Religions Spread Through Conquest

When studying history, both in a professional and academic sense, we try to make connections between civilizations and time periods. Historians have attempted to discover universal constants of human nature, a bond that forms from continent to continent and human being to human being. Are there constant qualities that people posses and reflect in all civilizations? It is extremely difficult to make generalizations about centuries of modern history. To say that something is true of all of history is virtually impossible, as a counter-example exists for just about anything that can be said of any group of civilizations. To say that all religions are spread by violence is equally unfair and untrue because contrasted religions have been spread in exceedingly diverse regions of the world, by vastly different cultures. Islam, as a prime example, has been characterized inequitably by historians and the media as a religion of violence. Islam was mainly spread through Arab territorial conquests (Flint, 1995). Upon examination, it is not fair to make the generalization that Islam is a religion of violence. One can see when looking at world religion on a whole that Islam was no more violent than any other religion. In fact, not only is Islam not a fundamentally violent philosophy, but we can also see that many other religions normally considered "non-violent," such as Christianity or Hinduism, have been spread through bloody conquest. Thus, in searching for a universal constant of history, we should not fall into the "fallacy of abstractions," as Betts (1997) keenly puts it, and assume that because of isolated incidents and conflicts of territorial ambitions, that all religions have violent tendencies.
Throughout the centuries Islam has been a victim of circumstance. It has been perceived by many as oppressive and cruel. This belief originated over a thousand years ago, when Islamic people first threatened the western world. As they slowly undermined Byzantine authority, Christians became terrified of their presence, resulting in widespread animosity and aversion. Hindus and Buddhists
from the South Asian subcontinent lived under Islamic law for hundreds of years. Eventually, in the twentieth century, split the region into angry factions (Johnson, 1997).
Mohammed, the prophet of Islam, was a great warrior. This invariably lead defeated people to believe that he begot a cult of war and violence. Over the centuries, it has developed the ability to instill a sense of holy purpose onto its believers and soldiers, where they go into a battle of certain death for their faith in the jihad, or holy war. The jihad is still a potent source of conflict and aversion, as many of the problems in the Middle East center around the issue of Islamic Fundamentalism and the jihads.
Originally, Islam was perceived by western historians as a religion of violence and conquest, "by preying on the caravans of the Quraish, Mohammed weakened them to the point of submission? (Anonymous, 1996). In fact, Mohammed was a warrior, aristocrat, and brilliant strategist, a stark contrast to many other holy men of history. He was forced to both defend his cities and force submission. Because of the strong military powers of his religious predecessors and oppressors, the pagans of the Middle East. One might assume that the submission was attained through military and forceful means.
While Mohammed preached peace from 610 to 622 AD, he attracted few converts and was persecuted by the current ruling paganistic regime. After the visions of 622 AD, he realized that his cause was even more urgent than before, and only at that point did he begin to utilize his military skills (Beichler, 1998). Despite the more violent nature that his quest took, even after the revelations by Gabriel in 622 AD, "by reciting his revelations aloud, Mohammed made many converts? (Thomas, 1988). Mohammed was not a purely violent man, but also a great speaker and demagogue (Beichler, 1998). He did not solely attack the pagans of the Middle East, he also attracted a great deal of converts by the truths he spoke. "If he could be ruthless, he was more often gentle, kind, generous, magnanimous. He could be Christ-like in his sympathy for the poor? (Thomas, 1998). Another non-violent way of spreading Islamic culture was through the merchant system which developed around its