a writer and advocate for Muslim-American civic engagement. Born and raised in Ohio by devout Muslim parents, she attended Hebrew school for nine years while actively participating in her local Muslim community. In 2008, she launched Muslim-Americans for Obama, an online network to mobilize Muslim-American voters in support of the Obama presidential campaign. Since then, she continues to work on issues of Muslim-American civic engagement and was recognized for her work by the American Society for Muslim Advancement as a 2009 Muslim Leader of Tomorrow.

AGAINST THE MOTION

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia and raised a devout Muslim. She escaped an arranged marriage by immigrating to the Netherlands in 1992 and served as a member of the Dutch parliament for three years. She has since become an active critic of fundamentalist Islam, an advocate for women's rights and a leader in the campaign to reform Islam. She has also become a target of death threats by Islamic extremists. Hirsi Ali is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of The Caged Virgin (2006), Infidel (2007) and Nomad (2010). She is the founder of the AHA Foundation, whose mission is to defend the rights of women in the West against militant Islam and tribal custom.

Douglas Murray is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. He is also founder and director of the Centre for Social Cohesion, a nonpartisan think-tank in Westminster, London, that focuses on radicalization and has published work on both Islamist and far-right extremism. Murray is a columnist for Standpoint magazine and writes for many other publications. In 2005, he published the critically acclaimed Neoconservatism: Why We Need It, which Christopher Hitchens praised as "a very cool but devastating analysis." He is a co-author of the NATO strategy report, "Towards a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World: Renewing Transatlantic Partnership." Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.