TOWARDS GLOBAL PEACE
We often talk of peace in the context of war. But this is a very narrow and restricted notion of peace. Peace is deeply linked with the entirety of human life. Peace is a complete ideology in itself. Peace is the only religion for both—man and the universe. It is the master-key that opens the doors to every success. Peace creates a favourable atmosphere for success in every endeavour. Without peace, no positive action—small or big—is possible.
PEACE IN ISLAM
ISLAM is a religion of peace in the fullest sense of the word. The Quran calls its way ‘the paths of peace’ (5: 16). It describes reconciliation as the best policy (4: 128), and states that God abhors any disturbance of peace (2: 205).
The root word of Islam is ‘silm’, which means peace. So the spirit of Islam is the spirit of peace. The first verse of the Quran breathes the spirit of peace. It reads:
In the name of God, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate. This verse is repeated in the Quran no less than 114 times. It shows the great importance Islam attaches to such values as mercy and compassion. One of God’s names, according to the Quran, is As-Salam, which means peace. Moreover the Quran states that the Prophet Muhammad was sent to the world as a mercy to human kind. (21: 107)
A perusal of the Quran shows that most verses of the Quran (and also the Hadith) are based on peace and kindness, either directly or indirectly. The ideal society, according to the Quran is Dar as-Salam, that is, the home of peace (10: 25).
The Quran presents the universe as a model that is characterized by harmony and peace (36: 40). When God created heaven and earth, He so ordered things that each part might perform its function peacefully without clashing with any other part. The Quran tells us that “the sun is not allowed to overtake the moon, nor does the night outpace the day. Each in its own orbit runs.” (36: 40)
For billions of years, therefore, the entire universe has been fulfilling its function in total harmony with His divine plan.
These are only but a few references to show what great importance Islam attaches to peace. In fact, Islam cannot afford not to be in a state of peace because all that Islam aims at—spiritual progress, intellectual development, character building, social reform, educational activities, and above all missionary work —can be achieved only in an atmosphere of peace and harmony.
According to Islam, peace is not simply an absence of war. Peace opens doors to all kinds of opportunities that are present in any given situation. It is only in a peaceful situation that planned activities are possible. It is for this reason that the Prophet Muhammad went to great extents to establish peace at all costs.
Jihad is only another name for peaceful activism. And peaceful activism is the only weapon by which Islam wants to achieve all its aims and objectives.
Some people bracket justice with peace, but Islam does not subscribe to this notion. Islam believes in peace for the sake of peace. According to Islam, justice is not the pre requisite of peace. Peace only provides a framework within which we may work towards justice. There are so many examples in the life of the Prophet, which prove that the Prophet never bracketed justice with peace.
He always took peaceful circumstances as an opportunity to work for justice and did not attempt to derive justice directly from peace. The treaty of Hudaybiyah, between the Prophet and his opponents, provides one such clear example. From the details of the peace treaty it is clear that no clause regarding justice was included. Obviously the conditions of this treaty were quite against justice. But the Prophet accepted this treaty, not because it was giving him justice, but because it was paving the way to work for justice.
Because of the importance of peace, the Quran has clearly declared that no aggressive war is permitted in Islam. Muslims can engage themselves only in a defensive, not in an offensive war, irrespective of the circumstances (2: 190).
According to Islam, peace is the rule and war is only an exception. Even in defensive war we have to see the result. If the result is doubtful, Muslims should avoid war, even in a defensive situation. Stray acts of aggression are not enough for Muslims to rush into war. They have to assess the whole situation and adopt a policy of avoidance when war is not certain to achieve a positive result.
There are several examples of this kind in the early period of Islam. In Islamic history, one such example is that of the Battle of the Trench. In this event there was clear-cut aggression on the part of the antagonists, who traveled as far as 300 miles from Makkah to Madinah only to attack the Muslims. But the Prophet got a trench dugout in order to prevent an armed confrontation and thus avoided engaging in a defensive war.
It is true that jihad is one of the most important teachings of Islam. But jihad is not synonymous with war. In Islam another word is used for war and fighting. This word is ‘qital.’ When the Quran refers to war or fighting, it uses the word qital and not jihad.
According to Islam, peace is the rule and war is only an exception. Even in defensive war we have to see the result. If the result is doubtful, Muslims should avoid war, even in a defensive situation.
Jihad literally means to strive or to struggle. So jihad actually means peaceful struggle, especially for dawah work. The Quran says: Do great jihad with the help of the Quran. (25: 52) The Quran is simply a book, and not a sword, so “do great jihad with the Quran” means to do great jihad with the ideological power of the Quran. In fact, jihad is only another name for peaceful activism. And peaceful activism is the only weapon by which Islam wants to achieve all its aims and objectives.
The Quran has this to say of the mission of the Prophet Muhammad: We have not sent you forth but as a mercy to humankind. (21: 107) In the Quran and the Hadith, there are many such references that go to prove that Islam is a religion of peace, love and human brotherhood.
However, it is also a fact that in later times the image of Islam has altered drastically. Now Islam has come to be regarded as a religion of violence rather than as a religion of peace. It is not the media that has produced this transformation in the image of Islam. The responsibility for this falls on latter-day Muslims, who have failed to maintain the original image of Islam.
In fact, the mission of all the prophets, right from Adam to Christ was one and the same—of establishing the ideology of monotheism in the world, so that man might worship one God alone. As we know, there came a large number of prophets in ancient times, but the message of monotheism remained at the initial stage; it could not culminate in a revolution. This state continued up till the time of Christ, the second last Prophet. The reason being that in ancient times, the system of monarchy was entrenched throughout the world. The kings, in order to secure their political interests, adopted the course of religious persecution. These kings suppressed all religious movements, which were different from the state religion. They would nip what they would consider apostasy in the bud, since they saw religion as a matter of affirming one’s loyalty to the state. If a person adhered to a religion other than the state religion, he was regarded as a rebel.
It is no exaggeration to say that Islam and violence are contradictory to each other. The concept of Islamic violence is so obviously unfounded that, prima facie it stands rejected.
That is why in ancient times prophetic movements could go no further ahead than the stage of dawah. No sooner would a movement based on monotheism arise then the coercive political system would be activated to pull it out by its roots. The reason for the absence of any historical record of prophets (besides the Prophet Muhammad) in antiquity is traceable to the intense opposition of these coercive political systems. Prophet Jesus was the last link in the chain of these persecutions faced by the preachers of monotheism. Then God decreed the abolition of this coercive political system, even if it entailed the use of force in order that the age of religious persecution might be brought to an end forever, and be replaced by the age of religious freedom. This divine plan was brought to completion through Prophet Muhammad and his Companions. This is the command given in the Quran:
“Fight them until there is no more (religious) persecution and religion belongs wholly to God.” (8: 39)
Therefore the Prophet Muhammad received special divine succour in the form of a powerful team consisting of more than one hundred thousand individuals. Equipped with this team the Prophet had to engage in defensive war to end this coercive system of religious persecution, and it was in Arabia that it was first of all overthrown. Then within a very short span of time, they advanced to abolish the coercive system established by the Sassanid and Byzantine empires. In the wake of this Islamic action, the coercive system was abolished forever in the major part of the inhabited world of the time. This defensive war engaged in by the Prophet Muhammad and his Companions was not a war as is commonly understood, but rather a divine operation, which was carried out by a people who possessed a high standard of moral character.
However, this operation was certainly only temporary in nature. Its goal was to put an end to the age of religious persecution and usher in the age of religious freedom. This end was fully achieved during the early period of Islam, the age of the pious Caliphs. Afterwards the time came to keep the sword in its sheath and engage in dawah work, that is, the task of calling people to God, which was the real and permanent goal of Islam. According to the explicit command of the Quran, the call to God is the true and eternal mission of Islam, whereas war is only temporary and allowed only in exceptional cases.
Here it would be pertinent to refer to a great Companion of the Prophet. After the period of the pious Caliphate, a group of Muslims once again engaged in war. At that time some senior Companions were present in Makkah and Madinah. But they did not join these wars, one prominent name being that of Abdullah ibn Umar ibn al Khattab. He did not approve of these wars; therefore he remained away from them. Some of those involved in these wars came to him and said: "God has commanded us in the Quran to fight against fitna (persecution). Then why do you not join with us in these wars?" Abdullah ibn Umar replied, “the command of the Quran to fight against fitna is not what you hold to be fitna. Fitna meant religious persecution and we have already fought and put an end to this fitna (qad fa‘alna). Therefore now after the removal of this obstacle, we have to engage ourselves in peaceful dawah work, rather than initiating hostilities and creating new fitna once again, which is akin to creating new obstacles for peaceful Islamic dawah (Sahih al-Bukhari).
Abdullah ibn Umar had made an extremely pertinent point at the most appropriate time, but others did not forcefully take up this point of view. Afterwards, when the Islamic sciences were being developed, this important point made by Abdullah ibn Umar was not highlighted, with the result that history took the course of wars and conquests, while in terms of the real teachings of Islam, history should have taken the course of the call to God and the propagation of Islam.
It is no exaggeration to say that Islam and violence are contradictory to each other. The concept of Islamic violence is so obviously unfounded that, prima facie it stands rejected. The fact that violence is not sustainable in the present world is enough to convince one that violence, as a principle, is quite alien to the scheme of things in Islam.
Islam claims to be an eternal religion and such a religion cannot afford a principle in its scheme which will not be sustainable in later periods of human history. An attempt to bracket violence with Islam amounts to casting doubts upon the very eternity of the Islamic religion. No wonder, then, that the Prophet Muhammad so earnestly used to entreat his Lord in his daily prayer:
“O God, You are the original source of Peace; from You is all Peace, and to You returns all Peace. So, make us live with Peace; and let us enter Paradise: the Home of Peace. Blessed be You, our Lord, to whom belongs all Majesty and Honour!”