By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
In a tradition Aisha reports about the general policy of the Prophet of Islam: “Whenever the Prophet had to choose between the two, he always opted for the easier course of action rather than the harder course of action.” (Bukhari) It is very clear that the option of peace is the easier option, so the Prophet always tried to take the peaceful option. He never opted for war by choice.
When I reflect on the Prophet’s life, I find that for the Prophet offensive war was out of the question. In my detailed study of the life of the Prophet, I never found any single event wherein the Prophet opted for aggressive war. According to Islamic teachings, there is no such thing called justified violence. The Prophet never engaged in war except under compulsion. Also, this involvement was very limited. According to my conception, there is a difference between defensive war and compulsory war. For the Prophet, defence was not an excuse to engage in war. The Prophet always tried to avoid violence. In my book The Prophet of Peace I have given examples of occasions where the Prophet tried to avoid war. There are some occasions where he was compelled to opt for a limited war. One such example is Ghazwa Hunayn.
The wars that the Prophet engaged in lasted only for a day. It is true that Ghazwa Khaybar lasted up to twenty-five days. But it was not a ghazwa (war)—it was a siege. It is true that some verses of the Quran seem to be legitimise defensive war. But it was totally in the temporary sense of the word. At that time, tribal culture was prevalent in Arabia. God Almighty wanted to bring an end to the tribal culture. Therefore, for a temporary period, the Quran allowed some limited kind of defensive war. But in true sense, it wasn’t defensive war. Rather, it was compulsory war. Then, God tried to bring about a revolution that may end the tribal age and all other kinds of cultures that allowed violence. Today, we are living in that age of peace which was envisaged by the Quran. In the present age, Muslims don’t need to take part in any war or engage in violence. They enjoy complete freedom and all kinds of opportunities. Their human rights are secure, and even as far as politics is concerned they are living in the age of democracy. All these factors have made war and violence outdated. The so-called jihads we see in Muslim countries are not jihad, but what can be called anti-jihad. There is no true justification for these violent activities.
At the time of the Prophet there was compulsory defence. The Prophet engaged in war sometimes, but not by choice. In every such occasion his policy was first to avoid war by negotiation or some other strategy. Then, he tried to limit the war. Due to this policy there was no full-fledged war during Prophet’s time. All the wars in his time were skirmishes and not wars in the true sense of the word. Now, in the present age we have a reliable option for peace, that is, to refer the conflict to the United Nations. In Prophet’s time there was no such body as the United Nations, so one had no option other than to take decisions on one’s own.
There is a verse in the Quran: As-sulh Khair (4:128). It means that peace is the best option. According to this verse, self-defence is not an option. Only compulsory involvement in war is permissible, provided all efforts to establish peace and make compromise have failed.
According to my experience, there is no such thing as unilateral attack. All attacks occur after some provocation. If you save yourself from provoking others, then there will be no attack. But, if, in a rare case, there is an unprovoked attack, then you have two options, the first of greater evil and the second of lesser evil. I think going for defence is opting for the greater evil, while opting for compromise is choosing the lesser evil. In such situations, the question is not why you shouldn’t opt for defence. The problem is that in the name of defence, you are opting for a greater evil. And if the choice is between greater evil and lesser evil, then it is better to opt for the lesser evil.
At the time of attack, people generally know of one option, that is, of defence. But in fact, in every such situation, there is one more option—that is, of compromise. In such situations, compromise means opting for the policy of buying time. After making a compromise, you get the opportunity to re-plan your strategy. The example of the Prophet of Islam shows that this kind of policy always leads to new success. The Hudaibiyah Agreement at the time of the Prophet was based on this wisdom. The Prophet opted for compromise by accepting all the conditions of the other party. Apparently, it was a case of surrender, but it was actually opting for a policy of buying time. Thus, after finalizing this agreement, the Prophet availed the situation to reorganize his energies and re-plan peaceful Dawah work, with the result being great success.
There is, as I mentioned earlier, a guiding principle in the Quran in these words: As-sulh khair (4:128). It means that, in terms of result, peace is the best. According to my study, the Islamic strategy is always based on the result. If experience shows that war, even defensive war, leads to more losses than gain, then it is better to opt for compromise rather than for defence, except in extremely compelling situations. During the Prophet’s time, the Battle of Hunayn was an example of this. It was an entirely compulsory option for the Companions of the Prophet. If there is no such compulsion, one should opt for compromise rather than taking the option of defence.
There is a Hadith report in Sahih al-Bukhari which says: “Don’t wish for confrontation with the enemy. Always ask for peace from God.” It means that violence and war are not options. You must try to establish peace at any cost. The only exception is when you are pushed to war compulsorily and out of compulsion, for a temporary period.