By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan for New Age Islam
22 July 2017
Summum Bonum is a Latin term, which means ‘the highest good’. Many people today, especially in the West, consider freedom to be the Summum Bonum. But I don’t agree with this. Freedom is, of course, important and necessary, but not unlimited or total freedom. This is because after a point, freedom can become harmful for others. Hence, freedom cannot be the Summum Bonum.
If freedom is not the Summum Bonum, then what could be? I regard peace as the Summum Bonum. It is the greatest good. Unlike unlimited freedom, unlimited peace is beneficial for one and all. That is why the Quran says as-Sulh Khayr or “reconciliation is best” (4:128), which, in other words, means peace is the best, it is the Summum Bonum, the greatest good.
Now, why is peace the Summum Bonum? To understand this, you need to reflect on God’s Creation Plan. In line with this Plan, God has given freedom or free will to every human being. People are free to use this freedom in a right way as well as to misuse it. Now, it simply cannot happen that no one will misuse his or her God-given freedom. Because of this, there are bound to be differences between people, which, if not skilfully handled, could easily lead to conflict. In such situations, one must unilaterally adopt a peaceful approach and method. This is the only way to remain at peace, to live peacefully, and to peacefully resolve one’s differences with others. This principle applies as much to individuals as it does to entire communities.
What does peace mean? It means that even if someone appears to be giving you some trouble, you should seek to maintain peace to the maximum extent possible, being clear in your mind that peace is the greatest good.
One reason why peace is the greatest good is because without peace you simply cannot do anything constructive. You can’t engage in business properly, in education, in sharing your faith with others or any other such activity. You need peace for all these things.
Now, in this world, it is but natural that sometimes people will do or say something that you might not like. The only way if you want to maintain peace so that you can continue your life’s mission peacefully is by refusing to get provoked by other people’s behaviour.
This principle is taught in Islam, too. It was exemplified in the life of the Prophet Muhammad. For instance, in the case of the Hudaibiya Treaty, the Prophet agreed to the conditions set by his opponents, and in this way secured peace. The Quran refers this treaty as Itmam-e Naymat (48:2). This means that the treaty signed at Hudaibiya was a sign of completion of God’s favour to the Prophet.
Why does God call the treaty Itmam-e Naymat? This is because now that peace had been established because of the treaty, it provided the opportunity to do other, constructive things, using peaceful methods.
Some people—and these include many present-day Muslims—have a wrong concept of peace. They talk of a ‘just peace’ or ‘peace with justice’. They say, “We’ll agree to peace, we’ll agree to be peaceful, but only if we get justice”. Now, this is unnatural and also totally impossible. To bracket justice with peace is completely wrong. Those who link peace with justice like this only make peace impossible.
According to Nature’s law, peace and justice are two separate things. If you demand justice first, you can never have peace. And there’s another thing to note here. In this world, ideal justice is impossible. What is possible is ‘working justice’ or ‘practical justice’. So, accept ‘working justice’ and don’t hanker after an impossible ideal justice. Accepting the fact that in this world it is only ‘working justice’ that is possible, put every effort first into establishing peace—peace at any cost.
Now, peace in itself will not give you justice. But what it will give you are ample opportunities to engage in different sorts of positive work, using entirely peaceful means. And if you avail of these opportunities, you can secure working justice, too.
There’s another issue to consider here. If you engage in positive work, using entirely peaceful means, people will appreciate and support your efforts. Let me cite my own example. Organizations of members of other faiths often invite me to speak at their gatherings. At such meetings, volunteers of our Centre for Peace and Spirituality (CPS) are able to freely distribute our literature, including translations of the Quran and books on Islamic spirituality. At these meetings, people of other faiths very happily and willingly accept this literature from our volunteers. Our volunteers are able to do this work with no obstruction at all from them. How is this so? It is because we never complain about or protest against others. But if you see Muslims across the world, they only complain. They protest against others, make demands on them and wrongly blame them for their ills. That is how their mind has become. But I tell our CPS volunteers, “We don’t have the right to make demands on others. We must have concern for their well-being in our hearts.” That is why Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and others all respect us and treat us very well. They invite us to their meetings and gladly listen to us when we share about Islam with them. How is this so? It is because for us, peace is a way of life. If you are really peaceful—without and within—and if you are really have the well-being of others in mind, no one will become your enemy. Everyone will be your friend.
So, from all this you can see what a great blessing peace is and how it leads to positivity. That is why the Quran regards the peace treaty signed at Hudaybiyahas Itmam-e Naymat. That is to say, all blessings are linked to peace. If peace is absent, hate, conflict, war and terrorism will take its place. If peace is absent, you cannot do any constructive work. Hence, we must be fully aware that the greatest issue is peace.
Present-day Muslims have completely forgotten this truth. Consider the Palestine issue, which has led to terrible violence that shows no sign of ending. In 1948, Palestine was partitioned. Roughly half the land was given to Jewish people and half to Arabs. Soon after this, the Arabs began to fight. They wanted to rule over the whole of Palestine. And then what happened? They lost almost everything! They were left with almost nothing! If the Arabs had adopted the peaceful method, they could have worked to develop the territory under their control, which also included Jerusalem. Living at peace with Jewish people, they could have shared their faith with them. At the same time, they could have learnt many good and useful things from the Jewish people.
In this world, there is a great secret of progress. And that is, interaction, meeting others. Distancing yourself from others is ghettoism, which actually harms oneself. So, if Jews had come to Israel, the Palestinian Arabs should have reached out to them, instead of fighting them. They could have interacted with them and learnt many good things from them. But they didn’t do that. They did just the opposite, and everyone knows what the result of that course has been and continues to be—enormous destruction and devastation.
According to Islam, fighting is no option at all. There is only one option—and that is, peace. If the Arabs knew this truth, they would have established peaceful relations with the Jewish people. In this way, they could have done great things in the portion of Palestine that they had been assigned by benefitting from Israel’s advancement in many fields, such as education and economics. And in that way, they could also have saved themselves from the devastation that they have suffered over so many decades. But because they didn’t know or recognize the importance of peace, this did not happen.
If you adopt the peace formula, if you live according to the peace culture, you can avail of many opportunities. But if you adopt the war formula, if you live in a culture of hate, you will lose everything. Loss of peace is the greatest evil. So, that is why individuals and communities must strive to establish and maintain peace at any cost.
Once, a Muslim asked me, “Why are so many Muslims so violent?” I said to him, “They don’t know the importance of peace. But from the Quran and the Hadith it can be proven that peace is the biggest thing. Therefore, we must tell Muslims about this fact. We need to explain this to them, with the help of references in the Quran and Hadith, from the lessons of history and from our own personal experience. There is simply no short-cut to peace.”I also informed this man that through our literature and other efforts, many Muslims have changed their way of thinking and have become advocates of peace. Instead of hating others, they want to build bridges with them. Instead of antagonizing others, they are seeking to reach out to them to call them to God, using entirely peaceful methods and inspired by a genuine concern for their well-being.
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