By Prof. U Muhammad Iqbal
Islam is the name God selected for the message He delivered to mankind through His handpicked messenger, Muhammad bin Abdullah bin Abdul Muttalib of Makkah (blessings of Allah and peace be with him). God describes this message (5:3) both as ‘deen’ for mankind and as His personal favour and grace. Moreover, this grace carries the stamp of completeness. Al-Islam connotes peace obtained through total and willing submission to God’s will. Thus it is clear that the very nomenclature of this religion proclaims its obsession with peace – inner peace, and world peace, and peace in the eternal abode of peace. “Allah does call to the Home of Peace.”(10:25) “Allah beckons by His grace to the Garden (of Bliss) and forgiveness.” (2:221) This obsession is significant particularly because of man’s proclivity towards the spoliation of bio-resources, the vitiation of eco-balance, and the insatiable proneness for bloodshed. (2:30)
This obsession with peace can be seen in every prophet of Islam. For example, Jesus tells his apostles, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.” (St. John, 14:27) Significantly, he makes this statement while predicting the coming of the Counsellor/Comforter/Helper. According to the Biblical text, that noble personage is the Holy Ghost, who is mentioned in parenthesis. It is not clear why a more well-known name like the Holy Ghost is relegated to the parenthetical position and the less familiar name like the Paraclete or the Comforter is mentioned as the main noun. It would have been sufficient to use the name ‘the Holy Ghost’ as the main name without any parenthesis. Terms in parenthesis may be an editor’s attempt at annotation. If Jesus means Prophet Muhammad (peace to him) by the term ‘Comforter’ – as Muslim scholars think – (God knows what the truth is), then it follows that his teachings will carry the stamp of completeness (“he will teach you all things”) and the scripture he brings will be known as Thikr or the Reminder (“ he will remind you of everything I have said to you” St. John,14:26)
Then Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give you as the world gives.” (St. John, 14:27) The prophecy about the Comforter/ Helper brings peace and as the prophecy is from Jesus, it is his way of giving peace to his flock – “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” When Jesus says, “I do not give to you as the world gives,” he may mean that the world gives peace ‘in stinted measure or perishable quality’ (in the words of Zion’s Watch Tower). Moreover, Jesus gives peace through a genuine and reliable prophecy whereas the world does not have the gift of prophecy. Peace is freedom from trouble and fear. The apostles of Jesus bore all hardships with an amazing sense of peace.
The relationship between the Comforter and the imperishable peace – inner peace, world peace and experience of peace in heaven – came to the fore when Muhammad (peace to him) was appointed Prophet and the Qur’an was revealed. The religion they enunciate is dedicated to all-encompassing peace.
ISLAM AND INNER PEACE
The Qur’an says, “Allah guides to Himself those who turn to Him in penitence – those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah: for without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction.” (13:27, 28) Reading of the Qur’an is one way of remembering God, (15:9) because it strengthens faith and dispels doubts. Power, possessions, and status do not bring genuine peace of mind. An appreciation of His awe-inspiring omnipotence brings in its wake a rare and reinvigorating sense of security. Salat (Prayer) is established to remember God (20:14) and it enables the worshipper to realise transcendental peace as it symbolises a rapport with the Lord of heaven and earth. A Muslim is aware that Allah is more than adequate for him and that there is no other Deity beside Him and so he lays his trust in Him, the Lord of the Throne of Supreme Glory. (9:129) This awareness holds the key to his serenity against all odds, against all buffets and bludgeons, and against all terrors and tribulations.
The Prophet (peace to him) made a moving prayer to Allah when his visit to Taif was marred by caustic aspersions and remarks, taunts and ridicules, boos and catcalls, scorn and stone-throwing. He sought refuge and consolation in the remembrance of God. Jacob in his time sought shelter too in the same way. He said, “I only complain of my distraction and anguish to Allah.” (12:86)
ISLAM AND WORLD PEACE
The global dimension of Islam was much in evidence at the very outset. Among the early converts, an Abyssinian, a Persian, and a Byzantine could be counted. The Prophet (peace to him) is commanded to say, “O men! I am sent unto you all, as the Messenger of Allah, to whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth.” (7:158) So, the assertion that Islam, the religion of peace, has a role to play in ushering in world peace, is neither far-fetched nor untenable. In fact, Islam has addressed all the intermediary stages which constitute a run-up to the establishment of world peace.
To begin with, interpersonal relationship is set right through the subordination of ego and respect for another human being. The Prophet (peace to him) urges his followers to take the initiative in greeting another Muslim, known or unknown, and to spread the message of peace as frequently as possible. The words of greeting are “Assalamu alaikum!” Translated, they mean, “Peace be with you”. These words are reminiscent of the words Jesus used while greeting his disciples. (St. Luke, 24:36) At the interpersonal level, the value of mutual peace and goodwill is thus emphasised.
Through the institution of marriage, families are brought together. “He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts).”(30:21) The Islamic family system seeks peace and tranquillity as the goal of relationship between man and wife.
The same ideal is sought in the inter-communal relationship too. Prophet Muhammad (peace to him) was much interested in the noble task of peace-making even in his pre-prophetic days. An association, by name Hilful Fudul, championed the cause of the poor and opposed oppression and its members took an oath to abide by its ideals. The Prophet (Allah’s blessings and peace be with him) was one of them.
Jesus Christ says, “Blessed are the peace-makers for they will be called sons of God.”(St. Matt., 5:9) Not much is known about his peace-making efforts but the Prophet (peace to him) did bring about a rapprochement between Aus and Khazraj, the two main tribes of Madinah, who had been at loggerheads for generations. Even when their respective Jewish allies had a stake in fanning the flames of their mutual rivalry and hostility, the Prophet (peace to him) successfully enabled the two tribes to bury the hatchet. He brought the immigrants and the natives together on the one hand and the Arabs and the Jews on the other and framed a constitution which brought about the national and emotional integration of the heterogeneous groups of Madinah. What the Prophet (peace to him) achieved at the city state level could be achieved at the international level if his precepts and methodology are allowed to prevail.
The Prophet (peace to him) addressed the inter-racial problems with amazing success. He presented God as the Cherisher and Guardian-Lord of the entire universe. Allah is not merely God of Israel or of Muslims alone. The Prophet (peace to him) informed the world that God’s guidance was made available to all nations. “To every people was sent a messenger.”(10:47) “To every people a guide.” (13:7) “There never was a people, without a warner having lived among them.”(35:24) Racial superiority, espoused by Hitler’s followers, certain Jewish groups, the Ku Klux Klan, the Skinheads, etc., is rejected in Islam. Morally superior individuals are recognised. “The most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you.” (49:13) A parallel passage in the Roman Catholic Bible is of interest. “There is none greater than he that feareth God.” (Ecclesiasticus, 10:27)
The Prophet’s last pilgrimage is famous for his eloquent sermon on human rights. The sermon deserves to be written in letters of gold. In the course of the sermon, he made this profound observation. “O People! Verily Your Lord is one; verily, your progenitor is one. So there is no basis for the superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, of a non-Arab over an Arab, of any white man over a non-white, and of any non-white over a white man other than the basis of one’s feeling of awe towards God.” (Musnad-e-Ahmed) These words of wisdom have been collectively internalised by the community as a whole and the institution of Muslim Prayer has abolished racial discrimination lock, stock and barrel. Genocide and Islam are poles apart.
Even after putting the interpersonal, inter-communal, and inter-racial relationships on the right track, there remains a big stumbling block in the pursuit of the ideal of world peace. Any indiscretion, inadvertent or otherwise, pertaining to religious beliefs, books, or personalities, touches religious groups on the raw and a fury which borders on the dance of death and destruction is unleashed. Islam, therefore, deals with the issue of inter-religious relationship with a charming sensitivity, a breadth of vision, and a catholicity of outlook which may enable it after all to achieve the goal of world peace.
The second book of Chronicles, or Paralipomenon2, 20:20 gives importance to belief in one God and His prophets as the basis for salvation. Islam accepts this belief and promises a Garden prepared for those who believe in Allah and His Messengers, (57:21) and insists on belief in Virgin Mary and in Jesus Christ as the Promised Messiah. The Bible says that God created the world in Six Days; the Qur’an confirms it. (7:54) Islam extols the greatness of the prophets in whom the Jews believe and asks its followers to believe in them too. The genuine attitude of Islam towards Jesus and his followers is reflected in this verse: We sent after them Jesus the son of Mary, and bestowed on him the Gospel; and We ordained in the hearts of those who followed him compassion and mercy. (57:27)
No religious community is considered monolithic or is stereotyped. The Qur’an does not describe other communities in a negative way only. It highlights their positive aspects too. For example, it acknowledges that there are virtuous women among the Jews and the Christians and Muslims are allowed to select them for marriage. Inter-dining with other communities is allowed too. (5:5)
About freedom of worship in general, these verses are of interest. “There can be no compulsion in religion.” (2:256) “If it had been the Lord’s will, they would all have believed – all who are on earth.” (10:99) “To you, your religion; to me, mine.” (109:6) “If Allah had not checked one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure.” (22:40) The last excerpt is decisive on the question of the protection of the places of worship. Any violation of the spirit of this verse by Muslims would be more an exception than a rule.
ROLE OF THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY
After the Crusades, no serious effort was made on the global level to build bridges of understanding between Muslims and Christians. However, after the First World War, the Colonisers established the League of Nations to promote the cause of world peace. The League of Nations failed to deliver the goods because it was just a conglomerate of nation states, and so is the UNO. Much cannot be expected from it either. There will be more of politics than of justice. The right of veto exercised by the permanent members of the Security Council has, more often than not, harmed the cause of peace and justice. As long as might is right, and the national interests of the Big Powers rule the roost, the UNO cannot rise up to the high expectations of the weak and poverty- stricken nations.
The Prophet (peace to him) bequeathed to the world an ideological community of his followers having a fair mix of races, regions, cultures, languages It is a truly international community uncompromisingly committed to justice.(5:8) The spiritual ideals espoused by the Prophet (peace to him) and his truly guided Caliphs are extended to the realm of political governance. The Qur’an describes this community in these inspiring words, “You are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah. If only people of the Book had faith, it were best for them: among them are some who have faith but most of them are transgressors.” (3:110) The role this verse assigns to the world Muslim community is similar to that of the UNO but with a difference and it is this difference which holds the key to success in its efforts. The Qur’an invites the Jews and the Christians. “Say, O People of the Book! Come to common terms between us and you …” (3:64) “Say, O Ye People of the Book! Believe in what We have (now) revealed, confirming what was (already) with you.” (4:47) If the Jews and the Christians had chosen to respond positively and join hands with the Muslims, the world would have ushered in an era of perennial peace. Voices advocating a clash of civilizations are emerging from the West and it is a quite disconcerting scenario. Shall we have to wait for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?
ISLAM AND PEACE IN HEAVEN
Islam is a gateway to peace in Heaven, because Islam is Allah’s guidance and whoever follows it will be kept away from grief and sorrow. (2:38). The Prophet (peace to him) taught us to seek the best of both the worlds. We seek peace here by remembering God. Allah’s Thikr brings Itmenan-e-qalb and Thakir ultimately becomes a Nafs-e-mutmainna and it is this Nafs that becomes eligible to be welcomed into Heaven. (82:27-30) The greeting of welcome will be, “Enter ye here in peace and security.”(15:46) People will say in Heaven, “Praise be to Allah, who has removed from us (all) sorrow.”(35:34)
It may appear strange to many that a religion which gives a pride of place to Jihad in its scheme of duties asserts that it stands for world peace. The concept of Jihad has been subjected to misconception, misinformation, and prejudice. It really stands for the guarantee of freedom of worship, for the establishment of dharma, for the protection of the innocent victims, for the softening of the wrong-doers. At times these duties require armed confrontation. The U.N. peace-keepers are drawn from the armed forces of the member-states. The NATO had to use force to put an end to the genocide being perpetrated in Bosnia-Herzegovina. A realistic and practical religion cannot but know the value and relevance of Jihad for a sovereign government.
About our beloved Prophet (Allah’s blessings and peace be with him ), George Bernard Shaw had this to say: “I believe that if a man like him were to assume the dictatorship of the modern world, he would succeed in solving the problems in a way that would bring it the much needed peace and happiness.”
This observation shows the incisive intellect of the great dramatist who picked the Prophet (peace to him) from the galaxy of the great as the most competent and prospective achiever of world peace. However, it has to be conceded that there cannot be another man like Prophet Muhammad (peace to him) who was able to integrate Arabia and transform it into a world power of reform and liberation without assuming the reins of a dictator. His way of governance was based upon consultation. He secured loyalty and obedience through his personal charm and charisma. His power did not proceed from the gun. What is achieved through dictatorship is neither preferable nor worthwhile. If the Prophet’s teachings are implemented in right earnest, world peace will cease to be a chimerical idea.