Justification for Violence in Islam: Part X, Concluding Remarks

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[83] Historical development of Islam as a power-faith tradition with its ideology firmly based on creating the ethical order that embodied divine will on earth provided a detailed and thoroughly developed vision of peace with justice. The basis for such a commitment to peace with justice was the act of faith which required active response to the moral challenge of working towards the perfect existence. That perfect existence was conceivable by promoting the divinely ordained scales of justice in the religious-moral law, the Shari’a. Accordingly, peace was not possible in a society that self-righteously disregarded the evil of injustice. Struggle against injustice was the sole justification for engaging in jih_d. Peace is an outcome of a society in which there is concern for justice and not just the absence of conflict.

[84] However, Islam also acknowledged the existence of obstacles to the divine plan and its realization stemming in large measure from human volition and cognition. It pointed out ways in which those who willfully rejected the faith and its entailment in the moral realm conspired to defeat the divine purposes. To meet this challenge to the divine order, the use of force, even armed struggle, was sanctioned as a legitimate defensive measure to subdue those who were hostile to the establishment of justice. However, at no time was human life to be destroyed without justification because the Qur’an commanded time and again: “Slay not the life that God has made sacred.”(6:152)

[85] Precisely at this crucial juncture in sanctioning violence, including readiness to give up one’s life for the religious cause, the role of the Prophet or the rightly guided Imam, as the interpreter of the divine purposes for which such a sacrifice was inevitable, becomes indispensable. Without the Prophet or the Imam, humanity, through its divinely endowed cognition of self-subsistent good and evil, could not expect to determine the level and the appropriate time for such sacrifices to preserve God’s purposes for the creation.

[86] To be sure, Muslim community did not always live under what the Muslims came to regard as the ideal leadership of the Prophet and his righteous successors. The time came when Islam and Muslims became entangled with unjust rulers and their misrule and tyranny. These rulers frustrated the very ideological demand of Islam, namely, the creation of the just order on earth. The Muslim community could either choose to oppose and overthrow these rulers; or tolerate them with patience until God changed its situation; or, foster a distinct identity independent of its unjust political system, with an active affirmation that the revealed norms of the Shari’a would be promulgated in an ideal Islamic polity.

[87] The solution to individual cases of injustice through an aggressive response was an activist interpretation of the Islamic ideology that served to incite some of the most radical revolutions throughout the history of Muslim peoples. The attitude of tolerance to disorder with a sense of resignation, on the other hand, was a quietist solution favored and institutionalized by those whose interests were served under the changing basis of power in expanding Islamic empire. The third alternative, while maintaining sufficient ability to mobilize necessary force to put down opposition to the promulgation of the divinely ordained legal norms, believed in social transformation through individual moral and spiritual reform. This was a pacifist activism that was expressed in terms of the expectations which had been fostered by the Islamic revelation for the guidance of humankind and the practical policies of a cosmopolitan world.

[88] It is important to emphasize that both the quietist authoritarian and pacifist activist postures were potentially radical solution, awaiting the right time and conditions to realize adequately just society. In the final analysis, Islamic revelation by its very emphasis upon justice and equity on earth calls upon its followers to evaluate a specific sociopolitical order and to defend and preserve or to overthrow and transform it. The specific response to the existing social and political situation is extricated within a cultural setting whose most powerful symbols are garnered to articulate the subtle and even complex religious ideas in the discourse that speaks to a community of ordinary people.

[89] Accordingly, Islamic ideology is both a critical assessment of human society and a program of action, to realize God’s will on earth to the fullest extent possible. In such a strategy absolute pacifism as understood by some Christian pacifist movements had no place in Islam. Islamic ideal of social harmony and peaceful living was dependent on faith in God that entailed the moral challenge of creating a just and equitable society on earth. Nevertheless, resort to violence in any form, without uncompromising adherence to the twin principles of self-preservation and proportionality, remained a central problem in Islam as its followers demonstrated readiness to wage war for a goal beyond acts of individual justice. In creating a total religious community, Muslim leaders were confronted with the temptation to a spirit of exclusivity that sought suitable expression in warfare. The readiness to use violent means when other creative non-violent methods of resolving problems of injustice have been suggested in Islamic revelation, has always raised the persistent question in Islamic ethics: Is violence inevitable to transform the human society? Not necessarily, if humanity would respond to the divine call to heed to its own sense of preservation. Ultimately, ‘submission’ to God promises peace and security for which humanity has aspired from the time its first representative was put on earth. It is, undoubtedly, the search for peace and integral existence without ‘submission’ that has proven to be fatal in human history.