Peace-Building through Learning: The Islamic Perspective

Farida Khanam | October 29, 2013 | WBCT-OUCIP

The whole world wants peace. Or so any right thinking person would imagine. Yet there are many areas of the world which are strife-torn, many areas which are slowly and partially recovering from the ravages of war, and yet there are areas where the imminence of war is diverting great minds to negative ends such as the development of more and more sophisticated weaponry and the building of nuclear arsenals. History shows that all great progress takes place and all great ideas come to fruition during periods of peace and stability, yet despite this being common knowledge, battles are still fought and wars still break out. The principal reason for this is that human beings still place their trust in violent solutions to national and international problems, both external and internal. Violence is seen as a way of settling matters quickly and decisively, although there is much evidence to the contrary.
 
Peace-building is therefore one of the greatest imperatives of our times. Peace-building is a term frequently uttered by speakers on national platforms and in international forums. But, lamentably, these speakers offer no viable methods for achieving this. To this situation, Islam has a major role to play. For Islam is a religion of peace. Islam lays emphasis on both peace and learning, the latter being a means of bringing individuals to embrace the culture of peace. It is my firm belief that education is the key factor in fostering peace, because through it the root cause can be effectively addressed.
 
PEACE IN ISLAM

Islam, deriving from the root word silm, which means peace, is a religion of peace. The Quran puts on record the many names or attributes of God, one of them being As-Salam, that is, Peace. God loves peace and security so much that He chose Peace as one of His names. That is to say, that God Himself is the embodiment of peace. God has set the highest conceivable standards. That is, when God’s dealings with human beings are based on peace and security, then man should also deal with other human beings in a peaceable manner, and not with harshness or violence.  The Quran says: “And God calls to the home of peace.” (10:25) This is the message of Islam to mankind. It means that build a world of peace on earth so that you may be granted a world of peace in your eternal life in the Hereafter.
 
There is another verse in the Quran: “Peace is the best option.” (4:128). This means that peace is the best option as it normalizes conditions, and only in normal conditions is it possible to achieve the goal of Islam, which is to lead a God-oriented life. The Prophet of Islam once said: “God grants to peace what He does not grant to violence.” This prophetic saying refers to the law of nature. As peace is the only culture for both man and the universe and man should learn to live on the culture of peace.
 
LEARNING IN ISLAM

Learning is also another very important aspect of Islam. According to Islam learning is essential for religious and spiritual development that sets off a process of intellectual and spiritual development that makes individuals peaceful. The Prophet of Islam once said: “Every Muslim, man and woman, is duty-bound to acquire learning.” This tradition of the Prophet shows the importance of learning in Islam. Learning is necessary for the realization of God. That is why acquiring learning is held to be a duty for all.

PEACE-BUILDING IN ISLAM

Islam always lays emphasis on peaceful living. The goal of Islam is the positive intellectual engineering of every human being, and this mission can be accomplished only in a peaceful atmosphere. According to Islam, peace is not simply a moral principle: it is more than that. It is a complete way of life, based on the culture of peace. The Prophet of Islam taught people how to inculcate the culture of peace. That is why the Quran calls him a “mercy to all mankind”. (21:106) This means that the advent of the Prophet of Islam made manifest God’s mercy for all mankind. Through him God communicated those principles of life by opting for which man may inhabit the abode of eternal peace and security. According to my understanding these are the principles of the culture of peace.
 
Human society is full of differences. Every day, we face some kind of sad experience brought about by other members of society. This state of affairs leads people to develop a negative attitude. But, this kind of behaviour is completely un-Islamic. According to Islam, man should follow the principles of the culture of peace in social life, at the heart of which is sabr, that is, patience. Sabr means avoiding negative reaction to unpleasant situations, trying to give a positive response and converting negative experience into positive experience. The principle of patience is at the core of building a culture of peace in Islam. Then I would like to say that if building a culture of peace is the goal then to my mind three core principles should be learnt by individuals – respect for all, compassion and forgiveness. It is by learning these principles that individuals can build a culture of peace in themselves.
 
1. RESPECT FOR ALL

Respect for all is the most important principle by which to build a culture of peace within oneself. The teachings of Islam can be broadly divided into two areas – one, the worship of God, and two, respect and well-wishing for mankind. Respect for others is an important teaching of Islam set forth in the Quran and in the traditions of the Prophet of Islam.
 
There is a very interesting story, recorded by Al-Bukhari in this regard. The Prophet of Islam once saw a funeral procession passing along a street in Madina. The Prophet was seated at that time. On seeing the funeral, the Prophet stood up as a mark of respect. At this one of his companions said: ‘O Prophet, it was the funeral of a Jew (not a Muslim). The Prophet replied: ‘Was he not a human being?’
 
This shows that every man is worthy of respect, whether he belongs to one religion or another, to one nation or another. On no pretext can this respect be withheld from any human being. The truth is that every individual has been created by one and the same God, therefore, everyone is equally worthy of respect.  There may be differences among people regarding religion and culture, but everyone has to respect the other. For, according to Islam, all men and women are blood brothers and blood sisters. And all are creatures of one and the same God.
 
Equal Treatment for All

According to Islam all human beings deserve equal treatment. The Prophet of Islam once observed that a believer is one who likes for others what he likes for himself. This is a very important principle of social ethics. Everyone knows what attitude he wants or does not want from others. He should behave with others as he wants them to behave with him; he should refrain from such behaviour as he does not want to receive from others. This is a central teaching of Islam. It is only by following this ethic that one becomes deserving of the respect of others. 
 
2. COMPASSION

Compassion is the second principle of building a culture of peace within oneself. If you go through the Quran and Hadith, you will find many verses in the Qur’an and hadith which lay great stress on compassion. For instance, the Prophet of Islam said: O people, be compassionate to others so that you may be granted compassion by God. Thus Islam makes compassion a matter of self-interest for every man. As one’s own future depends on one’s compassionate behaviour to one’s fellow men. In this way, Islam motivates us to be compassionate in our dealings with each other. If one wants to receive God’s grace, one shall have to show compassion to others.
 
Rahmat: Mercy and Love

The Prophet often uttered such phrases as, “May God bless the man, may God bless the woman.” This goes to show what type of attitude Islam wants to develop in its adherents. This is the culture of rahmat¸ that is compassion and love. Islam demands that on all occasions human beings should be well-intentioned towards each other; on all occasions human beings should offer the gifts of love and compassion to others.
God’s attributes are given in the Quran as ‘The Compassionate’, and ‘The Merciful’. That is, He is very kind and sympathetic. Similarly, the Prophet of Islam has been called ‘A Mercy to the world’. (21: 107). That is, the Prophet of Islam has been sent as a blessing to the whole world. The greatest distinguishing feature of the Prophet is his being the instrument of universal mercy.
 
The Quran, as a matter of divine guidance, urges people to exercise patience and compassion in their dealings with one another. This means that everyone should treat others with sympathy and kindness. Even when one experiences unkindness from others, one should not return unkindness for unkindness, but should continue to behave sympathetically.
 
Kindness

Of all God’s names, the most popular, and most often used, is that of ‘Rahmaan’ (kind). The name ‘Raheem’, which comes along with ‘Rahmaan’, means ‘full of kindness’ The Muslims are asked to recite both these names of God before they undertake anything.  According to a Hadith, God divided ‘Raham’ (kindness) into a hundred parts and of these He gave human beings one part. It is because of this one part that mankind displays kindness. According to a Hadith, even a mare does not step on to its foal lest the foal be injured. Kindness is also a great quality given by God to His prophets. The Quran says of the Prophet Mohammad, ‘To you has come a Prophet from amongst yourselves who feels your pain when you are in trouble, who is always mindful of your welfare’ and who is most considerate and kind to you.’ According to a hadith, when one person is kind to another, God is kind to him. And, he who is not kind to his young people is not from amongst us.
 
If an act of goodness is analysed, it will be seen that, behind it, is a sense of kindness. All acts of cruelty, oppression and heart­lessness are the result of a complete lack of a sense of kind­ness. Islam’s message envisages kindness to all living beings, all animals and all human beings; there are specific instructions on how to deal humanely with animals so as not to misuse them. The Prophet said, “No kindness shall be shown by God on the Day of Judgement to one who is not himself kind”. It is the ‘sense’ of kindness which makes us kind and good towards orphans, the needy, the poor, the oppressed and the underdog.
 
Modesty

As a result of the wrong thinking and misdeeds of others, we are repeatedly faced with unpleasant experiences in this present world. Hence only those can firmly tread the path of love, politeness and gentleness who are able to refrain from the psychology of reaction. That is why true believers are described in the Quran as “those who curb their anger and those who forgive their fellow men.” (3: 134)
 
3. FORGIVENESS

The third most important principle by which to build a culture of peace within oneself is forgiveness. The Quran has to say this of peace-loving people: “When they are angered, they forgive.” There are a number of verses in the Quran which advocate forgiveness. Once a person came to the Prophet and asked him, “O Prophet, give me a masterly piece of advice by which I may be able to manage all the affairs of my life.” The Prophet replied: “Don’t be angry.” What he meant by this was: ‘forgive people even in the face of provoca­tion.’ That is, adopt forgiveness as your behaviour at all times.
 
Unilateral Tolerance

The Prophet of Islam once said that you must forgive your oppressor. This is a great piece of wisdom. Oppression can be brought to an end only by forgiving the oppressor. Retaliation is not going to end oppression. This saying of the Prophet is a lesson in result-oriented action. An oppressed person must first of all think that his reaction should be aimed at ending the state of oppression rather than worsening his plight. Whenever any oppressed person thinks along these lines, he will find that forgiving the oppressor is the greatest form of revenge. Forgiving the oppressors is the simplest strategy for putting an end to oppression. This is not an act carried out under compulsion. It is based on a fine moral principle. When one forgives the unjust, one should do it as a matter of principle, for, forgiving on compulsion is as meaningless as taking revenge.
 
IN CONCLUSION

Patience, respect for all, compassion and forgiveness are the pillars on which a peaceful society can be built. Islam lays emphasis on these principles by adherence to which a culture of peace can be built within individuals. Wherever these values are to be found, the result will undoubtedly be a society of peace and harmony.
 
One cannot do better in one’s efforts to ensure peace than to follow the example set by the Prophet of Islam in every facet of his life right throughout his career from beginning to end.
The golden rules for the carrying of the ideal of peace into effect are set forth with the greatest clarity in the Quran and these rules are brilliantly illustrated by the thoughts, words and deeds of the Prophet of Islam, as recorded in the Hadith.

(This paper was presented in a conference on “Peace-Building through Learning and Understanding” organized by World Buddhist Culture Trust (WBCT) and Osmania University Centre for International Programmes (OUCIP), at Osmania University, Hyderabad on November 29, 2013)