Some scholars define peace as the absence of war. This definition is, to some extent, correct. If a society is free from violence and war, the situation that prevails may be termed as ‘peace’. Whenever there is no war or violence between individuals or groups, one could say, in a limited sense, that peace prevails between them.
However, for a society to be said to enjoy peace, it is not enough that it is free from violence or war. To define peace as the absence of violence or war is a negative definition of peace. A positive way of defining peace is on the basis of the positive attributes that characterize peace. Accordingly, a society can be said to enjoy peace if positive and constructive thought and activity flourish among its members.
A society that enjoys peace can be likened to the gates of a dam being lifted, leading to a river being filled with plenty of water. Life is like a flowing river that seeks to surge ahead. It stops its ceaseless journey only when some artificial barrier is put in its path. In the absence of such a barrier, life flourishes in all its dimensions according to the Law of Nature. Violence and war are barriers that seek to block the natural flow of life. In contrast, peace opens up all the bolted doors that seek to impede life’s onward journey.
We often talk of peace in the context of war. But this is a very narrow and restricted notion of peace. The fact is that peace is deeply linked with every aspect of our lives. Peace is in itself a complete ideology. Peace is that master-key that opens the doors to every sort of success. Peace creates the appropriate atmosphere for success in every sort of endeavour. Without peace, no positive action—small or big—is at all possible.
Peace is the Religion of the Universe
The Quran (36:40) tells us:
The sun cannot overtake the moon, nor can the night outpace the day; each floats in [its own] orbit.
Referring to an astronomical phenomenon, this Quranic verse tells us about the principle on which the system of the entire universe is based. And this principle is peace. There are innumerable entities in the cosmos, and all of them are in constant motion. Yet, they do not clash with each other. Every entity carries on working in its own orbit. None interferes in the sphere of others. That is why they never clash with each other.
This ‘culture of peace’ is what human beings are also expected to follow and imbibe. They should also base their lives on precisely the same universal principle that informs the rest of the cosmos. That means they must abandon the path of violence and confrontation and walk on the path of peace.
The ‘culture of the cosmos’ is a ‘culture of peace’. It is because of this peace that the cosmos has been in existence for millions of years and yet it has not witnessed any violence or confrontation that impaired its functioning. If a ‘culture of violence’ had informed the cosmos, by now it would have been destroyed, and there would have been no possibility for life to exist.
The same Creator who made the rest of the cosmos created us human beings, too. This Creator wants that the human beings should adopt the very same ‘peace culture’ that He has established throughout the rest of the cosmos. The only difference is that this ‘peace culture’ prevails in the rest of the cosmos on the basis of Nature and Natural Law, while humans are independent beings and have free will. And so, God wishes that they should freely choose to adopt and lead their lives according to this ‘peace culture’.
The Quran, a Book of Peace
The Quran is, without doubt, a book of peace. It is not a book of violence or war. All the statements of the Quran are, directly or indirectly, related to peace. The very first phrase in the Quran is: Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim, which means, ‘In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful.’ In other words, the highest attribute of the God who has sent this book is mercy, and this book is an expression of this attribute of His mercy.
All the verses of the Quran are, directly or indirectly, based on peace. There are 6666 verses in the Quran. Of these, hardly 40 are about commandments of qital or war—in other words, less than 1 per cent. In fact, it amounts to just around 0.6 per cent.
Those who regard the Quran to be God’s Book can be considered to be momins or true believers only when, abiding by the teachings of the Quran, they become fully and completely peace-loving. Under no conditions whatsoever do they take to the path of violence.
In this regard, one needs to stress the distinction one must make between Islam, on the one hand, and Muslims, on the other. One must not equate the actions of people who call themselves Muslims with the teachings of Islam. The fact is that the behavior of Muslims must be judged on the basis of Islam, but, on the other hand, Islam must not be judged on the basis of Muslims’ behaviour. Islam is an ideology. A person can be truly considered to be a Muslim only if he obeys and follows the teachings of Islam. If he ignores or does not follow Islam’s teachings, he does not have anything to do with Islam, even if he claims to be its champion.
Peace Versus Violence
Peace is a well-planned effort or action, while violence is a passion-driven, aggressive action. A peace-loving person first thinks and then acts. On the contrary, a violence-loving person first acts and then thinks. Peace is based on hope, in the beginning as well as at the end, while violence is based on false hopes in the beginning and disillusionment at the end.
A peace-loving person is established in truth. A violence-loving person is established in falsehood. Peace and positive constructive work go hand-in-hand, while violence is wholly destructive. A peace-loving person lives in the love of others, while a violence-loving person lives in hatred of others. Peace leads to success and violence to utter failure. The path of peace abides by the law, while the path of violence leads to lawlessness.
A peace-loving person overlooks problems and uses the available opportunities, while a violence-loving person ignores the available opportunities and launches a useless fight against problems. The path of peace opens out into a garden blooming with flowers, while the path of violence creates a jungle of thorns.
In peace, one fulfils the obligations one owes to God as well as those that one owes to God’s creatures, including other human beings. Violence, on the other hand, is a subversion of the ‘rights of God’ as well as the rights of other people. If peace is heaven, then violence, in comparison, is sheer hell. Choosing peace is choosing truth. Choosing violence indicates one’s failure in making the right choice.
(Maulana Wahiduddin Khan heads the New Delhi-based Centre for Peace and Spirituality. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org A prolific writer, many of his writings can be accessed on http://www.cpsglobal.org/articles/mwk