Islam and Peace – Part III
I finished my article on The Concept of Peace in the Old Testament and Islam. I am not satisfied with it, especially the part about Islam. But I had to meet a deadline (pushed back a few times already) – so I turned it in the way it was. The complete article can be found under ARTICLES.
Is Islam a religion of peace? I will let you be the judge of that.
The main term for peace in Hebrew and the Old Testament is the well-known term shalom. The equivalent term in Arabic is salam.They are cognates (both languages are Semitic). And interestingly enough – they both cover a rather similar “range of meaning” which has to do with wholenessness, well-being, peace, and welfare.
Both terms are used in greetings (so they can simply mean: “How are you?”), are the opposite of war, and they seem to be connected with prosperity and safety. The main differences have to do with how that shalom/salam is achieved.
Even Sayyid Qutb (one of the intellectual minds of Al Qaeda) agrees that one must start with inner peace. Perhaps better said – one must have peace with God. Then Islam moves on to the family, society, and beyond. Most Christians (and I suppose Jews too, but I speak here as a Christian) would agree with this sequence. Another similarity between the two has to do with the concept of righteousness/justice. Both the Old Testament and the Koran agree that peace is possible only in a just society. There can be no shalom in Egypt where the people of God are oppressed. In the same way – there can be no salam in a society in which injustice reigns. In Old Testament terms: righteousness and shalom kiss each other (Psalm 85).
The problem and differences, however, start from the very beginning. There is complete DISAGREEMENT between two things: 1) how to achieve peace with God, and 2) how to achieve universal peace. I will tackle point number 2 first because it seems to me less controversial.
In Sayyid Qutb’s view, universal peace cannot be achieved only through preaching. One must use the necessary force to “free” societies from the rule of man over man (basically any society in which the Sharia is not the law of the land) and promulgate the Sharia law. Thus, at least at some point, force must be used to extend universal peace in the whole world. In his evaluation of the life of the Prophet and his followers, he is convinced that they used agressive (non-defensive) war for the spread of this “free” society in which anyone can choose what they believe (there is no compulsion in religion even in Qutb’s view), but Sharia (the rule of God) must be imposed.
Other moderate views (e.g. Iman Muhammad Shirazi) argue that the Prophet was a peacemaker who participated only in defensive wars. He seems (and perhaps many other moderates) to be against the use of force for the spread of Islam.
The Old Testament view for universal peace is eschatological. Because of human sin and wickedness, peace on earth can be accomplished only by the Prince of Peace in the end of times (Isaiah 9, 11 etc.). We are all called to pursue peace with God and with each other (both in the Old Testament, the New Testament and even in Islam), but in the Old Testament prophetic vision universal peace will come about only when the government will be on the shoulders of Messiah. Christians are never called (nor are the Old Testament people) to impose peace and the “free society” by the use of force. In fact, the Old Testament (and the New) emphasizes what is more important – peace with God. It is assumed that a person who has peace with God will also pursue peace with man and the larger society. But it is precisely here where the difference with Islam is unbridgeable and undeniable.
For in Christianity (and in Old Testament Judaism) peace with God is achieved only through sacrifice – through the shedding of blood. That is not the case in Islam – at least not according to Sayyid Qutb. Of course, in Christianity peace with God is achieved more specifically through the Cross of Christ, through His sacrifice and the shedding of his blood.
The problem is that this is exactly what Islam denies (and this applies to all kinds of Islam): the Cross and sacrifice of Christ. While for the Christian one cannot have peace with God (cannot be reconciled with God) apart from the cross of Christ, this is exactly what Islam denies, and therefore never seeks.
A muslim will not seek peace with God through the Cross of Christ (which is denied from the start; Christ did not die on the cross in Islam), but that is exactly the way Christianity says this peace can be achieved. To put it more bluntly – since muslims deny the Cross of Christ, they cannot have peace with God and cannot be reconciled with God.
As a consequence – a man who does not have peace with God (and muslims will agree with this too) cannot have peace with himself, in his home, in society, and beyond. If the Christian understanding of peace with God is correct (and I believe it is), then there is no muslim on this earth (who knowingly denies the Cross of Christ) who has peace with God. And if he has no peace with God, he has no inner peace (only perhaps a false one), and no real peace in his family and beyond.
But is this the reality in Islam and its history? Does it display a pattern of turbulence, insecurity, and war (all terms that define a lack of shalom/salam) – the pattern of a life without the shalom of God? I honestly believe that this is the case.
Samuel Huntington in his much celebrated (and criticized) book The Clash of Civilizations made the following disputed statement: “Islam has bloody borders…” Then he went on in a systematic and detached manner to document and prove his assertion. It can hardly be denied that Hungtinton is wrong. In my opinion, the explanation is theological. If you do not have peace with God, there can be no peace in and around you. You cannot give what you don’t have. You spread what you have.
In a way – I have no problem with Sayyid Qutb’s view on universal peace. Start with peace with God, and then move beyond to the family, society, and the rest of the world. However, until this perfect and peaceful society is achieved in Islamic lands, let’s not export what you don’t have. I am confident that there will be no spread of forceful peace beyond Islamic lands, if the muslims will follow Qutb’s sequence: peace with God, peace and justice at home, peace and justice in Islamic lands, peace and justice in the rest of the world.
Admittedly, this is a pessimistic view about the concept of peace in Islam. Unless muslims are reconciled with God through the Cross of Christ there can be no peace in and around them. If there is a peace – it is a false one. One that will break any moment in war, strife, and oppression. I almost wish that I am wrong.