I noticed when looking at various discussions regarding Islam, Muslims say that the word Islam means peace. Then they provide some verses from the Quran and some stories of the prophet Muhammed being merciful and kind to other people. However, the prophet did wage many wars? and Muslims started attacking other empires. Doesn't this contradict the sentence "religion of peace?"
Calling Islam a religion of peace is correct if you are referring to the peace which happens between the muslim and God. However, If you say Islam is a peaceful religion in which it never commands people to fight. Then I'm afraid to say this is inaccurate. Moreover, Calling Islam a violent religion is inaccurate too(will be explained below)
Before explaining the statement "Islam is a peaceful religion". I think it is better to give some context on this:
According to this answer,
From a linguistic point of view (which is what I believe you seek), Islam is derived from the Arabic word سلام (pronounced salaam) which literally means: peace. The common greeting in Islam is السلام عليكم (pronounced alsalaam alaikum), which translates to: peace be upon you.
Now to explain why above the statement is wrong, In Christianity, if someone would slap you, you are supposed to turn the other cheek to him. while, In Islam it is different. The Quran in some verses specifically asks Muslims to stand up with justice, defend other people(Muslims, and non-Muslims), and fight the aggressors.
Islam is just like Judaism, The Quran even quotes the Torah(the Jewish scriptures) telling Muslims to fight back, and at the same time, indirectly quotes the belief of Christianity that we should forgive"
Indeed, We sent down the Torah, in which was guidance and light. The prophets who submitted [to Allah ] judged by it for the Jews, as did the rabbis and scholars by that with which they were entrusted of the Scripture of Allah , and they were witnesses thereto. So do not fear the people but fear Me, and do not exchange My verses for a small price. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed - then it is those who are the disbelievers. http://quran.com/5/44
And We ordained for them therein a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, an ear for an ear, a tooth for a tooth, and for wounds is legal retribution. But whoever gives [up his right as] charity, it is an expiation for him. And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed - then it is those who are the wrongdoers. http://quran.com/5/45
Other verses that proves the my previous statement:
Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you but do not transgress. Indeed. Allah does not like transgressors. http://quran.com/2/190
Permission [to fight] has been given to those who are being fought, because they were wronged. And indeed, Allah is competent to give them victory. http://quran.com/22/39
[Fighting in] the sacred month is for [aggression committed in] the sacred month, and for [all] violations is legal retribution. So whoever has assaulted you, then assault him in the same way that he has assaulted you. And fear Allah and know that Allah is with those who fear Him. http://quran.com/2/194
*As I said earlier, the Quran commands the Muslims to be merciful, forgiving and use nonviolent ways if not necessary:
So do not obey the disbelievers, and strive against them with the Qur'an a great striving. http://quran.com/25/52
Many of the People of the Scripture wish they could turn you back to disbelief after you have believed, out of envy from themselves [even] after the truth has become clear to them. So pardon and overlook until Allah delivers His command. Indeed, Allah is over all things competent. http://quran.com/2/109
Say, [O Muhammad], to those who have believed that they [should] forgive those who expect not the days of Allah so that He may recompense a people for what they used to earn. http://quran.com/45/14
.......So if they remove themselves from you and do not fight you and offer you peace, then Allah has not made for you a cause [for fighting] against them. http://quran.com/4/90
Now someone might ask, Why would the prophet choose to wage war instead of choosing the peaceful path ?
The answer would be, If you read the life of the prophet. You would see so many incidents that proves he was a merciful and forgiving person. Even-though using force would be his last option, he would never hesitate to use it against the aggressors.
An example, when the prophet reached Madinah, He immediately made a peaceful treaty with the the Jews living inside the city. But when the prophet found out some Jewish tribes broke the treaty by killing some Muslims, tried to assassinate him, or tried to open the doors for the non-Muslim Arabs to enter Madinah from behind. He had to act and exile them out of Madinah. He did that with the 1st 2 Jewish tribes and killed the Jewish males who participated in the war of the 3rd tribe. He acted this way because the Jews specifically asked the prophet to use the Torah as judge between them. Hence, this verse from the Torah was used. Back to the previous point. The prophet decided to kick them out because this is the teachings of Quran and Islam. He could have easily executed them. But as I said earlier, Quran asks Muslims to be forgiving.
Another point worth mentioning, it is not reasonable if a religion doesn't ask its follower to use force. Yes it did work once somewhere at one point of time. But this is not the best solution and it will never work all the time. Even in Christianity, there were people who fought and stood against aggressors although Jesus motto was love and peace.
Now I quote the words of Allah in the Quran which explains why Islam and some religions in general should use force when necessary:
[They are] those who have been evicted from their homes without right - only because they say, "Our Lord is Allah ." And were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned. And Allah will surely support those who support Him. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and Exalted in Might. http://quran.com/22/40
Moving the 2nd part of the question...
Like any other religion, the Quran asks the prophet to spread the message to the people around the world. (This is can be seen when the prophet sent a message to the 4 empires telling them about Islam). At the time of Abu baker(1st Caliph after the prophet), He sent Muslim armies to fight the Persians and the Romans. Every time the Muslim army would free a village, they give the people two options:
1- Submit to the true message of Allah.
2- ٌPay a tax(less than the 2.5 tax Muslims pay) as fee to protect them in the future imposed on every man who are capable of paying. Poor men are exempted from paying.
The third option would be forcing them to choose one of the options. More than 90% decides to convert or pay Zakkat after witnessing the good characters of the Muslims and the good treatment they receive compared to how they were treated under other people.
An exceptional example you can find by looking at the non-Muslims living in Andulus. This is a great example which shows that Islam never promotes hatred and violence against peaceful people.
Now whether non-muslim historians agree that these stories are authentic or not. Just knowing that Muslim preachers always preach these stories to the Muslim audience is a positive thing as this educates Muslims to be peaceful and to respect other people.
It is also worth mentioning the netiquettes of battle in Islam. During his life, the prophet gave various injunctions to his forces and adopted practices toward the conduct of war. The most important of these were summarized by Muhammad's companion and first Caliph, Abu Bakr, in the form of ten rules for the Muslim army:
O people! I charge you with ten rules; learn them well! Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy's flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.
Lastly, someone might ask, What about all those Muslim terrorists ?
The answer would be, if a muslim does something bad. We should not criticize the religion. Instead we should criticize the person. A comparable example would be Hitler. Everyone knows what Hitler did to the world. Does that allow us to say that Christianity is a violent religion ? No!! Samething with Islam or any other religion.
Another example, Robert Pape of the University of Chicago studied every suicide bombing and attack around the globe from 1980 through 2003 - 315 attacks in all - and concluded that there is little connection to Islam
The saying of the prophet explains the stance of Islam regarding the killing of peaceful people:
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "Whoever killed a Mu'ahid (a person who is granted the pledge of protection by the Muslims) shall not smell the fragrance of Paradise though its fragrance can be smelt at a distance of forty years (of traveling).
If it wasn't clear. The prophet clearly says whoever kills a peaceful person then he will never enter heaven.
From the Quran:
Say, "Come, I will recite what your Lord has prohibited to you. [He commands] that you not associate anything with Him, and to parents, good treatment, and do not kill your children out of poverty; We will provide for you and them. And do not approach immoralities - what is apparent of them and what is concealed. And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden [to be killed] except by [legal] right. This has He instructed you that you may use reason." http://quran.com/6/151
Summary of the above answer, Islam is like Web 2.0 compared to other religions...
Muhammad(saw) never wanted war, he always wanted peace. In Islam, a Muslim is told to offer peace before war. If the other side accepts this offer then the war will not take place. However if they don't accept peace and they want a battle or fight then it is not the Muslims fault because they had offered peace. The only reason Muslims fight BACK is because they don't want to die and it is ones duty to keep themselves safe. Peace is not exactly going to be achieve if the Muslims just stand there while the non-Muslims attack!
Firstly, it ought to be elucidated that it is completely true that Islam is the religion of peace, Secondly it is correct that Islam had many wars… .
But we should pay attention that in many of those wars, The role of the prophet (PBUH) was as a defender, not as an attacker. In other wars, there was another reason, that was “JIHAD”, so it means endeavour or struggle in the way of Allah to extend and reach the right religion (Islam).
For furthere information regarding "if Islam (and also Prophet Muhammad(PBUH) is a religion of peace and brotherhood or a religion of war and violence", please see the following link: