Palestinian rights activists show why the Muslim world’s struggle for justice is best served by non-violence
- Non-violent advocates of Palestinian rights have advanced their cause much further than the territory’s ‘suicide-bombers’ and missile operators have
- Muslim historians have exaggerated the role of battles and heroes without taking into account the religion’s emphasis on peaceful struggle for justice
Islam’s deep affinity for peace is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that the word “Islam” implies peace through engaged surrender to God, to the Divine Will.
There are a number of passages in the Koran that demonstrate its commitment to peace, especially the peaceful resolution of disputes. The Prophet Mohammed’s life and struggle also offer numerous instances of his inclination towards peace. It is well known that he even delayed the conquest of Mecca, much to the chagrin of his followers, to minimise violence and bloodshed.
However, the Koran and the Sunnah (the Prophet’s example) – great as their influence may be upon the lives of Muslims – do not tell us how Muslims have tried to uphold Islam’s teachings on peace in real-life situations.
Colonial Britain went beyond the mandate and, through the Balfour Declaration of 1917, promised Jewish groups in Europe that it would help them establish a “Jewish home” in Palestine. This accelerated Jewish migration.
Right from the beginning, Palestinians – both Muslim and Christian – protested against this demographic intrusion from Europe. It is significant that at this stage of the Palestinian struggle their resistance was largely peaceful, taking the form of rallies and mass meetings.
It was only after the second world war, on the heels of the Nazi holocaust against the Jews in Europe which had dramatically increased Jewish migration to Palestine, that Palestinian resistance became more militant. This was largely in response to the forced eviction of hundreds of Palestinians from their homes and villages. In some instances, massacres accompanied the expulsions.
Israel in the meantime annexed much of the remaining 22 per cent of Palestinian land comprising mostly the West Bank and Gaza in the June 1967 war. The Palestinian struggle was now at its nadir.
The second is a growing sense that the over-reliance on weapons and force is the real problem. Instead, a whole array of peaceful methods of confronting Israel must be developed. In a sense, the first Intifada – December 1987 – evolved from this awareness.
In similar vein, the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) has been able to put across the Palestinian case through agencies of the UN. A special committee on Palestinian rights within the UN has been active in articulating its interests.
Most importantly, Palestine since November 29, 2012 has a legal status within the UN framework as a non-member observer. It gives the Palestinians representation of sorts, albeit without the ability to vote.
By carving a tiny niche for itself within the UN and by mobilising businesses and other entities in civil society, the advocates of Palestinian rights have advanced their cause much further than its “suicide-bombers” and missile operators have. This shows that the struggle for justice is enhanced considerably when the means it employs are non-violent. That means cannot be separated from ends is a fundamental moral principle embodied in Islam and in all religious philosophies. The cause of peace is best served through peaceful methods.
Besides, in many historical records of wars and conflicts, Muslim historians have exaggerated the role of battles and heroes without taking into account the larger context. It has been forgotten that the sum total of the battles that the Prophet was involved in did not amount to more than three days of his entire mission of 23 years! And yet a great deal of emphasis is given to his battles while ignoring his bigger, largely peaceful struggle for justice and compassion.
It is this mindset among Muslims, perpetuated by the mainstream religious teachers, that has to change if peace spawned by justice and compassion is to emerge as the defining essence of the life and character of the Muslim today.
Dr Chandra Muzaffar is the president of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST). He was professor of Global Studies at Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang (2007-2012) and Professor of Inter-civilizational Dialogue, University of Malaya (1997-1999). This article was first published on the website of the Asian Peace Programme (APP), an initiative to promote peace in Asia housed in the Asia Research Institute, NUS.