Islam and world peace

Reviewed by: Roshan Shah | The Mother

Much has been written, by Muslims as well as others, on issues related to Islamic perspectives on peace, conflict and violence. This is no mere academic subject, of course. It has immensely crucial practical implications, given the horrific violence being perpetrated in different parts of the world today by terrorist groups that claim to represent Islam.

It is not that violence is a Muslim monopoly. Nor is it that some Muslims are the only people who seek to justify their violence in the name of religion. Yet, no one can deny that today, vast numbers of non-Muslims have come to see Islam and Muslims in an extremely negative light—and that this owes mainly to the heinous violence being committed by terrorist outfits in the name of Islam.

At the same time as the brutalities of such terrorist groups seem to be becoming even more horrific—the latest example being the sickening crimes against humanity being perpetrated, day after day, by the self-styled “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”—an increasing number of Muslims are choosing to speak up and against them, insisting that the terrorists’ interpretation of Islam is the very antithesis of their faith. The so-called jihads spearheaded by the terrorists, they insist, are nothing but fasad or strife and have no legitimacy whatsoever in Islam. They also stress that Islam encourages Muslims to cultivate good relations with people of other faiths, contending that the terrorists’ claim to the contrary has no Islamic sanction. Interfaith dialogue and harmony between Muslims and others, they say, is an Islamic imperative.

One of the most tireless advocates of understanding, dialogue and harmony between Muslims and others at the global level is 90 year-old Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, founder of the New Delhi-based Centre for Peace and Spirituality. A prolific writer and one of the very few traditionally-trained ulema or Islamic scholars who are active in seeking to meaningfully engage, and work together, with people of other faiths, Maulana Sahib has for years taken a consistent stand on terror being waged in the name of Islam. It has absolutely no Islamic sanction, he has been tirelessly repeating.

This timely book touches on various dimensions of ongoing debates about Islam, peace, conflict and terrorism. In contrast to the radical Islamists’ supremacist and hate-driven understanding of Islam, Maulana Sahib insists that in Islam, peace is the norm. As in several other religions, he says, Islam permits violence only in certain very rare, exceptional and unavoidable circumstances. To stress this point, he provides a broad overview of some of the battles the Prophet engaged in.

In Islam, Maulana Sahib writes, war can be fought only in defence, when other, peaceful, means to stave off aggression have failed.  It may be resorted to only as a last resort. Moreover, it can be pursued only by a duly-established government. Accordingly, Maulana Sahib points out, guerrilla war, engaged in by non-state actors such as today’s terrorist groups, is wholly un-Islamic. This means that the violent activism of outfits and networks such as Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Taliban, the ISIS and so on has no legitimacy at all in Islam.  Also forbidden in Islam, Maulana Sahib says, are proxy wars, such as the war being pursued by Pakistan-backed terror groups in Kashmir, because, he writes, according to Islam there must be open declaration of hostilities if a Muslim state goes to war.

 Muslim terror groups routinely label the wars they are engaged in as Islamic ‘jihads’, but this is a claim that Maulana Sahib stoutly refutes. The Arabic word jihad, he indicates, is greatly misunderstood, not least by many Muslims themselves (including, but not only, radical Islamists). It denotes making great effort for something, and so is definitely not synonymous with what is often wrongly translated as ‘holy war’. A great form of jihad that the Islamic texts stress is the struggle against one’s baser self—this being one form of jihad that Muslim terror groups, of course, don’t care at all about.

To reduce jihad to just one form of it—physical war or qital—is, Maulana Sahib indicates, totally unacceptable. But that is precisely one of the many distortions of Islamic concepts and doctrines that radical Islamists are guilty of. Maulana Sahib insists that their ambition—of unleashing war to grab political power and enforce what they call ‘Islamic rule’—does not at all accord with Islam. He castigates such groups for seeking to promote Muslim communal supremacy in the name of Islam, this being, he says, against the very spirit and purpose of the faith. What they are engaged in, he says, is actually “Anti-Islam in the name of Islam”. The horrific violence that terrorists masquerading as mujahids are guilty of, he says, has only served to further reinforce anti-Muslim hatred and widespread and deeply-rooted negative images of Islam among people of other faiths.

Maulana Sahib not only unequivocally condemns the terrorism being engaged in the name of jihad as wholly un-Islamic but also points to the resources contained in the Islamic tradition that can sustain what he calls a ‘culture of peace’. He also stresses that the notion of a ‘just peace’ (which not just some Muslim groups, but others, too, insist on) is simply untenable and unworkable. Insisting on peace with justice, he indicates, can only prolong conflict. He maintains that Muslims must work for peace at all costs. Even if others are not willing to, they must unilaterally cease involvement in all conflicts that they are involved in, and, instead, begin to work for peace. It is only in a climate of peace, he writes, that people can freely interact with each other, which, in turn, could later lead to justice.

One major reason for ongoing conflicts in large parts of the world involving people of different faith backgrounds relates to certain widely-shared understandings of inter-community relations and national identities. Maulana Sahib reminds us that in our quest for peace and harmony we simply cannot wish away the real differences that exist between religions at the doctrinal level. No contrived uniformity that denies these differences can be sustained. Such differences need to be recognized, but, yet, people of different faith traditions can work together for the common good. In this regard, he stresses the need for a proper, authentic understanding of certain key Islamic terms, such as jihad, kufr and kafir, and so on. He points to widely-held and deeply-rooted misinterpretations of these among many people, Muslims as well as others, which, he suggests, are a major obstacle to better inter-community relations and which are often used to stoke inter-community strife.

Maulana Sahib is one of the very few ulema to be actively engaged in seeking to promote peace in Kashmir. He has written extensively on this subject elsewhere. In the concluding chapter of this book, titled “Peace in Kashmir”, he maintains that the ongoing conflict in Kashmir is definitely not an Islamic jihad. He contends that it does not fulfil “a single” condition of jihad in the true sense of the term. It is not an “Islamic movement”, he insists. Marshalling historical as well as other arguments, Maulana Sahib contends that the Kashmiri militants (and Pakistan, too) must stop their violence at once and recognize the fact that the only feasible solution to the ongoing Kashmir conflict is to accept the Line of Control as an international boundary between India and Pakistan.

With its wealth of detail, its fascinating insights, its bold critique of radical Islamist discourse and politics, its helpful and much-needed articulation of an Islamic understanding of peace and inter-community harmony and dialogue, and the hope that it offers us, this book is definitely a must-read for anyone concerned with what is admittedly one of the most widely-discussed and​ hotly-debated subjects across the world today.