Is Islam theolgically more violent than Christianity?
With great relief I can write that it appears the hostage situation in Kenya is over. Sadly, at least 62 innocent people have died. Because of the reports that those reciting the Muslim creed were set free, it seems appropriate to look at whether the differences theologically between Islam and Catholicism lend any more violence to Islam.
By looking at the distribution of violence, we can learn about one possible aspect of it. The National Counterterrorism Center gave a 2011 report suggesting that extremist Sunni Muslims commit 56% of all terrorist violence and 70% of all terrorist related deaths. Also in the report is that Muslim countries had the largest amount of attacks involving more than 10 deaths and that attacks on Christians dropped 45% since 2010.
Against this backdrop of information, we can see that the violence is predominately Sunni Muslim against other Muslims. To help fill in the background, of the two major sects of Islam, Shias are more like Catholics and Sunnis are more like Protestants. I say this because Shias and Catholics both believe our clergy to be divinely guided in determining the truth. There is a sense of certainty about the truth that Protestants and Sunnis don’t share. This works out in such a way that Shia have a stronger hierarchy than Sunni, just as Catholics have a stronger hierarchy than Protestants (of which some denominations have no hierarchy at all). Also, Shia have an sort of intercession of the saints (limited to 14 “saints”, but still…) whereas Protestants and Sunnis don’t. There are also many foundational similarities between Sunnis and Shias just as there are many foundational similarities between Protestants and Catholics.
From this perspective, the initial violence between Sunni and Shia can be seen as similar to the initial violence between Catholics and Protestants. Because it took 1500 years for the Catholic-Protestant split to occur, it was much more bloody than the split between Sunni and Shia, who split almost immediately after Muhammed died.
The counterterrorism report suggests that most violence is within Sunni majority communities, but it doesn’t tell us if the deaths are predominately Sunni or Shia. There is no substantial history of interdenominational violence among Protestants, so I would guess that what we see with the Sunni’s and Shia’s is similar: A majority Muslim community is beating up on a minority Muslim community just as majority Christian communities would beat up on minority Christian communities after the Protestants split from the Church. This fits well with the fact Afghanistan and Iraq both have large splits in their populations and face the largest amount of attacks and deaths.
This is not to suggest these branches of Islam were always at war, rather it is to suggest that Islam is no more inherently violent than Christianity. Even in the 1920’s there was still Anti-Catholic violence going on in America, which was 400 years after the split in Christianity. For there to be intermittent violence in 1400 years of split between Sunni and Shia makes sense against this comparison.
Hence, from this very limited comparison, I find no reason to assume Islam is theologically more violent than Christianity, even if current Islamic practice is more violent than current Christian practice. I am, however, open to be proven wrong. I’ve looked at parallels between Islam and Christianity and how they have coped with internal heresy to come to this conclusion, and any analogy so broad is bound to have errors.