History proves that religion has been one of the main causes of resentment and enmity among humans. Millions of people lost their lives fighting against each other only in the name of religion. In view of this how can we say that religion is a source of peace?
It is true that more wars have probably been fought in the name of religion than for any other reason. Nevertheless, before making any value judgments about religion based on the number of wars fought in its name, it would only be reasonable to find out whether all these wars were the result of an express directive of those religions or are they being conveniently ascribed to religion, because they were fought by religious people.
Furthermore, another important factor which should be kept in mind is that not all war is evil. It is quite well known that people have sometimes been forced into fighting a war to secure peace and justice in the world. In view of this fact, another factor, which should play an important role in our analysis of whether or not religion should be blamed for the number of wars fought in its name is the cause and the purpose for which any religion has prescribed war. If a religion prescribes upon its followers to fight against people, who are guilty of persecution, for instance, then such a war can hardly be criticized.
Finally, we should also keep in mind that man has rarely been persecuted more severely for any other cause than religion. As a result, wars that were fought against such persecution has also generally been considered as wars in the name of religion.
If all the foregoing factors were to be taken into account, it would be clear that religiously sponsored wars are restricted to those, which are fought for a just cause.
From a purely religious perspective, it is important to keep in mind that all the Abrahamic religions hold human life and property in great reverence and sanctity. Quite predictably, therefore, barring any defensive wars, these religions only allow aggression to save people from becoming targets of injustice and persecution in the name of religion and to grant them the freedom to live a life, which is in accordance with their religious beliefs and directives. The only exception from this general rule is any war fought by a Messenger of God against his rejecters, which was, in fact, a part of the Divine punishment for rejection.
In my opinion, even if some religious people have been guilty of waging unfair wars against other nations, it would not be very prudent to criticize religion for their incorrect and unjust actions. Just as it would not be very prudent to criticize the concept of nationalism merely because people like Hitler exploited the nationalistic spirit of the common man, in the same manner it does not seem fair to criticize religion for any imbalanced behavior of the religious people.
From a purely Islamic perspective, I consider religion to be a source of peace because even the wars that Islam prescribes its followers to fight are for the specific purpose of securing peace and justice.
I hope this helps.
November 3, 2001
Answer published by Moiz Amjad