|Muslim Peace Fellowship
is the Executive Director
of Sampreeti, the
Society for Peace and Development: 1/16 Humayun Road, Mohammadpur, Block-B, Dhaka-1207, Bangladesh.
|Peace is the Basic Spirit in Islam
by Giasuddin Ahmed
Purpose of Islam
The purpose of Islam is to save humankind from the anguish of this world and the world to come. Therefore the Prophet's mission was to establish justice and peace on earth and to offer guidance for salvation in the Hereafter. For all of this his method was nonviolence, because he was created rahmatan lil-`alamin as a Mercy to the Worlds.
His love for humankind historically proves the truth of his way. At the beginning of his prophethood he went to Taif to call the people towards Allah, and people threw stones at him mercilessly and hurt him severely. The angels came to him and sought his order to punish the people of Taif, but the Mercy to the Worlds refused them, and prayed to Allah for the good of those who hurt him.
The honorable Companions of the Holy Prophet have given us a classic lesson on nonviolence in their attitudes toward the pagan Arabians. It is known to all that the people of Arabia inflicted sufferings upon the first generation who embraced Islam. At the beginning of Hadrat Muhammad'ssalli Allahu `alayhi wa sallam prophethood, his life and that of his adherents was threatened. They were mocked, assaulted, insulted, and beaten mercilessly. Some Muslims were put into chains and cast into prison. Some were boycotted and shut out of trade, business, and social intercourse. They could not even buy the food they needed. They could not perform their religious duties. The persecution was even further intensified against the believing slaves, women, and children after the Hijrah.
The king summoned the Muslims to his court. He asked them to submit whatever defense they could to the charges brought against them. Hadrat Ja`farradiya Allahu `anhu rose and addressed the king. In this address the basic concept of human rights and active nonviolence is manifested. He said:
"O King, we were an ignorant people. We neither knew Allah nor His prophets. We worshipped stones. We used to eat carrion and commit all sorts of undesirable and disgraceful acts. We did not make good our obligations to our relatives. The strong among us would thrive at the expense of the weak. At last, Allah raised a prophet for our reformation. His noble descent, upright conduct, integrity of purpose, and pure life are only too well-known among us. He called upon us to worship Allah and exhorted us to give up idolatry and stone worship. He enjoined upon us right conduct and forbade us from indecency. He taught us to tell the truth, to make good our trust, to have regard for our neighbors. From him we learned to observe regular prayer, to pay the poor-rate, to conduct ourselves well, to shun everything foul, and to avoid bloodshed. He forbade adultery, lewdness, telling of lies, misappropriating orphans' heritage, bringing false accusations against others and all other indecent things of that sort. He taught us the Qur'an, the wonderful Book of Allah. So we believed in him, followed him, and acted up to his teachings. Thereupon those people began to persecute us and to subject us to tortures thinking that we might abjure our faith and revert to idolatry. When, however, their cruelties exceeded all bounds, we took shelter in your country by the permission of our Prophet."
The king said, "Let us hear something of the Qur'an." Ja`farradiya Allahu `anhu recited a few verses from the beginning of Surah Maryam, which touched the hearts of the king and the priestly class so much that tears flowed down their cheeks and soaked their beards. The king remarked, "By Allah, these words and the words revealed to Moses`alayhi as-salam are the rays of the same light!"
The next day the Quraysh tried to excite the king by telling him that those heretics denounced Jesus`alayhi as-salam and did not believe in his divinity. The Muslims were then again summoned to the court. When the king inquired about their beliefs concerning Jesus,`alayhi as-salam Ja`far said:
"We believe in what Allah has revealed about him to our Prophet: that he was a servant and prophet of Allah, and His Word, which He conveyed to the virgin and innocent Maryam."
King Negus said: "Jesus himself did not say anything beyond that." Then the king said to the Muslims, "Go and live in peace."
In spite of all the above experiences, the Holy Prophet and his Companions did not take revenge against the oppressors after Mecca was won without bloodshed. Peace is the rule in Islam.
There is another historical achievement of peacemaking in the Prophet's life that is very significant, and is worth quoting.
It was he who first attempted to build up a nation by reconciling the followers of rival creeds. It was he who thought of establishing an empire upon the goodwill and cooperation of all sections of people, irrespective of caste and creed. He united the heterogeneous elements in one homogeneous whole, and formed a code of law that governed all the tribes without any distinction of class and parentage.
The above stories point out our great tradition that obliges us towards making serious efforts to CREATE PEACE and towards practicing our religious duties to SUSTAIN PEACE.
Islam teaches Muslims to uphold and spread peace in this world and to proclaim that peacemaking is a natural aspiration and the supreme object of human life. We are also urged to extend the scope of this teaching to others to the best of our capabilities. Such teachings (besides those described earlier) give utmost importance to social harmony. The Prophetsalli Allahu `alayhi wa sallam said, "Anyone who is not kindly disposed toward younger people and does not honor his elders does not belong to my community." In its wider sense for the cause of social harmony, irrespective of religion, language, and race, the Prophet said, "God never shows mercy to a person who does not show mercy to others." The Qur'an says, "Help one another in righteousness and piety, but do not help one another in sin and rancor (5.2)." The Prophet said, "The Muslim is a person who does no harm to anyone close to him, either with his hand or with his tongue."
AN APPRAISAL OF THE
The Sahabah practiced the teachings of the Prophet faithfully. They kept the spirit of promotion of human rights, active nonviolence, justice, and peace. But their spirit did not last long. For a long, long time now, our people have not been practicing the basic lessons of Islam as they did. Today the Muslims in different parts of the world are living far from these ideals. Neither do we know the teachings well, nor do we practice them in our lives. The result is that we are not growing in the ways of the divine Path. For want of proper Islamic knowledge and appropriate practice we are becoming selfish. We don't help others, and we have become hard-hearted. Therefore, in spite of many national and global efforts, we are unsuccessful in establishing peace in many places. Because we are not following Islam, we cannot see the good that we would like to see.
And truly, very truly, because of our deeds, people misunderstand Islam. May Allah bless us: we speak of Islam; we write books on Islam; but practically, we do not follow Islam. Thus we cannot represent the teachings of Islam that can truly bring peace
Even as I speak thus, I wish to acknowledge that I, myself, am not living these things fully. But indeed I pray and strive and do my best. My life is not a perfect example and yet I dare propose that we can do many things to improve the situation.
SOME PERSONAL REFLECTIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Following is an attempt to summarize my recommendations based on our experience in working with different groups to be able to put Islamic principles into operation.
1. PROMOTE THE BASIC FOUNDATIONAL QUALITIES FOR PEACEMAKING, namely:
a. Faith (there is no god but One God)
b. Holy knowledge and remembrance of the Creator
c. Prayer (obligatory and optional)
d. Realization of the will of the Almighty, complete obedience to Him; commitment to pleasing Him and serving His purposes.
e. Sublime character
f. Love and fraternity
g, Endeavor to help others build their character.
2. ENCOURAGE FAMILY MEETINGS. They will help promote better understanding among family members. One should not think this action insignificant. Rather it is such an indispensable step for building individuals that it needs no further explanation. This practice will make peace at home. Family members will surely come to understand each other better. This is the basic peace effort.
3. ORGANIZE THE GOOD PEOPLE OF THE SOCIETY. Inspire them to learn and practice religion, to speak against injustice, to act nonviolently, and to see peace near at hand.
4. GO TO THE POOR. Live with them. Work at the grassroots. Know the problems of the poor, help them to build their basic life, encourage them, and make them realize what power is hidden within them. Teach them to be self-reliant, not dependent on external aid. The Prophet started with illiterate desert people, one by one, and the result is known to all.
5. ADVOCATE KINDNESS TO OTHERS AND THE APPROACH OF LOVE. Cultivate a culture of love, for this is a very powerful seed of peace.
6. Teach people religion and they will learn humanity. HELP THEM SEE RELIGION IN PRACTICE THROUGH YOUR DEEDS and the grassroots will speak and act for peace. The awakening of the grassroots will move the intellectuals and the rich of a society.
The Prophet did all this. He taught people to make peace from the family, to the society, to the vast earth.
Finally I want to say that working for peace is embodied within our twofold duty: duty towards Allah and duty towards human beings.
There is peace to be found in our duty towards the Almighty because it gives us inner calm and strength, and provides us with a wholesome hierarchy of values. A good hierarchy of values leads to harmony. Knowledge of the Supreme, and obedience to Him, is a driving force that makes people free and united with each other. It both gives them their own identity and makes them universal.
There is peace to be found in our duty towards human beings, because human persons are the most beloved creation of the Creator. We have to know our neighbors, to know what is in the hearts of ordinary people, and we have to serve them. This requires unselfishness, sacrifice. We have to approach, with patience, people who are deprived of what belongs to their dignity. It is also true that duty towards others is duty towards the Creator and this same duty extends to the whole world, to all beings between the skies and the earth.
Islam encourages a conviction that creates peace. Conviction is a prerequisite for reaching peace. This conviction is a peaceful force, an inner strength, and an uncompromising knowledge of what is true and what is false. This conviction is more than any human or scientific knowledge. If we could only practice Islam with such a conviction, we could create a silent but powerful revolution of hearts, and thus wipe out all sorts of violence from this world and truly establish peace.
I am aware that many, many people already know what I have said about the teachings of Islam regarding making peace. What we need now is a strong determination to move ahead and to put into practice what we know.
(February 1996, As-Salamu `Alaykum)