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The Policy of Peace in Islam
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
According to the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace, a believer is one with whom one trust his/her own life and his/her own property. That is because Islam is a religion of peace. The Qur'an calls its way "The paths of Peace" (5:16); It describes reconciliation as the best policy (4:128) and states quite plainly that God abhors disturbance of the peace (2:205). Yet, in this world, for one reason or the other, peace remains elusive. Differences - political and apolitical - keep on arising between individuals and groups, Muslims and non-Muslims. Whenever people refuse to be tolerant of these differences, insisting that they be rooted out the moment they arise, there is bound to be strife. Peace, as a result, can never prevail in this world.
One recent example is the ever-recurring conflict over Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a very ancient historic city with a unique value for all the millions of people of different religious persuasions who believe it to be their very own Sacred Place. Jerusalem is indeed a symbol and centre of inspiration for the three great Semitic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. For the Jews it is a living proof of their ancient grandeur, and the pivot of their national history, For Christians it is the scene of their Saviour's agony and triumph. For Muslims, it is the first halting place on the Prophet's mystic journey, and also the site of one of Islam's most sacred Shrines. Thus, for all three faiths, it is a centre of pilgrimage, while for Muslims it is the third holiest place of worship.
Now the question arises as to how, when it is a place of worship for three religions, it can be freely accessible to all. How can the adherents of all the three religions have the opportunity there to satisfy their religious feelings?
Nowadays all around us we hear the slogan "Jerusalem is (mire. The raising of this slogan by different parties clearly shows that each one desires political supremacy for itself. All the three believe that without political dominance over this sacred city, they cannot worship God in the proper sense of the word.
If the condition for visiting this sacred place were that only that person or group could visit it who enjoyed political dominance there, Jerusalem would be turned from a place of peaceful worship into a battlefield. As political power can be wielded by only one religious group at a time, the other two groups, who are not in power, will constantly be in opposition to it. In this way, a place which should remain perfectly "tranquil" will be eternally rent by clash and confrontation. As a result not even the group in power will have the opportunity to perform its religious rites in peace.
The Position of Islam
This is indeed a very practical and important question which demands a serious rethinking. I would like to deal here briefly with the position of Islam in this matter.
The first indirect reference to Jerusalem appears in the 17th Surah of the Qur'an which says "Glory be to Him who made His servant go by night from the Sacred Mosque to the distant Mosque, whose precincts We have blessed, that We might show him some of Our signs" (17:1). Prior to the emigration in early 622, the Prophet Muhammad went on an extraordinary journey called Mi'raj (Ascension), in the history of Islam. Through God's unseen arrangement this journey took the Prophet from Mecca to Jerusalem. There, according to the belief of the Muslims, he performed a prayer in communion with all the Prophets who had been his forerunners at the holy site of al-Masjid al-Aqsa (al-Bayt al-Maqdis).
Another reference to Jerusalem appears in one of the sayings of the Prophet which is recorded in all the six authentic books of Hadith, with minor differences in wording. According to this tradition, there are only three mosques to which a journey may be lawfully made for the purpose of saying ones prayers - al-Masjid al-Haram of Mecca, al-Masjid al-Nabl of Medina and al-Masjid al-Aqsa of Jerusalem. (Certain traditions use the name Masjid Ilia for the Masjid al-Aqsa in Palestine). Yet another tradition tells us that there is a far greater reward for praying in these three mosques than in any other mosque.
We learn, however, from the Qur'an that in no part of the world can political power be wielded indefinitely by the one same nation or group: "We bring these days to men by turns" (3:140). Given that power changes hands from time to time between different communities, how are believers to worship at al-Masjid al-Aqsa? Whereas each Muslim has a natural desire to enter this mosque and prostrate himself before God as the Prophet Muhammad and the other prophets did.
According to the Qur'an political power, by the very law of nature, cannot forever remain with one nation. In that case, if this act of worship is linked with the notion that a Muslim can receive God's blessings only when this land is under Muslim political rule, millions of Muslims would have had to bury this desire in their hearts and leave this world with this cherished desire unfulfilled, as it happened with the former Saudi king Faisal ibn Abdul Aziz (1906-1975). They would never have had the unique experience of prostrating themselves before Almighty God at a place where the Prophet Muhammad, along with all the Prophets, had prostrated himself before his Lord.
How to resolve the dilemma
What is the solution to this problem? Its solution lies in a practice (sunnah) of the Prophet Muhammad to separate the religious from the political aspect of the matter. This would enable men of religion to solve the problem by applying what is called "practical wisdom", that is, to avoid the present problems and grasp the available opportunities. By following this process, they would be able to fulfil their cherished religious desire of which they have been denied unnecessarily so far. In the process, they would be able to avoid confrontational situations. Here are some telling examples of this sunnah of the Prophet.
I) The Prophet Muhammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina in July of the year 622. For the first year and a half in Medina (that is until the end of 623) he and his companions prayed in the direction of al-Bayt al-Maqdis in Jerusalem, At the beginning of 624, the faithful were enjoined by Qur'anic revelation to face in the direction of the Sacred Ka’ba at Mecca to say their prayers (2:144).
When this injunction regarding the Qiblah (direction of prayer) was revealed, 360 idols were still in position in the Ka'bah, at that time a long-established centre of polytheism. The presence of these idols must certainly have made Muslims feel reluctant to face in the direction of the Ka'bah at prayer time. How could believers in monotheism turn their faces towards what was, in effect, a structure strongly associated with polytheism? It is significant that along with the change of Qiblah came the injunction to treat this problem as a matter requiring patience, and not to hesitate in facing the Ka'bah. "0 believers, seek assistance in prayer. God is with those who are patient" (2:153).
As history tells us, this state of affairs continued for six long years until the conquest of Mecca in 630, when the Ka'bah was cleared of idols. This establishes a very important principle of Islam which may be termed as Al-fasl bayn al-qaziyatayan (the separation of the two different facets of a problem from each other). According to this principle, the Ka'bah and the idols, were given separate consideration. By remaining patient on the issue of the presence of the idols, believers were able to accept the Ka'bah as the direction for prayer.
2) Another such example is the above mentioned heavenly journey (Isra or Mi'raj), undertaken by the Prophet before the emigration in 622. At that juncture Jerusalem was ruled by Iranians, that is to say by non-Muslims. The Iranian ruler, Khusroe Parvez , attacked Jerusalem in 614, wresting it from the Romans, who had governed it since 63 BCE.
This political dominance of the Iranian empire ended only when the Roman Emperor Heraclius defeated the Iranians and restored Roman rule over Jerusalem in 629.
This means that, before his emigration, the Prophet Muhammad entered Jerusalem on his Mi'raj journey to say his prayer at the Masjid al-Aqsa at a time when the city was under the rule of a non-Muslim king. From this we derive the very important sunnah of the Prophet that worship and politics practically belong to separate spheres, and, as such, should not be confused with one another.
3. The third example took place after the Hijrah in 629. At that time Mecca was entirely under the domination of the idolatrous Quraysh. In spite of that, the Prophet and his companions came to Mecca from Medina to spend three days there to perform Umrah (the minor pilgrimage) and the circumambulation of the Ka'bah. This was possible solely because the Prophet did not mix worship with politics. If the Prophet had thought that Umra could be performed only when Mecca came under Muslim political rule, he would never have entered Mecca for worship along with his companions.
In the light of this sunnah of the Prophet the solution to the present problem of Jerusalem lies in separating the issue of worship from that of political supremacy. Muslims belonging to Palestine, or any other country, should be able to go freely to Jerusalem in order to pray to God in the Aqsa Mosque. Worship should be totally disassociated from political issues.
To sum up, the only practical solution to the problem of Jerusalem in present circumstances, is to apply the above principle of Al-fasl bayn al qaziyatayn, to this matter, that is to keep the two aspects of a controversial issue separate from one another. There is no other possible solution to the problem of Jerusalem. We ought to keep the political aspect apart from its religious aspect so that no ideological matter comes in the way of worship by the people, and the faithful are able to go to Jerusalem freely in order to satisfy their religious feelings.
* This paper was delivered at a meeting held in Jerusalem in August 1995, organised by the St. Egidio Community of Rome on the theme "Together in Jerusalem: Jews, Christians and Muslims".
Maulana Wahiddin Khan is the President of the Islamic Centre of New Delhi.