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Analyzing Islamic history to understand the Quran’s stance on violence against non-Muslims

Marco Demichelis, an ICS Marie Curie Fellow, undertook two research stays at prestigious academic centers in France and Germany during the 2017-2018 academic year

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Marco Demichelis
FOTO: Isabel Solana
17/08/18 09:51 Natalia Rouzaut

The Quran’s teachings on violence against non-Muslims are incomprehensible without analyzing Islamic history. Marco Demichelis, from the Religion and Civil Society project of the Institute for Culture and Society (ICS), undertook two research stays at prestigious academic centers in France and Germany, carrying out there rigorous research to interpret relevant verses in light of historical context.

Demichelis, who joined the ICS in June 2017 thanks to a Marie Curie grant from the European Commission, focuses on two historical moments: the first centuries of Islam (eighth and ninth centuries) and the contemporary era.

To develop his research and understand new points of view, the ICS researcher undertook a research stay at the Institute of Oriental Studies (University of Bamberg, Germany). From October to December 2017, he worked with Professor Patrick Franke, a specialist in early Islamic history and reading the Quran. Franke offered him guidance and a methodology to develop the analysis of relevant Quranic texts.

Islam and Europe in the contemporary era

On the other hand, the ICS research fellow tries to understand and interpret how the view of violence in the Quran has become so important in today's society. In this case, he was able to witness first-hand how Muslims in Europe live thanks to a second stay at the Catholic University of Lyon (France), where he worked with an interreligious group.

In Lyon, he analyzed how this narrative of violence affects French society. "Islamic violence greatly impacts society through the radicalization of people, especially in the suburbs," he laments.

He believes this is due to French integration policy that, on the one hand, only partially takes into account its citizens’ origin or religion- there are many immigrants and children of North African immigrants, for example. He further indicates that, "France’s ideals of 'freedom, equality and fraternity' are not fulfilled in practice, creating social inconsistencies that fuel radicalization." He argues that French policy to assimilate immigrants as citizens does not guarantee an effective freedom of expression since "its republican ideology does not consider the religious needs of its citizens."

Once his time at the ICS ends, Demichelis will collect his conclusions on the narratives of violence in Islam in a book. One of them is that the first Arab conquests cannot be considered Islamic since the religion had not yet been constituted as such.

As he says, this idea came later and largely emerged from the media narrative that tries to "oppose East and Weste, and demonstrate American white supremacy." In response to this "post-colonialism," the Islamic world resorts to violence against non-Muslims "using a confrontational narrative; it is also present in the Quran, but we lack an effective understanding of it from a historical-critical point of view," he pointed out.

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