Are Muslims and the West bound to clash? Dr Jaafar Sheikh Idris, professor of Islamic studies, Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences, Washington, gives an answer which supports the idea of peaceful coexistence.
Is it possible for the inhabitants of our global village to live peacefully together and reap the fruits of science and technology whose pace of advancement is ever increasing? Or are their religious, cultural and civilization differences bound to create clashes and wars among them? The matter is so important that it behooves Muslim intellectuals and statesmen to give it serious thought.
Western intellectuals are very much concerned with this question. But they are by no means agreed on the answer. One view is that the clash between Western civilization and others is inevitable, nay that it is already under way. Another view is that the real clash is within Western culture itself.
A third view is that people all over the world are heading toward Western political liberalism and economic capitalism, and that these systems constitute the end of history in these respects. A fourth view is that peaceful coexistence among people of different cultures and civilizations is possible provided they adopt secular pluralistic democracy.
What is the Islamic standpoint on this important and urgent issue? This paper is an attempt to give a brief answer to that question. But I am not speaking here as a social scientist who describes and explains actual reality; rather I am attempting to describe only theoretically what I consider to be the Islamic standpoint on this issue in our present circumstances. And my short answer is that it is a standpoint that is unequivocally on the side of peaceful coexistence. But to live peacefully with others you need sometimes to be fully prepared for war against them.
Reasons for Peaceful Coexistence
Rationality is an inseparable part of the Islamic religion, and its rationality does include that important ingredient of judging actions by their consequences. but it is of course a rationality which is guided by other Islamic values. The preferred action is always the action which results in the greatest good, or the least evil. The main goods to be achieved in Islam for example, are ones which would be acceptable, in their general sense, to most people. These are: Spiritual well-being, mental well-being, human life, human wealth and honor. Judged by this rational standard and those values, peaceful coexistence and cooperation is definitely to be preferred over wars and clashes in normal circumstances.
While some religions, secular ideologies and psychological theories teach that the human person is born evil; while some teach that he is born neutral between good and evil and it is society which directs him one way or the other; and while yet others believe that there is no such thing as human nature; while some brazenly racist and others are discriminatory in other respects, the Islamic position in the words of its Prophet is that every child is born good. Whatever his or her present beliefs or cultural milieu, every human person is a potential Muslim. In viewing people of other beliefs and cultures, Muslims should not forget to see the original nature which lies behind the facade of those cultures.
The best favor that a Muslim can therefore do to a non-Muslim is to invite him to Islam, to persuade him or her to come back to their original nature. But in doing so a Muslim is required to bear in mind certain facts, and to abide by certain principles, among which is the fact that since faith is a matter of the heart, no one can be compelled to accept it. This is understood from the verse which reads, “And invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom, and good admonition, and argue with them in the best of ways”. How can this be achieved except in a peaceful atmosphere?
God tells his Prophet that however keen he is on people accepting the faith, most of them will not. All the same, He tells His Prophet that he is sent as a mercy to them, and that his main task is to never tire of inviting them to the truth.
Peaceful coexistence among people belonging to different religions and civilizations makes it easy for them to exchange material and intellectual benefits. It also helps them to cooperate in solving the problems which face them as inhabitants of a global village: Drugs, diseases, pollution, etc. But his ideal picture of peaceful coexistence and cooperation cannot be realized if the West lives in constant fear lest its hegemony be lost, and therefore do its best to prevent others from developing.
6. No rational person who has an idea of the amount of destructive weapons available in the world and the extent of the damage they can cause would hesitate to be against all kinds of wars, local or worldwide. To avoid wars however we must try to eradicate as many of their causes as we can. We must thus stand for justice and against all kinds of unfair treatment and aggression.
Muslims should play a big role in this because they are qualified to do so. Islam is a religion which does not compromise on moral values like truth and justice. Believers in Islam are urged to be allies to each other irrespective of race or time or place.
8. Muslims, in my view, have a special stake in peace. If peace prevails, Islam will have a better chance of being heard and accepted in the West, and elsewhere. Many people in the West and other parts of the world are coming back to religion so much so that what is called fundamentalism has become a universal phenomenon. People have discovered that science much as it is respected and valued by them cannot replace religion.
Reasons for Being Powerful
Islam is however too realistic a religion to be pacifist. It is one thing to want to live peacefully with others, but quite another to make them have the same attitude toward you. On the whole, people of every culture desire to be more powerful than those who are culturally opposed to them. They take all steps which they deem necessary for the preservation of their cultural identity, and for the subjugation of others. In his new classic paper on clash of civilizations, Huntington tells us with unusual candidness that, “The West is now at an extraordinary peak of power in relation to other civilizations. Apart from Japan the West has no economic challenge. It dominates international political and security institutions, and with Japan economic institutions.”
And: “In the post-Cold War, the primary objective of arms control is to prevent the development by non-Western societies of military capabilities that would threaten Western interests. The West attempts to do this through international agreements, economic pressure and controls on the transfer of arms and weapons technologies.”
Muslims are therefore enjoined to be materially powerful so as to deter those who might resort to aggression against Muslims or who are prone to use force to subjugate others. Material power can and should thus be an ally to the cause of spiritual development and not a contradictory of it.
(s) Islamic Future, Safar 1417 (July 1996)