Islam is the religion of peace and love

Islam as the Religion of Peace and Tolerance

With the advent of the means of mass communication and transportation, the world has become a large village. In such a village, unfortunately, it has become easier to influence people, bringing to the fore the power and importance of the media. Once again, unfortunately, in many parts of the world, including Turkey, there have been attempts by the media recently to portray Islam as a religion of terror. In response to this lack of awareness about what Islam is—i.e., this ignorance (and unwillingness to learn as well) on behalf of the media and other influential organizations, which to some extent arises from nothing less than the evil intentions of those who disseminate it and in part due to the fact that Muslims have not been able to represent and introduce Islam in the way that it should have been, it is the duty of the Muslims, once again, to communicate the truth.
The Main Meaning and Basic Characteristics of Islam
The word Islam is derived from the word silm, which means reconciliation, peace, submission, and deliverance. Before Islam, all previous revelations had been sent to particular nations. Each of these religions either had the characteristic of being a national religion or was later transformed into a national religion. For the first time in human history Islam came as the religion for all humanity and the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was the first to be honored with a duty toward all humanity with Almighty God addressing him as:
And We have sent you to all the men as nothing but a bearer of good news and as a warner, but most men do not know. (Saba 34:28)
Indeed, the Prophet is a prophet of compassion sent not just for humankind, but for all realms of existence.
And We have sent you but as a mercy to the worlds. (Anbiya 21:107)
Islam is the religion of unity. That is to say, in the field of faith, this is a religion based on believing only in God, the Lord, and the Sovereign. Unity, in terms of world vision, the view of life, and the social system all call for the unity of humanity, brother and sisterhood, equality in basic rights, and the abolition of all discrimination on basis of language, color, race, or family or lineage.
Islam, which heralded the end of national religions in the history of humanity, invites people to live together in freedom within the framework of common laws. Islam has abolished all that belongs to the Age of Ignorance[1] and all that carries the characteristics of that period of ignorance; for example, all egotism, brutality, oppression, and injustice; in fact, to a great extent Islam has eradicated these. According to Islam, the dictum “dog eat dog” has been replaced by “love your neighbor”; life is not “a struggle,” but a process of “cooperation”; the principle of “let others work while I rest” has been replaced by “support”; “oppression” has left its place to “justice”; “inhumanity” has left its place to “mercy and compassion”; the principle that people have been created free and equal and that people have rights to the degree of their input to society has been instated; the unjust principles of “might have the right” and that “might is right” have been uprooted and the norm of “power is in righteousness, the righteous are powerful” has been put in place; societies have put trust into the rights and justice that belong to the Creator and not to selfish or random laws of a victorious minority or seasoned oppressors.
Islam has declared that all people have honor, with no socio-political, material-spiritual, racial-cultural discrimination whatsoever, and has awarded them with a status above all other living things. The Koran declares:
And surely We have honored the children of Adam. (Isra 17:70)
Indeed, according to Islam, even if someone is an unbeliever, his or her possessions, life, or honor cannot be violated. Mental and bodily health and the freedom to form a family are the inalienable rights of every individual. In the same way, no other basic rights and freedoms can be infringed upon. Even in a state of war, women, children, and the elderly who are not fighting are spared. According to the justice brought by the Holy Koran, the murder of a single innocent person is a murder that is as heinous as the murder of all humanity. According to Islam, individual rights can in no way be violated, even if to do so were to be for the good of the community. The rights of one single individual are as sacred as the rights of all other people.[2]
Instances of Tolerance from the Past
It is due to the superiority and wisdom that Islam gives people that Muslims have always introduced justice, freedom, and humanity wherever they went. Throughout Muslim history, the caliphs, following the example of God’s Messenger, gave orders to the commanders they sent to the battlefields that followed the directives given by Abu Bakr to Usama, whom he had sent to Syria (these orders were noted in historical records):
Usama! Do not betray, inflict injustice, plunder, or defile the bodies; do not kill children, the elderly, or women, do not cut down the date orchards or burn them. Do not cut down trees that bear fruit. Do not kill sheep, cattle, or camels unless it is for food. You may come across people who have retreated into monasteries on your way; do not touch them or interfere with their worship…[3]
It is also fitting that we should remind ourselves of a couple of lines from the text of the treaty that the Prophet signed with the Christians of Najran, providing a perfect example for those Muslims who would follow, until the Judgment Day:
The protectorate of God and the guardianship of Muhammad are lawful rights unto the people of Najran, those who are ready among them and those who are not, their families (and their affiliates), concerning their possessions, lives, religious lives and practices, and all the things that belong to them. No bishop will be sent outside his region of service, no priest will be sent out of his parish, no monk will be taken out of the monastery where he lives and sent elsewhere …they will not be allowed to oppress others, nor will they themselves be oppressed. None among them will be held responsible for any crime and injustice committed by another. (Hamidullah 2003, 1/622)
Once a Christian insulted and cursed the Prophet when he was standing by Gharafa ibn Harith, one of the Prophet’s friends and followers. Gharafa, finding this hard to bear, attacked the Christian and during the fight broke his nose. The Christian complained to ‘Amr ibn al-‘As concerning Gharafa. ‘Amr ibn al-‘As chided Jarafa, saying:
“They were promised safe keeping, why did you do such a thing?”
Gharafa explained: “I didn’t think this promise meant that they could curse the Messenger of God. As far as I know they were promised safe-keeping for the following:
1) That we would not interfere with their churches, that they would be able to worship there as they liked,
2) That we would not put them under any obligation that they could not fulfill,
3) That we would fight on their side if an enemy attacked them,
4) That they could resolve their own disputes as they wished,
5) That we would pass judgments according to the orders of God and His Prophet’s orders only for those who wanted to be bound by our laws, and we would not force our judgments on those who did not want to be bound by our laws.”
Then ‘Amr ibn al-‘As said to him: “You are right” (Ibn ‘Abdul-barr 3/193-194).
In the period of Caliph ‘Umar, in AH 14 (635), the city of Humus was conquered. But the following year, when the news reached them that Heracles had prepared an army of 200,000 in order to attack the city, the Muslims decided to evacuate the city. When they were leaving the city they repaid the capitation tax that they have taken from the inhabitants of Humus and said them the following: “When we took this tax from you, we guaranteed your safety. But now, we will not be able to defend you. You will have to take care of yourselves.” The people of Humus, the Christians and the Jews, who knew what it meant to be under Byzantine rule, were not pleased by this situation; on the contrary, they were saddened and the Christian folk said, “Your rule and justice is more favorable to us than the oppression and unlawfulness that we lived under before your arrival. We will join forces with your governor and defend our city against the army of Heracles.” The Jews said, “By the Torah! The governor of Heracles will not enter the city of Humus unless he defeats and steps over us.”
And so, the local population closed the doors and defended the city. When the armies of Heracles were defeated and had retreated, the local population welcomed the Muslim inhabitants back into the city with open arms. Belazuri, who relates the events, continues thus: “The other Christian and Jewish cities that preferred Muslim rule acted in the same manner and said ‘If the Romans and their subjects are victorious over the Muslims, we will continue in the old way. But if only a single Muslim should remain, we will keep to our agreements'” (Belazuri 1987, 187).
Just as the Muslims allowed the members of other religions under their rule to practice their own faith, in the same way, they did not object to building mosques, churches, and synagogues side by side, or even Muslims and Christian worshiping in different parts of the same temple. This understanding, which the Prophet started by allotting the Mosque (Masjid al-Nabawi) for the worship of an envoy of Christians from Najran on a Sunday, continued under the first caliphs. Similar practices are reported to have taken place in Cordoba, under the Andalusian Umayyad rule (Özdemir 1994, 1/68). This respect and tolerance toward different beliefs, which is manifested by the co-existence of mosques, churches, and synagogues side by side in some districts of Istanbul, stems from the essence of Islam, from the understanding that Prophet Muhammad has prescribed, peace and blessings be upon him. If this should have been lost with time in some Islamic lands or in some Muslim individuals, then this has nothing to do with Islam; in those cases, one should look for sociological or psychological, regional, or individual causes.
The case of the local population preferring Islamic rule to the rule of their co-religionists is not a one-off incident. There are many such examples. The quotation that the deceased Osman Turan cites from a Christian historian in Urfa is striking: “Melikşah, who was the most just, wisest, and strongest of all men, was like a father to all people and Christians. All Byzantine natives including Armenians came under his rule of their own volition.” (Turan 1969, 2/138)
A Christian writer, who complained of the Islamization of many Christians due to the tolerant and liberal Muslim-Turkish rule which, in turn, made the Byzantines, who had had enough of the plunder, sacking, and the oppression committed by the Latins when they came to Istanbul in 1204 on their way to fight the Muslims, “prefer the Turkish turban to the Latin miter in Istanbul,” (Turan 1969, 2/153) revealed the nature of Islam and indicated a principle that the Muslims followed when he expressed his discontent:
Three thousand crusaders, running away from the tyranny of Orthodox Byzantines converted to Islam. Oh you “mercy,” you are more tyrant than “betrayal”! For the Turks, by being helpful and compassionate toward the Christians, bought the latter’s religion. Nor did they ever force them to convert. (Turan 1969, 2/162)
The right to life, freedom of practicing one’s religion, language, law, culture, dress, and tolerance that was shown toward non-Muslims sprang naturally from Islam. In a hadith that tells the Muslim administration to treat non-Muslims well the following is declared: “I am the enemy of any who injures non-Muslims. And whomever I am an enemy to, I will reckon with him on Judgment Day.”[4] No Muslim who believes in the Hereafter, would of their own volition, run the risk of reckoning with the Prophet in the afterlife. In another hadith, the following is said:
Whoever slanders a non-Muslim with adultery, their retribution will be lashes of fire on Judgment Day.[5]
In addition, it should be pointed out that non-Muslims were free to apply their own laws concerning matters of justice. This stems from the fact that they are recognized as enjoying the freedom of religion. But at the same time, if non-Muslims were to apply to an Islamic court, their cases would be fairly judged. The Koran says:
And if you judge, judge between them with equity; surely God loves those who judge equitably. (Ma’ida 5:42)
In support of what has just been said, it would be appropriate to quote an imperial edict written by the Ottoman Sultan, Mustafa III, addressed to his Grand Vizier:
According to the complaints that come from Moldavia and Walachia, it appears that you have not concerned yourself with the problems of the Christian people living there. In these times when there is an effort to send new administrators to Mora and the Hijaz, what I desire from my Grand Vizier is to select people from among those who are known to be of high integrity. I do not want it to be seen that you have not given due importance to this selection because the peoples from these parts have different religions and languages. Since they are my subjects I would have you know that they have the same rights as my subjects in Istanbul. Take care not to injure any one of them… (quoted from Tercüman (newspaper), February 9, 1983)
Representing and Communicating Islam
Islam considers humanity to be the most honorable of all creatures, equipped with consciousness and will, and thus recognizes freedom of belief as an indispensable right. Islam takes the elimination of the obstacles that lie between God and human intellect, consciousness, and will as a fundamental principle. Thus, it stresses the fact that when Islam is introduced, one must follow the route of what can be called “representing and communicating”; the route of practicing and communicating Islam in the best possible way.
For instance, in many verses of the Koran, it is declared that there is no other duty that is incumbent on the Prophet and all other prophets other than that of the clear communication of the religion.[6] Moreover, the Prophet is addressed and warned that he is not to exert pressure on people:
Therefore do remind, for you are only a reminder. You are not a watcher over them. (Taghabun 88:22)
Before Islam, some people in Madina, especially if their child survives, would vow to make them “follow the ways of the ‘people of the Book’[7] if they survived.” This is why at the time of the Prophet some of the children of the pagan people of Madina were “people of the Book.” When Islam arrived in Madina some of the families tried to force their children to convert to Islam, upon which the following verse was revealed:
There is no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly differentiated from the erroneous one. (Baqara 2:256)[8]
Thanks to these Koranic principles, Muslims never forced the local population of the places that they conquered to convert to Islam. And some English authors have drawn attention to this aspect of Islam, making the following striking confession: “Had Europeans ruled in Asia instead of Arabs and Turks, there would have been nothing left of the Greek Orthodox Church. And, they would have not practiced the same tolerance toward Islam; the same tolerance that these heathens (i.e., Muslims) have practiced against Christianity.” (Toynbee 1978, 285)
Muslims never interfered with the local values of the places they have reached; on the contrary, they preserved them with the awareness of ethnographers. For instance, when the Ottomans left Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, many nations emerged with their own religions, languages, and traditional clothing.
Islam’s Consideration of Humanity
A second reason that keeps Muslims from using force when communicating their religion is their “consideration of mankind,” present in the Koran.
According to this consideration, humanity has a different nature of creation when compared to other life-forms, such as plants, animals, and angels. People have been created with tendencies toward both good and evil, and have been given reason and understanding; people have also been told to direct themselves toward the good, and to make choices favoring the auspicious, beautiful and good. They have been given both reason and free will to help them make this choice. So, they should distinguish the beautiful and the auspicious with their mind, and choose it with their free will. They have the responsibility to make such choices. The fact that they are creatures that are responsible for their actions stems from these very qualities.
For Muslims, worldly life is a test. In this test, which is undergone in order to achieve the afterlife, the essential thing is to use one’s free will. Just as people are not responsible for the sins that they may have been forced to commit, the question of whether or not the good deeds that have been carried out under coercion have any value is one that can be debated. Consequently, coercion has never been applied in the communication of Islam and it never will be.
A Legitimate Objective, Legitimate Means, and Clement Words
Islam stresses the necessity of reaching a legitimate objective through legitimate means and ways. Just like the objective, the ways and means that take us there must also be legitimate. Consequently, Islam will never accept coercion, torture, anarchy, or terror as Islamic means. Moreover, it calls for addressing even tyrants, like the Pharaoh, with clement words when communicating Islam.
The Koran expresses this call to Moses and Aaron in the following way:
Go both to Pharaoh, surely he has transgressed. Speak to him gently perchance he may mind or fear. (Ta-Ha 20:43-44)
In one of the verses that determines what the relationship with people of the Book should be, the Koran states:
And do not dispute with the followers of the Book except by what is best, except those of them who act unjustly, and say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and our God and your God are One, and to Him do we submit. (Ankabut 29:46)
O followers of the Book! come to a common word between us and you that we shall not worship anyone but God and (that) we shall not speculate partners with Him, and (that) some of us shall not take others for lords besides God (Al Imran 3:64)
We also would like to cite here another verse that can be used in determining the method to be pursued when communicating the true religion to all people, including the people of the Book:
Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and have disputations with them in the best manner (Nahl 16:125)
Another verse cites the Prophet’s tender treatment of the people he addressed as “a mercy from God” and reminds us that if the Prophet should behave harshly, even those closest to him may leave.[9]
The Prophet placed great importance on persuading people to see the beauty of Islam and in representing Islam in his own person. He used the mosque as a window, a gallery to serve that end. For instance, he would welcome foreign groups to the mosque. These people would eat, drink and sleep there and see the Muslims line up for prayer and listen to the recitations of the Koran late at night.[10] Sometimes the Prophet would fasten criminals to the pillars of the mosque; these criminals would see the same scenes that we have just described and thus would reform, having undergone an effective education; even those who before were pagan would convert to Islam. There are many individuals who have thus been forgiven and blessed by Islam. Summa ibn Usal was one of these individuals. Sumana had been involved in a great crime. The Prophet managed to have him caught and bound to a pillar in the Mosque. Three days later Sumama became a Muslim and then went on to be of great service to Islam.[11]
“World Peace” and Islam
In order to understand the importance that Islam places on the peace we first have to know the aspects and characteristics of the battles in which the Prophet engaged. When we examine these closely we can see that these battles were essential of a defensive nature.
The first battle waged against the people of Makka was the Battle of Badr. This battle was intended to make the Quraysh tribe, who did not believe in the oneness of God, realize the great economic importance Madina had for them and thus end their enmity and make them accept peace; it was also intended to help the Muslims reclaim the possessions that had been left in Makka when they left for Madina. These possessions had been put together in a caravan by the Quraysh and sent on their way to be sold in Syria. That is to say, the Muslim’s intention in this conflict was the defense of their possessions and the establishment of peace; it did not war for war’s sake.
The Battle of Uhud, fought following the Battle of Badr, was a battle started by the people of Makka who came to Madina in order to seek revenge for the former engagement. For the Muslims, this was a purely defensive battle. The Battle of Trench was also a defensive battle that was fought from behind trenches dug around Madina; the aim of this battle was to resist the pagan army and was fought, not just against the Makkans but against all pagan tribes which were fighting on the side of the Makka.
Almost all of the military campaigns in which the Prophet fought were intended to repel the attacks of the great armies ranged against the Muslims, or in order to prevent the battle preparations of the enemy (the Muslims having received information concerning the same). The Battle of Khaybar, the Battle of Bani Mustaliq, the Tabuk Campaign, and many other serious battles and also the battles of Badr, Uhud, and Trench were all battles of one of the two types mentioned here.
The Conquest of Makka, which was one of the most important battles, was an unprecedented effort at attaining both peace and conquest. The city of Makka was conquered on the wisdom of the Prophet and in a peaceful manner: before, during, and subsequent to this conquest 1) the city was not plundered, 2) its people were not killed or exiled, 3) no revenge was taken, 4) no blood feud was pursued.
When the fighting was over, there was a general amnesty, with the exception of a few enemies whose lives had been devoted to active enmity toward Islam and Muslims, and who insisted on continuing on this path; they had tried to resist the conquest with their swords, they had acted outside the boundaries of the conventions of war at that time and had violated commonly recognized laws? that is to say there were a couple of people who, by today’s standards, could be categorized as “war criminals.” This treatment of the people of Makka was a portrait of honor for humanity, a medal that humanity can proudly bear forever.
Muhammad Hamidullah states that the number of pagans killed during the ten years the Prophet was in Madina was around 250. In that period, the whole of the Arabian peninsula, an area of 1.5 million square miles had submitted to Islam (this would mean a rate of 274 square miles a day!) (Canan 1998, 2/298-301).
The Peace of Hudaybiya and the Concept of  Peace in the Koran
In order to understand the concept of conquest in the Koran, it is sufficient to point out that the Koran uses the term conquest when referring to the Peace Treaty of Hudaybiya AH 6 (627). The Prophet set out, accompanied by 1,500 people, to visit the Ka’ba and for the ritual of pilgrimage. But Makkan military units met them in a place near Makka called Hudaybiya, and told them that they were not going to allow the Muslims to visit the Ka’ba. The disputes and negotiations resolved in peace because the Prophet was always on the side of peace.
He believed that there was a need for an environment of dialogue and peace in order for Islam to be understood. According to him, if Islam, which is the genuine faith designed to be one with the nature and common sense of humanity, could be understood in its true nature, surely no one with any common sense would be able to reject it, oppose it, or be its enemy. For that reason, a treaty had to be signed, a platform had to be prepared; that is to say, an atmosphere of ease had to be provided whereby people could set up friendly and commercial relations with Muslims, and thus, experience the lifestyle of the Muslims and get to know Islam at closer quarters. The Makkans, on the other hand, were making a myriad of problems to prevent the institution of peace; they were trying to put expressions into the treaty that were impossible to accept. But the Prophet accepted some clauses, even though they were rather disturbing for the Muslims, in order to establish peace. For instance, the Muslims were not to enter Makka that year, and could only visit the Ka’ba according to some specific conditions the following year; those who had converted to Islam and sought refuge in Madina were to be returned to the Makkans, and those who wanted to leave the community of Madina and return to Makka were to be released? these were only two of many difficult conditions. The Prophet accepted the treaty all the same, as he was never for war. He was on the side of peace and never doubted the truth of Islam for a second. It is when referring to this treaty that the Koran uses the term a manifest conquest (Fath 48:1).
Conclusion and a Reminder
It is regretful that some anti-Islamic circles that believe that an atmosphere of peace works for the benefit of Islam do not want the Muslims to live in peace within the non-Muslim world; they strive to make Muslims live in perpetual conflict within the non-Muslim world and maintain an atmosphere of conflict and war. Moreover, these are the circles that perpetually accentuate the names of Muslim leaders who exhibit images that are diametrically opposed to Islam—due to these leaders’ misconceptions of Islam—or the administrators of Muslim countries whose relationships with Islam have always been questionable. Consequently, the global population, as a unified body, has to be extremely careful when considering this issue; these are names that have been deliberately portrayed as typical Muslims and this is a critical part of the manipulation and conscious misrepresentation of Islam.
  1. Belazuri. Futuh al-Buldan, Beirut: 1987
  2. Canan, Ibrahim. Peygamberimizin Teblig Metodlari [The Prophet’s Methods in Communicating Islam], Istanbul: 1988.
  3. An-Nabhani, Yusuf. Al-Futh al-Kabir.
  4. Hamidullah, Muhammad. İslam Peygamberi, Ankara: Yeni Şafak, 2003, Vol. 1, p. 622. Translated by Salih Tuğ. Originally published as Muhammad Rasulullah, Paris: Centre Culturel Islamique.
  5. Ibn Abdulbarr, al-Istiab.
  6. Ibn Athir, Al-Kamil Fittarikh.
  7. Özdemir, Mehmet. Endülüs Müslümanlari [The Muslims of Andalusia], Ankara: 1994.
  8. Toynbee, Arnold. Tarihci Acisindan Din, Istanbul: Kayıhan, 1978. Originally published as An Historian’s Approach to Religion, London: Oxford, 1956.
  9. Turhan, Osman. Türk Cihan Hakimiyet Tarihi [The History of Turkish World Dominance], Istanbul: 1969.
  10. Waqidi, Maghazi, Oxford: 1966.

Dr. Ibrahim Canan, Professor of Hadith at Marmara University, Istanbul. He translated more than 7,000 hadith into Turkish to make an eighteen-volume of a compilation of al-Kutub al-Sitta (Six Famous Hadith Books).

[1] The period before the advent of Islam.
[2]  …whoever kills a soul, unless it is for manslaughter or for mischief in the land, is like one who killed the whole of mankind; and whoever saves a life, is like one who saves the lives of all mankind… (Ma’ida 5:32)
[3] Ibn Athir, 2/335.
[4] An-Nabahi, 3/144; Ajluni, 2/218.
[5] Tabarani, Al-Mu’jamil al-Kabir, 22/57.
[6] Nahl 16:35, 82; Al ‘Imran 3:20; Ma’ida 5:92, 99; Ra’d 13:40; Ibrahim 14:5, etc.
[7] Although ahl al-kitab, “People of the Book,” is commonly considered to be referring to Christians and Jews, Islamic tradition accepts, in general terms, other belief systems like Zoroastrians, Buddhists, or Hindus under the same category, as their major tenets of faith are similar to that of Islam’s.
[8] Az-Zuhayli 1991, 3/20.
[9] Thus it is due to mercy from God that you deal with them gently, and had you been rough, hard hearted, they would certainly have dispersed from around you… (Al Imran 3:159)
[10] Waqidi 1966, 3/964-65.
[11] 11 Bukhari, Maghazi, 70; Muslim, Jihad, 59.
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