Pacifism in Islam

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Pacifism in Islam is the tradition of nonviolence within Muslim theology.


In the Islamic telling of Cain and Abel, Abel tells his murderous brother that "If thou dost stretch thy hand against me to slay me, it is not for me to stretch my hand against thee to slay thee: for I do fear Allah".[1] Some scholars, such as Jawdat Said,[2][page needed] have identified this an example of pacifism.[3][page needed]

Prior to the Hijra travel Muhammad struggled non-violently against his oppressors in Mecca.[4] It wasn't until after the exile that the Quranic revelations began to adopt a more defensive perspective.[5] From that point onward, those dubious about the need to go to war were typically portrayed as lazy cowards allowing their love of peace to become a fitna to them.[6][page needed]


The Ahmadiyya sect is one of the most outspoken Muslim groups regarding the message of Islam to be a peaceful one although violence is not rejected outright (see: Ahmadiyya view on Jihad). One of the sect's mottos is "Love for all, hatred for none". The Ahmadiyya international HQ is presently located in London, UK. Previously the Ahmadiyya HQ had been centered in Rabwah, Pakistan, however due to persecution by local extremist Mullahs (clergy), the decision was made to move the center to the UK. Ahmadiyya propagates the message of worldwide peace.

Sufism has traditionally tended more towards interpreting the love of one's fellow man as an extension of one's love for Allah, and has thus been historically seen as a fundamentally pacifistic movement.[4] Despite the fact that Sufis put the greatest emphasis on spiritual struggle, or internal Jihad, they do not absolutely reject the concept of external Jihad or military struggle. Some examples of Sufi leaders who did engage in "external Jihad" include the 19th century Naqshbandi Imam Shamil who fought a Jihad against Russia in the Caucasus. Also, the Qadiri Emir Abd al-Qadir was the leader of the Algerian resistance against France during the early 19th century. In the latter half of the 19th century, Abd al-Qadir was honored by both Abraham Lincoln and Napoleon III for his pacifistic protection of the Christian community in Syria. Shi'a thought endorses the concept of peace and advocates inner peace within one's self.

Shi'a communities preach on Islamic unity as well as inter-faith dialogue despite being persecuted historically.(See Persecution of Shia Muslims) As of September 2014, mainly Shi'a activists continue to lead peaceful protests throughout Bahrain demanding the overthrow of the royal family (whom they accuse of practising Apartheid against the Shi'a majority) and in place implementation of a democracy.

Amadu Bamba, Sufi founder of the Mourides

In 19th-century Senegal, Amadou Bamba founded the Mourides, a sect of Islam dominated by his "profoundly pacifist" teachings.[7]

Within Islam in general, in some ways similar to the Christian Just War theory as first proposed by St. Augustine, many Muslim scholars and clerics have attempted to set rules limiting Muslim warfare, including that it must be waged with good intention, only caliphs can declare a war, and that non-combatants should be spared unless directly aiding the enemy.[8]

There have been many cases of Muslims, whether or not totally pacifist, engaging in nonviolent action. Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a contemporary colleague of Mahatma Gandhi, helped lead the Pathans in non-violent resistance of British rule. This movement became known as the Khudai Khidmatgar. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. Upon his death, during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, both sides declared a ceasefire to allow his burial to pass peacefully.[9] In Iran, the 1979 Islamic revolution was the result of a popular nonviolent campaign of civil resistance which had started in 1977.[10] There have been many other movements of nonviolent resistance (also often called civil resistance in Islamic societies.[11]

Recent movements

Some scholars, such as Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, Mahmoud Mohamed Taha and Kamil Husain have tried to re-visit the Quran and Sunnah and apply a pacifist undertone.[6] Taha managed this by arguing that the Medinan suras of the Quran, the only ones dealing with warfare and legalism, were valid only pertaining to Muhammad himself, and the Meccan suras were the only ones intended to guide future generations.[12][page needed]

Movements headed by Said Nursî and Fethullah Gülen emphasized the need for religious dialogue, education and service to the poor as the backbone of Islam.[13]

The Palestinian activist Nafez Assaily has been notable for his bookmobile service in Hebron dubbed "Library on Wheels for Nonviolence and Peace",[14] and hailed as a "creative Muslim exponent of non-violent activism".[15]

See also

Further reading

  • Ferguson, John. "War and Peace in the World's Religion", 1978


  1. Al-Ma'ida 5:28
  2. Said, Jawdat. "The Doctrine of the First Son of Adam", 1964
  3. McGaffey, Rahula. "Making Peace: Non-violence and peacebuilding in Palestine"
  4. 4.0 4.1 Boulding, Elise. "Cultures of Peace: The Hidden Side of History", p. 57
  5. Howard, Lawrence. "Terrorism: Roots, Impact, Responses", p. 48
  6. 6.0 6.1 Churchill, Robert Paul. "Interpreting the Jihad of Islam: Muslim militarism vs. Muslim pacifism", 1995
  7. Charny, Israel W. "Fighting Suicide Bombing: A Worldwide Campaign for Life", p. 138
  8. Presler, Judith. "Peacemaking: Lessons from the past, visions for the future". p. 80
  9. January 23, 1988 edition of The New York Times
  10. Abrahamian, Ervand, "Mass Protests in the Iranian Revolution", in Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash (eds.), Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present, Oxford University Press, 2009. See [1].
  11. Stephan, Maria J. (ed.), Civilian Jihad: Nonviolent Struggle, Democratization, and Governance in the Middle East, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. ISBN 978-0-230-62141-1 (paperback).
  12. Taha, Mahmoud. "The Second Message of Islam"
  13. Banchoff, Thomas. "Religious pluralism, globalization and world politics", p. 19
  14. Minke De Vries, Verso una gratuità feconda. L'avventura ecumenica di Grandchamp,Paoline, 2008 p.173
  15. Jerry Levin,West Bank Diary: Middle East Violence as Reported by a Former American Hostage, Hope Publishing House, Pasadena, California 2005 p.xx