By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
A Hadith report in the Sahih Muslim tells us that God gives in response to gentleness what He does not in response to harshness. This indicates that peaceful activism is preferable to violent activism.
The message of this Hadith report is not something mysterious. Rather, it is a clear, obvious and well-known fact of life. Violence and war only further exacerbate hatred between opponents. They cause much destruction of resources, besides taking many lives. They lead to entire societies to fall prey to negative thinking. Obviously, in such a climate there is no possibility left for positive and constructive activities. There can be no positive fall-out of violence and war.
On the other hand, in a climate of peace, people can establish friendly relations with each other. Friendship and love can flourish. Positive and constructive activities can be promoted, and resources can be used in the right manner, to help promote progress. Such a climate is conducive to positive thinking.
The greatest damage wrought by violence and war is that they block the opportunities that are available. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of peace is that it opens up opportunities to the maximum possible extent. War always brings about additional destruction, while peace inevitably leads to additional benefits for all. This is why Islam, if properly understood, teaches avoidance of war and confrontation to the maximum possible extent, and seeks to establish and maintaining peace at all costs.
Clarification of a Misunderstanding
There are some verses in the Quran about which considerable misunderstanding exists. For instance, the ayat which says, ‘Slay them wherever you find them’ (2:191). On the basis of such verses, some people have developed the impression that Islam is a religion of war. This, however, is a baseless view. Verses of this sort are of a restricted application and concern only those people who may have launched a one-sided attack on the followers of Islam. They are not a general Islamic commandment applying to all non-Muslims.
This point can be better understood if we keep in mind the fact that the Quran was not revealed all at once, in one go, in the form of a book. Rather, it was revealed in instalments, over a period of 23 years. If this period of 23 years is divided according to the conditions that then prevailed, some 20 years of this were years of peace, while only around 3 years were a time of war. The Quranic verses about war were revealed in this 3 year period. Besides these verses, the other verses, which were revealed over a period of 20 years, are all related to peaceful teachings—to matters such as God-realization, worship, morals, justice, and so on.
This way of categorizing the commandments of the Quran is a natural one. This sort of categorization can be done with regard to the scriptures of other religions, too. Take, for instance, the holy book of Hinduism, the Bhagavad Gita. There are many teachings in the Gita that have to do with wisdom and morals. In addition, the Gita also talks about war. In the Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna to go ahead and participate in war. Now, this certainly does not mean that those who believe in the Gita will be fighting a war all the time! In fact, Mahatma Gandhi drew his philosophy of non-violence from the Gita. This was possible because in the Gita, war is only an exception, something to be resorted to only in exceptional circumstances. On the other hand, the Gita envisages peace to be the norm in normal circumstances—and this is what Mahatma Gandhi drew on for developing his philosophy of non-violence.
In the same way, in the New Testament (Matthew 10:34), Jesus is said to have declared, ‘Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.’ It would be absolutely wrong to assume from these words that the religion of the Messiah was one of war and bloodshed. This is because words of this sort are simply an exception in Jesus’ teachings and were linked to a particular situation. As far as general life is concerned, the Messiah always stressed love and peace.
The same thing holds true with regard to the Quran as well. When the Prophet Muhammad migrated from Makkah to Madinah, the polytheists began an aggressive campaign against him. But the Prophet repeatedly sought to stave off these attacks through patient steadfastness and avoidance of fighting. However, in some cases, there was no option left but to reply to these attacks. That is why, on such occasions, the Prophet responded in the form of defensive fighting. It was in these circumstances that the Quranic verses about fighting were revealed. They were definitely only for exceptional circumstances and were of a temporary nature. They were certainly not to be understood as being a general commandment applicable at all times. Hence, in the Quran the Prophet enjoyed the status of a ‘mercy to the worlds’ or Rahmatul-lil-Alameen (21:107).
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan heads the New Delhi-based Centre for Peace and Spirituality