By Mohammad Hashim Kamali
16 August 2016
Abstract: This article begins by looking at peace as a theological principle, before proceeding to explore peace from various other angles, such as peace through inclusivity, peace through non-violence, peace through equity and fair treatment of others. There is also an elaborate articulation of methods for the peaceful resolution of conflicts, including counselling (Nasihah), conciliation (Sulh), arbitration (Tahkim), forgiveness (‘Afwa), and truce (al-Hudnah). After reviewing these, the discussion then presents a selection of Islamic legal maxims (Qawa’id Kulliyyah Fiqhiyyah) that accentuate the primacy of peace in Islam. Legal maxims are concise epithetic declarations of principles that accentuate the higher goals and purposes of Islam. We conclude with a set of actionable recommendations.
Peace in our time is being challenged by persistent imbalances, wars, terrorism, widening inequalities, environmental degradation and an international system that has become far too polarised. This suggests that humans have not allowed themselves to be transformed by their respective traditions, nor by the harrowing experiences of these turbulent times.
Religion and peace are intimately co-related in almost all major world traditions. Peace from the Islamic perspective is not merely the absence of war but an ideal state of inward and outward equilibrium and harmony achievable through striving against egotism, racism, economic exploitation and social injustice. Peace through equity and justice is a cardinal objective of Islam, often championed by Muslim intellectuals and the vast majority of ordinary Muslims. The events of September 11, 2001, have, however, focused the world’s eyes on Muslim terrorists, leading to a much distorted view of Islam and Muslims.
Islam’s fundamentally peaceful nature is, however, easy to illustrate. Jihad, for example, abusive interpretations of it notwithstanding, is primarily an instrument of peaceful self-discipline. The pathways to peace are also enriched byIslam’srichtraditionofSufismanditswealthofteachingsonhumanfraternity, compassion, justice, beneficence, honouring one’s neighbour, avoidance of harm to others, and a dignified resistance to provocation. A coercive narrative of peace through subjugation also exists but which is exceptional to Islam’s normative advocacy of pacifism that is sustained by our readings of Islam’s history and scripture.
Insofar as Muslims feel that they are “under siege,” radical and authoritarian understandings of Islam do maintain considerable vitality and appeal. That said, there is a compelling core of Islamic values for a rich understanding of peace that transcends the medieval legal constructs of war and peace, themselves not altogether devoid of departures from essential guidelines. Muslims are encouraged by the core teachings of their religion to deepen their commitment to equity and justice in a democratic and cosmopolitan manner.
A narrow preoccupation with Western hostility towards Islam has prevented Muslims from addressing local conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere, and from taking advantage of increasingly democratic trends in their societies.
Although radical fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi have been content with a superficial appropriation of discredited symbols from earlier times (Dar Al-Harb, Dar Al-Islam, belligerent jihad and revival of a caliphate), moderate revivalist thinkers have placed emphasis on the need for new ways of thinking about problems of domestic and international peace, as well as of global governance.1
Evidence shows that Islam has not been witness to any more violence than one finds in other civilisations, particularly that of the West, as manifested in colonialism,WorldWarI&II,theoccupationsandconflictsinIraq,Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere. Nonetheless, for the West it seems that events like the Muslim conquest of Spain and the Ottoman domination of Eastern Europe have provided a historical memory associating Islam with force and power. Moreover, the recent upheavals in the Middle East, and especially movements using the name of Islam and jihad for political ends, have reinforced the idea that, in some special way, Islam is related to violence.2.
Certainly, mainstream Islamophobic propaganda readily endorses and magnifies this image. Nevertheless, it should be remembered that it has not always been valid. Indeed, and in an inversion of current events, Muslim countries were once where the persecuted of Europe, in particular the Jews, sought refuge. The pogroms and the inquisitions of Europe forced the Jews to migrate to both the Muslim countries of North Africa and the Ottoman territories.
The Qur’an designates the Muslims as a community of the ‘middle path’ (Ummatan Wasaatan) which, together with its parallel concept of ‘mutual recognition’ (Ta’aruf) for friendship, visualises Muslims as the agents and facilitators of peace. In the Muslim historical narrative, Islam is understood to have been a progressive, tolerant, and civilising force with binding rules constraining injustice and wanton violence. Islam’s self-identity as a “religion of peace” is based on the premise that Islam challenges the root causes of human violence.
Islamic scripture provides varied readings of warrior and pacifist perspectives. An attempt is made in the following pages to present a comprehensive vision of peace and the varied ways in which the source evidence of Islam is interpreted by its classical and contemporary commentators.
Peace as a Theological Principle
Islam’s intimate identity with peace begins with its name: Islam (conventionally translated as “submission to the will of God”) derives from the notion of Salm, Silm, and Salamah, meaning security, peace-making, resignation and conciliation. It is also associated with the Salam in the daily greeting of Muslims: As-Salam Alaykum ‘may safety and peace abide with you.’ It is an assurance of security and freedom from all harm. For Muslims, Islam suggests a state of peace and security that comes through renunciation of wilfulness and rebellion. Sincere resignation to God’s revealed guidance is the essential connotation of “Islam” and as a conventional term it serves as the name for the Muslim faith. “I have chosen Islam as your religion” (Q al-Ma’idah, 5:3).
Another important spiritual foundation for peace in Islam is the belief that God is Peace and is the ultimate source of Peace: “He is God; there is no god save He; the King; the Holy and the Peace (al-Salam)” (Q al-Hashr, 59:23).3 Symbolising the exalted name and attribute of God, peace in Islam thus partakes in a sparkle of the divine.
The five daily prayers (Salah) that Muslims perform end with the salutation “peace be upon you,” saluting first the right side of the world and then the left side of the world. Then also God’s illustrious name, al-Salam, is recited in the supplication (Du’a) at the conclusion of the five daily prayers by Muslim worshippers: “O God, you are Peace, the source of Peace, and to you Peace returns, so help us live in peace …”
Islam’s notion of peace is holistic, implanted in the essence of human conscience and radiated into their hearts. This is then manifested into healthy thinking and positive attitudes, peaceful treatment of fellow men and women, the living inhabitants of the earth, as well as the flora and fauna of their natural surroundings.4
God shows His human servants the path to seek Him, and whoever sets out upon that path is rewarded with an inner tranquillity (Sakinah - Q al-Tawbah, 9:26 & 40) that gives him strength to build a peaceful environment around him. Peace comes from God, but not in an obvious way, as the Qur’an says: “He it is Who sent down tranquillity into the hearts of the believers... so that they might growfirmintheirfaith[inHim]”(al-Fath,48:4).Godthenpraisesthosewholive peacefully with others in daily life: “The [true] servants of God are those who walk the earth with humility, and when the ignorant address them, they reply ‘Peace’” (al-Furqan, 25:63). Peace is thus to be found, not outside the heart of man, but primarily within it, and from here it spreads to the outer world. From the Qur’anic perspective, peace finds expression in three interlocking circles, the first of which is peace of the heart, which in turn nurtures peace with God and faith in Him, and which then extends to the third circle, peace with the outside world. All three circles interact and influence one another.5
Islam Itself May Not Be Imposed On Anyone Through Compulsion And Violence
(Q 2:256). The Qur’an confirms that coerced religion would be pointless as it destroys the essence of conviction and belief. Muslims are enjoined to invite non-Muslims “to the Way of Thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious...God is with those who restrain themselves, and those who do good” (Q al-Nahl, 16:125-28). For Ibn Taymiyyah (d.1328 CE), the idea of initiating unprovoked war to convert people to Islam belies the religion: “If the unbeliever were to be killed unless he becomes a Muslim, such an action would constitute the greatest compulsion in religion.”6 Ibn Taymiyyah’s renowned disciple, Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, reiterated this point and wrote that “fighting is permitted on account of war, not on account of disbelief.”7
Paul Hedges wrote that “the freedom of religion that Europe developed aroundtheperiodwecalledtheEnlightenmentactuallycamefromanadmiration ofthetoleranceseenintheOttomanEmpire.”8 The Ottomans had many religious traditions represented amongst their subjects and enacted policies to allow them to live together in relative harmony. The Ottoman Millet system sat at the heart of these policies. Applied to non-Muslim religious communities, this institution provided a means of accommodating religious diversity. Over centuries of expansion into non-Muslim lands, the application of the Millet system created an elaborate structure of fairly autonomous communities whose religious leaders were even able to develop formal relations with the rulers of other Muslim empires.9 In a manner unimaginable at the time, Christians, Jews, Sabeans, and Hindus all had access to considerably high state posts, right up until the dissolutionoftheOttomanEmpireatthebeginningofthe20th century.10 “Europe had nothing like this, and so had to learn from it.”11 Moreover, the Ottomans were not simply inventing this system, but were building upon foundations going back to the Prophet Muhammad and his early successors, the Four Rightly Guided Caliphs.
Compassion (Rahmah) is another central concept in the Islamic order of values. God says in the Qur’an: “My mercy encompasses everything” (Q 7:156), and that “God has written mercy upon Himself” (Q al-An’am, 6:12, & 54). Like compassion, peace cannot be imposed from outside. It starts within the hearts and minds of people and the dynamics it generates are externalised through patience, tolerance, generosity, and forgiveness.12
Ihsan (beauty and benevolence) is an integral part of the peace and spirituality of Islam. It is, however, possible to act rightly but be devoid of Ihsan. One can practice the externalities of one’s religion at the level of submission (Islam) but be devoid of faith (Iman). One can even be religious in both these senses (Islam, Iman) but be lacking in beauty and spiritual devotion (Ihsan). The Qur’an repeatedly mentions God’s love for the Muhsinun, or those who practice Ihsan, a state which is only possible when the existential reality of one’s daily life is not overwhelmed by conflict. Peace thus becomes the prerequisite of beauty; it has theological significance, and it partakes in the comprehensive fulfilment of Islam.
Peace through Inclusivity and Universalism
Tawhid, the principle of Divine Oneness, is the first article of the Muslim faith and a major theme of the Qur’an. There is only one God and essentially only one humanity too, which implies that all humans are equal, simply because we are all of one and the same essence and ancestry.“O mankind!”God says in the Qur’an, “surely We have created you from a male and a female and made you into tribes and nations so that you may get to know each other. The noblest of you with God are the most righteous of you” (Q al-Hujurat, 49:13). The Qur’an also appeals to the people to cooperate in good deeds and “cooperate not in hostility and sin” (Q al-Ma’idah, 5:2), and then it also enjoins them to: “vie with one another in good works. For to God you shall all return…” (Qal-Ma’idah, 5:48).Tawhid thus constitutes the basis of Islam’s universalism, inclusivity and tolerance.
The universalist outlook of Tawhid is also manifested with reference to the sanctity of human life. Every human life is equally important, without discrimination of any kind. God has repeatedly proclaimed that human life – a sacred gift – may never be taken without a “just cause.” Islam protects every life and therefore seeks to establish safety and security for all.
In the Sufi tradition, Tawhid has meant, not only the unity of God, but also the presence of God within His creation and the complete dependence of creation upon its divine foundation–a condition some Sufi metaphysicists have described as “the unity of being” (Wahdat al Wujud). By offering an “inner Islam “for those seeking a path to God, Sufism has left a profound mark on Islamic culture. By expressing itself in literature, philosophy, music, poetry, ethics and the visual arts, Sufism has created a culture in which love is “presented as the key to Islamic life and practice.”13
Despite its emphasis on Tawhid, however, the Qur’an is also cognisant of internal diversity and pluralism among human communities and nations, whether on account of language, creed, custom or culture: 14
Unto each of you We have appointed a [different] law and way of life. And if God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community. But [He willed it otherwise] in order to test by means of what He has vouchsafed unto you. Vie, then, with one another in doing good works! (Q al-Ma’idah, 5:48; and Q Hud, 11:118)
The existence of Tawhid in a pluralist world implies the need to discover through dialogue that which is common and universal in all religions and pursue them through respectful debate and cooperation. Advocates of peace through universalism therefore seek to engage with representatives of different cultures and religions on the basis of this Qur’anic principle of divinely-sanctioned pluralism in human societies. Human diversity exists as a function of divine will and not because of human proclivity alone. In light of this diversity, exchanges of views about the world’s many pressing problems ought to be conducted in a way thatnotonlyreflectsIslamicvaluesbutalsocallsonotherstoactontheguidance they have received. It also means strengthening the institutions of international law and bolstering a global civil society of world opinion in order to promote and protect peace and justice.15
Authoritative voices among Muslims who embrace the Sufi dimension of slam have often called for respectful communication among all of the world’s religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Prominent Muslim scholars, including Seyyid Hossein Nasr and Abdul Aziz Said, maintain that Islam offers a confident but not overbearing perspective on human religious experience. Islam retains its core theological claim with respect to the principle of divine unity while supporting dialogue among spiritual practitioners on a basis of appreciation and mutuality.16
The absence of a central religious authority or clergy in the Islamic tradition pre-empts authoritarianism as a model, and as further attested by the multiplicity of schools of Islamic theology and law. The incremental process of establishing orthodoxy is not therefore the monopoly of the Ulema; it is shaped by a multitude of social agents, including men of letters, political leaders, artists, scientists, traders and theologians. The dissemination of religious authority on the one hand, and the malleability of cultural expressions in Muslim societies on the other, have challenged authoritarianism and also raised questions of legitimacy and authenticity.
In creating their cultural orthopraxis, Muslim communities have used the ethical universalism of the Qur’an and Sunnah, especially the Qur’anic call to enjoin what is good and praiseworthy (Ma’ruf) and reject what is morally evil and disliked (Munkar). This non-culture-specific injunction was addressed to all people, regardless of their religious affiliations. The notion of the middle community (Ummah Wasatah, Q 2:143) supports the same ethical universalism:
“And thus We willed you to be a community of the middle way, so that you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind, and that the Messenger might be a witness over yourselves.”
This ethico-spiritual universalism aims to create an open society based on moral values, not on the received traditions of one tribe, city or nation. The fact that the Qur’an positions itself against the cultural and tribal localism of pre-
Islamic Arabia confirms this universalistic outlook.17 Instead; society should be based on knowledge (‘Ilm) and moral virtue (Taqwa) (Q 49:13). These are the ultimate criteria of nobility, before both God and humanity. In this milieu, cultural andreligiousco-existenceisnotbasedonthemeretemporaryabsenceofconflict and confrontation between Muslims and non-Muslims; it is about Muslims’ inclusive attitude toward other cultures and religions, making Islamic civilisation, as Hodgson phrased it, “simultaneously both Islamic and islamicate.”18
The experience of convivencia among Jews, Christians and Muslims in Andalusia was a result of the Islamic notion of cultural inclusivism. While the Jews of Europe were subjected to woeful vilifications during the middle Ages, a major Jewish intellectual tradition developed under Muslim rule and included prominent figures of medieval Jewish thought. This resulted in a unique interaction between medieval Jewish philosophy on the one hand and Islamic philosophy, Kalam, and Sufism on the other.19
During the ninth and tenth centuries CE, Baghdad, the Abbasid Empire’s capital, became one of the most cosmopolitan cities of the medieval world, where Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars collaboratively searched for knowledge. Along with Cordoba in Andalusia, Baghdad was one of the two focal points of a remarkable research programme: the collection, translation and synthesis of all known sources of human knowledge. Not only Greek but also Indian, Iranian and Chinese advances in knowledge were integrated into this synthesis. Syriac Christian and Jewish scholars played a particularly vital role in an officially sponsored effort to translate scientific and philosophical texts intoArabic.20
A little later, the Indian subcontinent saw a cultural syncretism develop between Hindu and Muslim cultures, as evinced by Abu Rayhan al-Biruni’s (d.1047CE) historic study of India and Amir Khusro’s(d.1325CE)formulation of an Islamic identity in the Indian cultural environment. vast literature came into being as a result, generating a unique symbiosis between the two worlds at the social, philosophical, artistic and cultural levels.21 Such modes of inclusivity and coexistence were made possible by the Qur’anic recognition of diversity and mutual recognition.
EventhoughMuslimfundamentalistsconsidercasesofculturalsymbiosisand syncretism to be deviations from their idealised construct of Islam, traditionally both the Islamic intellectual tradition and Muslim societies have envisaged peace as a cross-cultural and inter-communal value that overrides and subsumes isolated and sectarian readings of Islamic heritage and scripture.22
Sufism provides a powerful outlook on inclusivity and universalism. It opens a window to the inner world of spirituality, linking peace in the world to internal processes of human transformation. A Sufi approach to spirituality represents
Islam’s Capacity for Fostering Inclusiveness and an Appreciation of Human Differences
According to this universalistic Islamic perspective, cultural and religious diversity becomes a resource for humanity’s enrichment.
Although the Sufis did not create a separate sect within Islam, they were united by an ambitious understanding of the spiritual paths of their religion. They aspired not so much to attain a heavenly reward in the afterlife, as to ‘meet’ God in life through a deep commitment to doing what is beautiful in daily activities and observances.23. Even today, Sufism transcends sectarian identities and represents an aspect of Islam whose core doctrines are shared by both Sunni and Shia. The broad- minded ecumenical and universalist tendencies within Sufism have endowed the present generation of Muslims with a rich heritage that can be used to build bridges of cross-cultural and interreligious understanding in the modern world.
Other Articles of the Series: