It is rather unfortunate that Islam is often wrongly associated with violence and terrorism. The rise of many extremist groups after the turn of the era has not helped the cause in tackling these prejudices. It is essential to understand that extremism is not solely driven by religious sentiments; instead religious narratives are manipulated to fit and justify the atrocious acts that perpetrators commit to give a distorted meaning to their actions. However, it is equally important to recognize the lack of extensive scholarship on the values of peace building in Islam. Hence this article seeks to provide an understanding of peace building principles based on an Islamic framework.
Peace building in Islam
Peace in Islam is a state of physical, mental and spiritual harmony. Islam also sees peace as a state of harmonious coordination and synchronization of all existences. It is also important to know that peace; together with justice is the heart of Islam. This is to clarify any thoughts that peace in Islam has a passive connotation to it. Instead, it refers to a process of rejection of all injustices and to fulfill the potential of social, economic and political institutions. Hence, Islam calls for a proactive and positive concept of peace.
Such concept has been best exemplified and put into practice by Prophet Muhammad PBUH on his approach to diplomacy and arbitration. Coming to terms with adversaries and enemies and the contractual guaranteeing of agreements were cornerstones of the Prophet’s policies, and he would always seize the opportunity to call for peaceful resolutions despite sometimes being unfavourable for the Muslim community on the surface.
There are various components that can lead to peace in human life. Living by these values and principles is an expression of one’s faith. These values if followed will be the catalyst to resolve conflicts; inwardly and outwardly. The following section will elaborate further on these peace building values that are deeply ingrained within our rich Islamic traditions.
Prophet Muhammad PBUH often used mediation to resolve conflicts and acted as a mediator himself. His reputation as Al-Amin (The faithful one) allowed him to be trusted by many. The prophet’s intervention in resolving the problem of the Black Stone in Mecca is a classic example of mediation. His role as mediator is also recognized as he brilliantly constituted the Constitution of Medina which serves as a model for many mediation efforts in the Muslim world.
The concept of dialogue in Islam aims to clarify misunderstandings and increase accurate knowledge of others’ perspectives. The goal of dialogue is not to eliminate differences, but it acts as a medium to build understanding and respect.
Dialogue is an integral aspect of resolving conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims since the time of the Prophet. One of the first recorded examples of Muslim-Christian dialogue took place in 615CE, Abyssina between Muslim emigrants and King Negus. There are also several terms for dialogue which are expounded in the Quran:
Ta’aruf: Knowing, understanding and building relationships.
Islah: Building bridges and restoring relations.
Ta’awun: Working together to establish goodness and harmony.
Hikmah al maw’izat al-hasanah (Wisdom and goodly advice): Urges Muslims to go beyond just co-existing but invites them to work together with other communities for the betterment of the world.
3. Reconciliation (Musalaha)
It aims at repairing relationships broken as a result of conflict. Musalaha is a conflict resolution mechanism that dates back to pre-Islamic era, where attempts were made to reconcile conflicts between tribes. The Quran highlights the importance of this principle. Allah says:
“And reconciliation is better”
Thus it can be seen that reconciliation is highly encouraged for conflicting parties for it would protect their dignity in the long run. According to Jordanian judge Abu-Hassan, there are two types of sulh processes; private and public sulh. Private sulhtakes place when there is a conflict between the members of a community who know each other. The aim of private sulh is to avoid revenge and to restore harmony between both parties. On the other hand, public sulh can be compared to the signing of a peace treaty to resolve conflicts between tribes or countries. The treaty of Hudaybiya which was signed between the Prophet PBUH and the Meccans is an example of public sulh.
4. Emphasis on restorative justice
In order for the process of peace building to be successful, it has to first recognize that justice is essential in establishing peace as the victims of violence are often dehumanized and deprived through injustice acts. Very often they are not given a voice hence it leads to grievances and resentment. Thus one of the key aspects in restoring peace according to the Islamic traditions is the emphasis on restorative justice rather than retributive justice.
The aim of restorative justice is to repair relationships that were broken by the conflict and to heal wounds caused by it. In simpler terms, it views the oppression that was inflicted upon the victims as a crime and involves making amends and aims to restore justice and order and more importantly prevents it from happening again. This is also known as being emphatic and has a profound psychological impact in healing the victims. In other words, we cannot cry injustice when we feel offended but stay silent when the rights of others are being violated.
Justice is not the exclusive rights of Muslims or any being. The Quran constantly reminds about the universality of justice and calls Muslims to stand up and confront injustice even if it originates from a Muslim. Allah says:
“O you who have believed, be persistent in standing firm for justice as witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is well, acquainted with whatever you do.”
This shows the importance of standing for justice regardless of the circumstance. But it is equally important to understand that in confronting injustices one has to be patient and wise. For the one who has patience will victor over the one who is bent by rage and anger.
The points that were covered and discussed have proven that the Islamic traditions provide evidences that Islam promotes values of peace building. Educating people on these universal peace values is an important step towards peaceful and just relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.
The fact that seekers of martyrdom in reality are in great psychological pain over the injustices that are inflicted upon them shows that their distress must be heard and taken seriously. Injustices can be remedied with a stable and ethical socio-political atmosphere.
Sadly, if the victims are stuck in the perpetual cycle of being victimized, and the prerogative for justice is taken away; these victims take to remedy the unjust and cruel situations themselves. This is the psychological reality of a human being.
Religion will always be invoked whenever it can to galvanize the self and to justify major campaigns, conflicts and even wars. Take away religion, conflicts and wars will still happen. The formula in maintaining harmony is quite simple. One does not need to fight for his rights if there is justice.
It is essential to understand that violence provokes violence, terror begets terror, injustice breeds extremism. Unfortunately, the voices of people at the receiving end are ignored in the noise of strategy, plots, war and killing, but it is the silence of the tongue and action of the limbs that will speak loud and clear on the day of true and absolute justice when we return to our Lord. Wallahu ‘Alam.
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Islamic Relief (2013). Understanding an Islamic Framework for Peace Building.
Irani, G. (1998). Reconciliation and Peace: Rituals For the Middle East. Middle East Insight.
Kamaroniah, K. (2010). Religion and Pluralistic Co-Existence; The Muhibah Perspective, Kuala Lumpur: IIUM Press.