I am Christian trying to understand Islam. This presents some unique challenges, but I will attempt to answer the question, "Is Islam a Religion of Peace?" From my Christian perspective. To reason this out I will attempt to make comparisons between the doctrinal and historical progressions of these two world religions.
Christian history hasn't been free of stain, but over the 2000 years Christian doctrine has spread through the world the world has climbed out of darkness. The vast majority of crimes laid at the feet of Christianity by modern historians were committed during a time of ignorance and darkness, a time when the vast majority of Christians could not read the bible for themselves, and many evil men used the ignorance of religious people to consolidate their own power. Christ's teachings, when set free and given directly to the people, has led to freedom and brotherhood in a more civil society. The freedoms responsible for the progress of western civilization were founded upon the Judeo-Christian bible and the societies a religion produces may be the best gauge of whether a religion is a religion of peace or not.
In comparison Islam seems to have progressed backwards. When Christians struggled in darkness Islam was a spark of light, but that spark was fleeting and Muslim societies moving forward have often been the enemy to freedom, civility and brotherhood. The overwhelming majority of Muslim societies are theocratic totalitarian regimes and those are the ones we can work with. The political Islamic movement sweeping the middle east now is a far worse perpetrator of oppression, carnage, and death. So how do we as Christians reconcile what we see from what we are told about the Islamic faith?
I don't want to believe that the kind of evil we see in ISIS can be a legitimate interpretation of the Muslim faith that many hold as a religion of peace. I know many good Muslim people. I respect their close nit family culture, their modesty, morality, and devotion to God. It is because of the stark contrast between Muslims I meet at my local grocery store or park in America and the disturbing movement of radical Islam burning across the globe that I find myself asking this question, which is the true measure of the religion?
It is certainly a very disturbing reality that ISIS finds the justification of their acts of barbaric murder and rape within the pages of their holy book and are able to teach the words of the prophet Muhammad in their recruitment of Islamist terrorist. At this observation some would quickly point out the barbaric acts in Christian history that were justified by appeals to the Bible, although the level of cruelty in radical Islam today isn't the most apt comparison to Christian atrocities of the past, many Christian slave masters did appealed to the bible for their justifications. As a Christian I am well versed in the Biblical arguments against such interpretations, and in that light I try to give weight to the Islamic scholars who interpret the Koran very differently than the radical Islamist.
As I have studied the arguments made by various Islamic scholars it is evident that the more peaceful passages of the Koran referenced as evidence that Islam is a religion of peace, come from the earlier revelations. Which is significant, it explains the spark of light at the beginning of the religion and the decent into war and darkness, but it explains much more than that to those who understand the nature of revelation in establishing doctrine.
As a Christian I understand how revelation provides the administration of church teaching and practice. It has been long held by Christians that ancient Mosaic law was fulfilled and supplanted by the newer revelation provided by Christ and this pattern of divine revelation holds the belief that the newer the revelation is the more correct and applicable it is to standing doctrine and practice. In Christian doctrine the newer "revelation" is the more peaceful precepts of Christ that did away with a more ancient temporal law.
It is easy to understand that in the Muslim faith many would subscribe to the same pattern of revelation, as they feel deeply that Muhammad is the mouth piece of divine law. Since the most oppressive laws of jihad used to justify ISIS atrocities in the name of God are the most recent revelations given by their prophet, radical Islamist stand on firm doctrinal ground as they teach that these passages supersede the more peaceful teachings of earlier revelations. The order of revelation within the Koran seems to explain why the "progression" of the faith has been from light to darkness, rather than the other way around.
A smaller more westernized sect of Islam has called for a Muslim Reformation of sorts. They believe that they can persuade Muslims throughout the world to reject violent interpretations in favor of more figurative understandings and peaceful interpretations. I certainly pray they are successful in their aims for without a reformation that would bring Islam into a peaceful brotherhood with western civilization we face an eventual clash of civilizations that will likely result in great death and destruction for all.
Let's analyze what form this reformation would take by comparing it to the Christian reformation. The Christian reformation came as Christians rejected some of the scriptural interpretations of Pope's when they were able to examine for themselves the teachings of the Bible. Christians discovered in the pages of their holy book that many of oppressive traditions had no biblical bases. They in essence denounced the belief that those Pope's were speaking for God in those points inconsistent with the divine revelation of Christ and his apostles. They were appealing to the words of Christ as the mouth piece of divine law and it was the law of Christ that set the stage for this reformation.
What would Muslims appeal to for their reformation? Since it is Muhammad himself who spoke in holy writ those words that provide justification for violent jihad, and not some later religious authority, would they not have to reject the latter revelations of their prophet and supplant them with the more modern teachings of moderate religious leaders in order to reform? Would this not seem to devout followers as a full rejection of the foundational premise of their faith which is that Muhammad's words were of divine origin? If Muslims do this are they not saying that their prophet was a fallen prophet and shedding doubt on all of his scriptural work?
This reasoning leads to a conclusion that must be somewhat alarming for many Muslims, a unraveling of the divine origins of their faith. This is the reason that I am not optimistic that the peaceful Islam will prevail over the more fundamental teachings that have led to theocratic totalitarianism at best and ISIS and their terrible atrocities at worst. I am simply unsure that a Muslim reformation is possible.