Al-Huda Foundation of New Jersey  

Newsletter 

of October 2004

Article 1 - Article 2 - Article 3 - Article 4 - Article 5 - Article 6 - Article 7 - Article 8 - Article 9 - Article 10 - Article 11 - Article 12 

    
" As far as violence in the sense of the use of unjust force against the  rights of others and laws is concerned, Islam stands totally opposed to it. 
Rights of human beings are defined by Islamic Law and are protected by this Law  which embraces not only Muslims but also followers of other religions who are  considered as 'People of the Book (ahl al-kitab)'. If there is nevertheless  violation in Islamic society, it is due not to the teachings of Islam but the  imperfection of the human recipients of the Divine Message. " 

Dr. Hossein Nasr

Islam and the Question of Violence 
by Seyyed Hossein Nasr
(excerpt from al-Sirat Magazine Vol. XIII, No. 2)


Despite the presence of violence in many regions of the world ranging from  Ireland to Lebanon to the Pacific Basin and involving many religions from  Christianity to Hinduism, the Western world associates Islam more than any other  religion with violence. The Muslim conquest of Spain, the Crusades - which were  not begun by Muslims -, and the Ottoman domination of eastern Europe have  provided a historical memory of Islam as being related to force and power. 
Moreover, the upheavals of the past few decades in the Middle East and especially  movements using the name of Islam and seeking to solve problems of the Muslim  world created by conditions and causes beyond the control of Muslims have only  reinforced the idea prevalent in the West that in some special way Islam is  related to violence. 
To understand the nature of Islam and the truth about the assertion often  made of Islam's espousal of violence, it is important to analyze this question  clearly remembering that the word Islam itself means peace and that the history  of Islam has certainly not been witness to any more violence than one finds in  other civilizations, particularly that of the West. In what follows. however,  it is the Islamic religion in its principles and ideals with which we are  especially concerned and not particular events or facts relating to the domain of  historical contingency belonging to the unfolding of Islam in the plane of  human history 

First of all, it is necessary to define what we mean by violence. There are  several dictionary definitions that can be taken into account such as 'swift  and intense force', 'rough or injurious physical force or action', 'unjust or  unwarranted exertion of force especially against the rights of others', rough or  immediate vehemence' and finally 'injury resulting from the distortion of  meaning or fact'. If these definitions are accepted for violence, then the  question can be asked as to how Islam is related to these definitions. As far as  'force' is concerned, Islam is not completely opposed to its use but rather seeks  to control it in the light of the divine Law (al-shari'a). This world is one  in which force is to be found everywhere, in nature as well as in human  society, among men as well as within the human soul. The goal of Islam is to  establish equilibrium amidst this field of tension of various forces. The Islamic  concept of justice itself is related to equilibrium, the word for justice  (al-'adl) in Arabic being related in its etymology to the word for equilibrium 
(ta'adul). All force used under the guidance of the divine Law with the aim of  re-establishing an equilibrium that is destroyed is accepted and in fact necessary,  for it means to carry out and establish justice. Moreover, not to use force  in such a way is to fall prey to other forces which cannot but increase  disequilibria and disorder and result in greater injustice. Whether the use of force  in this manner is swift and intense or gentle and mild depends upon the  circumstances, but in all cases force can only be used with the aim of establishing  equilibrium and harmony and not for personal or sectarian reasons identified  with the interests of a person or a particular group and not the whole. 

By embracing the 'world' and not shunning the 'kingdom of Caesar', Islam took  upon itself responsibility for the world in which force is present. But by  virtue of the same fact it limited the use of force and despite all the wars,  invasions, and attacks which it experienced. it was able to create an ambiance  of peace and tranquility which can still be felt whenever something of the 
traditional Islamic world survives. The peace that dominates the courtyard of a  mosque or a garden whether it be in Marrakesh or Lahore is not accidental but  the result of the control of force with the aim of establishing that harmony  which results from equilibrium of forces, whether those forces be natural,  social or psychological. 

As for the meaning of violence as 'rough or injurious physical force or  action', Islamic Law opposes all uses of force in this sense except in the case of  war or for punishment of criminals in accordance with the shari'a. Even in  war, however, the inflicting of any injury to women and children is forbidden as  is the use of force against civilians. Only fighters in the field of battle  must be confronted with force and it is only against them that injurious  physical force can be used. Inflicting injuries outside of this context or in the  punishment of criminals according to the dictum of the shari'a and the view of a  judge is completely forbidden by Islamic Law. 

As far as violence in the sense of the use of unjust force against the rights  of others and laws is concerned, Islam stands totally opposed to it. Rights  of human beings are defined by Islamic Law and are protected by this Law which  embraces not only Muslims but also followers of other religions who are  considered as 'People of the Book (ahl al-kitab)'. If there is nevertheless 
violation in Islamic society, it is due not to the teachings of Islam but the  imperfection of the human recipients of the Divine Message. No religion can neutralize  completely the imperfections inherent in the nature of fallen man. What is remarkable, however, is not that some violence in this sense of the word does  exist in Muslim societies, but that despite so many negative social and economic  factors aggravated by the advent of colonialism, overpopulation,  industrialization, modernization resulting in cultural dislocation, and so many other  elements, there is less violence as unjust exertion of force against others in  most Islamic countries than in the industrialized West. 

If one understands by violence 'rough or immoderate vehemence'. then Islam is  totally opposed to it. The perspective of Islam is based upon moderation and  its morality is grounded upon the principle of avoiding extremes and keeping  to the golden mean. Nothing is more alien to the Islamic perspective than  vehemence, not to say immoderate vehemence. Even if force is to be used, it must be  on the basis of moderation. 

Finally, if by violence is meant 'distortion of meaning or fact resulting in  injury to others', Islam is completely opposed to it. Islam is based on the  Truth which saves and which finds its supreme expression in the testimony of the  faith, la ilaha illa 'Llah (there is no divinity but the Divine). Any 
distortion of truth is against the basic teachings of the religion even if no one  were to be affected by it. How much more would distortion resulting in injury be  against the teachings of the Qur'an and the tradition of the Prophet! 

In conclusion it must be emphasized that since Islam embraces the whole of  life and does not distinguish between the sacred and the secular, it concerns  itself with force and power which characterize this world as such. But Islam, in  controlling the use of force in the direction of creating equilibrium and  harmony, limits it and opposes violence as aggression to the rights of both God  and His creatures as defined by the divine Law. The goal of Islam is the  attainment of peace but this peace can only be experienced through that exertion  (jihad) and the use of force which begins with the disciplining of ourselves and  leads to living in the world in accordance with the dicta of the shar'ia.  Islam seeks to enable man to live according to his Theo orphic nature and not to  violate that nature. Islam condones the use of force only to the extent of  opposing that centripetal tendency which turns man against what he is in his inner  reality. The use of force can only be condoned in the sense of undoing the  violation of our own nature and the chaos which has resulted from the loss of  equilibrium. But such a use of force is not in reality violence as usually  understood. It is the exertion of human will and effort in the direction of  conforming to the Will of God and in surrendering the human will to the divine Will.  >From this surrender (taslim) comes peace (salam), hence Islam, and only  through this Islam can the violence inbred within the nature of fallen man be  controlled and the beast within subdued so that man lives at peace with himself and  the world because he lives at peace with God. 

 

 

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