Islam guides it adherent’s perspectives and behaviors through a series of identifiable principles and laws, which are extracted from a comprehensive body of Qur’anic knowledge. The information transmitted through the Qur’an is information that is quite general while at the same time very specific, covering to some extent, almost any issue that one brings for examination. There are of course some topics emphasized to a greater degree than others. This is perhaps due to the fact that certain issues of life are always of great concern. Peace is one such topic.
Although many support the view that Islam is a religion or way of life that leads to peace, few ever venture to explain that this is so, do to the fact that Islam is a way of life that was created by God and is premised upon absolute submission to God. As a consequence of submission, the Muslim is granted contentment, tranquility, faith and certainty, which are all aspects of inner peace, since certainty results from the realization of the essence of God’s Oneness, manifest in our realm of existence as His attributes and actions which give meaning and purpose to everything that transpires in life. As a social phenomenon peace is achieved by the Muslim through adherence to the laws and principles of Islam in his or interaction with others, as well as in the just and kind treatment of self, and all other cr! eation. The Muslim greeting “As Salaamu Alaikum” is in fact a reminder that only in submission to God’s Will does humanity achieve peace. This means that Islam’s ideological essence is worship of one God, and complete acceptance of His guidance in our pursuit of the stated purpose of life, which the Qur’an says is to learn and perfect our worship of the One God.
Worship in Islam is not merely a set of rituals performed to attest to one’s belief in, or affiliation with the religion. The acts of the human being are worship only when they are carried out in harmony with God’s guidance, with the intent or desire to please God, which is accomplished through adherence to both Islamic law and principle. Whereas there has been great emphasis placed upon the law by contemporary scholars, not enough study and discussion has been focused on the principles that guide and temper the law. Absent our understanding of such principles, we find extremism in many interpretations of Islam, particularly those that demand very strict adherence to a legal code promulgated without consideration of its corresponding principles, thus leading to unconscionable cruelty in some instances. Whenever the law and principle are separat! ed this will lead to extremism. If we focus too heavily on law as it appears outside the context of principle, we find an Islam that is cold, harsh, judgmental, and incapable of addressing complexity. When we find an Islamic interpretation that focuses too much on principle, we find an Islamic law that is impotent, void of instruction, strong on apology and reluctant to comment on the realities of human imperfection authoritatively. It becomes passive and relativist. Yet, when we find the balance, we find perfection. ” And surely you will attain mastery according to your desire.”
Mankind as an imperfect being cannot comprehend, nor can we express, nor can we ever live up to the high standard of a truly perfect body of jurisprudence, and this is why we eternally repent and seek God’s forgiveness. Yet, without doubt, the quintessential struggle between good and evil is an attempt to achieve perfection, not only of the individual, but also in the understandings of the perfect text by which we seek to govern our lives. The resultant rewards, as we progress through various stages and degrees of understanding and practice of Islam, aimed towards mastery, are the reformation of our societies, which are impacted and transformed, as are we, by knowledge, submission and obedience to God. This is an unending preoccupation that began with the expulsion of Adam from the garden, resulting from the mercy, forgiveness and respite that ! God extended to him and his wife, which will continue up until the Day of Account. Like the prophets, the common and imperfect man is assisted in this struggle, and not left entirely to our own whims and devices. The struggle for perfection is guided not by our desires, but by Command of the One and Perfect God who said in the Qur’an, “Call upon me and I will answer” meaning that we have not been left alone to fend for ourselves in this battle against the internal and external temperaments that conflict and restrict us. God guides us through word and spirit, and assists us in arriving at the proper understanding of guidance within our imperfect capacity, through real life experience, and this is the important role that the hadith play in understanding and promulgating the law.
The life experiences of the prophet Muhammad (saws) are the pretext by which both the Qur’an and the hadith manifest. The Qur’an was revealed to the prophet Muhammad (saws), as he was involved in the processes of life, and living by God’s guidance. The hadith are a record of his understanding of the right way to apply the guidance revealed to him, explicit to the situations wherein he was challenged to act. In all instances his actions were divine. Even when he made mistakes, his mistakes were example and instruction. This is demonstrated in several ayat or verses of the Qur’an. Specifically, we see this in Sura Abasa, when the prophet ignored a blind man that was attempting to attract the prophet’s attention while he was speaking with someone whose support he believed would be more valuable to t! he growing Muslim community than the support or conversion of the blind man. Verse 1-10 says: ” The prophet frowned and turned away, because there came to him the blind man. But what could tell thee but that perchance he might grow in spiritual understanding, or that he might receive admonition, and the teaching might profit him? As to one who regards him self as self sufficient, to him does he attend, though there is no blame on thee if he grows not in spiritual understanding. But as to him who came to thee striving earnestly, and with fear in his heart, of him was thou unmindful.” The prophet’s humanity is a matter of serious importance in our observation of the method by which the Qur’an was revealed to him and the laws that were subsequently promulgated by the prophet (saws) who served mankind not only as a receptor of divine guidance and instruction, but also as an example or sunnah that the Muslim is obliged to follow. In Sura Al-Ahzab, Chap! ter 33, verse 36, God informs us saying: ” It is not fitting for a believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Messenger to have any option about the decision; if anyone disobeys Allah and his Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong path.” This is a decree, or law of God. Yet, there is also ijtihad. Is ijtihad a deviation from this decree? Is it bidah, (innovation)? Or is it an act whereby a qualified jurist who is unable to identify a specific law that controls a specific issue, resorts to the spirit of the law, or rather the principles of Islamic law to arrive at a decision, and thereby perhaps introduces a previously unrecognized statute? Cold adherence to law, ignoring the realities of time and place is also a form of extremism, which is defined basically as an imbalance. In Islam, law, principle and logic are ! the three primary aspects of jurisprudence, all three of which serve to keep Islam relevant, understandable, and applicable throughout time.
The character of the law decreed by God and promulgated by the prophet (saws) consists of both principle and instruction, or rather the decree and the nature of the decree. Meta law, which corresponds with the decree, is the process by which we arrive at the purpose of the law, which is justice. In non-Muslim jurisprudence this is referred to as due process. An example of the distinction between Decree and the nature of the decree might be found in the fact that in Islam it is forbidden to make tayyamum (ablution with soil) if there is water available for the purpose. Yet, if an adherent is suffering from a disease or injury that causes water to be harmful, ablution with soil is permitted, even though water is available. This decision is arrived upon through observing not only the decree that dictates water as the first recourse in ablution, but also through observation of the sour! ce and nature of the decree, which is Al Rahman, Al Raheem. It is the qualities of mercy and compassion that permit the use of soil by sick or injured persons, even when water is available for ablution. Al-Rahman and Al–Raheem are names and attributes of God that indicate Mercy and Compassion. Surah Al-Imran, Chapter 3, verse 159, ” It is part of the Mercy of Allah that thou dost deal gently with them. Were thou severe or harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about thee: so pass over their faults and ask for Allah’s forgiveness for themé”
The attributes of the ultimate lawgiver, Allah, are the natural or innate essence of the law, and since mercy and compassion exists in the fitratullah, they also exist to some degree within the human being. When seeking to identify the principles that guide our understanding and application of the Divine law, we must look to the source and identify this essential quality that not only permits exception, and considers explanation, and excuses, it also inclines us towards moderation. Familiarity with the essence, attributes, and acts of God, causes us to have humility, and this humility causes us not only to fear God, but also to fear violating His law, as well as to fear applying the law harshly, and outside al-Rahman and al-Raheem, or the spirit in which it was revealed. For when we do this, we ignore God as the overarching sovereign, and our jurisprudence becomes oth! er than “Islamic” law, or Shariah, which is a way of life that leads to justice and peace. This is one of the reasons that lawgivers, or jurisprudents are qualified by their knowledge of God, and not merely knowledge of the law as a body of information. Those who do not teach, promulgate, and abide by the law with taqwa, (fear of God) cannot legitimately promulgate Islamic law. Allah asks us in the Qur’an, ” Oh you who believe, why do you say what you do not do? It is most detested in the sight of Allah that you say what you do not do.” Sura Al-Saff, Chapter 61, verses 2 and 3. If we remember that Allah admonished and cursed the Pharisees and Sadducees of Bani Israel for their unwillingness to teach the uncorrupted law and earnestly guide the servants of God according to that law, we will be careful to not only abide by the law, but also to seek to ascertain whether or not the law as it is being presented to us, ! is consistent with the teachings of God found in the Qur’an and the hadith. One of the attributes of knowledge is that it protects, and our knowledge of God, ourselves, and the Qur’an and Sunnah protect us from those who promote in the place of divine law, cultural traditions, superstitions, and fables etc., in place of Allah’s divine injunctions and guidance.
Shariah: the Way to and of Peace
The principles of peace in Islam can be identified easily within the 9 precepts presented here. These verses of Qur’an were revealed by Allah to guide the Muslim in whatever situation we might find ourselves. They are presented here in an attempt to emphasize that there is a philosophical framework for Muslim intervention, or interaction as peacemakers in conflicts that directly impact or involve the Muslim ummat. They do not address the details of specific conflicts, but are to be considered generally, and they are not conclusive, but are stated here simply to attest to the fact that Islam is indeed a way of life that is inclined towards peace, that encourages peace, and directs its adherents to peace, and which teaches the Muslim how to live peacefully in a world that is ripe with diversity and potential conflicts.
1). Man is a servant of God and our every action should be performed in pursuit of God’s pleasure and in accordance with Islamic law and principles if we expect that our actions will be accepted and rewarded with positive outcomes. Sura 3, Al-Imran, verse 18:
” There is no God but He: That is the witness of Allah, His angels, and those endued with knowledge and standing firm on justice. There is no God but He, the Exalted in Power, Wise.“
Sura 5, al-Maida, verses 15 and 16:
” éthere hath come to you from God a light and a perspicuous Book-wherewith Allah guides all who seek His good pleasure to ways of peace and safety, and leads them out of darkness, by His Will, unto the Light-Guides them to a path that is straight.”
2). The objective and purpose of Islam is peace, even in times of war. Sura 8, Al-Anfal, verse 61:
“But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou then also incline towards peace and trust in Allah, for He is the One that hears and knows all things. Should they intend to deceive thee verily Allah suffices thee. He it is that hath strengthened thee with His aid and the company of the believers.”
3). The Muslim should not seek to gain advantage, neither through war, or negotiations aimed towards the resolution of conflict, but rather should seek justice in all things. Sura 4, An Nissa, verse 32:
” And in no wise covet those things in which God hath bestowed His gifts more freely on some of you than others: to men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn. But ask God of His Bounty. For God has full knowledge of all things.“
Sura 8, al-Anfal, verse 28:
” And know ye that your possessions and your progeny are but a trial and that it is Allah with whom lies the highest reward.”
Sura 57, al-Hadid, verses 22-24,
“Sufficient unto us is Allah. Allah and His messenger will soon give us bounty. To Allah do we turn our hopes.”
Sura 16, al-Nahl,
” Allah co! mmands justice, the doing of good, and liberality to kith and kin, and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice and rebellion: He instructs you, that you may receive admonition. Fulfill the covenant of Allah when you have entered into it, and break not your oaths after you have confirmed them: Indeed you have made Allah your surety; for Allah knows all that you do.”
4). The Muslim must never loose heart, or fall into despair, but must be resolute in every task undertaken in the defense, or protection of the people. Sura 8, al-Anfal, verses 45-47:
” O ye who believe, when ye meet a force be firm, and call Allah in remembrance much that you may prosper. And obey God and His messenger, and fall not into disputes lest ye lose heart and your power depart; and be patient and persevering, for Allah is with those who patiently persevere. And be not like those who started from their homes insolently and to be seen of men, and to hinder men from the path of God, for Allah compasses round about all that they do.”
5). Conflict is not presumed to be resolved until there is a cessation of violence and imminent threat. Sura 47, Muhammad, verse 4:
“Therefore when you meet the unbelievers, smite at their necks, at length when you have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly on them, thereafter is the time for either generosity or ransom, until the war lays down its burden, thus are you commanded.”
6). Patience, perseverance, faith and righteousness are the determinants of positive outcomes and not cunning and subterfuge. Sura 3, Ali Imran, verse 186:
“You shall certainly be tried and tested in your possessions and in your personal selves; and you shall certainly hear much that will grieve you from those who received the Book before you and from those who worship many gods. But if you persevere patiently and guard against evil, then that will be a determining factor in all affairs.”
Sura 24, An Nur, verse 52:
” It is such as obey Allah and His messenger and do right that will win in the end.”
7). Only observant Muslims can legitimately negotiate on behalf of Muslims, or in their interest. Sura 8, al-Anfal, verse 34:
” But what plea have they that Allah should not punish them, when they keep out men from the sacred mosque and they are not its guardians? No men can be its guardians except the righteous, but most of them do not understand.”
8). When an agreement is accepted, and a conflict resolved, the Muslim must give up all claims to retaliation, or revenge, and must make every effort to adhere to and abide by all oaths, agreements and covenants, unless the other party violates the agreed upon terms and returns to hostility. ” Sura 2, al-Baqara, verse 224:
” And make not Allah’s (name) an excuse in your oaths against doing good, or acting rightly, or making peace between persons; for Allah is One who hears and knows all things.”
9). The promise of success for the righteous believer in Allah is a matter concluded and decreed. Sura 24, An Nur, verses 55-57:
” Allah has promised to those among you who believe and work righteous deeds, that He will, of a surety, grant them in the land power and inheritance, as He granted it to those before them; that He will establish in authority their religion-the one which has been chosen for them, and He will change their state, after the fear in which they lived, to one of security and peace: “They will worship me (Allah) alone, and not associate aught with me, if any do reject faith after this, they are rebellious and wicked.” So establish regular prayer, and give regular charity, and obey the messenger that you may have mercy. Never think that the unbelievers are! going to frustrate Allah’s plan on earth: their abode is the fire, and it is indeed an evil refuge.”
The challenge facing Islam today may not be a challenge to survive the numerous threats and attacks, verbal and physical that is historically directed towards Muslims and Islam. These are trials, or tests that we suffer as part of our struggle towards perfection and a Day of Account. “And when the people approached the small band of believers and said, they have amassed an army against you to defeat you, the believers said, “This is what Allah promised us, and ever is Allah true to His promise, and their faith was increased.” Allah said in the Qur’an that He could have settled all affairs Himself, yet He allows us to struggle that we might be tested. The believers of the past, rather than complain, or to pray for their enemies surrender, or to be relived of the challenge, thanked Allah for perfect ! trials, while searching and deliberating solutions to the challenges of the ummat, provided by Allah in the Holy text, the teachings of the prophets, and the sunnah.
The prophet (saw) said to the Muslim, “seek cure, since for every affliction that Allah created, He also created the cure.” Perhaps in these few words the prophet (saws) was informing us that the struggle is not so much a matter of victory, or the defeat of our human enemies, as much as it is a victory over the internal diseases and sin that hold our blessings in abeyance and that are barriers between us and God. Through the law we find the cure, and healing, and through the principles of law we find the curer directing us as to the right way to treat and to cure communities, our societies and ourselves. We begin with a sincere repentance, followed by submission to the law and Allah as lawgiver. There is a body of learned men and women who pray, ” O Allah, bless Muhammad and the household of Muhammad, and adorn us with the adornment of the righteous. Clothe us in the ornaments of the God-! fearing, through spreading justice, restraining rage, quenching the flame of hate, bringing together people of separation, correcting discord, spreading about good behavior, covering faults, mildness in temper, lowering the wing, beauty in conduct, gravity in bearing, agreeableness in comportment, precedence in reaching excellence, preferring bounteousness, refraining from condemnation, bestowing bounty on the undeserving, speaking the truth though it be painful, making little of the good in our words and deeds, though it be much. Perfect this for us through lasting obedience.”
The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women.