(Draft Article) Answer to Objection: Islam and Muslims are abnormally violent

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By MuslimAnswers.net Team

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيم

One of the recurring allegations we hear about time and again concerning the pure Islamic religion is that there is something intrinsically violent within the teachings of Islam which drives the Muslims towards perpetrating levels of violence –and particularly deadly violence- not seen among the non-Muslim peoples.

In this article we will show that for the past 65 years – since 1945- the “teachings of Islam” cannot be blamed for a number of deaths that is disproportionate to the world average for the same time period. We hope that by doing this, a great many Muslims and non-Muslims will see that there is nothing abnormally ruthless or violent about the application of the teachings of Islam when compared to the non-Muslim ideologies and ways of life. Before we move ahead, though, there are a few points that we wish to bring up:

1.     We try to avoid those issues dealing with the rules and regulations of Islam (or some may say, the physical consequences of Islamic laws), since the truth of Islam should be analyzed based on its logical premises, such as the Islamic concept of the Divine Being and how this is superior to the other ideologies/religions espoused around the world. However, since there are so many objections to Islam being “abnormally violent”, we wanted to show that even according to this viewpoint brought up by our opponents, there is nothing particularly violent or strange about the Islamic religion or the Muslim people.[1]

2.   We have chosen the year 1945 as our staring point since this is the year when World War II ended and the United Nations was formed. The importance of the latter event is that when our opponents bring up the notion that Islamic teachings “violate human rights” or that Muslims do not respect “universal human values”, they are referring to those rules and regulations as drafted and promulgated by the United Nations and its sister organizations.[2]

3.     Not only should we include wars in our tabulation, but it is also necessary to add deaths by government-sponsored plans and tactics that lead to deaths within a given country. This is also necessary, since our opponents maintain that an Islamic system of governance leads to an exorbitant number of deaths, so we should expect our opponents to keep in mind all those who are killed by systems of governance other than Islam.

4.     For the number of deaths we have mostly relied on Matthew White’s website (http://users.erols.com/mwhite28/index.htm), along with some figures from other sites for the more recent conflicts that may not be included in White’s site.

5.     When presenting such numbers, we concede that there is a great deal of divergence between different estimates of those killed in conflicts, and White’s estimates seem to keep this reality in consideration.

6.     We have chosen to include only those conflicts/situations that have caused 50 thousand or more deaths. This is because once the major conflicts with the greatest number of deaths are taken into consideration, the conflicts or situations that follow- even if numerous- do not change our grand total by a lot, nor do they modify any conclusions we may reach through analyzing such numbers.

7.     If some of the readers –for ideological or nationalist reasons- feel that some of those listed as “killed” should be removed or greatly reduced due to the reader’s loyalty to a particular regime or leader, then this is a decision that will not modify our broad conclusions all that much. For example, if someone feels that Stalin’s regime was in fact good for the Soviet Union, or that the killings done under communism were at most a “necessary evil”, we would look at this as an opportunity to engage with such a person about the ideology of communism and show to them how Islam is superior and how Islam is the truth.[3]

After bringing up these matters, we will present the estimates first for all the people who have been killed in known wars, conflicts, and repressive regimes since 1945[4].


Time Period

Estimated Number of Killed

Mao Zedong’s regime



Soviet Union



Second Indochina War



DR Congo Civil War

1998 onwards


Korean War



North Korea

1950 onwards


Sudan Civil Wars

1955,1972, 1983 onwards


Chinese Civil War



Post-War Expulsion of Germans from East Europe



Afghanistan Invasion by Soviet Union, Civil War



Ethiopia (minus Ogaden and Eritrean Wars)



Cambodia, Khmer Rouge



Rwanda and Burundi



Bangladesh War of Liberation



Nigerian coups, Biafran War



Second Iraq War

2003 onwards





Iran-Iraq War




1950 onwards


Yugoslavia, Tito’s Regime



Algerian War of Independence



Partition of India



Angolan Civil War



Somali Civil War

1991 onwards


First Indochina War



Indonesian political violence



Vietnam, post-war regime

1975 onwards


Iraq UN sanctions

1990 onwards


East Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Albania, Czechoslovakia under Communism



Uganda, Idi Amin’s regime



Iraq, Saddam Hussein regime



Ugandan Bush War



Kurdistan political violence

1980’s, 1990’s


Liberia civil war, political violence



Zaire Civil War



Russian intervention in Chechnya

1994 onwards


Ogaden War, Eritrean War of Independence



Cambodian Civil War



Colombia Violence (Bogotazo)



Guatemalan civil war, political violence



East Timor, conquest by Indonesia



Bosnian Civil War



Lebanese Civil War



First Persian Gulf War



Burma/Myanmar Civil war, political violence

1948 onwards


Dutch East Indies rebellion



North Yemen



Congo Crisis






Afghanistan, American Invasion

2001 onwards


Algerian Civil War



Native Brazilian genocide

1950 onwards


Angola Anti-Colonial War



Israeli-Arab Wars

1948 onwards


Sierra Leone Civil War



Eritrea-Ethiopian War



El Salvador Civil War



Sri Lankan Civil War



Mozambique Anti-Colonial War



Nicaraguan Civil War



DR Congo, Ituri Conflict



Nigerian religious violence

1990 onwards


Iran political violence after 1979 revolution



North Vietnam



Chad civil War, political violence

1965 onwards


Equitorial Guinea



Somalia, Barre regime



Tajikistan Civil War



Peru political violence




From these statistics we can deduce a number of points:

  1. In this table we have listed 69 major causes of death worldwide due to political violence/death, and the total number of those killed in this period is a little over 91 million people. While it is true that 33 of them are somehow related to Muslim populations (in that at least one of the actors was nominally Muslim), the first six are  non-Muslim on non-Muslim conflicts/state actors (in that both parties were overwhelmingly non-Muslim). These initial six conflicts account for more than 62 million deaths, or almost 70% of the total deaths in the table.
  2. We have purposefully placed some higher death totals for the wars where a Muslim actor was involved, so that we can later show that even if it is assumed that the higher death total was “caused by Islam”, there would still be no correlation between Islam and an unusually high death toll in worldwide conflicts where Muslims are involved.
  3. Among those conflicts were at least one of the actors was indeed Muslim, in most of these cases we also see the active hand of non-Muslim actors and ideologies seeking to eliminate or undermine the  Islamic religion- or sometimes simply seeking to eliminate Muslims without paying much attention to the Islamic ideology. In addition to this, a careful study of most of these conflicts reveals that intra-non-Muslim deaths also contributed to the death toll. Some of the specific examples of this are as follows[6]:
    1.   Sudan Civil Wars: We have mentioned a total of 2,700,000 people killed. The North-South conflict is sometimes portrayed as a struggle between the animist and Christian south seeking to “liberate itself from Islamic rule”. Such a presentation ignores the fact that this struggle is in reality an extension of the British colonial rule and the struggle for independence. This is so because the policy of the colonial regimes was to hinder all things Islamic in southern Sudan, thus creating conditions for open rebellion once Islam and the dominant Arab culture of Sudan would have been introduced in the South.

In addition to this, one cannot escape the fact that during this long war, the Southern Sudanese have taken help from vastly different and conflicting ideological sources. Thus, in the First Sudanese Civil War, military supplies and training were sent to the rebels from Israel via Ethiopia and Uganda, along with help from pro-US politicians and regimes such as Moise Tshombe of Congo and Haile Selassie  of Ethiopia.[7] In the Second Civil War, the SPLA (Sudan’s Peoples Liberation Army) took substantial aid and assistance from Marxists- the Ethiopian Mengistu regime up to 1991- as well as from Christian American conservatives and even military equipment from the United States government.[8]

Also, it should be noted that many of the deaths can be attributed to intra-rebel fighting and repression, such as the Bor Massacre in 1991, when a splinter faction of the SPLA –of the Nuer people- deliberately killed civilians of the Dinka tribe. Many similar examples can be pinned down showing how excess deaths due to direct war or famine were caused not by Muslim forces or policies, but by power struggles and atrocities committed by the non-Muslims against each other during their “larger struggle” against so-called “Islamic hegemony”.[9]

    1. Afghanistan Civil War, Invasion by the Soviet Union: Here we have written a total of 1,800,000 deaths for the period from 1979-2001 (that is, before the American Invasion in 2001). In this case also, the majority of the deaths came from the Soviet invasion and subsequent deaths of more than a million civilians and fighters. It should be noted that in this case, the Soviet Union and the Communist government were the ones with the supremacy in weaponry and logistics, and that the “pro-Islamist” fighters were –perhaps ironically if seen today- receiving help from the United States.

Taking the rise of the Taliban as being the incarnation of the rise of “Islamic rule”, we see that its opponents were financed by Russia, India, the United States- all countries who had conflicting interests and goals in Afghanistan, but yet who were united in their opposition to “Islamic rule”. In this case we also see a switching of allegiances for some of the anti-Taliban elements, such as the case of Abdul Rashid Dostum, who has in fact an army commander under pro-Soviet forces in the 1980’s but who later on joined the US-backed Northern Alliance in order to overthrow the Taliban.

    1. Invasion of Iraq and subsequent political and civil violence: For this conflict we have written the number of deaths as 1,000,000. We should remember that in this case, the trigger for the great number of deaths was an event initiated by a non-Muslim power (the invasion of Iraq by the United States and its coalition of forces).[10] It may be objected that the number of deaths was mostly caused by Muslim-on-Muslim violence mostly orchestrated by militias, death squads, and terrorists, and that the invasion of Iraq itself caused a small fraction of these deaths.  This line of reasoning overlooks the fact that Coalition forces recruited and trained a considerable portion of the death squads as a way to counteract those communities perceived to be supportive of anti-American forces.[11]
    2. Indonesian political violence: For this period of conflict we have written 400,000 deaths in the period of 1965-1966. These led to the wiping out of the Indonesian Communist Party, as well as the killing of numerous ethnic Chinese. But before we lay the blame on “Islamic rule”, it should be noted that the Western anti-Communist powers were elated at the events taking place in Indonesia at that time, to the point that certain articles show a close relationship between the United States government and the military coup staged in Indonesia in 1965 and the killing that followed. We thus read[12]:

Suharto’s overthrow of the Sukarno government in 1965-66 turned Indonesia from Cold War “neutralism” to fervent anti-Communism, and wiped out the Indonesian Communist Party- exterminating a sizable part of its mass base in the process, in widespread massacres that claimed at least 500,000 and perhaps more than a million victims. The U.S. establishment’s enthusiasm for the coup-cum-mass murder was ecstatic (see Chomsky and Herman, Washington Connection and Third World Fascism); “almost everyone is pleased by the changes being wrought,” New York Times columnist C.L. Sulzberger commented (4/8/66).

In addition to this, the establishment of Islamic Law was never the deciding factor in such killings, but it was rather the desire of the ruling elite to eliminate those whom they perceived to be their potential enemies- something that is not restricted to Islam by any means.

  1. Even if we were to consider the position of our most rabid opponents and judge that all of the conflicts in which at least one of the actors was Muslim was directly caused by Islam, we would be left with about 13,700,000 deaths “caused by Islam”, which would still be only 15% of the total we have reached, a smaller share of the total global Muslim population.  Even if we were to shave off the 48 million people killed in the first two entries, we would see that the percentage of deaths would be around 30%, only somewhat higher than the overall Muslim population in the world.
  2. As opposed to the claims of our opponents, the Muslim nations since 1945 have been anything but global superpowers. This is important, since mass death and repeated military involvements around the world can only take place when those involved in it have enough political and economic resources not to suffer long-term consequences for their involvement in world hotspots.

For the Muslims, the situation has not been one of making other people suffer due to “Islamic conquest”, but rather of being the ones suffering under the machinations and plans of the world superpowers, colonial powers, and non-Islamic ideologies as they set out to conquer the world and/or hold on to what they had conquered. This was obviously a common theme during the Cold War, as both superpowers involved themselves in any and every military conflict around the world in a quest for global supremacy of their ideologies and influence. Thus, Muslims and non-Muslim countries alike became the playing fields for Communist and Western interests, with negligible interference from Islamic ideologies, except when either side thought that using such ideologies would be good towards advancing their own interests.

After the end of the Cold War, the specter of “Islamic conquest” has indeed been raised by a number of non-Muslims. What such people forget is that the Muslim nations are still nowhere near a position to be global agents of colonization. Also, the Western nations have now achieved a position of cultural, economic, and military hegemony around the world perhaps unrivaled in the history of mankind. Even if we consider that certain nations such as China, India, or –once again- Russia may soon rival the Western nations in one or more of these aforementioned areas, it would still be the case that the non-Muslim majority countries and their ideologies have a near-monopoly on the direction of the world, and that our opponent’s claims that the world will soon be taken over by an “Islamic conquest” are very far away from the present reality.

Objection: Nowadays Islamic Power is not prominent, but when it was then we would have certainly seen many more deaths at the hands of “Islamic conquest” and other “Islamic causes”

This objection may be raised once our opponent realizes that, even with all the terrorism attributed to Islam[13] in recent years there is no way that so-called “Islamic causes” can be at par with the orchestrated and organized wars and violence or superpower politics. So it may be said that the killings and deaths caused by Islamic Empires at the height of their power would not be more than the normal ratio of human deaths due to other ideologies and religions.

In order to ascertain the truth of our opponent’s claims, we have again referred to Matthew White’s site, where he provides a table for the twenty worst atrocities in human history.[14]  His table is reproduced below:


Death Toll




63 million

Second World War



40 million

Mao Zedong (mostly famine)


40 million

Genghis Khan



27 million

British India (mostly famine)



25 million

Fall of the Ming Dynasty



20 million

Taiping Rebellion


20 million

Joseph Stalin



19 million

Mideast Slave Trade[15]



17 million

Timur Lenk



16 million

Atlantic Slave Trade



15 million

First World War


15 million

Conquest of the Americas



13 million

Muslim Conquest of India



10 million

An Lushan Revolt



10 million

Xin Dynasty



9 million

Russian Civil War



8 million

Fall of Rome


8 million

Congo Free State



7½ million

Thirty Years War


7½ million

Fall of the Yuan Dynasty



According to this tabulation, the total number of people killed in the 20 greatest atrocities witnessed by mankind is 390 million, of which 49 million can be traced to Muslims. This gives us a percentage of approximately 12.5%, which is still lower than the global percentage of world Muslims, even if we factor in the growth of the Muslim population in the past century. It should also be considered that the Second World War- an event fought almost totally between non-Muslims in defense of non-Islamic ideologies- was responsible for 14 million more deaths in less than a decade, while the deaths attributed to Muslims are spread out over 14 centuries.

Even among the three main events mentioned in here, we can see that the intensity of the Muslims’ so-called brutality was not as pronounced as in other manifestations of conflict. Thus:

1.     The Middle East Slave Trade is said to have caused 19 million deaths. But these were over the course of 12 centuries, accounting for 1.5 million deaths per century, or at a rate almost one-third lower than the Atlantic Slave trade. Also, there is a difference between “Middle East” and “Muslim”, in that the Muslim population of the region has grown only slowly through the centuries, and without knowing the deeper breakdown of how these deaths during the slave trade occurred, we cannot say they were caused by the application of Islamic Laws.

2.      The Muslim conquest of India is said to have caused 13 million deaths over the course of 7 centuries, or a little less than 2 million deaths per century. While these are high numbers, we should not forget the high population of India, as well as the fact that this is still half the number of those killed by the famine in British India over a course of only twenty-five years[16].

3.     As was the case with the more recent conflicts, it cannot be said with any degree of certainty how many of the deaths mentioned above were a direct consequence of implementing Islamic Law and Islamic zeal, and how many of them were driven by considerations other than Islam. For example, we read the following about Timur Lenk[17]:

The Timurid Empire was not singularly defined by the fact that it was an Islamic empire. Its founder, Timur, was himself a Muslim, but he rarely invoked his religion as any sort of impetus for his invasions. All of the territories he invaded were also Muslim-ruled, and thus he could not proclaim a jihad, or holy war, as the reason for his attacks, as Islamic leaders before him had done. He did claim that his invasion of the Delhi Sultanate was provoked by that Muslim empire’s tolerant attitude towards Hindus, but even that reason could not mask his real desire to obtain some of the Sultanate’s great wealth.

4.    It should be noted that the numbers given here are much more imprecise than those given for the conflicts that took place after 1945, which is something to be expected given the spotty registering of conflicts, deaths caused by conflicts, etc., before the advent of the modern age. Thus, our presentation of such numbers is simply for us to have some idea of what different human actions have caused in terms of loss of life to other humans.

From the preceding discussions we see that there is nothing abnormally violent about Islam and Muslims when compared with the recent ideologies and powers that have governed the world for the past 65 years. Also, when compared to the distribution of deaths throughout human history, we see that the Muslims cannot be faulted any more than other humans in this respect, to the point that those deaths caused by Muslims are even less –in proportion- than those caused by non-Muslims. Even though at the beginning of our work we pointed out that such numbers cannot be used to analyze the truth of Islam, we hope that our work has shown the flimsiness of the arguments of those who portray Islam as an abnormally violent religion. We thus hope that Muslims and non-Muslims alike will appreciate the truth of Islam based on a study of its foundations and divert calls from those who seek to attack Islam based on criteria which are ultimately not directly related to the truth of Islam.


[1] For a more detailed exposition of how the truth of Islam should be analyzed, we urge our readers to refer to the article “Advice for those discussing with non-Muslims” (https://muslimanswers.net/2012/10/31/advice-for-those-discussing-with-non-muslims/)

[2] We do acknowledge that the objections brought up by our opponents regarding Islam are more complicated than their pointing to a United Nations declaration and stating how we are failing to follow such rules. However, when Islam is criticized by the non-Muslims, such United Nations declarations serve as an easy reference point for our opponents to point out exactly which “universal laws” we Muslims are not carrying out. We also need to again emphasize that the “United Nations charters” are not the basis for what Muslims should and should not do, since Islam does not accept the legitimacy of laws brought by other than Allah the Exalted- and this point goes back to the first bullet point above. 


[3] While Western readers may scoff at the idea of Stalin being a good leader, a poll is Russia in 2006 showed that 47% of respondents thought of him as a positive figure, compared to 29% who viewed him in a negative light (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/the-big-question-why-is-stalin-still-popular-in-russia-despite-the-brutality-of-his-regime-827654.html). We as Muslims are willing to discuss with our opponents not only the question of how many people were killed and whether their killing was justified, but also the ideological underpinning for such killings.

[4] The conflicts where Muslim countries are a majority are shown in bold font.

[5] On Matthew White’s site, it is mentioned that the total number of people killed in Stalin’s regime was close to 20 million. In his detailed tally, White quotes R.J. Rummel who -perhaps for ideological reasons- places this number at more than 51 million. Our number comes from what Rummel has estimated for the period of 1946-1989 and combining it with White’s lower overall estimate.

[6] We cannot present all of the examples and dynamics by which we feel that the non-Muslims have taken part and financed many of the conflicts that have taken place and which are going on throughout the Muslim-majority countries. We will give a summary of our observations, and the details can be corroborated and expanded upon by our readers.

[9] We do not want to place blame on one non-Muslim group above another by quoting a certain massacre. Our aim is to highlight that in-fighting among non-Muslims does take a heavy (and sometimes heavier) role than the fighting done between Muslims and non-Muslims.

[10] Even if we accept the implausible explanation that the Iraqi government gave the orders for the 9/11 attacks and/or harbored “Islamic terrorists” in its midst (which was in fact one of the prime reasons given for going to war in the first place), the casualties suffered by the Iraqi forces and civilians during the invasion leading to the fall of Baghdad –with an absolute low estimate of 11,900- would still be four times higher than the number of those killed in the 9/11 attacks.

[11] For one account, the following link may be consulted: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/oct/28/iraq-war-logs-iraq. As we can gather from this report, Americans and Iranians were working hand in hand to eliminate Iraqi Sunnis… yet another one of the idiosyncrasies of shifting allegiances during wartime.

[13] For a thorough presentation of the Islamic view on killing civilians, the readers may refer to the article “Defending the Transgressed by Censuring the Reckless Against the Killing of Civilians” by Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti (http://www.livingislam.org/maa/dcmm_e.html), accessed the 9th of March 2013.

[15] We will not discuss the Islamic ruling on slavery in this work since this is not the place to engage in such a discussion; this is specially the case when we are talking about the death of slaves, since we would have to compare the Islamic rulings on slavery with the actual treatment meted out to slaves.

[16] Note that we are not singling out the British government for fault in this case (even though its inclusion in the table above would seem to place a great burden on administrative failures) but simply noting the presence of famine in India. Also, the 25 years mentioned above denote the period 1875-1900 when it is estimated that 26 million people died due to famine. (As quoted in Wikipedia [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Famine_in_India], making a reference to page 80 of Sudhindra Bose’s “Some Aspects of British Rule in India” (extract available at: http://books.google.com/?id=5wmGAAAAIAAJ&vq=26,000,000&dq=total+famine+deaths+in+british+india, accessed on the 5th January 2013)


4 thoughts on “(Draft Article) Answer to Objection: Islam and Muslims are abnormally violent

  1. السلام عليكم

    Can you please indicate your source of information on the following:

    1. Second Indochina War -1960-75 – 4,200,000
    2. Timur Leng – 17 million – 14C-15C
    3. Muslim Conquest of India -11C-18C – 13 million


    • Wa Alaykum Salam,

      The figures were taken one way or the other from Mark White’s website – either his explicit tabulations, or from his comments. I know that when we talk about millions of dead, there will be wild variations and ideological issues as well driving the estimates. However, I chose one site in order to maintain consistency. If there is some better source that you could provide for me, then perhaps I can include this in this work and future works in order to show the divergence there is on this issue.

      Wa Salam.


  2. So why is there this perception being created that Islam is inherently violent? Is it a genuine mistake that they have made? Who is saying this and why, are they just detached observers and experts or do they have a hidden agenda and what could this be.


    • As shown above, there is an element of warfare in Islam, and this is something that is not to be denied. But to say that there is an abnormally violent streak in Islam is to ignore the fact that human beings are always in conflict, and there is no way that this truth can be overlooked.

      Besides, Muslims cannot today generally be seen as “king-makers” in global politics, and due to this, almost all the conflicts have the background of the nation-state paradigm behind them, even if Muslims are involved in such conflicts. Perhaps it is mostly due to the fear of Muslims becoming politically strong which drives our opponents to highlight the violence in Muslim lands, even if statistically such highlighting is not so obvious when the bigger picture is considered.


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