Islam was founded upon principles of peace and harmony to establish love, affection and collective responsibility towards the spiritual, physical, and mental wellbeing of all of society. ‘Islam’ a name given by God Almighty to this religion (Qur’an 5:4), is an Arabic word which literally means obedience and peace. ISLAM is derived from the Arabic root “SALEMA” meaning peace, purity, submission and obedience. So ‘Islam’ means the path of those who are obedient to Allah and who establish peace with Him and His creatures. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) defined a Muslim as one whose word or deed cause no harm to others. ‘Peace’ is the greeting of Muslims and ‘Peace’ shall also be the greeting of the dwellers of Paradise.
Hence, any person that does not adhere to these principles of peace, harmony and collective good, is outside the boundary of this definition.
Deeper Dive – Who speaks for Islam?
So, what about all of the negative media rhetoric against this peaceful image of Islam? Well, first and foremost we have to ask who has an authority to speak about what “Islam” is and what it stands for? Is it Media? Is it ISIS? Is it the president of a ‘Muslim’ country? Or the Muslim down the street from you?
None of these. The truth is that when we desire to know what any organization, company, country etc. stand for, we must look at its constitutional document. What any other person says or thinks is irrelevant, and if any person associates their actions towards this constitution, then cross-examination can easily manifest the truth from falsehood.
So, what is this constitution and basis of Islam? It is the following:
- The Holy Qur’an (the perfect revealed word of God)
- Sunnah (practice of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa))
- Passed down through practice, from the time of the Holy Prophet (sa) to present. After a few early decades, some practices were recorded in books.
- Ahadith (sayings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa))
- Traditions and narrations passed from the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) to his companions, and eventually future generations. These have varying levels of authenticity, for which early Muslim scholars developed an entire science of examination. The most important rule to remember is that a narration should not contradict the Holy Qur’an.
DOES THE QUR’AN TEACH PEACE?
The Holy Qur’an is categorical on its teachings about peace, after all, it is the key text of the religion that literally stands for peace. Let’s examine what it says about any and all sort of violence against an innocent person:
Whosoever killed a person – unless it be for killing a person or for creating disorder in the land – it shall be as if he had killed all mankind. (Al Maidah, Ch.5: v. 33)
Explaining this verse, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community states
‘A person who kills a person unfairly or who kills someone who had neither rebelled, nor became a source of violating peace amongst the people nor created disorder in the land, it is as if he has killed the whole of mankind. In other words, to kill a person without any cause is, according to God Almighty, like the murder of the entire human race. It is obvious from this verse, how big a sin it is to take the life of another person without reason.’ (Lecture Chashma-e-Ma’rifat pp 23-24: Commentary by the Promised Messiah Vol.2: p.405)
In fact, he goes even further to state emphatically the need for peace and kindness:
He who abandons kindness abandons religion. The Holy Qur’an teaches that whosoever kills a person without justifiable cause will be as if he has killed the whole world. In the same way, I say that if someone is not kind unto his brother, it is like he has been unkind to the whole world.’ (Al Hakam Vol. 9 No.15 dated 30 April 1905 p.2: Commentary by the Promised Messiah, Vol.2: p.405)
Freedom of Conscious and Religions
Let us look at another core and fundamental pillar established by the Holy Qur’an regarding religious freedom over 14 centuries ago:
لَاۤ اِکۡرَاہَ فِی الدِّیۡنِ
There should be no compulsion in religion (2:257)
The Qur’an has given a clear-cut message of religious tolerance and freedom in this verse. Any person that suggests or acts otherwise steps completely against the command of Allah the Almighty and the practice of His Chosen Prophet (sa)
The Holy Qur’an protects freedom of conscious and religion in an extremely lucid and clear manner while stating:
‘It is the truth from your Lord; wherefore let him who will believe, and let him, who will disbelieve.’ (Ch.18:V.30)
Hence, there exists no injunction on any person to be forced or coerced into following Islam in any manner whatsoever. If force had ever been the desire of God Almighty would it have been difficult for Him to compel all of humanity to believe? Absolutely not. It is to this effect that God states in the Holy Qur’an:
‘And if thy Lord had enforced His Will, surely, all who are in the earth would have believed together. Wilt thou, then, force men to become believers?’ (Ch.10:V.100).
Highlighting this crucial verse, Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih V (aa), Supreme Head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim community, stated in an address:
“This verse clearly states that God, as the Possessor of all Powers, could easily force all people to adopt the same religion; however, He has instead given the people of the world the freedom to choose – to believe or to not believe.” (Address at Houses of Parliament in London, UK on Centenary of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in UK 11 June 2013)
This can clearly be seen in the practice and life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) and his companions. When the Banu Nadir were exiled from Madinah when they failed to fulfil their promise to maintain peace. At that time, they also had many children of the Ansar (Muslim inhabitants of Madinah). These children had begun to live amongst the Jews, because in the pre-Islamic days of ignorance, amongst the Arab tribes of Aus and Khazraj, those who had no male children used to pledge that if the next child were born a male, they would make him a Jew. Thus, there were many boys from the Aus and Khizraj tribes who had been handed over to Jewish families. When the Jews of Banu Nadir were exiled because of their transgression, the Muslims wanted to get back their own descendants from the Jews. The Holy Prophet of Islam (sa) refrained them from their action on the very basis that ‘there is no compulsion in religion’ that once you hand over your own son to someone else and that someone else makes your descendant a follower of Judaism, you cannot take him back: he would have to go with the Banu Nadir.
Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih V (aa) describes another incident relating to a slave of Hazrat Umer (ra):
“Then there is the account of a slave of Hadrat Umar (ra) who narrates that although he was a slave of Hadrat Umar (ra), Hadrat Umar(ra) never forced him to become a Muslim. Hadrat Umar (ra) most certainly used to explain to him with love and affection to become a Muslim but the slave would refuse and Hadrat Umar(ra) would only say: There is no compulsion in faith and fell silent after that. Finally, before his death, he set this slave free. Now who can, therefore, say that there is any room for compulsion or causing a breach of peace in Islam?” (A lecture at the Universite D’Abomey-Calavi Cotonou, Benin. 8 Apr. 2004)
Therefore, there should remain no confusion regarding this aspect of Islamic teaching. Islam is against any and all type of compulsion in religion, and lays the accountability of belief at the behest of God Himself. No other entity, organization, structure, or person has any right to do or say otherwise.
LIFE OF THE HOLY PROPHET MUHAMMAD – THE PARAGON OF PEACE
The Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) is the primary practical exemplar for all Muslims. His practices and sayings are held sacred, after the Holy Qur’an, perhaps there has never existed any other individual who has ever been emulated to this capacity. So, let’s see what his life tells us about whether Islam is a religion of peace or not.
First and foremost, we have the testimony of the Holy Qur’an regarding the preaching efforts of the Holy Prophet (sa) and his burning agony for the guidance of people while focusing entirely on peace:
‘I swear by his repeated cry “O my Lord!” that these are a people who will not believe. Therefore, turn aside from them, and say, “Peace;” and soon shall they know.’ (Ch.43 Vs 89-90)
This verse also states that in response to the Holy Prophet’s(sa) message of peace, his opponents did not only reject his teachings; they even ridiculed and insulted him. Indeed, they went even further and opposed him with enmity and created disorder and strife. Upon all of this the Holy Prophet(sa) pleaded to God that:
‘I desire to give them peace, but they do not give me peace. Leaving that aside they even strive to inflict pain and agony upon me.’
In response, Allah the Almighty consoled him by saying:
‘Ignore whatever they do and turn away from them. Your only task is to spread and establish peace in the world. You should respond to their hatred and transgressions by simply saying “peace be with you” and tell them that you have brought peace for them.’
The Charter of Medina – the First Constitution based on principles of Peace
Prophet Muhammad (sa) actively promoted peace, tolerance and compassion for all non Muslim minorities living in Arabia. He did not simply demand religious tolerance of his followers; his Sunnah was to provide legal and constitutional protections for religious minorities. This is perhaps best illustrated by two historic documents prepared by Prophet Muhammad (sa). The first document is the Charter of Media written in 622 A.D. – a formal agreement between Prophet Muhammad (sa) and all of the significant tribes and families of Medina, including Muslims, Jews and non-Muslim Arabs. Many scholars refer to this document as the first ever written constitution of a nation-state. The Charter of Medina pre-dated the English Magna Carta by almost six centuries.
The Charter consists of 47 clauses which set forth the formation of a sovereign nation state with a common citizenship for all communities. The Charter protects fundamental human rights for all citizens, including equality, cooperation, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. Clause 25 specifically states that Jews and non-Muslim Arabs are entitled to practice their own faith without any restrictions. In short, the Charter of Medina was the first document in history to establish religious freedom as a fundamental constitutional right.
Then, secondly there is the Charter of Privileges that was granted to the Christian monks of Sinai. Western Islamic scholar, Marmaduke Pickthall, comments on this letter as follows:
“The Charter which Muhammad (sa) granted to the Christian monks of Sinai is a living document. If you read it, you will see that it breathes not only goodwill, but also actual love. He gave to the Jews of Medina, so long as they were faithful to him, precisely the same treatment as to any Muslims. He never was aggressive against any man or class of men . . . The story of his reception of Christian and Zoroastrian visitors is on record. There is not a trace of religious intolerance in any of this.”
What About All the Wars (Jihad) of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa)?
So, if the prophet of Islam taught peace, then why did he engage in so many wars? This is often a very naïve question raised against the holy personage of prophet Muhammad (sa), while ignoring the facts of history completely. Let us look at the entire picture.
Makkans, the place of the Holy Prophet’s birth and early preaching, outright rejected the message of the Holy Prophet (sa) to a large extent. The few that followed the prophet of Islam, were heavily persecuted. They were dragged through the streets, starved, cursed, boycotted, and even ripped apart in front of their family members. What was their crime? Simply that they believed in one God, and followed Muhammad (sa).
When the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa) had finally established a just and peaceful society in Medinah, the Makkans were furious and vowed to destroy the Muslims. They could not let them live in peace even in Medinah. Hence, God Almighty finally gave permission to the Muslims to fight back in self-defense in the following command:
اُذِنَ لِلَّذِیۡنَ یُقٰتَلُوۡنَ بِاَنَّہُمۡ ظُلِمُوۡا ؕ وَ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ عَلٰی نَصۡرِہِمۡ لَقَدِیۡرُ
Permission to fight is given to those against whom war is made, because they have been wronged — and Allah indeed has power to help them
الَّذِیۡنَ اُخۡرِجُوۡا مِنۡ دِیَارِہِمۡ بِغَیۡرِ حَقٍّ اِلَّاۤ اَنۡ یَّقُوۡلُوۡا رَبُّنَا اللّٰہُ ؕ وَ لَوۡ لَا دَفۡعُ اللّٰہِ النَّاسَ بَعۡضَہُمۡ بِبَعۡضٍ لَّہُدِّمَتۡ صَوَامِعُ وَ بِیَعٌ وَّ صَلَوٰتٌ وَّ مَسٰجِدُ یُذۡکَرُ فِیۡہَا اسۡمُ اللّٰہِ کَثِیۡرًا ؕ وَ لَیَنۡصُرَنَّ اللّٰہُ مَنۡ یَّنۡصُرُہٗ ؕ اِنَّ اللّٰہَ لَقَوِیٌّ عَزِیۡزٌ
“Those who have been driven out from their homes unjustly only because they said, ‘Our Lord is Allah’ — And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated. And Allah will surely help one who helps Him. Allah is indeed Powerful, Mighty” (Ch22:V40-41)
Fair-minded commentators have utterly rejected the false barbaric image of early Islamic wars. De L O’Leary, for example, writes:
“History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races is one of the most absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.” (Islam at the Crossroads, p.8)
Hazrat Khalifatul-Masih V (aa) states regarding this issue while highlighting the need of the time:
The underlying point to consider is that the use of the sword or force is only permissible when a religious war is waged against Islam. In today’s world no one, be it a country or a religion, is physically waging war and attacking Islam on the basis of religion. Thus, it is not justifiable in any way for Muslims to attack any other party, in the name of religion, because this clearly violates the teachings of the Qur’an. )” (A lecture at the Universite D’Abomey-Calavi Cotonou, Benin. 8 Apr. 2004)
The fact is that the Islamic wars were in self-defense after the Muslims had been pushed beyond all bounds of reason.
After 10 difficult years of fighting to establish religious freedom and peace, the Holy Prophet (sa) returned triumphant and victorious to Makkah. What did he do at this time? Kill his enemies? Destroy their houses and property? No. He proclaimed:
“There shall be no punishment upon any of you for I have forgiven you all. I am a messenger of love and peace. I have the greatest knowledge of Allah’s attribute of being a ‘Source of Peace’ – He is the One Who gives peace. Thus, I forgive you of all of your past transgressions and I give you a guarantee of peace and security. You are free to remain in Makkah and to freely practice your religion. No one will be compelled or forced in any way.” (Bukhari)
The Holy Prophet readily granted amnesty to his persecutors, the magnanimity of which softened the hardest of hearts. Bitter enemies of the morning became warm friends by midday. Even the most die-hard enemies of Islam could not resist the healing balm so generously and so effectively applied by the Holy Prophet.
Commenting on this conquest of Makkah, the Rev. Bosworth Smith writes:
“Now would have been the moment to gratify his ambition, to satiate his lust, to glut his revenge. Read the account of the entry of Muhammad into Mecca side by side with that of Marins or Sulla into Rome. Compare all the attendant circumstances, the outrages that preceded, and the use made by each of his recovered power and we shall then be in a better position to appreciate the magnanimity and moderation of the Prophet of Arabia. There were no proscription lists, no plunder, no wanton revenge. From a helpless orphan to the ruler of a big country was a great transition, yet the Prophet retained the nobility of his character under all circumstances.” (Muhammad and Muhammadanism)
PEACE IN ALL ASPECTS
Therefore, Islam promised peace and delivered peace. The later fanatical politically fueled agendas of the extremist ‘Muslims’ that we see today have nothing to with Islam. Islam is a complete code of life, and promises to deliver peace in all aspects of life. From individual to family to social to international. No other religion delivers such a complete teaching without falling short on any matter.