Peaceful Qualities of Islam

  January 03, 2024   Read time 5 min
Peaceful Qualities of Islam
There are Islamic precepts that can wonderfully be used in the service of peace. Thai Muslim nonviolence proponent Chaiwat Satha-Anand traces interesting similarities between the notions of Mahatma Gandhi, the very symbol of nonviolence, and the foundations of Islam, a comparison that deserves to be quoted at some length.

“Belief in nonviolence is based on the assumption that human nature in its essence is one and therefore unfailingly responds to the advances of love,” Gandhi said. “A nonviolent resister depends on the unfailing assistance of God, which sustains him throughout difficulties that could otherwise be considered insurmountable.” This conforms very well to the Muslim notion of humanity as one and created by God. Gandhi also said, “Truth and nonviolence are not possible without a living belief in God, meaning a self-existent, all-knowing, living force which inheres in every other force known to the world and which depends on none, and which will live when all other forces may conceivably perish or cease to act.”

This, Satha-Anand points out, is very close to the beliefs of devout Muslims. “A Muslim following Gandhi’s teaching would not feel estranged,” Satha-Anand writes. “In fact, it may be possible to trace the Islamic influence on Gandhi concerning the omnipotent and incomparable God. Satha-Anand also draws an intriguing parallel between the basic theory of eminent nonviolent theorist Gene Sharp—power depends on the consent of the governed—and Islamic thought. After all, “For Muslims, this so-called modern theory of power simply embodies the basic Islamic principle that a person should submit to the Will of God,” writes Satha-Anand. “As a result, a Muslim is not bound to obey anyone whose power has been used unjustly.” 20 The Qur’an commands people to leave the domain of an unjust ruler: “Was not the Earth of Allah spacious enough for you to move yourselves away?”

Professor Abu-Nimer says that the positions of Western nonviolent resisters and just war theorists would actually be quite close and compatible with Islam in that all these agree that the use of force always needs justification. The conduct of the Prophet Muhammad reflected these rules (as will be discussed later in the chapter). In this sense, the Qur’an and Muhammad reflect very much a version of the “just war” theory. “Islam as a religion and tradition privileges and embodies values that facilitate nonviolence and peace building,” even if force is permitted as a last resort, contends Abu-Nimer, saying that this can readily be evidenced in the Qur’an, the Hadith texts, and Muslim traditions.

Satha-Anand’s interpretation of the five pillars of Islam segues very well into nonviolent activism. The vow of obedience to God ( shahadat ) enables a Muslim to resist injustice. The pillar of salat (prayer) offers discipline when offered in a gathering and helps build community. The zakat (tax) makes Muslims more conscious about the needs and obligations of the larger community and urges them to do something to rectify social shortcomings like injustice and poverty. Ramadan (fasting) fosters both sacrifice and empathy for others, developing qualities like patience that enabled movements like, Satha-Anand says, that of Ghaffar Khan (the pacifist leader who is dealt with at length later in this book) to become successful. And the haj reaffirms the notion of brotherhood among Muslims and mankind.

We can see then that there are a number of basic principles in Islam on which nonviolent movements can easily be built. Satha-Anand proposes five pillars of Muslim nonviolent action (in parallel with the five pillars of Islam). First, Muslims are willing to disobey injustice since they obey only Allah. Second, Muslims are courageous since they fear only Allah. Third, Muslims possess enormous selfdiscipline because of their rituals like Ramadan. This can come in very handy in nonviolent protest. Fourth, the concept of a Muslim community is very strong (“Hold fast all together by the rope which God stretches out for you and be not divided among yourselves,” says the Qur’an 3:103). This can enable them to resist oppression together. And, fifth, Islam is action oriented, which can be channeled into nonviolent action.

From all this, Satha-Anand prescribes his eight theses on Muslim nonviolent action: 1. Violence in Islam is a central moral question. 2. If violence has to be used, it should be governed by the rules of the Qur’an and Hadith. 3. And if it cannot distinguish between combatants and noncombatants, then it can’t be used. 4. Modern technology, indiscriminate in its use, makes the use of violence in Islam virtually unacceptable. 5. So, in the modern world, use of violence by Muslims is unacceptable. 6. The notion of the fi ght for justice in Islam is intertwined with the sacredness of life. 7. Hence to be true Muslims, followers of Islam should engage only in nonviolent action. 8. And Islam, due to its qualities (such as discipline and sacrifi ce) described above offers a lot of rich material for nonviolent action.

The Qur’an says, “Peace! A word (of salutation) from the Lord most merciful!” (36:58). Similarly, Abu-Nimer lists seven principles in Islam that support coexistence and tolerance and hence, by extension, the existence of nonviolence: 1. Human dignity is an absolute, regardless of a person’s religion or other background (Qur’an 17:70). 2. All human beings have sprung from a common source and hence are part of one large family (Qur’an 4:1, 5:32, 6:98). 3. And so the differences between people are part of a grand design (Qur’an 10:99, 11:188–199, 30:22). 4. Islam recognizes other religions (Qur’an 2:136, 42:13). 5. Muslims have the freedom of choice (Qur’an 2:256, 17:107, 18:29, 109:4–6). 6. Only God has the right to judge, and on Judgment Day (Qur’an 16:124, 31:23, 42:48, 88:25–26). 7. Muslims have a duty to be nice, just and equitable toward all human beings (Qur’an 4:135, 5:8, 60:8).

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