By Moin Qazi, New Age Islam
11 May 2022
Islam Prescribes the Principles of Justice and Equity for Peace and Human Development and Compassion for All of Mankind
1. Islam is a universal religion speaking to humanity.
2. For some, the peace of God is through his sword; for others, it is found in his unbounded mercy.
3. If you want peace, you can find peaceable verses.
Islam is a religion of peace. That is its aim and goal. The Qur’an's powerful commandment should leave one in no doubt, "Whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as though he had killed all of mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind" (Q5:32).
At its very core, Islam prescribes the principles of justice and equity for peace and human development and compassion for all of mankind. Not to mention that the very root word of Islam itself is derived from the word salaam (peace). Islam is a universal religion speaking to humanity. The Prophet in his last great address at Arafat summed up his philosophy by decrying barriers between people. Islam, for him, transcended divisions of caste, colour, and race. “All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by and good action.”
Much of the strife and misunderstanding of the Qur’an is primarily on account of selective reading of verses that promote the adversaries’ agenda. The voice of the text is the fruit of dialogue. For some, the peace of God is through his sword; for others, it is found in his unbounded mercy. The entire paradigm is built around human interpretation. The pacifists and the terrorists read the same text but present fundamentally different interpretations. It is important to consider the reader and interpreter of the Qur’an. The voice of the Qur’an heard by Islamic fundamentalists is not the same as the voice heard by progressive Muslims. The entire verses of the Qur’an must be read and understood in conjunction with each other. Reading and interpreting verses in isolation is an incorrect way of engaging with the Qur’an. It would yield a meaning that conforms to your own worldview.
The Qur’an contains injunctions that call both for peace and for violence. The problem is that non-violent and militant Muslims appear equally justified by the logic they expound for their actions in the particular situation in which they have to interpret the words of the Qur’an.
Part of the problem is that there are concerns about religious content that are not dealt with openly. There are just too many hard conclusions made about religious texts often made by those who know less than they claim. Many of them may be outright non-believers of any organised religion.
The entire dilemma can be resolved by using a simple understanding which can be used for avoiding too much of unnecessary bitterness. The fact is that a religious text contains violent verses doesn’t make it a violent religion.
The enemy of peace is not religion, but those who pursue acts of terror and violence against the innocent in the name of religion. For them, their religion is not their guide; it is more of a tool for justifying their own selfish and ill-intentioned concerns.
There have been several strands of thought on the fate of people who abandon Islam. But even here the last word is still awaited. Moreover, the entire issue has been discussed widely over the last many years and there are clear and convincing opinions from jurists. The scholars are still combing historical chronicles and their own expertise in reaching a consensus that is just and at the same time doesn’t tinker with the basic Qur’anic injunctions on apostasy.
At the same time Muslims endorse that people in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind and the heart and the soul. Freedom of religion is central to the ability of people to live together.
Faith is an intensely personal issue and each person should be allowed to find their path in life. An oft-quoted Qur'anic passage (2:256) famously declares, "There is no compulsion in religion, the right direction is clearly distinguished from the wrong."
It is probably true that in every faith ordinary people will pick the parts they like best and practice those, while the scholars will work out an official version. In Islam, the scholars had a particularly challenging task, given the mass of contradictory texts within the Qur’an. To meet this challenge they developed the rule of abrogation, which states that wherever contradictions are found, the later-dated text abrogates the earlier one. To elucidate further the original intention of Prophet Mohammed, they referred to traditions (hadith) recording what he had said and done. Sadly for the rest of the world, both these methods led Islam away from peace and towards war.
At this point, we must understand that the Qur'an was revealed over a long time? We will explore the ones provided by Allah in the Qur’an itself.
“And said those who disbelieved, ‘Why has the Qur’an not been revealed to him all at once?’ (It has been sent down) in this way (i.e. in parts) so that We make your heart firm, and We revealed it little by little.” (Qur’an 25:32)
“And We have divided the Qur’an into portions, so that you may recite it to the people gradually, and We have revealed it little by little. (Qur’an 17:106)
The main bone of contention between those who represent the pacifist face of Islam and those who talk of violence is that many of them are not aware of the context. There is no hierarchy of verses in the Qur’an. Those who privilege the first verse over the second will wage war to fight injustice. And most militant Muslims invoke this verse in the defence of their actions. But then there are Muslims who privilege the second verse and seek a diplomatic end to persecution through forgiveness. The two verses above are exemplary of the tension between realism and idealism in Islam. But in the final analysis, Islam is what Muslims make of it.
Some verses are very often snipped out of context by mischief-makers to inflame emotions, foster misunderstandings, and perpetuate violence on all sides.
For example, the current modern definition of jihad is contrary to the linguistic meaning of the word and also contradicts the beliefs of many Muslims, who equate it with religious extremism. The word jihad stems from the Arabic root “J-H-D” which means “strive”.
Other words derived from this root include “effort,” “labour” and “fatigue”. Essentially, jihad is a struggle to stand by one’s religion despite persecution.
Prophet Muhammad explained that true jihad was an inner struggle against egotism. There is a lot of misunderstanding on account of this verse, “Slay them wherever you catch them…” (Chapter 2, verse 191). But who is this referring to? Who are “they” in this verse? They are those who persecute and kill the innocent for their faith.
By far the majority of Muslims today live their lives without recourse to violence. If you want peace, you can find peaceable verses. If you want war, you can find bellicose verses. You can find verses that permit only defensive jihad, or you can find verses to justify offensive jihad. In chapter three verse eight the Qur’an calls out people who cherry-pick verses as “perverse”. It is this reason why modern Islamic reformers like Fazlur Rahman have asked for a contextual understanding of the Qur’an and pleaded for differentiation between historical and normative Islam.
The adversaries of Islam draw on selected Islamic texts and examples that suggest a militant Islam bent on conquering the world for Allah. This is a false narrative, one that misses the variegated mixture of ideas, doctrines and historical experiences that exist in Islam—as in every major religion. In particular, it ignores the innumerable positive developments large and small, grassroots and doctrinal, that in our time is leading to a more tolerant Islam.
Islam promotes and teaches humans to practice balance in all aspects of life with moderation. As humans we are influenced by our culture and traditions; political, economic, and psychological experiences not only shape our attitudes and behaviours but separate and divide us. Consequently, our world views and religious views differ from place to place, era to era, and across cultures and thereby irresponsibly link religion, in this case, Islam, to the oppression of women.
The alleged retrograde practices of the community take the world’s focus away from understanding the overwhelming problems of the Muslim world and the cause of its troubles. Not to mention, it provides an easy scapegoat for those looking to legitimize their illegitimate actions which are detrimental to humanity. This is one of the reasons for this unnecessary bitterness over plainly innocuous customs and practices like hijab, which have culturally bonded these cultures over the years.
When the Prophet Muhammad returned victorious to Mecca after twenty years, he bore no animosity for those who had persecuted him and his followers and forced them to migrate. The only condition he imposed was that universal freedom of conscience should be accepted in Mecca.
Historian Stanley Lane-Poole said, “The day of Muhammad’s greatest triumph over his enemies was also the day of his grandest victory over himself. He freely forgave the Quraysh all the years of sorrow and cruel scorn in which they had afflicted him and gave an amnesty to the whole population of Mecca.”
We have denuded religion of its humanist content, compassion, piety, tolerance and fairness, and reduced it to a rigid set of social codes and practices considered the only valid credentials for attaining salvation. Fake religious leaders have adopted the responsibility of collective salvation, freeing humanity of its own individual moral and spiritual accountability. We need to think and act at our level and abandon this trend of seeking salvation in herds if we want to achieve our moral redemption. This is the distilled essence of all divine revelations.
The divine books are the work of an infallible God, but human-mandated practices that have shrouded the original divine message are products of the minds of fallible human beings. This is the root cause of misunderstanding about religions and the wrong beliefs that abound in adherents, most of whom are illiterate or are intellectually incapable of comprehending the scriptures.
History tells us that politics plays a vicious role when there is a clash between beliefs and truth. Society has paid a heavy price for allowing politics to have its sway. We should grow wiser from the lessons of history. Let history not repeat itself. Let us not play with precious human lives.
Iranian poet Sa'adi, from the 13th century, is one of the major influential Persian poets of the medieval period. He is recognised in the literary world for the quality of his writing style and in the spiritual realm for the depth of his thoughts.
Sa'adi is best known for his works 'Gulistan' and 'Bostan', where his poetry emphasised unity in mankind, and independence for every individual regardless of social barriers and labels. Many of his poems greatly impacted India and influenced Central Asia.
One particular poem written eight centuries ago became a motto and decorates the gate of the United Nations building entrance. Bani Adam, the Children of Adam, is an aphorism calling for the breaking of all barriers and was quoted by President Obama in a meeting with Iranian leaders.
A simpler translation of the poem goes like this:
The sons of Adam are limbs of each other,
Having been created of one essence.
When the calamity of time affects one limb
The other limbs cannot remain at rest.
If you have no sympathy for the troubles of others,
You are unworthy to be called by the name of a Human.
Then we have the famous verse signifying the essence and spirit of dialogue:
Guftagu Band Na Ho Baat Se Baat Chale
Subah Tak Sham-E-Mulakaat Chale...
Regzaron Se Adavat Ke Guzar Jayenge
Khoon Ke Dariyaon Se Hum Paar Utar Jayenge
(Keep the dialogue going, one word leading to another,
The evening rendezvous lasting till dawn
We shall cross the deserts of hate
And bridge the rivers of blood).
(Ali Sardar Jafri-Sarhad)
Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker. He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades.
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