By Maulana Waris Mazhari
(Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand)
Islam is a peaceful religion. It stands for peace and desires peace. The basis of Islam is peace. The word ‘Islam’ is derived from the root silm, which means ‘peace’. In this sense, a true Muslim, one who truly follows Islam, is someone who is at perfect peace, with himself and with others, a person who is a means for the welfare of others. He is someone from whom others can expect goodness, not problems or evil. The Prophet Muhammad is said to have declared, as mentioned in the Hadith collections of Tirmidhi and Nasai: ‘A true believer (mu‘min) is he from whom people’s lives and wealth are safe.’ A true Muslim is one who lives in society, rather than cut off from it, and is impelled with the overwhelming desire to bring peace to humankind. He seeks to bring others close to him, not to drive them away from him. This is why the Prophet declared, in a hadith report contained in the Sahih al-Bukhari: ‘In him there is no merit who is not familiar with others and with whom others are not familiar’.
According to a saying of the Prophet, Islam is welfare (ad-din an-nasiha). The Prophet is also quoted as having said: ‘All creatures are [members of] the family of God’ (al-khalqo ayalullah). Accordingly, a Muslim must behave with all others, fellow creatures of God, in the same way as he behaves with members of his own family. Furthermore, as a hadith report in the Sahih al-Bukhari explains, the Prophet stressed that a Muslim is one who desires for others what he desires for himself.
The fact of the matter is that the biggest blessing of God is peace. Without peace a person cannot properly fulfil his religious, social and economic roles and responsibilities. Nor can he properly benefit from the blessings of God. This is why peace is described as a major divine blessing in numerous verses of the Quran. Thus, for instance, the Quran says: ‘Let them worship the Lord of this House, who provides them with food against hunger and with security against fear [of danger]’ (106: 3-4).
Elsewhere, the Quran says: ‘Remember We made the House a place of assembly for men and a place of safety’ (2:125). The verse that immediately follows after this one cites the prophet Abraham beseeching God with regard to Mecca thus: ‘My Lord, make this a city of peace’ (2:126). Similarly, God says of Mecca: ‘In it are signs manifest: the station of Abraham; whoever enters it attains security’ (3:97). According to the Quran, on the Day of Judgment, God will say to the pious and the pure ones: ‘Enter ye in peace and security’ (15:46). In this way, the Quran describes both Mecca, the religious centre of the Muslims, and heaven as places of peace. This indicates that God desires that Muslims live a peaceful life in this world and be upholders of peace. The Prophet is said to have declared: ‘Among you if anyone passes the night and wakens to be in peace in his home, healthy in body and in possession of a day’s supply of water and food, it is as if he has acquired all the wealth of the world.’ The basis for acquiring this wealth is peace. On the contrary, if a person lacks peace all the wealth and luxuries of the world are meaningless for him. This is why it is incumbent on people to strive to protect and promote peace in their own lives and in society at large, for this is the basis of social life and of civilisational progress.
The opposite of peace is fear and restlessness at the individual level, and chaos and conflict at the social level. A community characterized by strife must struggle to come out of this situation and establish peace, even if this would lead to some temporary damage or loss to it.
Securing peace was a major quest of the Prophet Muhammad, which was indispensible for conveying God’s message to others and for nurturing a society of individuals who followed God’s teachings in their personal and collective affairs. Muslims regard the Prophet as the model whom they must emulate. For the first thirteen years of his prophethood, the Prophet remained in his city of Mecca, using peaceful means of persuasion despite the fierce opposition that he had to encounter. Despite horrific persecution, he and his followers remained steadfast and determined, preaching to the people and seeking to guide them to the right path. Later, when the situation became intolerable, he left for Medina, where his first effort was to establish peace and to build bridges of love, brotherhood and harmony between the Muslim migrants or Muhajirun of Mecca and the helpers or Ansars of Medina.
Later, in order to further expand this work of promoting peace and solidarity, the Prophet entered into a treaty with the Jewish and pagan tribes of Medina, according to which these groups were to be treated as belonging to the same qaum or community as the Muslims. All those who were party to the treaty were to be given protection or peace, except, of course, those who violated this agreement. According to the treaty, the valley of Yathrib or Medina was to be a sacred place for all those who were party to it. In this way, by giving foremost importance to peace, the treaty guaranteed the parties to it safety from external attack and internal strife. The same spirit was evident in the terms of the Treaty of Hudaibiyah between the Muslims, led by the Prophet, and the Meccan pagans. The Prophet signed the treaty although some of the terms appeared to be heavily weighed against him. This he did so that a climate of peace could be created, because of which Islam would be able to spread peacefully.
Even when the Prophet had acquired political power and strength he gave the establishment of peace the topmost priority. Thus, when he conquered Mecca he did not behave like most conquerors would have. He did not engage in bloodshed and strife. Instead, he issued a general amnesty. When a companion of his, Sa‘ad Ibn Ubada, said that this would be the ‘day of fierce fighting’ (yaum al-malhama), the Prophet rebutted him and said it would be a ‘day of mercy’ (yaum al-marhama). The Prophet announced that all those who entered the house of his arch-enemy Abu Sufiyan, or who locked themselves up in their own homes or who had sought refuge in the mosque of the Ka‘aba would be given protection. Finally, he forgave even the most inveterate foes of Islam, the Muslims and himself. Consequently, vast numbers of those who had fiercely opposed the Prophet voluntarily entered the fold of Islam.
Peace is the call of nature. It is the most fundamental basis of social life. The absence of peace in any society is the major cause for its decline. Those communities that have not understood these truths are destined to be consigned to the margins of history. The most aggressive and violent group to emerge in the course of Muslim history were the Kharijites, but they rapidly disappeared altogether. Likewise, all such violent groups, Muslim or otherwise, are destined to die out, no matter how noble their objectives may be.
The Prophet Muhammad is said to have remarked: ‘Do not want or desire to fight the enemy. And seek peace from God.’ However, contrary to this, several Muslim groups and movements in different parts of the world are today engaged in bloody confrontation, and have made conflict their primary identity. This is despite the fact that the Quran warns Muslims not to spread strife. Further, these self-styled ‘revolutionary’ Islamic groups have emerged as a major cause for worsening and making more complicated and intractable many of the problems that Muslims are faced with. Their bloody actions are proving to be entirely counter-productive for Islam and Muslims. In my opinion, the conduct of most of these movements and the fate that they have today met with reflects what God says in the following verse of the Quran:
‘Allah sets forth a parable: a city enjoying security and quiet, abundantly supplied with sustenance from every place: yet was it ungrateful for the favours of Allah: so Allah made it taste of hunger and terror [in extremes] [closing in on it] like a garment [from every side], because of the [evil] which [its people] wrought’ (16:112).
Maulana Waris Mazhari is the editor of the New Delhi-based monthly Tarjuman Dar ul-Uloom, the official organ of the Graduates’ Association of the Deoband madrasa. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion at the National Law School, Bangalore.