Understanding Islam

Islam is actually a religion of peace and humanism. Not only Islam, but also all other religions are religions of peace. The Sufis have given the best interpretation of Islam. A Persian phrase, Sulh-e-Kul, which means peace with all, truly expresses the spirit of Islam.

There are two major sources of Islam, the Quran, which is the word of God and the Hadith, which are the sayings and the actions of the Prophet of Islam. We find the true message of Islam through these sources.

There is a very relevant Hadith recorded by Bhukari, which clarifies that when the Prophet had to choose between two paths, he always opted for the easier, that is, peaceful course of action, rather than the harder course of action. One is free to choose between the two paths of peace and violence.

According to a Hadith, the Prophet of Islam defined a believer thus:

A believer is one from whom people are safe as regards their lives and property. (At-Tirmizi, An-Nasai, Ibn Majah, Musnad Ahmad).

There are two ways of leading one’s life in society. One is to live peacefully among one’s fellow men. The other is to remain always at loggerheads with others. According to this Hadith, the way of the faithful is to live as peaceful citizens in society. No one should pose any danger to others’ lives, property or honour. In no circumstances, should one take the way of violence.

How should life be led so that the members of a society remain safe and secure from others’ injustices? It is to maintain the way of moderation, irrespective of there being causes for complaint. All members of society should be able to bury their complaints in their own hearts instead of pouring them out upon others. A society in which such self control is exercised is one in which its members can enjoy a feeling of security. Indeed, a peaceful society is the ideal framework for positive human development. On the contrary, a society fraught with violence is an animal, not a human society. It can offer little hope of the realization of individual human potential.

The love of peace is a noble human virtue, whereas the love of violence brings the human being down from a high ethical plane to the level of brutishness.

According to a tradition, the Prophet of Islam observed: “The believer is like a gentle plant. Whenever the wind blows, it inclines accordingly, and when the wind stops blowing, it again comes back to its upright position. In this way, it saves itself from the impact of the wind.”

According to this tradition, there are two ways of behaving during a storm. One is to face up to it with total rigidity. The other is to be flexible and bend before it. We can put it differently and say, there are two ways of countering adversity: one by the peaceful method, the other by the violent method. God enjoins renouncing the violent method in favour of the peaceful method.

Violence is basically an ego-related problem. It is a provoked ego that creates almost all kinds of violence and disturbance. When one’s ego is affected, it turns into a super ego and the result is breakdown. It is inevitably those who suffer from egoism who choose to be inflexible in weathering life’s storms. Conversely, it is the modest who, in the face of adversity, tread the path of peace. In this world of God, destruction awaits those who indulge in egoism, while success awaits those who conduct themselves with modesty. The same point has been underlined in a Hadith:

“One who chooses the way of modesty will be raised up by God.”

So the secret of peaceful living is to sedulously avoid any ego-clash taking place between individuals or groups. This is the only successful formula for establishing a peaceful society on a permanent basis.

Now I would like to present examples from the traditions of the Prophet. Once a man came to the Prophet and asked, “O Prophet, give me a master advice which will enable me to manage all the affairs of my life.” The Prophet told him: “Don’t be angry.” As anger is always the result of provocation, he was actually saying, “Don’t be anger, even when provoked.”

That is to say, stick to positive behaviour in all situations. In fact, in normal conditions man is governed by his own nature. And nature always takes the course of peace. When people are provoked their nature is upset, and they are derailed into negativity. So the Prophet advised people never to take a negative course of action, and to keep to a peaceful and positive behaviour in all situations, even in the face of provocation.

Anger is the killer of peace. Anger often results in violence. Giving vent to anger is a sign of weakness, whereas the mastering of anger is a sign of power. Anger, moreover, confounds one’s thinking capacity. The angry man can neither understand any issue in a clear-headed way, nor can he give a response, which is adequate to the situation. What is worse is that when an individual is angry, he is all too prone to turn to violence. But the truth is that violence is no solution to any problem. For one who can prevent himself from succumbing to anger, there is no situation, which he will not be able to turn to good account. He will seek a peaceful solution—the only sure way to solve any problem.

This world is a world of differences. A reformer has rightly said that nature abhors uniformity. This means that ‘difference’ is a part of nature. Difference is there in every aspect of life. So is the case of religion. Who has the power to remove differences? We have to learn the art of difference management rather than the art of difference elimination.

The Prophet of Islam used this guiding principle in forming an Islamic society in Medina. As you know, the Prophet of Islam was born in Mecca, in 570 A.D. In 622, he migrated to Medina, where he lived until his death in 632. The Medinan society was a multicultural society comprising of Muslims, Christians and Jews. In Medina, the Prophet of Islam issued a declaration that is called in Islamic history Sahifa-e-Madina, which means Medina Declaration. There is a verse in the Quran to this effect, “For you your religion and for me mine.” This means that the formula for social peace, social harmony and inter-faith dialogue is based on peaceful co-existence. Mutual respect is a sine qua non for Islam. Indeed, this democratic tradition is the basis of Islam.

According to this prophetic tradition everyone is worthy of respect. There may be differences in religion and culture, but there is absolutely no difference or discrimination between people in terms of respect and honour. I have formulated this Quranic teaching in these words: “Follow one and respect all.”

Here I would like to add that difference is not a curse, but rather a blessing. History shows that difference of opinion leads to dialogue, and dialogue results in intellectual development. Difference of opinion promotes positive intellectual activities, which is a boon for everyone concerned. Above all difference of opinion leads to high thinking. And high thinking is the sole key to all kinds of human progress.

So we have to welcome differences wholeheartedly, without any reservation. It is hatred, which has to be eliminated, and not difference of opinion.

Here I would like to quote an event in the life of the Prophet of Islam, which illustrates the true spirit of religious tolerance. One day a funeral procession wound its way along a street in Medina. The Prophet, who was seated there at the time of its passing, stood up in deference to the deceased person. One of his companions said, ‘O Prophet, but he was a Jew!’ meaning thereby that it was the dead body of a non-Muslim. The Prophet replied: ‘Alaisat nafsan’: ‘Was he not a human being?’ This ‘humanitarian’ outlook was typical of the Prophet’s vision of life. He was able to see everyone as a human being. In this case, he discovered a commonality between himself and that Jewish person. He felt that just as he was a human being, so also was the Jew a human being. Just as God had created him, so also had God created the Jew. People may have their differences in belief, religion, culture, etc., but a common bond has to be discovered between them, which shows them all to be human beings.

Human life in Islam is held in such high esteem that the killing of a single human being is considered equivalent to the assassination of the whole of mankind. And the protection of a single human life is equivalent to the protection of the whole of mankind. (5:27-32)

Here I would like to refer to a very pertinent verse from the Quran:

“Good deeds and bad deeds are not alike. Do good deeds in return for bad deeds. And you will see that your enemy has become your dearest friend.” (41:34)

This is indeed a very revolutionary kind of teaching. It means that human beings are not like stones. They are always subject to change. Thus the difference between friends and enemies is quite relative. In fact, your enemy is potentially your friend. So there is no need to complain against your enemy. You have to turn this potential into reality. And you will find that the whole world is a world of friends. All men and women are your blood brothers and blood sisters.

According to a study of the Quran, two distinct entities emerge: the Creator and the created. God is the Creator and all of us are His creations. All of us are human beings. There is no third position. On the one hand, there is God, and on the other hand, there is God’s creation. This is a matter of fact. God is one and mankind also is one. Thus we have the Unity of God - monotheism - and the Unity of mankind. This is the fundamental teaching of Islam.

Consider Hinduism’s great truth: All human beings are one family. The same truth is expressed in the Hadith. Mankind is the family of God. Therefore, as far as ethical values are concerned, there are no differences at all between religions. In daily life, we need to understand that all human beings are God’s family.

One has to differentiate between Islam and the followers of Islam. When one is questioned on the nature of Islam and when the popular media makes a difference between a ‘moderate Muslim’ and a ‘radical Muslim’, one needs to tear down such false barriers and say that Islam does not talk of a ‘moderate’ or ‘radical’ Muslim, but a ‘true’ Muslim in the sense of adhering to the truth that has been continuously preached by the Sufis. The Sufis are Muslims in the true sense of the word. (1850)