Maulana Wahiduddin Khan in a Discussion with an Academic From Sweden
You say that the essence of Islam is peace. But how is it that there are hardly any democracies among the numerous Muslim countries, and that in many such countries there is no peace? There’s so much violence happening there.
One needs to distinguish between ideology and practice; between Islam and Muslims’ attitudes and behaviour. Muslim countries are not truly Islamic. The sources of Islam are only two—the Quran and the practice or Sunnah of the Prophet of Islam. You need to evaluate Muslims on the criterion of the Quran and Sunnah.
Islam acknowledges democracy and was the first to introduce democratic ideology. The Quran talks of a system based on mutual consultation, or shura, the basis of democracy. But present-day Muslims are a degenerated community. They don’t follow Islam according to the Quran and shura. Instead, they follow their own cultural traditions and what they perceive as their own interests. So, as I said, one needs to distinguish between Islam and Muslims. Muslims should be judged or gauged according to Islamic teachings, and not vice versa.
According to you, what is the root cause of conflict between people?
Conflict arises from competing interests.
This world is based on competition. God has given us freedom. Human freewill is basic to God’s Creation Plan. Due to this freedom there is competition between people, clashes based on perceptions of selfinterest. There have always been conflicts between people. You can’t totally eliminate it. It simply isn’t possible, because people have their own desires, their own perceptions of self-interest, and of course, freewill. All these are interwoven in human nature, and human nature can’t be changed. Being based on human nature, it is natural that there will be conflict between people.
What, then, are we to do?
You need to learn to adjust so as to avoid conflict, to avoid problems. My formula is ‘Avoid conflicts, and avail existing opportunities.’ We need to remember that problems are a part of life. People generally take problems as a bad thing. I, however, don’t. This is because problems and conflicts create challenges for us, and without challenges there is no growth. So, what you call ‘conflicts’ are actually challenges, without which there is no development.
So, are you saying that conflicts can be good as they lead to development?
I am saying that conflict is part of nature, not good or bad. The fact is that you cannot eliminate conflict, because it is part of nature. So, you need to adjust to conflict.
If you consider conflict is bad, you will try to eliminate it. Eliminating conflict is against the law of nature. Conflict is part of creation, and no one has the power to change the law of nature. Ending conflict means trying to change the law of nature, which is not possible.
But if you develop the understanding that conflicts are natural and view them as challenges that can help you grow, you will soon realise that they are actually opportunities.
So, are you saying that the problem is not conflict as such, but rather, the method that one adopts in handling or relating to conflicts?
Yes. According to my experience, conflict becomes evil when you react. Your reaction makes it an evil thing. If you don’t react, then there is no problem. So, conflict itself is not a problem. It is the reaction to it that is the problem. If you tolerate or adjust to the challenge posed by conflict, there is no problem.
How did you come to realise that non-violence is intimately related to Islam?
Islam claims to be a religion of nature, that it is based on nature. According to my study, peace is an important part of nature. For instance, take the vast number of heavenly bodies. There’s no clash between the numerous planets and stars. Nature is at peace. There’s no world war happening among animals and birds! Peace is a principle of nature. It is logical that human beings too, should live in peace. In this sense, I have to acknowledge that peace is the summum bonum.
As I study the life of the Prophet of Islam, I find that the Prophet always wished to live in peace. It is true that on some occasions he was engaged in battles. But these were not full-fledged wars in the true sense of the term. Rather, they were mere skirmishes. The Prophet wanted peace at any cost. The best illustration of this was the Treaty of Hudaibiya, where the Prophet accepted all conditions imposed by the other party, only to establish peace.
This is an example from the phase of the Prophet’s life when he was in Madinah. We can find similar examples from the Makkan phase of his life, too. For instance, in Makkah, when the Prophet started his mission, the Kaaba was full of idols, but he never tried to destroy them. He simply ignored their presence.
Why was this so?
Without this avoidance, it wasn’t possible to establish peace in Makkah, and without peace the Prophet couldn’t carry on his mission. So, he accepted the presence of the idols in the Kaaba and never objected to it. And so, he was able to carry on smoothly the dawah mission, of inviting people to God.
The Prophet always tried to establish peace, even if it meant unilateral acceptance of the conditions laid by the opponent. Why is peace so important? Without peace, nothing constructive can happen—be it study, prayer, social work or any other positive activity. I love peace, and I know that peace has a pivotal role in Islam.
I wish those Muslims who have taken to radicalism would see and say the same thing, that Islam is a religion of peace. In every community, it seems, people have manipulated religion to suit their own desires and promote conflict. Violence is not intrinsic to religion. All religions, interpreted rightly, are peaceful. Isn’t it?
There’s another point that I discovered from Islam. It has to do with many of the issues we have been discussing, the difference between personal life and social life. As per the law of nature, you can follow idealism in your personal life, but in social life it is impossible. This is because of differences between and among people, clashes of interest, and so on. So the Islamic formula is: Adopt idealism in your personal life, but in social affairs accept the status quo. Be an idealist in your personal life and a status quoist in social, including family, life.
Why, you might ask? This is because there is no rival in my personal life. I am the owner of my personal life and can adopt any kind of idealism that appeals to me. But in society, including one’s family, there are other persons. Their tastes, interests, ideologies, ways of thinking and so on may be different from mine. So, to avoid clashing with them I need to adopt status quoism there. This is the Islamic approach. Paradise is not the monopoly of any group. Muslims will be judged in the same manner in which others will be judged. There is no discrimination in divine law in this matter. This is very clear in the Quran. (4 : 123) o
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