Peace And War|
An Islamic Perspective(*)
Dr. Fathi al-Akkari
Most religions accept war as a legitimate act of self-defence but in the last few centuries mankind experienced actions that can never be tolerated by any one. These acts of violence include;
Ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Jews in Europe and indigenous people in Africa,
Australia, North America, and Palestine.
Enslaving of Millions of black Africans and shipping them to North America.
Enslaving tens of thousands of Muslim women in Bosnia.
Long lasting effects of Mass Destructive Weapons.
In this paper we will look into the opinion of Islam in these matters. Does Islam accept these acts? Who is responsible? What can the international community do? Are the victims entitled to compensations? Though most of the damage done to the environment is reversible, the moral scars in the history of mankind are irreversible.
To look into the opinion of Islam, we need first to introduce some basic concepts about Islam as a religion. This introduction is needed because lots of people are not familiar with many of the terms that will be used. Islam is an Arabic word that means submission or total surrender to God. Muslim is an Arabic word that describes a person who submits to God. From this we can plainly deduct that a Muslim is a person who will not willingly bring harm onto others. We will try to put forward some corner stones that will help explain the standing of Islam regarding these points.
What do Muslims believe in?
The basic Muslim belief can not be better described than in the words of Allah in the holy Qur'an. Allah SWT says "The Apostle believed in what has been revealed to him from his Lord, as do the men of faith. Each one of them believed in God, His angels, His books, and His apostles. We make no distinction between one and another of his apostles." (CH 2 / Verse 285). From this verse it is clear that Muslims believe in God The Creator of the universe and that there is nothing worthy of worship other than Him. At one point the nonbelievers challenged the Prophet to describe his God. The revelation came from Allah "Say : He is Allah The one and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute ; He was not begot, nor was He begotten; and no one is comparable to Him" ( CH 30/Sura 112). Another verse that describes Allah is Verse255 /Ch 1 "Allah, there is no god but Him, the living, the self-sustaining, He is not subject to drowsiness or sleep, Everything in the heavens and the earth belong to him, Who can intercede with him except by his permission, He knows what is before them and what is behind them but they cannot grasp any of His knowledge save what He wills, His footstool encompasses the heavens and the earth and their preservation does not tire Him, He is the most High, the Magnificent". About one third of the Noble Qur'an is devoted to the oneness of God and His attributes. Muslims also believe in the Apostles who were sent by God and described in the Noble Qur'an from Noah to Mohammed; including Moses and Jesus, peace be upon all of them. They believe in all the holy books that were revealed by God to His messengers in their original form. Muslims believe in the day of judgement as it is described in the Noble Qur'an "When the earth is convulsed with its quaking and the earth then disgorges its charges and man asks, What is wrong with it? on that Day it will impart its news because your Lord has inspired it, That day people will emerge segregated to see the results of their actions, Whomever does an atom's weight of good will see it, And whomever does an atom's weight of evil will see it" (CH30/Sura 99). Muslims perform several acts of worship, but let us look at the most common of these, namely the prayers.
What do Muslims say in their daily prayers?
A practicing Muslim will read the opening chapter of the Holy Qur'an at least seventeen times a day. Each time he reads: "In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Praise be to Allah, The Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds; Most Gracious, Most Merciful; Master of the Day of Judgement. Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek. Show us the straight way, The way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, Those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray". Every Muslim should learn this as his prayers will be void unless he reads it. The daily prayers are a continuous act of spiritual cleansing for the soul of a Muslim. He or she wherever they are; at home, work, travelling or residing in one place should perform it as long as they are alive. The Prophet peace be upon him described its effect as taking a shower five times a day, how clean will a Muslim be? When they perform prayer, Muslims should make ablution and wear clean clothes remembering that they are standing in front of God. Can we have a better deterrent to keep man away from evil thoughts and evil acts?
What are the fundamental sources of Islamic Faith?
Muslims have two sources; The Holy Qur'an revealed by God to His apostle Mohammed peace be upon him through His Messenger Gabriel and the Sunnah. Both of these books have been collected and written for the last fourteen centuries. No one has the power or authority to change or delete any part of them. Scholars of Islam interpret them and draw fatwa rulings from them to solve the current issues facing the muslim nation or individuals. Both books are in Arabic but a translation of their meaning is available in several languages. Though these translations give a good idea about Islam they represent the understanding of the person who wrote them. For this reason Muslims should learn Arabic to master their religion.
How does Islam look at the diversity of mankind?
Allah says "O man -kind We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other not that you may despise each other. Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. And Allah is most knowing and is well acquainted with all things". (Ch 49 Verse13). This verse clearly indicates that Islam does not agree with the idea that man evolved form ape. Allah has created man in the best of images. The symmetry between other creations indicates the oneness of the creator. Diversity of mankind should not be the cause of discrimination or segregation because it is a Devin choice. Allah is The Most Wise, The all wise. Islam does not discriminate between men and/or women because of their colour, race, wealth, age, origin or language. Prophet Mohammed peace be upon him said "All of you are from Adam and Adam was made of clay" and "Mankind are equal like the teeth of a comb". Islam declares "All men are created equal".
What is the invitation of Muslims to Non Muslims?
Allah says "O people of the Book (Christians and Jews), come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but Allah, that we associate no partners with Him, that we erect not from among ourselves lords and patrons other than Allah. If then they turn back, say, bear witness that we submit to Him" (Ch 3/ Verse64). Muslims are not after the wealth, property or land of other nations. Their main task is to bring them to the worship of God, The Creator of the universe. Rather, the non-believers started to attack Muslims in their land and are still doing until this day. Allah SWT explains how this call should be done "Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair admonition, and argue with them in the kindest way, Your Lord knows best who is misguided from His way. And He knows best who are guided" (Ch16/verse 125). In another verse Allah SWT says, "Let there be a community among you who call to the good, and enjoin the right, and forbid the wrong. They are the ones who have success" (Ch 2/Verse104). We can see that Muslims have an obligation and a duty in front of God to call others to the submission to God.
How does Islam treat Non Muslims?
Allah say in the Holy Qur'an "Let there be no compulsion in religion, Truth stands out Clear from Error: whoever Rejects Evil and believes in Allah has grasped The most trustworthy Handhold, that never breaks" (Ch 2/Verse 256). Non Muslims have been living freely in Muslim land for the last fourteen centuries. The only place on earth where Jews were not harmed for the last fourteen hundred years is in the land of Islam, and when Muslims were driven out of Spain Jews paid a severe price with them. Their problems started with the occupation of Palestine and displacement of its people. Allah SWT describes the position of the people of the book towards Muslims "You will find the people most hostile to those who have faith in Allah are the Jews and the Non believers, You will find the people most affectionate to those who have faith are those who say, We are Christians, That is because some of them are priests and monks and because they are not arrogant. When they listen to what has been sent down to the Messenger, you see their eyes overflow with tears because of they recognize the truth. They say, Our Lord we have faith so write us among the witnesses" (Ch 5/Verse82-83).
Islam and Peace
The main objective of the message of Islam is to establish peace and justice on earth. All the chapters of The Holy Qur'an revolve around this by regulating all relations between man and the universe. For example one of the names of God is The Peace; Verse 23 / Ch 29 says "Allah is He, than Whom There is no other god; the Sovereign, The Holy one, The Peace, The Guardian of Faith, The Preserver of Safety, The Exalted in Might, The Irresistible, The Supreme". Muslim's greeting when they meet is "peace upon you ". Paradise's name in Islam is The House of Peace. When Muslims enter Paradise they will be greeted with peace and they will be asked to enter in peace. In one of the sayings of Prophet Mohammed peace be upon him, he said; you will not enter Paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love each other. Can I tell you something if you do it you will love each other, spread peace among yourselves? Many scholars describe Islam as a state of peace with Allah, within the soul and with the rest of creations. For these reasons Muslims have never been involved in crimes against Humanity as a nation. One of the great scholars of Islam expressed the concept of peace and war in Islam in the following statement:
"In Islam, peace is the rule, and war is a necessity that should not be resorted to but to achieve the following objectives; to uphold the rule of Allah on earth, so that the complete submission of men would be exclusively to Him; to eliminate opposition, extortion and injustice by instituting the Word of Allah; to achieve the human ideals that are considered by Allah as the aims of life; and to secure people against terror, coercion and injury" ( Sayyed Qutb, Islam and Universal Peace, American Trust Publications, 1977). It is difficult to mention every verse or saying in Islam about peace but we can say "Peace in justice is the deepest essence of Islam. In answering a question, the Prophet defined the best Islam as that which consisted of feeding those who are hungry and of spreading peace among the known and the unknown of the whole world."A Muslim will mention the word Peace forty times in his daily prayers and at least once each time he meet another Muslim.
Islam and War
Islam considers war as a last resort to achieve peace. It is an act of self defence. During the first decade of Islam, Muslims were not allowed to fight the nonbelievers so that every body will remember that Islam came in peace and with the real peace. Later Muslims were allowed to defend themselves but not to attack nonbelievers for no reason. Looking back into the history of Islam we can draw the following rules of engagements:
1] Negotiate before going into war, Muslims are supposed to explain their position and seek a peaceful solution on justified grounds whenever possible. In Islam it is more important to save one Muslim soldier than to kill one thousand from the enemy, although we believe that whoever is killed in action will go to paradise.
2] During fighting Muslims are not allowed to harm children, women, elderly people, unarmed men, worshipers or monks, prisoners of war, and animals. They are not allowed to destroy natural resources such as trees, wells, farms, places of worship, and hospitals.
3] If the enemy resorts to peace they should accept that and go to negotiations. Islam came to save mankind from hell fire not to drive them to it. Allah says "We sent you not, but As a Mercy for all creatures" (Ch 21/Verse 107). Allah SWT describes the mission of Islam as a mercy to all creations. This fact is highly regarded by Muslims in the way they call on others, out of love, to follow the guidance of God.
4] All existing treaties must be honored and if treachery is feared from a party with whom Muslims have a treaty, a four-month waiting period must be observed before warfare is resumed.
5] Treat prisoners of war justly, providing for their needs and allowing for ransom. The Prophet peace be upon him said "Who ever enslave a free man will never smell the aroma of paradise". This means that he will never enter it.
Islam and Crimes against Humanity
Islam does not accept the practices of man in the last few centuries, namely ethnic cleansing, enslaving of men and women and abuse of prisoners of war. It does not allow the use of mass destructive weapons except for defence if the enemy uses them. As a matter of fact, all Devin religions concur with these rulings. It is saddening to say that on several occasions high-ranking religious leaders did not do anything to stop these crimes, if they did not bless them. How can we forget the millions of Muslims slaughtered in Spain, Bosnia and Kosova? How can we forget the masses of mankind killed because they were Jews, Muslims, blacks, or different? If we look carefully for the reason behind that we see the western ideology that the end justifies the means. This is if we assume that the desired end is good, but if the goal is evil what should we expect from the means. George Kennan, US Cold War planner, said in 1948 "We have 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population. In this situation, our real job in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships, which permit us to maintain this position of disparity. To do so, we have to dispense with all sentimentality...we should cease thinking about human rights, the raising of living standards and democratization." Unfortunately the same thing goes on in Palestine in front of the eyes of the international community and with the support of great powers. To our friends we say; if Jesus was on earth he would be a Palestinian and when he returns he will not lead the Israelis but he will lead the believers to final victory. Muslims believe in the return of The Messiah Jesus Son of Mary; who will fight the false messiah and the non-believers before the Day of Judgement. On a few occasions the Pope apologized for the crimes against Jews or some factions of Christians but never for the millions of Muslims who were killed by the Crusaders, Serbs, Spanish and all colonial forces in the last century. As a matter of fact most of the crimes were committed against Muslims.
The Role of the International Community
The International Community has an important role to play so that these crimes will not be repeated. There are some steps that are vital to regain the respect of all nations. These include:
1] Recognize the rights of the victims to compensation in line with the compensation awarded to the Jews.
2] Stop any similar activities at the present time by all possible means.
3] Oppose the deliberate framing of Islam and Muslims as the next enemy of the west.
4] Reform the United Nations to reflect proper representation of Muslims, especially the Security Council and to stop the double standards of dealing with issues relating to them or any other nation.
We strongly believe that now is the right time to make the change for the better and not later, because later we may not have the chance.
Finally it is time to thank God Who gave this chance for us to discuss our problems in peace. Let us pray that God will show us the right way, His way and save us from the dark ways of evil.
(*) This paper was presented in an interfaith meeting in Dublin, Ireland, January 2001.