The prospects for peace, unity and coexistence are inextricably linked to the accomplishment of a certain level of religious, moral and socio-cultural progress. It cannot be attained in an environment of conflicts, confrontations, misunderstanding and instability. The relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims has deteriorated. The worst situations and misunderstandings have created anxiety, fear, apprehension and trepidation among peace-loving humanity. The present furious commotion and confusion impede good relations and cripple our dynamic interactions. It has also created fickle conditions for clashes and confrontations in various circumstances. At this juncture, there is a critical need for a comprehensive dialogue towards making peace, unity and coexistence through moral, religious and socio-cultural transformation between the followers of faiths. There is also a need for a comprehensive assessment of the existing scenario to bring about mutual understanding among them.
The word Islam itself is derived from ‘Salam, meaning peace. So naturally, Islam is a religion which promotes it. Islam is a religion which teaches compassion, altruism, and solidarity in times of hardship and ease, all of which brings peace. As far as compassion is concerned, Muslims are commanded to be kind and just towards fellow Muslims and non-Muslims.
“God does not forbid you from behaving cordially and justly towards those (non-Muslims) who do not fight you for religion and who do not drive you out from your homes: for God loves those who are just.” (Qur’an 60:8)
The Prophet Muhammad(s) was sent as a mercy for the whole of mankind, not just Muslims. He demonstrated great kindness, compassion, generosity and politeness towards non-Muslims. A major part of the Prophet’s mission was to bring peace to the world. One of the ways in which he strove towards this end was to attempt to convince people that all men and women, albeit inhabiting very different regions of the world, and different from one another in colour, culture and language, were, in fact, blood brothers and sisters. His message was crucial, for a proper relationship of love and respect can be established only if that is how human beings regard one another. To inculcate such feelings, the Prophet would preach to his followers, “You are all Adam’s offspring and Adam was made of clay.” And in his prayers to his Creator, he said, “O Lord, all your servants are brothers.”
The Prophet tried to avoid any material conflict between him and those to whom he was addressing his teachings. No matter what price, he would let no worldly rivalry come in between himself and his congregation.
The Prophet Muhammad(s) guided people through the Qur’an and Sunnah and their virtuous teachings of equality, justice, peace, tolerance and moderation. Throughout the first thirteen years of his Mission, he preached in Makkah but it was in the face of bitter opposition from the Makkans. When it became impossible for him to stay there, he left for Madinah. Wars were waged against him, but he showed his antagonists that the power of peace was far greater than that of war.
One outstanding example of this policy was the Treaty of Hudaybiyah. By constantly waging war against the Muslims, the Quraish tribe had made Muslims and non-Muslims into two separate parties eternally at loggerheads with one another. Both sides were spending all their time preparing for war. In this treaty, the Prophet accepted all demands of the Quraish in return for a ten-year truce. The terms of the Treaty were so one-sided that many Muslims considered it a humiliation, but in reality, it paved the way for what the Qur’an called a “clear victory.”
This treaty put an end to the animosity between the Muslims and the non-Muslims. Muslims could freely communicate the teachings of their faith to non-Muslims who in turn were free to accept them. No worldly rivalry or prejudice stood in the way of the dissemination of faith. The Prophet’s most important task was to bring peace to the world and so he urged people to accept the fact that regardless of skin, colour, language, lifestyle or dwelling place, they were all brothers and sisters. The Prophet himself led the way with his kindness, humility and good humour.
The Prophet’s experiences ranged from penury to prosperity, from defeat to success, yet whatever the degree of well-being or hardship, he steadfastly trod the path of moderation. At all times and right till the end, he remained a patient and grateful servant of the Almighty. The Prophet told the people that “every religion has some special characteristic, that of Islam being modesty.” In the absence of such a virtue, no community can have lasting peace.
The Prophet’s own modesty, coupled with his great strength of character, is depicted in a well-known story of an old Makkan woman who hated the Prophet. She would throw rubbish on his head from the upper storey of her house. He never once remonstrated with her about this. One day, when the Prophet passed through this area, no rubbish fell on his head. Thinking that the old woman must be ill, he inquired about her and found her indeed ill in bed. When she discovered that the Prophet had come to see her, she began to weep, “I ill-treated you, and now you come to enquire after my health!”. Such was the strength of character, patience and tolerance the Prophet demonstrated in refusing to be provoked, preferring rather show kindness and magnanimity to one who had wished him ill.
The Prophet would exhort his followers to live in peace with their fellow men, saying, “A true believer is one with whom others feel secure,” one who returns love for hatred. He used to teach the believers that anyone who would return love only when love was given belonged on a lower ethical plane. The true believer never reasons that only if people treat him well that he will treat them well in return. He is accustomed rather to doing good to those who mistreat him and refrain from harming those who do him harm. The Prophet himself set the example. All his recorded words and actions reveal him as a man of great gentleness, kindness, humility, good humour and excellent common sense, with a great love for all people and even for animals.
Despite his position as a leader, the Prophet never believed himself to be greater or better than others. He never made others feel small, unwanted or embarrassed. He urged his followers to behave kindly and humbly, releasing slaves whenever possible, and giving in charity, especially to very poor people, orphans and prisoners, without any thought of reward.
In the dominant western conception, peace is associated with the absence of war or organised violence and justice with an absence of gross violations of human rights. Peace is maintained through the threat of coercion and the institutionalisation of regulations and decision-making procedures. Peace and conflict resolution are thought about in terms of rational order or problem solving predicated upon reason. But peace occupies a central position among Islamic precepts, where it is closely linked to justice and the flourishing of humanity. Indeed, peace signifies an additional presence of human dignity, economic well-being and ecological balance. Peace in Islam begins with God; God is peace, for peace (al-salam) is one of the ‘most beautiful names’ of God.
Peace, unity, co-existence prosperity and stability are the most important elements of Islam. It must be known that every religion respects individuals and of course Islam is no different from that. Those people who commit violence in the name of Islam are not representatives of this religion. Rather, they are committing horrendous acts against the teachings of God and His Messenger, Prophet Muhammad(s).
Dr Suhaib Ahmad Khan holds a doctorate in
Arabic language and literature from Jamia Millia
Islamia New Delhi India.