Article written by Ameen Ahmed and Rodica Mușat
Violence and nonviolence are important topics in Islamic studies in contemporary world. Islam is analyzed both as a violent religion and a peaceful religion. Violent and terrorist practices associated with Islam became an upsetting and increasing phenomenon after the beginning of XXI century, it is upsetting both for Muslim and non-Muslim peaceful communities. In this social context is important to analyze the role of nonviolence in Islamic world and to highlight and compare how different branches and groups from the Islamic world understand and support nonviolence theory and nonviolent actions.
The research about Islam and nonviolence is necessary especially in the social context of present time when public opinion is aware of many violent actions revendicated by Muslim terrorist groups.
One of the very important books about nonviolence in Islam contains the works presented at a seminar in Bali, Indonesia in 1984. This book entitled „Islam and nonviolence” was published in 1993 and it was edited by Glenn Paige, Chaiwat Satha-Anand and Sarah Gilliatt.
A very important chapter of the book „Islam and nonviolence” is entitled „The Nonviolent Crescent: Eight Theses on Muslim Nonviolent Actions”. This chapter is very important because it contains a clear explanation and definition of the idea of nonviolent action, because it contains details and interpretations about a concrete situation of nonviolent action in 1975 in a Muslim society from Pattani, one of the provinces of Thailand. Chaiwat Satha-Anand formulated eight theses regarding violence and nonviolence in Islam.
Satha-Anand made clear the meaning of „nonviolent action”. Nonviolent action must not be understood as passivity or submissiveness, but it must be understood as activity and struggle. We consider that the meaning of the term „struggle” in this context is „endeavor”. In order to make clear the ideea of nonviolent action, Chaiwat Satha-Anand quoted from the book of Gene Sharp, „The Politics of Nonviolent Action” and highlighted that nonviolent action does not mean inaction. The same idea is mentioned by Vahīduddīn Khān in the chapter „Nonviolence and Islam” in the book „Islam Rediscovered: Discovering Islam from Its Original Sources”: „Nonviolence is action in the full sense of the word. Rather is more forceful an action than that of violence.”1
Conclusions of the chapter written by Chaiwat Satha-Anand contain eight theses regarding violence and nonviolence in Islam. According to the first thesis in Islam the topic of violence is a part of moral sphere. The second thesis is the following: „Violence, if any, used by Muslims must be governed by rules prescribed in the Qur‘an and Hadith.”2 According to the third thesis in Islam violence is unacceptable when it is not possible to distinguish between combatants and noncombatants. The following thesis contains the affirmation that the use of modern technology for destruction supposes the impossibility of discrimination between combatants and noncombatants. According to the fifth thesis the Muslims must not use violence in the modern society. The sixth thesis refers to fighting for justice, this fight can be done and human lives are considered sacred and purposive.
The last theses refer explicitly to the nonviolence in Islam. According to the seventh thesis of Chaiwat Satha-Anand, nonviolent action is, for Muslims, a form of struggle. We understand that the meaning of „struggle” in this context is endeavor. The last thesis makes clear the strong link between Islam and nonviolence: „Islam itself is fertile soil for nonviolence because of its potential for disobedience, strong discipline, sharing and social responsibility, perseverance and self-sacrifice, and the belief in the unity of the Muslim community and the oneness of mankind.”3
Another important scholar who wrote about Islam and nonviolence is Mahommed Abu-Nimer. According to this author Islam support of nonviolence is based on seven principles available in Islam. The principles expressed by Abu-Nimer are linked by him with verses of Quran. The first principle affirms the absoluteness of human dignity. The following principles refer to the common source of all human beings, at the differences between these. Other principles affirm that other religions are recognized in Islam and the freedom of choice is also recognized. The sixth principle refers to the right to judge and this right belongs to God. The last principle contains indications about certain aspects of Muslims behavior towards other human beings. „Muslims have the duty to be nice, just and equitable toward al human beings.”4
In the book „Islam Rediscovered: Discovering Islam from Its Original Sources” a chapter is dedicated to the topic of Islam and nonviolence. The author’s thesis is that Islam religion teaches nonviolence. Vahīduddīn Khān highlighted the importance of peace in Islam and mentioned that one of God’s names is Peace and Paradise is described in Quran as home of peace. The author also mentioned many examples to prove that in the history of Islam successes were obtained by nonviolent methods. The author wrote that an important form of Islamic activism is da’wah activism, da’wah is the peaceful struggle (endeavor) used to propagate Islam.
A study about nonviolence in Islam is necessary because researchers wrote about a stereotype which describes Islam as a violent religion. In “Resurgent Islam: a Sociological Approach” Philip Sutton and Stephen Vertigans wrote: “Stereotypical views which portray Islam as an inherently violent religion, a ‘religion of sword’ and an increasing global thread have thus been reinforced and even extended over recent years”5. In the book “Civilization and Violence: Isla, the West and the Rest” Imbesad Daudi mentioned that in the West Islam and violence are synonymous.
Mark A. Gabriel expressed in his book “Islam and Terrorism” the confusion which exists in public opinion about Islam: “It is confusing for us when we hear different signals. Our president and other government leaders make statement like Islam is a peaceful religion. But then we hear that Islam is not a peaceful religion. A debate is going on: What is true Islam: is it what Muslim clerics in the United States are saying? Or is it what the Muslim clerics in Afghanistan or Pakistan say?”6
Several intellectuals and scholars considered the study of nonviolence in Islam is necessary. In the field of Islamic studies very important articles and books were published. Some of these publications have common features: 1) contain considerations about both theoretical and practical, concrete aspects regarding the nonviolence in Islamic world; 2) contain the conclusion that Islam is compatible with the theory about nonviolence and nonviolent actions; 3) recommend further research about the topic of nonviolence in Islam.
Some of the researchers who wrote about nonviolence in Islam highlighted the need for further research about this topic. One of the editors of the book “Islam and nonviolence”, Chaiwat Satha-Anand wrote: “This seminar was just a beginning. A lot more work needs to be done, including research, study and further seminars”7. Mohammed Abu-Nimer, the author of the book “Nonviolence and Peacebuilding in Islam: Theory and Practice” mentioned that future research about these topics is necessary: “Future research and studies can focus on the next step: examing the application of such principles in day-to-day contexts, and identifying the obstacles that prevent their application. Another area of future research is to document successful day-to-day initiatives of peacebuilding and conflict resolution conducted in Muslim communities. By examing such case studies scholars and practitioners can promote the conditions for effective peaceful intervention for resolve political, social and other types of conflicts which are tearing apart many Muslim communities.”8 Mohammed Abu-Nimer mentioned that the study of Islam and peacebuilding must be developed by more researchers.
Researchers in the field of Islamic studies in general and regarding nonviolence in Islam in particular use many sources: Quran, Hadith, Kalam, Islamic philosophy, mysticism and jurisprudence, historical sources, biographical sources, literary sources, historical documents, periodicals, Arabic manuscripts, digitized Arabic manuscripts, open access Islamic manuscripts collections, digital libraries and archives.
All kinds of these sources mentioned above are also important in researching the understanding and the support of nonviolence in Islam. Historical and biographical sources, periodicals are important for documentation about case studies regarding nonviolent actions in Muslims societies. Exegetical books regarding primary sources are secondary sources important in the field of Islamic studies.
Islamic studies are considered „multidisciplinary and poli-methodological.”9
The research about nonviolence in Islam should use the following methods: case studies regarding nonviolent action in Muslim societies; discourse analysis applied to public discourses of Muslim leaders or Muslim personalities; content analysis of relevant documents; research of archival sources. Case studies regarding nonviolence in Islam were recommended by Mahommed Abu-Nimer as we have mentioned above.
Vahīduddīn Khān. Islam Rediscovered: Discovering Islam from Its Original Sources, New Delhi : Goodword Books, 2002
Paige, Glenn, Chaiwat Satha-Anand, and Sarah Gilliatt, eds. Islam and Nonviolence, Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1993
Mahommed Abu-Nimer. Nonviolence and Peace Building in Islam: Theory and Practice, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003
Philip Sutton, Stephen Vertigans. Resurgent Islam: a Sociological Approach, Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2005
Mark A. Gabriel. Islam and Terrorism. Lake Mary, Fla.: FrontLine, 2002
Clinton Bennett. The Bloomsbury Companion to Islamic Studies. London, New York (N. Y.) : Bloomsbury, 2013
1 Vahīduddīn Khān, „Islam Rediscovered: Discovering Islam from Its Original Sources”, New Delhi : Goodword Books, 2002, p. 143
2 Paige, Glenn, Chaiwat Satha-Anand, and Sarah Gilliatt, eds. „Islam and Nonviolence”, Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1993, p. 23
3 Paige, Glenn, Chaiwat Satha-Anand, and Sarah Gilliatt, eds. „Islam and Nonviolence”, Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1993, p. 23
4 Mahommed Abu-Nimer, „Nonviolence and Peace Building in Islam: Theory and Practice”, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003, p. 17
5 Philip Sutton, Stephen Vertigans, „Resurgent Islam: a Sociological Approach”, Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2005, p. 7
6 Mark A. Gabriel, “Islam and Terrorism”. Lake Mary, Fla.: FrontLine, 2002, p. ix
7 Paige, Glenn, Chaiwat Satha-Anand, and Sarah Gilliatt, eds. „Islam and Nonviolence”, Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1993, p. 6
8 Mohammed Abu-Nimer, “Nonviolence and Peacebuilding in Islam: Theory and Practice”, Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003
9 Clinton Bennett, The Bloomsbury Companion to Islamic Studies. London, New York (N. Y.) : Bloomsbury, 2013, p. 2