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Islam and Peace: Some Reflections from the Quran and the Life of the Prophet

By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan for New Age Islam

18 October 2017

I have spent much of my life studying Islam from its original sources. Based on my study, I can say, with firm conviction, that Islam is a religion of peace in the complete sense of the term. The very word Islam has a connotation of peace—the root of the word Islam is Silm, which means peace. So, by its very name Islam means a religion of peace, a religion of peaceful living, a religion that emphasizes the values of peace.

But despite this, there is a widespread misunderstanding that Islam is a religion of violence. Consider, for instance, the Battle of Badr. The Makkans had turned hostile to Islam and the Prophet and attacked Madinah, due to which the Muslims had to fight in defence. At this time, it is mentioned in some traditions that the Prophet himself was not involved in the battle. He was sitting some distance away from the battlefield in a makeshift camp, which is referred to in the books as Areesh. So, the Prophet was sitting in this shelter and the battleground was in front of him. The tradition says that at this time he was drawing some lines in the sand. The report says nothing except this. A Western Orientalist claims in this regard that the Prophet was at this time making his next war plan. But this is quite wrong. Why? In the well-known book on Islamic history, Al-Bidaya wan-Nihaya by Ibn Kathir, it says that when the Prophet was sitting in the shelter, an angel came to him and said, “God has sent you a message of peace (Salam).” Now, Salam means peace. So, at this time when he was sitting in the camp during the Battle of Badr, the Prophet received a message from God that was a message of peace!

Then What Happened?

After receiving this message, the Prophet said: “God is peace, peace is from Him and peace returns to Him.” You can see here the prophetic vision and the prophetic sentiment. The Prophet is living in peace even at the time of a battle! The exchange between God and the Prophet at this time was in terms of peace. God sends the Prophet a message of peace, and the response of the Prophet was also in terms of peace.

So, this is the true spirit of Islam. Islam is a religion of peace, not a religion of war or violence.

Importance of Peace in Islam

Now, why does Islam give so much emphasis on peace? What is peace? Some scholars define peace as the absence of war. But this is a negative definition. When you say peace is the absence of war, you are defining peace in negative terms. The best definition of peace according to the Islamic spirit is the availability of opportunities. When there is peace, there are many opportunities for progress. War means the absence of such opportunities, while peace means the availability of opportunities. This is the proper definition of peace and war according to Islam. From this you can understand why Islam gives so much emphasis on peace—because the target of Islam completely depends on peace.

The first verse of Chapter 14 of the Quran says: “We have revealed to you this Book so that, by their Lord's command, you may lead men from darkness to the light: to the path of the Mighty, the Praiseworthy One.” This is the purpose of revelation, the purpose of the sending of the prophets and the purpose of God’s sending down the Quran. It means that Islam is an ideological mission. In this Quranic verse, the reference to darkness is to ideological darkness. So, the purpose of the Quran, of the Prophet, is to bring people from out of this ideological darkness and into ideological light. Tawhid, the oneness of God, is the ideology of light, and the Quran wants to bring people into this light. So, you can see that the Islamic mission is completely an ideological one. This mission can be achieved only through peace, not through the sword or the gun or war. This mission is based completely on persuasion, on dialogue, on discussion, on intellectual awakening. This kind of ideological mission cannot afford war and violence. It is but natural that this kind of mission requires peace at all times and at any cost, because only in peaceful conditions can you engage in dialogue and discuss with people. Without peace, there is no dialogue, there is no discussion, there is no persuasion.

Peace and Patience in Islam

So, it is quite clear that war and violence are irrelevant to the scheme of Islam. The scheme of Islam requires peace in the complete sense of the term. War, violence and intolerance are completely unwanted in Islam. Because of this, the Quran gives great emphasis to Sabr or patience. Sabr is one of the most important teachings of Islam. The Quran says: “Truly, those who persevere patiently will be requited without measure.” (39:10)

This is specifically for Sabr—Sabr is so important! Why?

Sabr is not a passive attitude. Sabr isn’t cowardice. Sabr is nothing but living in peace. I can say with conviction that this is the only proper definition of Sabr. Sabr, or Islamic patience, is living in peace.

This world is a world of test. We are here for a test. The pre-death period of our life is a period of test. This present world is a testing ground. In order to test us, God has given us freedom. Since this freedom has been given by the Creator Himself, no one can abolish it.

So, when human beings enjoy this freedom, it is but natural that they will sometimes misuse it. This happens everywhere and all the time. It creates problems for others. So, according to this scheme of God, according to God’s Creation Plan, everyone is a born problem person. Everyone is a problem-creator. In such a situation it means that we are living in a jungle of thorns! We are living in a society where everyone creates problems for others every now and then. In such a situation, Sabr means adopting peace unilaterally. When you adopt Sabr or peace unilaterally, it is Islamic peace.

According to the Creation Plan of God, Sabr is a great virtue. It isn’t an evil. It is the greatest virtue in the eyes of God, because without Sabr, without patience, you cannot follow the path of Islam. Without Sabr, you cannot purify yourself. The Quran says about those who will be settled in Paradise: “That is the recompense for those who purify themselves.” (20:76) This means that only purified souls can find entry into Paradise.

This process of purifying your soul is a long one. You can maintain this process successfully only through Sabr. Without Sabr you cannot maintain this process that leads to Paradise. So, Sabr is the most important teaching of Islam. And when that is so, it means that peace is the most important teaching of Islam and that war and violence are the most unwanted practice in Islam, because war, violence and intolerance are a permanent hindrance in maintaining that process that leads one to Paradise.

This, then, is the position of peace in the Islamic scheme.

The Quran says: “Then if they should be inclined to make peace, make peace with them” (8:61). It means that when the other party offers you peace, you should accept it. You must accept it without delay. This is the Islamic teaching.

Today, we are living in the age of the United Nations. All the countries of the world are members of this world body. Under this international organization, all the countries have signed a document that is called the United Nations’ Charter, which lays down that aggression, is unlawful in international life. No country has the right to attack any other. It means that in our age, every country is saying, “Let us live in peace! Let us adopt the formula of peaceful coexistence!” So, now that principle has been internationalized. The present age has internationalized the Quranic principle given in v. 8:61, cited above. This principle of Islam has been made global in our age. So, we have no option but to accept this offer. Every nation is saying, “Let us live in peace!”

It is very good news for us, that today, the international community is offering to all nations that we should adopt the formula of peaceful coexistence. This is quite in favour of Islam So, we have to welcome this modern trend, this modern international offer and accept it by heart.

Lesson from the Life of the Prophet

The Prophet Muhammad was born in Makkah and received his first revelation in 610 CE. At this time, most of the Makkans were idolaters and polytheists. The Prophet’s mission was based on Tawhid, the oneness of God, while his audience, the Makkans were mainly polytheists, and so the latter turned hostile. They persecuted the Prophet and his Companions. After 13 years, the Prophet decided to leave Makkah and migrate to Madinah and settle there. There is a very important point to note here in his parting words to the Makkans at that time when he migrated. What did he say? It was not that from that day onwards, he and they were at war. No! When the Prophet decided to leave Makkah due to the persecution of the Quraysh, his final words at that time are mentioned in Chapter 109 of the Quran. He said: “To you your religion, to me mine.” (109:6) He said these words and left Makkah. These were his final words when he migrated from Makkah to Madinah.

What Does It Mean?

It means that this was a formula of ‘difference management’, of peacefully managing differences. In other words, what the Prophet said was that from this day onwards we will adopt the formula of peaceful coexistence—for you, your religion, for me, mine. He did not say that from this day onwards you and I are at war. Rather, what he said was that from this day we will adopt the formula of peaceful coexistence.

This was the formula of difference management adopted by the Prophet. This is a very important formula that the Prophet gave. It is the very same formula that has been adopted by the United Nations. For you, your religion, for me, mine—this is the essence of the principle of peaceful coexistence.

Peaceful coexistence is the only way of existence in this world. This was the formula of the Prophet, the formula that he taught. And so, one can say that Islam is a religion of pace in the complete sense of the term.

(This is a modified version of a transcript of a lecture by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan on ‘Islam and Peace’ delivered on 17 February 2007)


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