Is Islam a religion?

Some white nationalists are adamant that Islam is not a religion. They make statements like:

Islam is NOT a religion! It is an ORGANISATION to conquer the world and nothing less. The wars in the Middle East,….., are part of a ‘military’ strategy to win the Final Crusade against the ‘White West’.

Let’s consider the meaning of ‘religion’ to see how they might have arrived at this conclusion.

A precise definition of the concept of religion is not easy to find. However, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which collects data on religions in Australia, uses the following definition:

Generally, a religion is regarded as a set of beliefs and practices, usually involving acknowledgment of a divine or higher being or power, by which people order the conduct of their lives both practically and in a moral sense.

This means a belief in any religion can affect the way people behave towards each other. Often when we think of a religious person, we think of words like ‘good’ and ‘kind’, and picture a person who behaves in a ‘moral’ way.

According to 2011 Australian Census data, 61.1 per cent of Australians list their religion as ‘Christian’ and only 2.2 per cent as ‘Islam’. Whilst there are many forms of Islam, it is the ‘fundamentalist’ aspect of Islam that we hear about most. In many Western nations, ‘Islam’, ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘terrorism’ are automatically grouped together, especially after the September 11 attacks.

It is important to remember that there are ‘fundamentalists’ in many religions – including Christianity. Being a ‘fundamentalist’ means you believe that the founding doctrines of your particular religion are literally true and valid for all times and places, no matter how circumstances may have changed. In other words, any diversion from what a fundamentalist perceives as the original beliefs is not permitted, irrespective of the current situation.

For example, Islamic fundamentalists tend to view the modern Western world as corrupt, and seek a return to the original Islamic values and Islamic laws. Christian fundamentalists have the same view of the modern world as corrupt and they also view any revisions to traditional Christian values as corrupt, seeking a return to core Christian doctrines about biblical interpretation and the role of church in society.

This can make some fundamentalists, irrespective of their underlying religion, quite intolerant of other views – including other views within their own religion that may be more ‘relevant’ to the current times and how the world has changed. Therefore, when white nationalists talk about Islam being an ‘organisation’ aiming to change the world, rather than a religion, it is likely they are referring to the minority Islamic fundamentalists who are publicly promoting their viewpoint.

Fundamentalists from any religion tend to divide communities into two groups:

  • Believers
  • Everybody else

Some extremely committed fundamentalists are willing to go to any extreme to push their beliefs on to others because they truly believe they are right and everyone else is wrong. There are no shades of grey for these people.

In Western nations, we tend to hear about the Islamic fundamentalists the most, but there are many other aspects to the religion of Islam, and many of these aspects are quite similar to Christianity. For example, Islam recognises the importance of loving God and being a good person – just like Christianity. Islam draws on a book called the Qur’an, just like Christians refer to the Bible.

Of course, there are differences between Christianity and Islam too – but not enough to justify the ongoing political hatred and discrimination that white nationalists promote.

White nationalists would like us to ignore the religious aspects of Islam – the aspects that are so similar to Christianity and promote being kind to other people. Instead, when they say “Islam is not a religion” they seem to be only looking at one aspect of Islam: the small minority of fundamentalists who will go to any length to push their beliefs.

In other words, they’re showing the same ‘black and white’ thinking that characterises the Islamic fundamentalists they like to criticise.