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Developing a theology of peace in Islam - i
By Asghar Ali Engineer

Islam is being associated with violence and jihad in the minds of not only non-Muslims but also of many Muslims. The slogans of jihad are being raised by frustrated youth unable to find any other way and also by those who are fighting for national liberation and regional autonomy. Such slogans create strong images of holy war being ordained by Islam and Islam being religion of violence. And now what has happened in New York on 11th September 2001 and in Pentagon i.e. attacks on World Trade Centre with the help of hijacked planes will greatly strengthen this stereotype in the minds of people of the world in general and in the minds of Americans, in particular. The attack on WTC in New York and Pentagon in Washington is, to say the least, horrific and must be condemned in strongest possible and unambiguous terms.

It should be remembered that there is no relation between religion and violence, neither in Islam, nor in any religion for that matter. Violence is a social and political phenomenon. It is true that there is mention of war in scriptures like Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Qur'an. But this mention is not to establish any integral link between religion and violence but to portray certain social and political situation that prevailed at that time. It can be called integral only if these scriptures mandate violence as a desirable solution.

It is important to distinguish between what is empirical and ideological. The Twain do not always meet. While violence is empirical, peace is ideological. All scriptures, particularly the Qur’an while permitting violence in some inevitable situations, ordain peace as a norm. The great religions of the world came to establish justice and peace, not to perpetrate revenge and violence. Revenge and violence can never become part of any religion, much less that of Islam. Allah has created both in human beings – tendency for aggression and violence and exalted feeling for serenity of peace. Allah, according to the Qur’an, created human person in the best of mould (ahsan-i-taqwim) and then rendered him lowest of the low (95:4-5)

In fact it is this dynamics of human personality i.e. being created in the best of the mould and then being reduced to the lowest of the low that we have to understand the dynamics of peace and violence also. Allah desires peace and created us, for that purpose, in the best of the mould but our greed, greed for both wealth and power reduced us to an instrument of aggression and violence. For a human being there will always be an internal jihad, an internal struggle to rise to the level of ahsan-i-taqwim (best of the mould) and continuously resist the temptations of wealth and power.

The Qur’an strengthens the social roots of peace by emphasising the role of need based economy and resolutely opposing greed based one. The roots of violence, as pointed out above, lie in human greed. Thus we find in the Qur’an, “They ask thee what should we spend. Say what is surplus.” (2:219) It is obvious from this verse that you spend on yourself according to your personal needs and give away the surplus with you to other needy people. Similarly the Qur’an prescribes in yet another context that the wealth should not circulate among the rich only. (59:7). And it also exhorts Muslims that those who hoard gold and silver and do not give them away in the way of Allah announce to them the painful chastisement.(9:34)

Thus the Qur’an wants to establish peace not superficially by exhorting the believers to love peace but tries to tackle the very socio-economic roots of conflict. If few people or countries grab largest part of the resources of the world and live in all comfort and deny other people even their basic needs violence and conflict will result whatever the pleadings for peace. Or, if some people commit aggression unjustifiable against others to keep their own dominance and deny others their very basic rights, it will be impossible to maintain peace is such unjust political order.

The Qur’an draws our attention to such a situation also as the Prophet and his followers were persecuted by the powerful and the rich chiefs of Mecca to maintain their own hegemony and were forced to flee from that town which was rightfully theirs. It is such persecution by the powerful, in order to maintain their hegemony that violence results. The Qur'an is opposed to an unjust order and domination by few powerful whom it calls mustakbirun (i.e. arrogant and powerful). They persecute the weak (mustad`afun). If such an unjust order persists violence will result, however undesirable it may be.

Allah thus says in the Qur’an, “And what reason have you not to fight in the way of Allah, and of the weak (mustad`afin) among the men and the women and the children, who say: Our Lord, take us out of the town, whose people are oppressors, and grant us from Thee a friend and grant us from Thee a helper.” This verse in the Qur’an combines both what is empirical and what is ideological. The weak when oppressed are more likely to fight and resist an unjust order. This is empirical. But the above verse also makes an ideological statement when it says that the weak among men, women and children pray that our Lord take us out of this town (Mecca) whose people are oppressors and grant us from Thee a friend and a helper. Thus the Qur’an makes it clear that one must not live in an unjust order and seek helper from Allah to relieve them of injustice.

It is also important that the Qur’an more than once focuses our attention on the on going conflict between mustakbirun and mustad`afun i.e. between the arrogant and powerful and the weak and the oppressed. The arrogant and powerful is represented by Nimrod and Pharoah and the weak and oppressed by Abraham and Moses. Both Abraham and Moses were liberators. But they liberated their oppressed people not through violence but through struggle leading them out of the unjust order, unjust situation.

There will always be struggle between the oppressors and the oppressed, the powerful and the weak but this struggle need not be violent. It much depends on situation. The Prophet (PBUH) himself prefers peace at Hudaybia (sulh-i-Hudaybia) than war even at the cost of pride of Muslims. The peace conditions (I need not go into details of those conditions here, which are quite well known) were far from favourable to Muslims but the Prophet of Islam accepted those conditions in order to avoid bloodshed. However, the Prophet could do so as the other side also, due to certain constraints, accepted peace on their own terms.

If the other side was bent upon war there would have been no choice for the Prophet but to accept the situation and fight the war. It much depends what situation you are facing. One cannot talk of war and peace quite in an abstract manner. Thus socio-political and socio-economic context plays great role in deciding whether peace will prevail or not.

One thing is sure: Islam does not even indirectly hint at coercion, let alone violence, when it comes to any religious or spiritual question. Thus it becomes quite clear that Islam being a religion does not approve of violence at all in any religious matter. However, if Muslims are put in a particular situation which is unjust (not only for them but for humanity as such) they may have to struggle peacefully (and if violence is thrust on them, reluctantly through violence) to remove the cause of injustice.

It is quite important to note that liberative struggle should never be confined to Muslims alone. It is quite significant for theology of peace in Islam that throughout the text of the Qur’an we find the words mustakbirun and mustad`afun i.e. arrogant and the weak or oppressors and the oppressed without any qualification of being Muslim or not. Thus even if arrogant and oppressor is a Muslim, one will have to struggle against him and even if an oppressed and persecuted is non-Muslim Muslims will have to wage struggle against him.

Thus the struggle nowhere involves Islam as a religion but Muslims as upholders of peace and justice. Yes, it is true justice and peace (and for that matter compassion) are also Islamic values but they are also universal values applicable not only to Muslims but to all whether they be Muslims or not. Thus, as far as justice and peace is concerned the clash is not between Islam and any other religion but it is primarily between oppressors and the oppressed. It is wrong to implicate Islam if some Muslims choose to adopt violent means to achieve their goal. Islam does not automatically approve of violent means if any injustice or exploitation is to be fought.
The Qur’an does not permit use of violence as a norm at all. All the verses involving permission to use violence is preceded by the words “if they commit violence against you….”. Thus we find in verse 2:190 “And fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you but be not aggressive. Surely Allah does not love aggressors.” (emphasis added)

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