Islam is a warrior religion. It was established by sword-wielding men on horseback, not poor people hiding in catacombs. There is nothing in the Koran about turning the other cheek, returning good for evil or doing good to those who hate you. Rather the ethic of the Koran is to live in peace with those who are willing to live in peace with you, but to defend yourself and your loved ones with all your might if you are attacked.
I don’t say this critically. I am not a pacifist. I do not turn the other cheek myself. The ethic of being peaceful if you can, but fighting if you must is what I was taught by my father, and what I believe in.
When you call Islam a “religion of peace,” this is not exactly false, but the implication is that Muslims are pacifists like the Quakers or the Amish or the followers of Mahatma Gandhi. This is easily refuted by quoting some of the fiercer passages from the Koran about waging war against Christians and Jews.
Islam is not a “religion of peace” in the pacifist sense, but it is a religion with which it is possible to live in peace. If you read the whole Koran, you see that the context of those passages is that the followers of Mohammad were fighting for their existence against pagan, Christian and Jewish Arab tribes; there are other passages about living in peace with adherents of those religions if they are willing to live in peace with you. There is a famous passage (in Sura 2) about no compulsion in religion.
Click on Peace and Love in the Quran for a deeper discussion.
Like the Christian and Hebrew Bible, the Koran is quoted by different people for different purposes. There is nothing in the Koran so bloodthirsty as passages in the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible calling for extermination of the Canaanite tribes. If you knew nothing of Judaism and Christianity and somebody quoted Genesis 34: 14-29; Deuteronomy 3: 1-7; Numbers 31: 7-9, 15-18; Joshua 6: 21; or Judges 21: 10-24 to you, you would have a very misleading idea of those religions.
Mohammad famously said to followers after a great battle that they had returned from the “lesser jihad,” the battle against enemies, to the “greater jihad,” the struggle to master oneself.
Here is how the Muslim scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr described the Muslim warrior ideal in Ideals and Realities of Islam:
If one thinks of the Buddha as sitting in a state of contemplation under the Bo-tree, the Prophet can be imagined as a rider sitting on a steed with the sword of justice and discrimination [between good and evil] drawn in his hand and galloping at full speed, yet ready to come to an immediate halt before the mountain of Truth.
In Islam, when one thinks of the Prophet who is to be emulated, it is the image of a strong personality that comes to mind who is severe with himself and with the false and the unjust, and charitable towards the world that surrounds him. … He is that warrior on horseback who halts before the mountain of Truth, passive towards the Divine Will, active towards the world, hard and sober towards himself and kind and generous towards the creatures about him.
The “lesser jihad” still can be a religious duty, and Islam was spread, in part, through wars of conquest. Within the first couple of generations after Mohammed, the Arabs established an empire stretching from Morocco to the borders of India.
Christianity also was spread by conquest. At least I think that Christianity would have had a much more difficult time establishing itself in North and South America if it had been Powhatan and Montezuma rather than John Smith and Hernando Cortes who possessed gunpowder weapons. Of the world’s three great missionary religions, the only one that was not spread through conquest was Buddhism.
One reason that Muslim rule established itself so rapidly is that Christians and Jews found more tolerance under Muslim rule than Muslims, Jews and heretic Christians always did under Christian rule. This wasn’t true in every case, but Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together in relative harmony under Muslim rule in Spain, and when Jews were driven out of Spain by the Inquisition, some of them took refuge in the Turkish Ottoman Empire.