Christians often like to contrast Jesus (P) and Muhammad (P) by saying that Jesus (P) was a man of love and peace while Muhammad (P) was a man of war and implemented “violent” laws. But we must realize that Jesus’ (P) career was cut short by his departure. Had he succeeded in his first coming to complete his mission there can be no doubt that his career would have involved some use of force. As we have seen, the New Testament says that during his second coming when his mission will be completed he will come with a rod of iron. And there is evidence that even during his first coming, in a lowly and weak position, he was not totally against the use of force. Some gospel traditions suggest that his disciples carried arms which one of them used1 and he himself initiated the arming of the disciples2, although the gospel writers in various contradictory ways try to minimize the implications of these traditions. He reportedly said that he did not come with peace but with sword3. He turned the tables of traders in the Jerusalem temple4, which is an act of physical force. Some scholars even suggested that Jesus (P) and his disciples were well-armed and they came to Jerusalem to free Palestine from the Romans, but this is highly improbable.
Had Jesus’ mission come to some type of completion during his ministry he would have looked very similar to Muhammad. On the other hand, had the Prophet Muhammad (P) been killed during his migration from Makkah, he would have appeared like Prophet Jesus, on whom be peace. The prophets and messengers of God are all essentially of the same spirit. Any differences among them are due to the scope of their work and the circumstances in which they operate.
Proper use of force can usually take place within a system of law which is enforced by a legitimate authority. Wars and violence are often the result of a lack of existence of such a system of law and a legitimate authority to enforce it. This was the case in the Arabian peninsula where different tribes lived without any well-defined system of law and without any recognized authority to enforce it. The world as a whole has also been in a similar situation so far. There are often wars because there is no well-established system of law and no legitimate authority to enforce it. After the World War II such a system is slowly evolving. But this process will not succeed without the principles of faith in God and the hereafter and of the brotherhood/sisterhood of all human beings. It is one of the missions of Islam to establish these principles in the world and to thereby lead it to peace and stability. That is, what the Prophet (P) achieved during his life in Arabia in terms of reconciling the hearts of the various Arab tribes, Islam wants to achieve in the world as a whole by reconciling different nations and groups and to bring them under a single brotherhood/sisterhood serving the one true transcendent God.
As it is well known, the Prophet Muhammad (P) engaged in warfare, most of the time defensive. This use of force proceeds from love. Before the Prophet(P), Arabia was inhabited by tribes who were not under any system of law enforced by a legitimate authority. There was no mechanism to settle disputes which often led to feuds that continued for many generations. The Prophet Muhammad (P) united these tribes into a single brotherhood so that there may not be any violence. The Qur’an itself refers to this:
And remember the favour of God on you: how you were enemies and He reconciled your hearts so that you became as brothers by the grace of God; and how you were at the brink of an abyss of fire and He saved you from it5
This unification, however, could not have taken place without resistance which made some warfare necessary.
During all the battles that the Prophet (P) fought, only a few hundred people were killed. And after victory all those who for years fought the Prophet (P) were forgiven. There was nothing like the treatment of the subjugated people that we see in the Bible. When the city of Makkah was conquered, the Qur’an did not tell the Prophet (P) to kill everything that breathes but rather said the following:
When comes the help of God, and Victory, and thou (O Prophet) dost see the people enter the religion of God in crowds, Celebrate the praises of thy Lord, and pray for His forgiveness: for He is Oft-Returning (in grace and mercy)6
Warfare requires some consolidation of one’s troops and in Qur’an, 60: 1-6 the Qur’an brings its followers on a war footing. But in the middle of preparing the Muslims for war, the possibility of love and reconciliation with the enemies is held out.
It may be that God will generate love between you and those of them with whom you are now at enmity. God is capable (of all things); God is forgiving and merciful7
It is indeed unholy to instigate violence, but that does not mean that any and all acts of violence is wrong. There are violence which are senseless and not right at all, and there are violence which is unavoidable and justifiable. Islam is against the former but allows the latter only in certain and limited cases. The Prophet Muhammad (P) clearly showed how to combine the two: violence and love.
And only God knows best.