By Samuel Gonzalez
In contemporary debates dealing with the subject of religion and violence, it is especially imperative for the followers of the three major faiths – Islam, Judaism, and Christianity – to know their Holy Scriptures. The Noble Qur’an, in particular, has verses that address war and violence, in addition to verses that address peace and love. The Noble Qur’an was first revealed to the Honorable Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) during a time when the neighboring Byzantine and Iranian Empires were at war, which is an indicator that the Qur’an speaks of peace as a primary concern. The Muslim Holy Book admits that most of those who will be resurrected, judged, and admitted into the Gates of Paradise will be either Muslims, Jews, Christians, individuals who hold certain precepts as sacred, and members of certain other religions; this multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-faith paradise is described as superabundant, luxuriant, and verdant, with flowing rivers and a cornucopia of delights.
“Therein they will hear no abusive speech, nor any talk of sin, only the saying, “Peace, Peace.” [The Noble Qur’an 56: 25-26]
The Sword Verse
“But if they repent and establish regular prayer and establish regular charity, then open the way for them. Lo! Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Merciful” [The Noble Qur’an 9:5]
The first portion of this verse is often used by critics and anti-Muslim exegetes as evidence that Islam is inherently violent, intolerant, and uncivilized as a religion: “Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush,” however, the truth of the matter is that these verses relate to a specific and particular event in human history – namely the Arabian pagans who would repeatedly break their treatises, lied about their agreements with the Muslims, started hostilities with neighboring tribes, barred and expelled Muslims from their own homes. According to the great Islamic scholar Abdel-Haleem,
“It was these hardened polytheists in Arabia, who would accept nothing other than the expulsion of the Muslims or their reversion to paganism, and who repeatedly broke their treaties, that the Muslims were ordered to treat in the same way – to fight them or expel them. Even with such an enemy Muslims were not simply ordered to pounce on them and reciprocate by breaking the treaty themselves; instead, an ultimatum was issued, giving the enemy notice, that after the four sacred months mentioned in 9:5 above, the Muslims would wage war on them. The main clause of the sentence ‘kill the polytheists’ is singled out by some Western scholars to represent the Islamic attitude to war; even some Muslims take this view and allege that this verse abrogated other verses on war. This is pure fantasy, isolating and decontextualizing a small part of a sentence. The full picture is given in 9:1–15, which gives many reasons for the order to fight such polytheists.”
Were this not the case, the Noble Qur’an would contradict itself in numerous other passages where believers are encouraged to greet others with ‘peace,’ believers are encouraged to kindly invite others into the way of Islam, and comport themselves in a way pleasing to Allah. Allah’s designation in English, regularly interpreted as Oft-Forgiving, refers to the Almighty’s forgiving nature, with ‘oft’ being short for ‘often.’ In an authentic hadith recorded by Abu-Huraira, the Honorable Prophet (pbuh) taught: “if you (the muslims) were not to commit sin, Allah would sweep you out of existence and He would replace you with a people who would commit sin and seek forgiveness from Allah, and He would have pardoned them!” Rather than paying our sins and transgressions with wrath and anger, Allah would prefer to forgive us and see us rise, and in the recommended rites of prayer, worship, and charity, there is a way for repentance and forgiveness – how beautiful is the Way of Peace!
The Importance of Coexisting with Other Communities
“If the enemy is inclined towards peace, make peace with them.” [The Noble Qur’an 8:61]
This command is also closely intertwined with its own historical political situation but, nevertheless, it is a universal command that gives Muslims the de facto green light to move towards peace and reconciliation. So long as the enemy is not deceiving them, this verse is an encouragement to trust the other party and move forward- however, even if the enemy does plan to betray, deceive, or dupe the believer, verse 62 assures us that Allah is watching and has our backs. When the enemy desires to discuss peace or strike a deal, you should be willing and ready to negotiate with the other party without any hesitation. Do not reject the offer on the assumption that the other party is insincere and has treacherous intentions, for no mortal is God that he or she knows the state of another’s heart or intention. If the other party is sincere, then the peaceful procession can manifest itself; and if the enemy has wicked intentions, then Allah will protect the believer as a result of their obedience, humility, and moral superiority.
Obviously, this passage is not limited to the application of morals of medieval, seventh-century Arabia, nor is it limited to politicians and statesmen dealing with war and conflict on a regular basis. These verses are relevant for the young student who interacts with peers at school; for the businessman whose morals are put to the test on the frontlines; for the psychologist whose patience is tested; and for the mother or father who is unsure about a decision. Muslims have always lived alongside God-fearers of other religions and alongside atheists and pagans, and have diligently upheld this verse, emulating the rich and righteous examples of the Messenger of Allah. Coexistence of the People of the Book who were at liberty to conduct their respective democratic-state affairs for themselves was unprecedented, which led to the thriving of Jews throughout Islamic history and the growth of all other religious minorities under the guardianship of Islam.
Limits in War
“And fight in the way of Allah with those who fight with you, and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits.” [The Noble Qur’an 2:190]
During his life, the Honorable Prophet Muhammad gave various practices regarding the conduct of soldiers during war. While the Noble Qur’an affirms that war is an abominable practice, sometimes it is necessary in order to resolve certain human affairs. Peace is the ideal solution, but if this is not possible, then retaliation is permitted. Nevertheless, both the Noble Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah provide numerous regulations in order to minimize casualties and violence during war. These regulations were designed by Allah in order to protect the environment, shield the vulnerable, and safeguard the lives of the righteous. The most important of these were summarized by Muhammad’s Companion, Abu Bakr:
“O People! I charge you with ten rules; learn them well! Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy’s flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.”
Even during times of strife, violence, and war, the Noble Qur’an still manages to instill some peaceful principles in order to minimize the hellfire on this planet.
Allah as Peace
He is Allah—there is no god except Him: the King, the Most Holy, the All-Perfect, the Source of Serenity, the Watcher ˹of all˺, the Almighty, the Supreme in Might, the Majestic. Glorified is Allah far above what they associate with Him in worship [The Noble Qur’an 59:23]
Among the several Divine Names that make their appearance in this passage, As-Salaam, the Source of Serenity, manifests itself alongside other powerful names. In fact, it is curious to note that the other names that appear in this list point towards the might grandeur or Allah: Al-Malik (The King), Al-Quddus (The Holy One), Al-Muhaymin (the Watcher of All), Al-Aziz (The Almighty), Al-Jabbar (The Supreme One), and Al-Mutakabir (The Majestic One). Why is the name As-Salaam (The Peace) mentioned alongside these powerful, most royal names?
Perhaps it is no coincidence that peace is also a noble attribute. Perhaps it is no coincidence that this name is grouped alongside some of the other powerful names of Our Creator. Peace connotes ideas of love, friendship, tranquility, serenity, reconciliation, abundance, prosperity, and health. Allah as Powerful King also implies Allah and the source of all these wonderful bounties that we try to facilitate here in this life. For many of us, our families and homes are sources of peace for us where we can wind down and leave behind the stresses and responsibilities of laboral life. For many of us, a day off where we do not work is a tremendous source of peace and power for us! Where there is peace and love, there is power.
Mankind needs to remain connected to this source of peace and serenity, otherwise, life is turned into a hellfire. Breaking away from As-Salaam brings disturbance and destruction on oneself. Whenever wicked humans try to start wars and conflicts, Allah brings it upon Himself to extinguish them; whenever wickedness brings difficulty upon a community, Allah desires for them ease – and Allah loves not those who create disorder (5:65). Islam is the Way of Peace. Submission to Allah is guaranteed to bring Inner Peace. Allah is As-Salaam, The Serenity. Wherever you might find tranquility, Allah is there waiting for you.
To summarize, given the tendency of the West to stir up fear towards Muslims, as well as the tendency to decontextualize and isolate so-called violent verses, it is imperative for Muslims to get in touch with what our Holy Book really teaches about peace. For starters, the name of Islam is actually rooted in the Arabic root s-l-m, which connotes peace; second, Allah is a deity that is more than willing, and indeed, inclined towards forgiveness; third, Muslims have always lived peacefully among other religious communities and are encouraged by Allah to trust their neighbors and assume the best of them; additionally, when times of war have plagued Islamic communities, Allah has set up limits in order to promote peace, facilitate flourishing, and minimize damage to bystanders, animals, buildings, and the environment; finally, one of Allah’s 99 Divine Names is ‘The Serenity,’ or ‘The Peace,’ which indicates that Our Creator has peace ingrained into His very Existence – there cannot be Allah if peace is not included as one of His attributes. Without peace, humankind has doomed itself. Islam teaches a viable way to implement and acquire peace in one’s doings.
Lings, Martin. Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. Inner Traditions (2006).
Muhammad, Abdel Haleem. Understanding the Quran: Themes and Style, I.B. Tauris (2001).
Sahih Muslim 2749, Book 50, Hadith 14. Reported by Abu Huraira.
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