Islam and Peace
This article will discuss various Islamic perspectives of peace, and within this umbrella, support for Islam and reconciliation. Islam has within it a strong and rich tradition of support for notions of peace, as well as reconciliation. In this article, we shall discuss Islam and peace, as well as Islam and reconciliation, all the while within the context within international relations.
While Islam has often been portrayed by some in the media as a violent faith that has no support for human rights and peace, those sorts of statements could not be further from the truth. Islam has within its tradition various sorts of support for peace, and for reconciliation. Now, this is not to say that the religion has not been abused by some (Jafari & Said: 2011); there have been cases of terrorism carried out by those who seem driven by their interpretation of religion. Furthermore, there are many that claim that there exists a “clash of civilizations” between Muslim and non-Muslim societies, which leads to further concerns about the Islamic faith. However, many point out that Islam indeed has much to offer with regards to peace and reconciliation, and that instead of thinking of the world as a “clash” between different religions, cultures, or civilizations, we should view it as one of common beliefs (Jafari & Said: 2011) such as peace and human rights.
As Jafari & Said (2011) state, “[i]n Islam, peace is not just an absence of war, but a presence of divine guidance and human responsibility. Lessons on peacemaking are among the most important within Islam, which—like all religions—is dynamic and reflective of people’s lived experiences. Therefore, it offers powerful resources for both Muslim and non-Muslim peacemaking practitioners. Indeed, one could say that peace and peacemaking is a fatwa, a holy edict” (2).
In addition, others such as Professor Mohammed Abu Nimer (2008) have argued that “First, the full potential of Islam to address social and political conflicts is yet to be fully realized. Both Islamic religion and tradition have a multitude of resources with which conflicts can be resolved peacefully and nonviolently. Islamic scripture and religious teachings are rich sources of values, beliefs, and strategies that promote the peaceful and nonviolent resolution of conflicts. Awareness of the Qur’an, the Prophetic tradition, and the early Islamic period is indispensable for understanding Islam, since these scriptures and traditions have continued to provide a paradigm for emulation by Muslims and Islamic movements in every age, and their influence can be traced in every philosophical, ideological, and scientific inquiry among Muslims” (3).
However, Abu-Nimer (2008) argues that part of the problem with some people’s lack of understanding with regards to the relationship between Islam and peace or peacemaking has to do with the lack of understanding that some in the Muslim community have with regards to what Islam offers on the issue of peacemaking. With regards to this issue, he states that “[m]any Muslims themselves lack a comprehensive Islamic knowledge and hermeneutics relevant to nonviolent conflict transformation through its peaceful teachings. Most extant academic research and writing on Islam and conflict, not only by Orientalists, but even by Muslim scholars, is aimed at the study and interpretation of war, violence, power, political systems or legal arrangements. Approaching Islamic tradition and religion from these perspectives only perpetuates negative images and perceptions, particularly by Westerners” (3).
Thus, there have been tendencies to examine Islam from questions of war, instead of from the initial (and critically important) lens of peacemaking (Abu-Nimer, 2008). When one examines Islam and peace, one finds a strong relationship. For example,
When looking at the evidence, there have been many explains of Islam and peace in practice. For example, throughout early Muslim history, various Muslim communities advocated protecting the rights of religious minorities (Jafari & Said: 2011). In addition, looking at current international relations, states can work to reconcile different actors. One example is the role of some Muslim states in international relations issues such as that related to Iran’s nuclear program (Jafari & Said). Other examples can include Muslim actors as mediators in brokering the ends to wars. In addition, Islam and peace also can involve local mediation in community settings, whether it is in relation to family disputes, or disputes over economic factors.
Scholars argue that it is important to study Islam and peace (Islam and peacemaking). When looking at the Islamic faith, there is a great deal of evidence that points to the importance of creating and promoting peace and peace outcomes. To begin, one can see the importance of the word “peace” within the name Islam itself. For example,
“For many Muslims, Islam is peace. The word Islam derives from the trilateral root, salima, which means “to be safe, secure, and free from any evil or affliction.” The word salaam, peace, derives from the same root. Its meaning is clear in the taslim, or exchange of salutations of peace: al-salam ‘alaykum, “may safety and peace abide with you.” Ultimately, however, the highest form of peace is that with God. One of the ninety- nine names with which God is referred to in the Quran is Al-Salaam, the peace, or “the author of peace, safety, and security” (Quran 59:23). A central theme of the Quranic revelations is surrender and nearness to God, and consequently to peace. As humankind came from God and is part of God, fitrah—the original human constitution—is defined as innately good and muslim (“the self-resigned one”) in nature, who is salim, “secure/free from evils of any kind” (Jafari & Said, 3: 2011).
But along with the the calls for peace in the name Islam, as well as in references to God as Al-Salaam, Islam’s religious text, the Quran, also references the importance of peaceful living and coexistence for the entire human community. For example, in Surah 49:13, it states, “O mankind! We created you from a single [pair] of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may come to know one another. Verily the most honored among you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you” (cited by Jafari & Said, 2011: 4). Thus, God wants humans to strive to live together. Many Muslims look to the Quran to further support that this was God’s desire to have humans of different backgrounds working together. For example, scholars that make this point (Jafari & Said, 2011: 4) cite Surah 11: 118, which states that “And had your Lord so willed, He could have surely made all human beings into one single community: but (He willed it otherwise, and so) they continue to hold divergent views.” Moreover, scholars explain that “Forgiveness and mercy are recommended as virtues of the true faithful. Other Islamic values especially emphasized which relate directly to peacebuilding include adl (justice), ihsan (benevolence), rahmah (compassion) and hikmah (wisdom). Islam emphasizes social justice, brotherhood, equality of mankind (including the abolishment of slavery, and racial and ethnic barriers), tolerance, submission to God, and the recognition of the fights of others” (Abu-Nimer, 2008: 11). He goes on to say about these themes that they “constitute a peacebuilding framework which may guide scholars and practitioners who are interested in promoting such concepts in a Muslim community context” (Abu-Nimer, 2008: 11).
Others point to Islam’s message of nonviolence as further evidence that peacemaking is a central element of the faith. The Quran is clear about the beauty and importance of human life. For example, Jafari & Said (2011: 5) cite Surah 5:32, which states that “Whoever kills a person—except in retribution for another person or for spreading corruption on earth—it shall be as if he had killed all of humanity; and whoever gives life to one it shall be as if he had given life to all of humanity.” Thus, the importance of every human life is as critical as the entire planet. Muslims are called to respect human life to the fullest. Now, of course this doesn’t mean that all follow these teachings; many have grossly misconstrued the faith. What is important is to continue to advocate the message of peace within the Islamic concept, something that will allow us as a global community to live in cooperation and complete acceptance of one another as one family.
Thus, what is needed is the stressing of peace, and the ability to resolve conflicts justly and in a way that values the human community . As Abdullahi An-Naim (2012), speaking on the importance of mediation and the move away from violence, states, “[v]iolence is unproductive because of the…noted duality of resentment and retaliation. Yet, people will continue to see it as necessary until there is a peaceful alternative” (352). And he goes on to say that we must know that resentment and retaliation do not end; they just foster more resentment, and then, additional retaliation (An-Naim, 2012).
These points are all important to keep in mind when thinking about Islam and peace, and how peace building and conflict resolution can be approached from an Islamic perspective.
Abu-Nimer, M. (2008). A Framework for Nonviolence and Peacebuilding in Islam. Muis Occasional Paper Series, Paper No. 6, originally in Journal of Law and Religion, 15 (2000-01), pp. 217-265. Available Online: http://www.muis.gov.sg/cms/uploadedFiles/MuisGovSG/Research/Research_Publications/MOPS6%20IN_K5.pdf
An-Naim, A.A. (2012). The Constant Mediation of Resentment and Retaliation. Philosophy and Social Criticism, Vol. 38, No. 4-5, pages 351-358.
Jafari, S. & Said, A.A. (2011). Islam and Peacekeeping, in Peacemaking: From Theory to Practice: Volume 1, edited by Susan Allen Nan, Zachariah Cherian Mampilly, and Andrea Bartoli. Praegar. Chapter Available Online: http://www.american.edu/sis/islamicpeacechair/upload/islam-and-peacemaking_said_jafari.pdf