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Book Review
Textual evidence

Here is a scholarly attempt to show that Islam, which comes from salam (peace) is quintessentially peaceful

Name of the Book: slam: A Religion of Peace 
by N K Singh
Global Vision Rs 500/248 pp. 

The public mind today associates Islam with violence -- the “mullah, ayatollah, Hezbollah” association. The why and how of it is a long story of heroes and villains, some of the villains being Muslims themselves. Muslims, by and large, don't like this unhappy association. Even some non-Muslims find it unfair.

The assertion that it is essentially a religion of peace has been backed here with substantial evidence from Islam's basic texts. NK Singh rightly argues that semantically, Islam unambiguously signifies peace. He quotes basic texts-- the Quran and the Hadith --to drive home the point.

Islam’s primary goal and intent is establishment of peace in a world which, by its very dynamics of conflicting interests, is prone to violence. Peace is the ideal state, while violence occurs where the ideal state does not obtain. Violence is thus an aberration, signifying lack of a just order.

Despite its peaceful nature, Islam does permit violent resistance to evil, tyranny and a patently unjust order, not as an end in itself, but in the interest of a just and peaceful order.

The author quotes from the Quran (XIX:25-63) to make the essentially peaceful nature of Islam clear: “the faithful slaves of the Beneficent are they who walk upon the earth modestly, and when the foolish ones address them, their answer is peace.”

Similarly, the clear preference for peace is evident from a large number of traditions of the prophet (PBUH) like, “God holds those persons dearest to him who do not retaliate violently even though they have the power to do so.”

However, there is a distinction between eschewing violence when wronged personally, and avoiding resistance to an unjust, tyrannical order. Tyranny and injustice create the ground for exploitation and violence, and it is incumbent upon Muslims to stand up and be counted on the side of justice, even if the tyrant is provoked to escalate violence.

Singh quotes another Hadith of the prophet (PBUH) narrated by Hazarat Abu Hurairah, “He who supports a tyrant with a view to be supported himself, knowing well that he was a tyrant, departs from Islam.”

The philosophy here is quite clear: tyranny creates a system that lacks justice (adl). In the absence of justice, peace cannot survive, which makes it incumbent upon Muslims to remove injustice, even if it involves resistance. 

Adl means both justice and balance. A society where there is no justice lacks balance and peace. Restoration of adl is a primary duty of Islam, a duty an unjust order would not allow to be carried out and would impose a violent conflict on people seeking to rectify that order.

Singh rightly sees a correspondence between the Islamic view and the Gandhian perspective. The mahatma was a believer in non-violence, but given a choice between moral cowardice and violence, he would prefer the latter.

An advantage of this book over others in the vast body of Muslim apologia is that it tries to have a look at lived Islam as well, instead of depending solely on the standard texts. That is borne out by Singh’s examination of Muslim participation in the non-violent struggle for India’s independence.

Singh focusses on pious men like Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (the Frontier Gandhi) and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Khan was the true face of non-violent Islam, a man who believed that Islam did mean non-violence. What Abdul Ghaffar Khan took as a matter of simple faith was explained and interpreted with extraordinary scholarship and erudition by Maulana Azad. In practice, both were firm believers in Islam’s message of peace.

What Khan and Azad believed in, is in fact, the essential message of Islam that all Muslims believe in. Even those who resort to militant struggle to end tyranny and exploitation – men like Imam Khomeini and Muammar Gaddafi -- are driven by the same vision of a peaceful, just order. In the last chapter Singh tries to put much of the turmoil of the post-colonial era in this perspective.

It is an interesting book that tries to examine the theme of peace in Islamic scriptures, in the prophet’s (PBUH) life and teachings, in social and political life of Muslims, in the modern movements, in sufi thought and elsewhere. By the time you end the book, you have the feeling that the dominant idea in Islam is peace—being at peace with one self, with society, with nature, with God.

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