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Global Peace and Justice:  
An Islamic Perspective - Part 1

By Anis Ahmad

[Prof. Anis Ahmad is Vice-Chancellor of Riphah International University, Islamabad. This paper was presented in an international seminar on “Peace and Justice: The Religious Perspectives’ held in Islamabad on Jan. 15, 2004.]

The quest for peace and justice is perhaps a core issue and a major shared aspiration in most of the world religions. However, a more realistic analysis will show that even for the Secularist thinkers peace has been a major concern, though, their basic assumptions and the motivating force behind it may be totally different. The post-capitalism mind set, with its deep commitment to economic development, individualism and ethical relativism, gradually developed a belief that war, can not help, in the long run, in achieving the social and economic targets of the industrialized world.

Pacifism, in due course, as an individual commitment to non-violence was projected further and extended to other areas of concern. The strategic use of armed conflicts and wars, directly related with the capitalist urge to control sources of raw material and to create markets for its products, was reconsidered. A new strategic thinking put forward the thesis that peace and pacifism can also pave the way for free trade movement and help the capitalist powers in achieving their objectives, for which, conventionally, bloody wars were waged.

In the post-world wars era, a functional approach of trade, travel, are; democracy was considered as basis for internationalism. In an era of search for peace, efforts were mace to avoid physical wars, considered enemy c’ free trade and travel. The age of cold war offered new opportunities for development of regional economies, mutual understanding, and nuclear deterrence. Emergence of the institution of United Nations, theoretically, was materialization of pacifism at a global international level. Leaving aside the success or failure of this international body, its major role was supposed to be facilitation of peaceful resolution of conflicts. Peace making and keeping peace became an article of faith for this proud secular institution and its member states.

Peace movement and non-violent resistance movements, at an historical level, included not only democratic struggle for the liberation of people from the exploitation and oppression of imperialist and colonialist powers of Europe. It also included movements such as the one for gender equity. Though women’s liberation movement in the West called for equal rights for women and not for an equitable role for them, it did not become violent and remained a peaceful movement. At the political front, movements for democratization of society, sometimes remained peaceful, while at others, turned out violent. Nevertheless global movements for peace or resolution of conflicts, without “use of military power, with their basic secular character, kept working for creation of a better human environment. The Helsinki process or the movement for a Nuclear free world is an example of this secularist concern for peace.

Persons with profound and obvious religious affiliations, on the other hand have been often blamed for instigating extremism, fundamentalism, violence, terrorism and bloodshed. For several decades Catholics and Protestants in the Northern Ireland were blamed for religious violence, fundamentalism and extremism. The fact however remains neither Catholicism nor Protestantism endorses such violence and bloodshed. Similarly the ethnic cleansing by Croats and Serbs and their terror against the Bosnian Muslims could not be regarded a true reflection of pristine Christianity. We have reason to believe that conscientious, honest and ethically committed Jews, never support the naked violence and brutality committed by the Zionists against the indigenous Muslims and Christians in Palestine. The refusal of a number of Israeli pilots to target Palestinian townships shows that not all Jews support Zionist terrorism in Palestine. This brief review shows that peace enjoys enormous importance among the secularists as well as among religious persons, and violence can not be justified in the name of religion.

Peace initiatives and peace process are generally associated with peaceful settlement of disputes; concern £or collective security; disarmament; preventive diplomacy and functionalism. Disputes and disagreements whether political, economic or ideological have been generally settled either through use of might and power or through negotiations, i.e. brain power, mediation, face to face interaction and dialogue. Peace initiatives provide a forum for this purpose.

Concern for collective security generally leads to bilateral and multi-lateral relations which further leads to regional or global peace process. While disarmament refers to, particularly efforts to check arms imbalance and containment of nuclear weapons, proper disposal of nuclear waste, and voluntarily avoiding an arms race are inalienable dimensions of that. It also prepares the ground for better future for peace in the world. Preventive diplomacy through direct involvement of agencies such as U.N. also offers a viable option for peace. Though unilateralism of the US imperialism, particularly its invasion and unlawful occupation of Iraq, has seriously dented, rather announced demise of this role of the U.N. Failure of such prestigious institution does not frustrate us. This on the other hand strengthens our belief that a phenomenological approach in which intellectuals, religious leaders, and those involved in policy planning, through their collaborations on current international economic, social and political issues, can create a better environment for an on going dialogue, mutual confidence building and development of a non-violent global psyche.

Where do the living religions stand in this contemporary discourse on peace? More specifically how Islam looks on peace, calls for a rather dispassionate search for the meaning and relevance of peace in the texts of the Qur’an and the Sunnah.

Etymologically the term Islam draws its origin from the Arabic root slm which literally means peace and acceptance of servitude to Allah swt or to surrender to His Authority as the Ultimate. If this is so why a global uproar about the so called “bloody doctrine” of Holy war or “Islamic Jihad”. It may sound naive nevertheless a major cause for this misconception is the fictional image created by electronic media and journalistic writings of a group of orientalists, neo-con intellectuals and free lance lobbyists. To take one example, we refer to Judith Miller’s Cod has Ninety Nine Names: Reporting from a Militant Middle East. As a correspondent of New York Times, without having lived much in the Middle East and with no working knowledge of Arabic language, she writes authoritatively on Islam. Edward Said while reviewing her book says “what matters to “experts” like Miller, Samuel Huntington, Martin Kramer, Bernard Lewis, Denial Pipes, Steven Emerson and Barry Rubin, plus a whole battery of Israeli academics, is to make sure that the “threat” is kept before our eyes, the better to excoriate Islam for terror, disposition and violence, while assuring themselves profitable consultancies, frequent TV. appearances and book contracts. Similar effort is made in Stephen Schwartz’s The Two Faces of Islam: the House of Saud from Tradition to Terror’,’ it is a search for “demons” and a call to slay “dragons”, which only exist in the fantasy of the author.1

One apparent reason for such projections of Islam, perhaps, as mentioned above, is projection of Jihad as a weapon for elimination and destruction of all non-Muslims and their civilization. The tragic event of 9/11 rather re-enforced this centuries old misgiving about Islam as a violent faith. Muslim responses, in general, thanks to being apologetic or reactionary, neither helped in capturing the real meaning and purpose of Jihad nor could be useful in dispelling these allegations. Consequently misreading the intent, purpose and method of Jihad, easily leads one to equate it with violence.

Violence is generally defined as purposeful use of force in order to hurt, insult or injure someone. This is why a remote control device when used to hurt or kill anyone is regarded an act of violence and terror. However, we always differentiate between physical injury with an intention to cause pain or harm and the same action with an intention to improve, repair, and make life better for a person, such as the use of surgical tools by a dentist in extracting tooth or the use of knife by a surgeon to save a patient’s life. It is in this context that jihad, in the Qur’an, is projected as an instrument for realization of peace and justice in society, and at the same time a too! for checking and eliminating lawlessness, oppression and exploitation.

Those who choose an apologetic course of argument often draw a line between the so-called defensive and offensive dimensions of Jihad. They make frequent reference to a later classification of the world as Darul Harb (abode of war) or Darul Islam (abode of peace). They Go to the extent of saying that Jihad being essentially defensive, does not permit to go to war against anyone. On the other hand, some Muslims talk about Jihad as a total war against whatever they consider un-Islamic. While both interpretations may contain elements of truth neither one comprehends the concept in its totality.

If we look directly into the Qur’an, as the ultimate source of Islamic teachings, we find the term Jihad is used in around forty places in the Qur’an while the term qital appears around one hundred sixty seven times in one or another context. While jihad in its Qur’anic sense refers to struggle, concerted effort, and an ongoing endeavor, in order to achieve an objective, the term qital simply means fighting or war in its wider connotation.

The purpose and intent of jihad as defined by the Qur’an is to liberate people from oppression, injustice, expiration, slavery and bondage or restoration of human rights of a people. Although the focus in several places is on the Muslims, it is not correct to confine it to restoration of human rights of Muslims only for the simple reason that the Qur’an uses the word mustad'ifin or those who are ill treated and oppressed, and exhorts Muslim to fight for the cause of their liberation. “Arid why should you not fight in the cause of Allah and of those who being weak are ill-treated (and oppressed) men, women and children, who cry Our Lord rescue us from this town whose people are oppressors and raise for us from Thee one who will protect and raise for us from Thee one who will help” (an Nisa 4:75).

Elsewhere the Qur’an includes specifically followers of at least three different faiths whose places of worship have to be protected by the Muslims as an obligation and in order to uphold human rights. “For had it not been for Allah to check one set of people by means of another; these would surely have been pulled down Monasteries (temples), Churches, Synagogues and Mosques, in which name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure, Allah will certainly help those who help His Cause, for verily Allah is full of Strength exalted in Might. (al-Hajj 22:40).

Jihad consequently, in the Qur’an, stands for a movement of protection of human rights, freedom, and dignity of man. It does not cell for a “holy war” against the “infidels”. The term “holy war”, which in Arabic would mean harb al muqadas, practically does not exist in the vocabulary of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Similarly peace (amn, sa/am, sulh) in the Islamic Tradition is not an antonym of war. It stands for a culture of peace, tolerance, mutual understanding and an ongoing systematic cultural and civilizational discourse and dialogue. Addressing the whole of humanity as a single Ummah the Qur’an invites all humans to cultivate an attitude of peace “And Allah summons to the abode of peace, and leads whom He will to a straight path” (Yunus 10:25). The word peace in its different forms appears in around one hundred and thirty eight places in the Qur’an.

The culture of peace, as visualized by Islam, is not limited to a formal understanding of concept of disarmament, collective security or peace as functionalism. Islamic view of peace is comprehensive; it is more than a no-war situation. Without going into details the Islamic understanding of peace can be summarized in seven points which provide a practical basis for a global order of peace. 


1. Studies that present a distorted image of Islam and Muslims:

Schwartz, Stephen. (2002). The Two Faces of Islam: The House of Saud From Tradition to Terror. New York; Doubleday.

Lincoln, Bruce. (2002). Holy Terrorism: Thinking About religion After Sept 11. Chicago University Press.

Levi, Bernard Henry, tr. Mitchell, Janes X. (2003). Who Killed Daniel Pipes” sr,” London, Duckworth. 

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