Is Islam a Peaceful Religion? Oxford Union Debate

One of the great debating societies in the world is the Oxford Union of Oxford University. Here are videos of their latest debate. It is very interesting. You decide.


Daniel Johnson
Daniel Johnson, journalist and editor of what he calls the “not very right-wing” magazine Standpoint, called Islam “the most direct threat to Western civilization in the world today”.

Johnson deplores the lack of “freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, equal rights, and separation between church and state” in Islamic countries, emphasizing that “all these ideals emerged in the West.”

Johnson claims that a university like Oxford, with its tradition of free academic inquiry, could not exist under the conditions of an Islamic state and that “there is no university in this sense in the Islamic world”.


Peter Atkins:
PETER ATKINS is former Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford and now a fellow of Lincoln College. A fervent critic of all religions, he is an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society. He claims “science is almost totally incompatible with religion.”


Anne-Marie Waters
Anne-Marie Waters, council member of the National Secular Society, begins the case for the opposition by denying that she and her fellow opposition speakers cause fear of Islam and blames instead “the actions of Islam itself”.

She lists “9/11, 7/7, Mali, Somalia, gender discrimination, forced marriages, polygamy, amputation”, and many more. To the opposition’s claim that these acts belong to an “extreme fringe” which has misunderstood the words of the Qur’an, she described the executions for blasphemy and apostasy in Saudi Arabia, and asks “has there ever been a more spectacular misunderstanding?”

Waters concludes by arguing that it is the moderate Muslims who must “dance around meanings” and “stretch interpretations” when confronted with the fundamentally violent ideology of the Qur’an.



Adam Deen
Adam Deen, a prominent Muslim intellectual and founder and director of the Deen Institute, counters Anne-Marie Waters by arguing that “if we approach Islamic teaching fairly and objectively, there is a golden thread that runs through whole Qur’an,” an ideal of “justice” and “positive peace”.

He argues that in fact the whole of Islam is compatible with “just war theory”, in which “the virtue of avoiding violence is superseded by the virtue of justice.” He then quotes from the Qur’an which states: “Fight in God’s cause but do not overstep the limits. God does not love those who overstep the limits.”


Mehdi Hasan

Muslim journalist Mehdi Hasan, political editor of the Huffington Post, warns Anne-Marie Waters that her “astonishing claims” might endanger her future as a Labour Party candidate, but assured her “don’t worry, the BNP will take you”.

Hasan asks why, if Islam is “responsible for killing,” such a tiny percentage of believers actually participate in violence. He asks the audience if they really believe that 1.6 billion people are all “followers, promoters and believers in a religion of violence”.

Hasan urges them not to “fuel the arguments of the phobes and bigots and legitimise hate”, but to “trust the Muslims that you know and that you hear.”


Matthew Handley
Studies History at Oxford University and is a mentor for the Debate Mate programme. Handley seperates the religion of Islam from the individuals who “violently hijack faith for violent and maniacal ends” and maintains that the Qur’an has an “overwhelmingly peaceful character.”

In the light of the “decade long surge of violence and aggression” against Islam since 9/11, he summarises the debate as a choice between “love and hate and rejection, peace and conflict” and concludes: “I hope you make the right choice.”


Yes’s: 286
No’s: 168
Filmed on 28/02/2013


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