Taking the Initiative

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan | Discover Islam | Al-Risala October 1988

In this life on earth, there is no escaping conflict, for that is part of God’s scheme of things for mankind. In any conflict, the question of taking the initiative always arises. Normally, this would mean entering into the fray either verbally or physically and fighting until one side clearly emerges as the victor. This can be a terrible process in which both sides suffer in many ways. Sometimes the victor suffers even greater losses than the vanquished, and all that he is left to show for his victory at the end of it all is the tattered remnants of his prestige. Although he may have risen in the esteem of his own people, he will have engendered feelings of anger, resentment and hostility in the breasts of all his opponents. He will have created a situation in which the latter, simmering with hatred, will be perpetually on the look-out for the chance to take their revenge. Victory, after all, is not a self-prolonging state of affairs. It has to be preserved and defended – fought for on repeated occasions, if necessary.

This leads us to wonder whether such a victory is worth winning at all, and whether ‘taking the initiative’ could not be done in some more peaceful and, therefore, more fruitful way. Would not the making of a conciliatory move be a better initiative on the whole to take? And where conciliation is impossible, would not a simple withdrawal by one side be more productive of beneficial results?

Inter-community harmony that sometimes upsets the even tenor of Indian life, is an example of the type of conflict which can only be resolved by a unilateral decision of not allowing matters to escalate. It is, of course, for the Muslims to take such an action; if they require guidance as to how to conduct themselves on such occasions, they need think only of the example set by the Prophet of Islam with the battle of Hudaybiyyah (6AH). By refusing to be provoked by the harassment of the Quraysh and by acceding to all their demands, he put an end to a conflict which had lasted for twenty years. In doing so, he defused the tension which had marred the relations between the Muslims and their non-Muslim compatriots. Far from being a capitulation, this was a moral victory for the Prophet.

It is such moral victories that all right-thinking Muslims should aim at. Any other kind of victory is likely to generate not only a counter-productive animosity, but also can turn potential beneficiaries of the blessings of Islam into determined foes of the very word of God which it is the duty of all Muslims to convey to them. Muslim action in situations of conflict should always be such as to encourage and inspire others with their example and should never deepen already existing prejudices. The Muslim who retaliates in the face of extreme provocation is the Muslim who will never succeed in conveying God’s message to his antagonists. If he is to succeed in carrying out God’s work, he must give up the warlike postures that so many present-day Muslims are so fond of striking and show himself open to the kind of serious discussion which will ultimately permit an earnest and persuasive transmission of the message of Islam.