It is unawareness of the opportunities presented by the modern age that has led some extremists to choose violence as a means to attain their goals.
By Maria Khan
The noted New Delhi-based Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan and members of the Centre for Peace and Spirituality (CPS), of which he is the head, were recently in the USA for a two-week visit (from August 26 to September 8, 2015). The Maulana had been invited by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) to felicitate him. In the course of this visit, CPS members participated in a number of programs in Washington D.C. and Wallingford, Pennsylvania before attending the ISNA convention. On August 27, the Maulana and CPS members visited the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington D.C. The USIP is an institution established by the US Congress to increase the nation’s capacity to manage conflicts without violence. Part of its mission is providing analysis, education and resources for peace-building. The Institute’s Religion and Peace-building team hosted a roundtable conversation with the Maulana to discuss Islam and peace. After a welcome note by USIP’s director of the Rule of Law Centre, Colette Rausch, the program began with the release of the Maulana’s most recent book The Age of Peace, which was introduced to the audience by Dr. Sayyid Syeed, National Director for the Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances for ISNA.
In his opening remarks, the Maulana explained that in The Age of Peace, he has discussed the nature of the modern age and the changes brought about by it, because of which people can achieve their goals by opting for peaceful means. The freedom to do what one wants without harming others and the numerous opportunities for work opened up in the present age have made it needless to resort to violence. It is unawareness of the opportunities presented by the modern age that has led some extremists to choose violence as a means to attain their goals.
The brief introduction to the book was followed by an interactive session. Sheherazade Jafari, the moderator of the roundtable, asked the Maulana to elaborate on his idea of ‘peace without conditions’. Many people speak of peace with justice”that is, insisting that if they do not get justice, they would not be ready for peace.
According to the law of nature, the Maulana explained, first of all peace has to be established without laying down any conditions. This is because peace opens up the doors to opportunities. By availing of these opportunities, one can achieve everything one wants, including justice. Justice, therefore, cannot be bracketed with peace.
Another question came from Arsalan Suleman, Acting U.S. Envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, who asked how the extremists groups that cited examples from the life of the Prophet and his companions to justify their deeds, should be dealt with. The Maulana answered that the Prophet was born in a tribal age, which was an age of violence. Due to this age factor, the tribal chiefs who were opponents of the Prophet tried to involve him in war at several occasions. However, the Prophet tried to manage conflicts. It was because of his efforts at avoidance that wars happened only briefly and were reduced to skirmishes. Therefore, the Maulana stressed, war is not an Islamic teaching. Rather, the Prophet had to engage in war only out of compulsion. Peace is, accordingly, the rule in Islam.
On August 29, the Maulana delivered a talk at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center in Sterling, Virginia. He spoke on ‘Contemporary Intellectual Challenges for Muslims’. ADAMS’ Center President Syed Moktadir and Dr. Sayyid Syeed were among those who attended the talk.
The Maulana began by explaining that challenges are a part of life. One should not consider a challenge as arising due to an ‘external conspiracy’. Rather, difficulties, both physical difficulties and intellectual problems, are part of this world. There are two kinds of challenges: crippling and non-crippling challenges. It is a crippling challenge that is a problem. Otherwise, a challenge is a booster for a community as it serves as a shock treatment, which, in turn, enhances one’s creativity. It is one’s response to challenges that determines one’s success in dealing with them.
The Quaker study and Retreat Centre, called Pendle Hill is located in Wallingford, where the Maulana and the CPS team stayed during their stay in Pennsylvania. The centre was established in 1930 to foster peace, spirituality, and social equality. The CPS group visited the centre and interacted with the Pendle Hill community. During the team’s ten-day stay at Wallingford, several individuals and groups came to meet and interact with the Maulana, among them being members of the movement founded by the Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gulen, members of the Positive Thinkers’ Club based in New Jersey, and Anuttama Dasa, who serves as ISKCON’s International Director of Communications.
The Maulana spoke on ‘Dealing with Extremism in the Muslim Community’ on September 7, the third and last day of the convention. In his address the Maulana said that in the seventh century, there was a peace agreement at Hudaybiyah between Muslims and their opponents. The treaty gave peace and freedom, which the Prophet and his companions availed of in favour of dawah or preaching. The result was that they were able to spread their mission in large parts of Arabia and its adjacent areas. The Maulana noted that at the time of the Prophet, the Hudaybiyah Agreement had led to limited and local freedom for the Muslims for a few years. However, today we were living in the age of Hudaybiyah, as everyone in every part of the world enjoys freedom to carry out his or her activities without being violent. In the conditions we live today, one is free to make progress in both religious and secular domains.
(The writer is based in Delhi and is a member of the CPS)