Arshad Shaikh studies the question of war, peace and violence in the Qur’ān. War and peace have always paid a pivotal role in shaping human history, and the Qur’ān sheds light on its various aspects. Even today, violence in some form or manifestation takes the largest space in media and news reporting, and the Qur’ān imparts invaluable guidance on how to deal with the subject and view it holistically. Given the extent and impact of globalisation, war and peace affect our personal lives by impacting the economies of nations. Countries come together or become sworn enemies based on the wars they fight and the alliances for peace that they forge. As “the last divine guidance”, the Qur’ān offers comprehensive direction regarding how to deal with war, maintain peace, and eliminate violence. The world must pay attention to the Qur’ānic guidance if it is serious about seeking everlasting peace and prosperity.
THE QUR’ĀNIC PHILOSOPHY
In order to understand the Qur’ānic philosophy regarding war, peace and violence, one needs to study verse 30 of Surah Al Baqarah, the second Surah of the Qur’ān. The translation of the verse is: “Behold, thy Lord said to the angels: “I will create a vicegerent on earth.” They said: “Wilt Thou place therein one who will make mischief therein and shed blood – whilst we do celebrate Thy praises and glorify Thy holy (name)?” He said: “I know what ye know not.” In this verse, we are introduced to the status and position of man on earth.
The Qur’ān says that man has been appointed as Allah’s khalifa (vicegerent). The meaning of vicegerent is – a person exercising delegated power on behalf of a sovereign or ruler or a person regarded as an earthly representative of God. The term khilafat (Caliphate), a form of Islamic government, is derived from the world khalifa.
The relevant part in the divine verse is the question posed by the angels to Allah upon hearing the announcement of the appointment of a vicegerent for earth in the form of a human being. The angels asked, would Allah place somebody on earth who will do fasaad (mischief) and shed blood. In other words, he will wage war and commit acts of violence.
As mentioned by Maulana Syed Abul Ala Maudoodi in Tafheem al-Qur’ān, the angels did not question the appointment of a khalifa; “It was said rather by way of inquiry and in order to satisfy their curiosity; it is inconceivable that the angels could object to any of God’s decisions. The word ‘vicegerent’ suggested to them that the proposed species of creation would be placed on earth with some authority. It was incomprehensible to them how a species of being which had been invested with discretionary power and authority could conform with the overall order of the universe, which is based on absolute and involuntary subservience to the Will of God. They thought that investing anyone with authority in any part of the universe would lead to mischief and disorder. It is this aspect which the angels were curious about.”
Further, the Qur’ān, in verse 38 of the same Surah, says: “And guidance shall come to you from Me: then, whoever will follow My guidance need have no fear, nor shall they grieve.” This implies that those who follow divine guidance brought by various Prophets (the Qur’ān being the last and final divine guidance brought by Prophet Muhammad ﷺ) shall be far removed from war and violence. They will be at peace with themselves and with others. Naturally, in this state neither will they have any khauf (fear) about the future nor will they experience any hazn (regret/mourning) about the past.
PERMISSION FOR WAR
The Qur’ān views war in a holistic manner. It paraphrases the ill effects of war through the words of Queen of Sheba, who says: “Kings, when they enter a country, despoil it, and make the noblest of its people its meanest thus do they behave” (Qur’ān – Surah # 37, Surah Al Naml, verse 34).
However, the Qur’ān does not consider war impermissible. It is not a crime so long as it is for a just cause and conducted by a legitimate Islamic government. In fact, waging a just war (jihad) is one of the highest virtues in Islam. However, the Islamic jurists are unanimous in their opinion that jihad cannot be declared and conducted by rogue groups. The Qur’ān says in Surah # 22, Surah Al Hajj, verse 39 – “Permission [to fight] has been given to those against whom war is made, because they were wronged. And indeed, Allah is competent to give them victory.”
Tafheem al-Qur’ān explains this permission in the following manner: “The believers are asked to fight those who hindered their efforts in the cause of God, and acted with hostility towards them merely because they sought to fashion human life according to the revealed guidance of God. Earlier, when they were weak and scattered, the Muslims were asked merely to preach and be patient with the wrongful repression meted out to them by their opponents. However, now that a small city state had been established in Madinah, they were commanded for the first time to unsheathe their swords against those who had resorted to armed hostility against their movement of reform.”
PREFERENCE TO PEACE
While Muslims have been permitted to wage war for a just cause, they have also been instructed to prefer peace. The Qur’ān, Surah # 8, Surah Al Anfal, verse number 61 says: “But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in Allah: for He is One that heareth and knoweth (all things).” Muslims have been taught to refrain from war mongering. They must incline to and accept any gestures of peace.
In ceding to the demands of the enemy for détente, they must have faith in God and should act with courage and bravery. They should welcome the overtures for peace and should not be reluctant to make peace even if they are uncertain whether or not the enemy is sincere about peace, and whether or not he intends to use the settlement as a ruse to commit treachery later.
Since it is impossible to know the true intention of others, their words must be taken at face value. If the enemy is sincere in his offer of reconciliation, the Muslims should not continue bloodshed just because his sincerity, in their eyes, is suspect.
On the contrary, if the enemy is insincere, the Muslims should have courage, thanks to their trust in God, and should go forth for reconciliation. They should stretch out the hand of peace in answer to the enemy’s outstretched hand, for that is an index of their moral superiority. As for the hand of friendship, which has been hypocritically stretched out in enmity, Muslims must possess the capability to give a befitting reply to the enemy.
QUR’ĀNIC AND PROPHETIC GUIDANCE
We live in an age of Islamophobia. Some people deliberately spread lies and deceit about Islam and create misconceptions about it. One of their staple allegations is that Islam is a violent religion and it spread by the sword. Nothing can be further from the truth. Islam means peace and is the religion of peace. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ asked his companions: “Should I not tell you something that is better than fasting, prayer and charity?” When the companions answered in the affirmative, he ﷺ said: “Reconciling and making peace between people, for spoiling relations is the shaver (destroys religion and good).” (Sunan Abu Dawud, Hadith: 4883).
It is the duty of Muslims to spread the message of the Qur’ān to the world. Those who have not studied the Qur’ān as yet, must do so, if they are serious about getting rid of war and promoting peace.