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Non-Violence in the Teachings of Islam

In this paper the author addresses the issue of non-violence as prescribed in the teachings of Islam; that violence is severely condemned and non-violence is encouraged. The author then goes on to c lassify violence, and non-violence, into three categories.

The author shows how non-violence produces the desired results in all aspects of life, and it is therefore incumbent for the Islamic reform movement to adhere to non-violence if they want to achieve reforms in their societies successfully. This paper is an ex tract from Imam Shirazi's book, The Islamic Government, pp 66-88, volume 102 of the "Al-Fiqh series.

Translated by Z. Olyabek

One of the most important princip les that the forthcoming Islamic government, as well as the Islamic movement, must adhere to is the condition of non-violence. A substantial body of the holy tradition and reports condemns violence as may be found in "The Shi'a Guide to Shari'ah (Islamic Law)" 58 and "Supplement to The Shi'a Guide to the Shari'ah" 59.

It is also reported "Violence is also part of the army of ignorance". Furthermore, there is eq ually substantial evidence in the holy traditions and reports encouraging and promoting non-violence, leniency and kindness.

To show the correlation between violence and non-violence the following introduction is presented.

Ancient philosophers considered the universe to be composed of four elements; namely water, earth, fire and air. Furthermore all four elements were consid ered to be the derivatives of one entity called primordial matter. The four elements were considered to have interchangeable states, just as different shapes and structures can be made from clay whereas the basic substance, clay, remains the same.

Sociologists make similar statements in relation to power. To them power is an essence that may manifest itself in a tribe, wealth, knowledge, the natio n state, or public op inion and so on, all o f which may transform from one state to another.

For example the tribal chief may transfer his power and influence to the domain of public opinion, and from there to the nation state. As seen in the case of an individual who gains power through the support and vote of public opinion.

The legislators state a similar argument regarding law and custom. They are both of the same essence, and one may be transmuted into the other and vice versa. For example if it was a custom to drive on the right hand side of the road, members of parliament are pressured to make that convention a law.

On the other hand, if the traffic regulatio n states that cars must stop at the red traffic light, people would abide by that and it becomes common custom.

As for Islamic law, Allah states; "Allah will change their evil (deed) into good." 60

This is because the essence is one. Another example is the concept of the tree in heaven and in hell. They both are of the same essence but one gives dates and grapes and the other gives fire and fruits like the heads of demons.

The example of this (transmutability) in this world is: "Have you not seen those who have changed the favour of Allah into blasphemy?" 61 where grapes are turned into wine or, on the other hand, wine is turned into vinegar.

Having given this introduction I would state that vio lence and non- violence are of the same essence. They reflect the human will in repelling harm and attracting good, whether in wealth, honour, or the self. The human will may be released either through violence or non- violence and the latter is the desirable of the two options.

Therefore it is imperative upon Islamist activists and the Islamic government to opt for non-violence to reach their objectives, which are the establishment of the Islamic government, as far as the activists are concerned, or its survival as far the established government is concerned, so that it (the state) may expand and develop quantitively and qualitatively.

As for the kind of non-violence that must be adopted, it must be the kind adopted 'by nature' and not that adopted 'by coercion'. Non-violence may be categorised in three classes:

Non-violence by nature

In this category an individual is by nature non-violent, just as he may have other character traits such as bravery, nobility, justness, chastity…

Non-violence by coercion

This is a kind of non-violence that is adopted by an individual due to his weakness. The weak person resorts to non-violence to achieve his objectives. Therefore if a bullying tyrant slaps an individual in the face, the latter would not respond because he is unable to do so as he is no match to the former. This is the worst kind of non-violence. This is similar to the case of one who refrains from swearing back since he is dumb.

Non-violence by design

In this case non-violence is adopted in preference to violence on the basis of priorities. In this case one is able to resort to violence, unlike the one in the second kind above, but non- violence is not his 'second nature' as in the first case. Here non-violence is preferred over violence since it serves as a strategy to achieve his ob jectives.

It may be argued that the second category should not be called non- violence as it is not applicable! For example, can we say that an infant baby who is unable to respond back if hit is a case of non-violence? The answer would be that this is not what it is meant by the second category. What is meant is the capacity for violence, where th e use of violence would bring about the downfall of one's aims. For example swearing at someone who had slapped him or slapping someone who had shot him.

Just as non-violence is defined in three categories, violence is also classified in three categories, according to the law of pairs. And given that the probability that nonentity is one, therefore there cannot be several nonentities versus many existences, absolute existence is opposed by absolute nihility. As for external existences, they are opposed by specific nihility. Therefore the existence of X is opposed by the non-existence of X, but not opposed by absolute nihility.

Just as absolute existence is opposed by absolute nihility and not the non- existence of X. Either of the two absolutes have respective entities; just as they (the absolutes) oppose one another, their entities do too.

Needless to say, two opposing entities should be equal in every aspect except in existence and non-existence. Therefore the existence of X is not opposed by the non-existence of Y. This is a philosophical debate that is beyond the scope of this writing.

The purpose of this debate is that it is imperative for the Islamic movement and government to be characterised by non-violence of the first category, i.e. non-violence by nature. This is because in addition to reaching the pleasant goal that will be characterised by continual existence, non-violence is a virtue that comforts the soul too. And what a difference there is between one who does something or refrains from something willingly and one who does so reluctantly.

It may be asked, "If this is the case, then why do we see that the prophets and imams engaged in violence, as stated in the Qur'an? "How many of the Prophets fought (in Allah's way), and with them (fought) large bands of godly men?" 62 and "O Prophet! Fight the Unbelievers and the Hypocrites, . . ." 63 ,

And why did the imams Ali, Hassan and Hussain (A) participate in wars?" The reply to this is that this was based on a question of priorities. The issue was to choose the lesser of two evils; just as when a patient reluctantly agrees to undergo a surgical operation to amputate a limb in order to prevent greater harm to his body and health.

If the Messenger of Allah, (S), had ignored the pagans and their mischievous deeds and had left them to their own accords, that would have resulted in the loss of thousand s, if not millions, of lives, whereas the given resp onse of the Messenger of Allah (S) limited it to less than fourteen hundred. 64 So on the one hand we have violence with tens of thousands or million s, and on the other violence with less than fourteen hundred. Clearly the latter would not be called violence compared to the first.


58. Compiled by Hassan al-Hurr al-Aameli as "Wasaa'el al-Shi'a le Tasheel Masaa'el al- Shari'ah".

59. Compiled by Mirza Hussain al-Noori as "Mostadrak al-Wasaa'el".

60. The holy Qur'an: The Criterion (25): 70.

61. The holy Qur'an: Abraham (14): 28.

62. The holy Qur'an: The Family of 'Emran (3): 146.

63. The holy Qur'an: Repentance (9): 73.

64. This figure includes the casualties on both sides throughout the campaigns.

Adapted from the book: "War, Peace & Non-Violence" by: "Sayyid Muhammad Sadiq Shirazi"

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