(ISLAM AND MODERN AGE)
We have written on this subject earlier also but there is so much to be written as there is gross misunderstanding and Islam is often associated with violence, especially in the form of jihad which is considered a permit to enter paradise where one will get 70 Houries. Jihad, as we have repeatedly pointed out nowhere means war in Arabic language; it only means utmost and sincere efforts to undertake a mission
I feel very sorry that Muslim theologians, under pressure from conquerors or of their own in many cases especially due to given context, used the word jihad in the sense of war and relied on several weak ahadith about paradise, houries and so on to tempt Muslims to join armies of conquest. The Qur’an talks about paradise in case of what it calls shahadah (martyrdom) and not jihad. Also, we have shown in one of our articles that houries (or hur) does not mean young beautiful luscious woman but applies to both genders and are not for sexual enjoyment but for spiritual and intellectual companionship. People have added much more to it than found in the Qur’an.
It is important to understand causes of violence associated with Islamic history. We can divide these causes in three categories: Wars the Prophet (PBUH) was forced to fight and which were purely of defensive nature (perhaps only exception is battle of Hunain after conquest of Mecca which became necessary to stop aggression from rich neighbourhood of Mecca fought against powerful and aggressive tribe of Hawazin, Thaqif Sa’d and Jasam) These tribes at the valley of Hunain wanted to undo the conquest of Mecca and hence this attack on them had become necessary.
The second cause of violence was civil war which broke out during the time of first and 4th Caliph and it was of great ferocity which could not have been stemmed without use of counter-violence.
The third cause was wars of conquest undertaken mostly during the time of 2nd and 3rd Caliphs i.e. Hazrat Umar and Uthman but the third Caliph was also embroiled in civil war.
All these three causes had nothing to do with spread of religion. One cannot help as far as defensive wars were concerned. One has no choice but to defend and expel violence with violence and once expelled stop use of violence any more. Civil war is also situation on which one has no control. If a section of people rebel and take to arms one has to repel the rebellion. There is no other way.
However, the third category, the war of conquest, could be controversial and there were internal debates among Muslims. A section of people led by Hazrat Ali was of the opinion that one must concentrate on education and improving quantity of Muslims rather than expanding the Muslim rule. However, those in favour of expansion won the debate as there was great economic pressure as wars between believers and non-believers seriously affected Meccan trade which came almost to a halt.
Also, after most of the Bedouins accepted Islam the inter-tribal raids stopped as it was not permitted by Islam and Yemen also became Muslim and its fertility having been destroyed due to destruction of dam of Ma’arib Yeminis continued to migrate towards North called Fertile Crescent.
There was one more reason for sending out armies of conquest. There were two powerful empires – Roman towards North West and Iranian Empire towards East. Roman Empire was Christian and towards the East Zoroastrian. Both these Emires feared emergence of a new power centre in Madina and wanted to crush it before it became powerful enough to challenge them.
The Muslims of Arabia, on the other hand, feared that Roman and Sassanid Empires must be crushed before then crush newly emerging Muslim power. However, Muslims had no trained army whereas Roman and Sassanid Empires had huge well trained armies and also elephants, horses and best available weapons. All that Muslims had was revolutionary fervour and strong inner conviction. Also, as pointed out they were pressured for very survival. It was do or die situation.
They fought with great revolutionary zeal on both fronts and peasantry from both the empires sided with Muslims as it was greatly suffering under heavy taxation and opened the doors of strong fortresses for Muslims to enter. Thus Muslim revolutionary zeal and help from oppressed peasantry made victory possible against unimaginable odds. It was no child’s play to defeat such great Empires, in fact most powerful Empires of the world in 7th century.
Thus it will be seen that factors other than religious were responsible for these wars of conquests. Many scholars even put it in category of jihad which is totally a misconception. These wars were not fought for the cause of Islam but for political and economic reasons. Qur’an nowhere prescribes war for spread of Islam. In this respect the Qur’anic prescription is very clear “Call people to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly words” (16:125)
Religion cannot be forced on anyone. It is matter of faith and deep conviction and one can convince the other only through persuasion and intellectual arguments which appeal to ones conscience. Islam basically does not launch a conversion mission. It believes in religious co-existence, even with unbelievers, if they leave Muslims in peace (109). It also accepts all the previous prophets as prophets of Allah and does not discriminate between the Prophets….
Thus there is no question of violence, much less jihad for spread of Islam. Even a kafir, as long as he/she co-exists peacefully, has right to live and cannot be subjected to any form of violence. His right to live is as inviolable as that of a believer provided they recognize others’ right to live. The right to life is fundamental and is inviolable and unquestionable.
Also, the context has greatly changed between 7th century Arabia and contemporary world. Today all nations are signatories to the three generations of human rights and freedom of belief is very fundamental right. Islam accepted plurality in the world as Allah’s creation and what third generation of human rights declared by UNO Qur’an granted in 7th century.
But the people of 7th century living in the feudal world and having become masters of two great empires could have hardly appreciated these rights. Qur’an came to be interpreted in variety of ways by rulers, by Sufis, by ethnic groups and by theologians. There was no single interpretation. The feudal ruling classes used Qur’an so as to serve their own interests and employed theologians who were ready to oblige them (rulers).
Also, Islam spread to different areas of the world which were unevenly developed from highly cultured and civilized areas like Iran and India on one hand, and, tribal areas of Central Asia to marginalized groups in East Asia and primitive areas of Africa. How could Qur’an be then understood in uniform way in view of such great diversity. Arabs had hardly any culture before Islam and even after emergence of Islam they tried to stick to their pre-Islamic tradition and what we call Shari’ah law is mostly Arab customs and traditions.
Iran had, on the other hand, very rich culture since pre-Islamic days but this was mainly feudal culture and Arab culture, on the other hand, was tribal and much more egalitarian in nature. Then also as in pre-Islamic days, Iran emerged as a separate Islamic Empire with its own political interests and Arabs, except in initial stages, could never establish their hegemony over Iran.
The theologians from these regions interpreted Qur’an very differently due to differing political, cultural and geographical contexts, So to quote from one interpretation and then try to prove some Islamic doctrine would not be correct. So many sects came into being in Islam and each sect is based on different interpretation of Qur’an and hadith. Each sect started denouncing the other as ‘kafir’ and use of violence legitimate against them,
Though Qur’an teaches tolerance and respect for others belief Muslims never adhered to core teachings of Islam and intolerance became the rule. And some sects despite Islam being rigorously monotheistic, developed concept of human incarnation of God like the Druzes of Lebanon and Ali being God like the Alavids (Nuseris) of Syria. They keep their beliefs strictly secret
Such doctrines are far from Qur’anic teachings and yet they do exist. What Qur’an teaches and what Muslims practice are two worlds apart. There is very little in common. The Wahabis or Salafis are most intolerant of all sects in Islam. For them any non-salafi is kafir and will be deprived of deliverance. Since its origin is Arabia it believes in literal meaning of Qur’an and reject concept of ta’wil i.e. interpretation.
Then these sects of Islam got associated with some or the other political power like the Wahabis with the Saudi family and so on. Thus what was basically violence for political power also became sectarian violence. But again it had nothing to do with teachings of Islam. It was a result of power struggle between different sects and Qur’an does not talk of sects. On the contrary it denounces sects and pleads for unity among Muslims.
Thus we must clearly distinguish between violence as a result of power struggle between different dynasties and groups and violence as a result of religious teachings. As for the later, Qur’an lays maximum emphasis on compassion, persuasion and wisdom as against cruelty, coercion and retaliatory action or revenge. Qur’an, like any other religion, lays stress on high moral values.
Thus peace, not war, is fundamental to Islamic teachings. It is political power within or without, in the group or outside, that necessitates violence. Just because group follows certain religion, people attribute violence, not to the group but to the religion it follows since often, the group, in order to legitimize its violent action, invokes religion. This has happened in all religious communities.
No religion, it must be noted, advocates violence. Islam lays emphasis on peace as much as Buddhism does or Hinduism does but its history is full of violence and this violence is wrongly attributed to Islam. In Buddhist and Hindu history too there is great deal of power struggle and hence violence but that is explained away as a result of power struggle but not so when it comes to Islam.
As we know there was great deal of inter-tribal violence in pre-Islamic Arab society and power struggle continued in Islamic history along tribal lines even after Islam and despite Islam’s advocacy of unity of all believers. This inter-tribal struggle for power and control over the community resources are there in all religious communities including Buddhist, Hindu and Christian.
In Islam, like in Christianity and Judaism there emerged a group of mystics (Sufis in Islam) who kept away from power struggle and devoted themselves to real teachings of their respective religions. However, in Christianity there has been a concept of renouncing the world whereas in Islam there is no such concept. The Sufis marry and have families too. Though they are in the world, are not of the world.
They believe in the doctrine of wahdat al-wujud (though there are different schools of thought as well) i.e. Unity of Being and Sufis belonging to this school in particular do not discriminate between people of one or other religions and treat all with same respect. The doctrine of wahdat al-wujud demolishes all walls of separation and unity of God becomes unity of His creation i.e. of all human beings.
Wahdat al-wujudi Sufis also believe in a very important doctrine of what they call sulh-i-kul i.e. peace with all. This is very important doctrine for those who believe in non-violence. If one believes in peace with all there is no question of any violence and this doctrine applies to entire creation of Allah including animal world. According to this doctrine, like Gandhiji, non-violence is inviolable constraint and violence cannot be resorted to.
If it is inviolable constraint certain things must be observed. Truth, for example, must be part of any non-violent campaign and that campaign must be only for a cause without any personal benefit. Thus truth and non-violence are integral whole. One cannot fight in a non-violent way for something like personal power or anything which is false. Thus truth and non-violence go together as falsehood and violence.
That is why while religion teaches its followers to stand by truth and peace followers often led by selfish interests and hence violence becomes part of their struggle. It is only campaign for truth which can be sustained in non-violent manner. Even a person leading non-violent campaign for a cause can become victim of violence as Gandhiji himself was shot dead by force of hatred and falsehood.
Gandhiji had observed that “while there are causes for which I am prepared to die there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill.” This is very important doctrine for non-violence as non-violable constrain. The Sufis followed this doctrine as they kept themselves away from all selfish gains, be it of power or wealth. That is why Sufis lay great stress on controlling desires.
All conflicts are basically created by desire, socially uncontrolled desire. Qur’an, therefore advises Muslims to give away in the way of Allah what is above ones basic needs (it is called ‘afw) The Sufis never saved anything even for next day under the doctrine of tawakkul (i.e. total reliance on Allah) and not to care what happens next day.
It was this kind of restraint on desire that enabled Sufis to lead a peaceful life. Thus the 2nd dimension of non violence (first being truth) is simple need based life. Some Sufis like Sarmad Shahid who was supporter of Dara Shikoh, Shah Jahan’s elder son who called Hinduism and Islam as two great oceans, stretched control of desire to such an extent that he went about naked (wearing cloths is also a desire and he recited Islamic kalma only half la ilaha, there is no god but did not recite other half except one God as he thought he still was not able to deny all idols of desire and thus has no right to say except one God).
Sarmad may be an exception but most of the Sufis led need based life and resisted greed and so could refrain from violence. Then there was a cult of Sufis who felt very happy if someone abused them and used filthy words as they felt successful in resisting ego. These Sufis not only resisted desire and greed but also resisted their ego and would in no case thus use violence. Thus extreme tolerance both in religious and personal sense becomes another important dimension for practicing non-violence.
In a democratic world like ours in theory at least, no violence is needed as power is no longer got through sword but through votes. Secondly, all fundamental rights are well defined and guaranteed by state. It was not so during medieval ages as power could be seized only through sword and there were no rights or partnership in governance as in democracy.
But even in democracy we know violence is norm rather than exception. The most democratic nation like America tends to be most violent and possesses most destructive weapons and keeps on attacking other countries to usurp their oil and other raw materials. It refuses to urge its people to adopt simple way of living and maintains highest standard of living by using violence against peoples of Asian and African countries.
Thus non-violence as a philosophy and ideology occupies morally high ground and all religions, including Islam preach peace and non-violence but no religion or ideology could succeed in establishing it firmly on ground as powerful vested interests always sabotage it in practice. Democratic nations similarly may boast of peace and non-violence but tend to be quite violent when it comes to grab resources of some of the Asian and African countries.
Thus violence remains the norm in 21st century though for thousands of years religions have preached peace and non-violence remains just a dream. More we claim it progress more violent we become as our needs are increasing very fast with higher technology. Simple life style has become necessity only for poorer classes who keep on toiling for their very existence. And yet we blame religion for our greed.