I am thankful to the organizers of this conference for giving me the opportunity to share my views with this learned audience. The topic for the present discussion is Peace. It is a very good topic, there is no doubt about it. Regarding myself, I would say that I am a born pacifist. I would say that I was born with peace, I live in peace and I want to die in peace. Also, I want to be buried in the graveyard of peace. Peace is very important in every religion. There is no exception to this.
For example, let us take the Buddhist discipline. The essence of Buddhism is tolerance, and tolerance is only the other name for peace. When I see a Buddhist monk, it is a very strange sight for me. A Buddhist monk is an embodiment of peace. I think that Buddhism is peace and peace is Buddhism. Then, let us take Hinduism and Jainism. According to my study, both Hinduism and Jainism share a common in a belief, that is non-violence or ahimsa. It is obvious that non-violence is only the other name for peace. Then, let us consider Christianity and Judaism. If you read the Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, you will find that peace is very important in the teachings of both the religions. For example, Jesus Christ has said: “Love your enemy.” What does it mean? You cannot love your enemy without living in peace. If you are living in peace, if your case is that of a peaceful mind, then only you will be able to love your enemy, otherwise not. So, in every religion, peace has great importance.
If you consult the dictionary for the meaning of peace, it will tell you that peace is absence of war. This is not a true definition. It is an incomplete definition. Because, absence of war has many other meanings—for example, absence of war means the absence of all kinds of evil: absence of anger, intolerance, hate, etc. Without the absence of all these things, you cannot have peace. So, peace is not simply the absence of war. Peace means the presence of all kinds of good. Where there is peace, there is love, tolerance, compassion. Moreover, where there is peace there are opportunities. Without opportunity, you cannot do anything. Without opportunity, we cannot organize a conference, we cannot establish an industry, we cannot have a job, we cannot establish educational institutions. Opportunity is basic to all kinds of constructive activities. And, opportunity is an integral part of peace. Without peace, there is no opportunity. Due to this importance, peace has a very great place in Islam.
First of all, I would say that there are many names of God Almighty. One of the names of God is As-Salam, that is, Peace. Thus, God Himself is peace. There is a prayer of the Prophet of Islam: “O God, You are peace, peace comes from You, peace returns to You. Bless us so that we can live in peace.” (Bukhari). Thus, peace is very important in Islam. There is a verse in the Quran: “And God calls to the home of peace.” (10:25) It means that God wants to establish a peaceful society. It is God’s plan. God has directed people that they must establish a peaceful society, because a peaceful society is a must for all kind of constructive activities.
Peace is the culture of the whole universe. In the universe, there are numerous bodies: stars, planets, and galaxies. All these celestial bodies are in a moving state: stars are moving, the planets are moving, and the sun and the moon are moving.
Movment often leads to accidents. Our roads are a very good illustration of this phenomenon. There is movement on our roads: cars, trucks and various other things are in motion. And, an accident takes place every second on these roads. But, if you observe the universe, there are no accidents. There is movement, but there is no accident. Why is this so? Because God Almighty controls the universe. The universe is a divine demonstration telling us, ‘O men and women, you have to live in peace!’ This is the culture of the universe: a divine culture or a universal culture.
According to western thought, freedom is the summumbonum, the highest good. Western people believe that freedom is the summumbonum. But, I don’t subscribe to this concept. In fact, peace is the summumbonum. Freedom has some negative points, but peace has no negative points. This reality has been stated in the Quran in these words: “Peace is the greater good” (4:128), or peace is the best or peace is the summumbonum. I know that there are some Muslims who are engaged in violence. However, they are not following Islam. You have to differentiate between Islam and Muslims. You have to judge Muslims in the light of Islamic teachings, not vice versa. Thus, Muslims are not representatives of Islam. If you want to know what Islam is, you have to see its text, that is, the Quran and Sunnah, and not the Muslim practice.
If you read the Seerah or the life of the Prophet of Islam, you will find that the whole life of the Prophet was based on peace. The Prophet never engaged in violence. I will give some examples. There were many excuses or reasons for the Prophet to take to violence, however he refrained from doing so. The Prophet of Islam was born in 570 AD. He started his mission in 610 AD in Mecca. As we know, the Kabah is the holiest place in Islam. At the time the Prophet started his mission, there were 360 idols in the Kabah. The Kabah was built by Prophet Abraham, but after some centuries, the Arabs became idol-worshippers and placed many idols in the premises of the Kabah. The Prophet of Islam was the Prophet of tawhid, he was a monotheist. That is, his main message was that God is one. So, the presence of so many idols was a very horrible sight for the Prophet; it was indeed a very provocative scene. The Prophet, however, never reacted against these idols and remained in Mecca with this situation for thirteen years. He simply tried to make people aware of the reality of tawhid, that is, monotheism. Peaceful persuasion or peaceful dawah work was the culture of the Prophet at that time. History shows that the Prophet did not react against the idols. Why was this so? Because, the Prophet knew that his reaction would lead to violence, violence to war, and hence there would be no peace. Thus, all opportunities to perform dawah work would get jeopardized. So, the Prophet tolerated the presence of idols in the Kabah.
Then, the Meccan people turned hostile to the Prophet and decided to kill him. However he never went to war with them. The Prophet instead migrated from Mecca to Medina. This was also an act of peace. At that time there were two options before the Prophet: either engage in war or migrate from Mecca. The Prophet opted for migration; he left Mecca and settled in Medina.
There were three Jewish tribes residing in Medina at that time. Almost, half of the population of Medina consisted of Jews. When the Prophet settled in Medina, he adopted the Jewish qibla as his own in Medina. The Prophet’s qibla, or prayer direction, was the Kabah, but he started praying in the direction of the Jewish qibla. This was done only to avoid confrontation. This was the policy of peace adopted by the Prophet.
When the Prophet settled in Medina, he issued a declaration that has come down in history as Sahifat al-Madinah, which means the Medina Declaration. In this, the Prophet included a provision in these words: “For Jews their religion, for Muslims their religion.” (Ibn Hisham). It means that the Prophet placed both the Jewish and Muslim communities on an equal level. There was no difference between Muslims and Jews. The Prophet gave equal status to both the communities.
I would like to share an interesting incident here. When the Prophet was in Medina, one day it happened that he saw a funeral procession passing by a street. The Prophet was seated at that time, and on seeing the funeral procession, he stood up in respect. One of his Companions said: “O Prophet, it was the funeral of a Jew, not a Muslim.” That is, you are offering respect to a Jewish body. The Prophet of Islam remarked: “Was he not a human being?” (Bukhari) Here, we can see that the Prophet was able to discover a commonality between Muslims and Jews: they have equal status, there is no difference at all. This is the true spirit of Islam. Those Muslims who say this or that community are enemies of Islam have an un-Islamic thinking. According to Islam, no one is our enemy, not even Jews. No community or nation is the enemy of Islam.
Once when I was in the US, I was invited to give a lecture in a church. After my lecture, a Christian scholar asked me a question. He said, “In Christianity, we have a very good teaching. Jesus Christ has said: ‘Love your enemy.’ This is a very nice teaching. Can you cite any example of this kind from Islam?” I said: “Yes, you can refer to Chapter 41 of the Quran. There are 114 chapters in the Quran, both big and small. The verse in Chapter 41 reads: ‘Good and evil deeds are not equal. Do good deed in return for bad deed; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.’” (41:34) This means that according to Islam, the categorization of people into enemies and friends is wrong. The concept of dividing some people into an enemy-category and some into a friend-category is in itself wrong. According to Islam, everyone is either a friend or a potential friend. An enemy is a potential friend. The duty of a Muslim is to turn this potential into actuality through good deeds. This is the true spirit of Islam.
We shouldn’t see what is appearing in the media or what the Muslims are engaging in. One must refer to the Quran, the Seerah and the Hadith. Fortunately, we have the authentic version of Islam, that is, the Quran and Sunnah. If you want to know what Islam is, then do not form an opinion through the media or Muslim practices. One must directly read the Quran. The translations of the Quran are available in different languages. By reading the Quran, one can discover Islam. If one starts reading the Quran, one will learn that in the very first verse of the very first Chapter, God is introduced as “the Lord of the Worlds” (1:2), and not as Lord of the Muslims.
All the verses of the Quran are based on peace, love and compassion. In Islam, hate is taboo and unlawful. No one is allowed to hate another person, because every human being has been created by God Almighty. No man or woman was created by Satan. So, there is no difference between “this” and “that”. You have to adopt a friendly behaviour towards every human being. There is a saying of the Prophet of Islam: “A Muslim is one by whose hands and tongue, people are safe.” (Bukhari) That is, a Muslim is a peaceful member of society. Anyone who claims to be a Muslim but is not peaceful is not a Muslim. This is the criterion for being a Muslim.
Once, a Companion of the Prophet came to seek his advice. At that time the Prophet was facing various problems and atrocities. In that situation, thisCompanion said: “O Prophet of God, give me a master advice by which I may be able to manage all the affairs of my life.” (Bukhari) He wanted a formula by which he could lead his life peacefully in family, society or with those people who subscribe to some other religion. The Prophet said: “Don’t be angry.” What is anger? People are angry when they are provoked. Without provocation, there is no anger. Anger is always the result of provocation. Thus, when the Prophet said, ‘Don’t be angry’, he meant, ‘Don’t be angry, even when provoked’. This is the true spirit of Islam. Negative reaction or negative thinking is un-Islamic. The word Islam itself has a connotation of peace. Because, the root word of Islam is silm, which means peace. So, Islam is a religion of peace. The very name Islam connotes peace.
There are many stories of the Prophet having engaged in war. The fact, however, is that the Prophet never engaged in war, except sometimes when he was compelled, he engaged in skirmishes. They were small skirmishes, and not wars. All the ghazawat were actually skirmishes, because they lasted for only one day. According to scholars’ definition, it requires six days to call an act a war. The minimum period of war is six days. In the life of the Prophet there was no full-fledged war, only skirmishes. What is the reason behind this? The reason is that Islam has a great mission. The mission is to make people aware of the Creation Plan of God. This is the Islamic mission. That is to tell people why God created man, what is the right path and the wrong path, what is pre-death period and post-death, what is the successful way of life, how can one find entry into Paradise, what is salvation, etc. All these questions are very important. The only mission of the Prophet is to make people aware of these issues. There is no need for fighting in order to do this. Islam wants peace so that it may complete its mission. Such a mission cannot be carried out except in peace and normalcy. If there is hate, violence and war, then one cannot perform this mission. So, the only concern of Islam and the Prophet of Islam was to make people aware of the Creation Plan of God. This is the only concern. This is not conversion, rather it is only tabligh or dawah, or conveying the message to all mankind. Conversion is not Islam’s goal. Only conveying of the message of Islam is the goal, that is, telling others what is the purpose of life, what is Paradise and how to enter Paradise. This is a peaceful mission, and can be carried out only in a normal situation.
All Muslims who are engaged in war, it is their own concern, not Islamic concern. Muslims are not doing jihad, they are actually engaged in their quami fighting. This is true even of Muslims in Palestine, Kashmir. All those countries where they are engaged in jihad is not jihad. Because, jihad means to strive or struggle. Jihad doesn’t mean qital, which is fighting. Jihad simply means to struggle. There is no connotation of war in this. There is a verse in the Quran: “Do great jihad with them by means of this [the Quran].” (25:52). Now, the Quran is not a sword or a bomb or a gun. How can one wage war with the Quran? The Quran is a book of ideology. So, this verse means that Islam believes in ideological jihad, and not violent jihad. Violent jihad is out of the scheme of Islam. The only jihad is ideological jihad through the Quran, that is, conveying the message of the Quran to all mankind. The gist of that message is: “And God calls to the home of peace.” (10:25) That is, ‘O people, you have to live in peace. So that you can receive God’s blessings.’ This verse tells us that if you want divine blessing, then you have to live in peace and establish a peaceful society. This is the essence of Islam. What I am saying, I am saying with conviction, after a long study of the Quranic and Islamic texts.
In short, Islam is a religion of peace, compassion and it advocates living with friendly behaviour in society. This is the formula to establish a better society in this world. Also, this is the formula by following which one can find entry into Paradise.
(This lecture was delivered in a conference on “Peace-Building through Learning and Understanding” organized by World Buddhist Culture Trust and Osmania University Centre for International Programmes, at Osmania University, Hyderabad on November 29, 2013)