As for physical non-violence, it is that an ind ividual would not attempt to hurt another individual even with respect to the strongest of his adversaries and even if had the right to do so. Allah the Almighty states: "and if you forgive, it is closest to righteousness" 76.
Therefore one should not slap back his adversary if he did, and should not strike back if he did so, or use any tool or weapon in response. Of course, non-violence does not mean not protecting one's body from an incoming assault. This is self-defence and not violence, and self-defence is part of non-violence. This physical non-violence is a definite necessity for one who has no other means of ensuring the success of his mission.
In fact this was the approach of every great reformer or any intellectual aiming at a particular goal or principle. According to the teachings of Jesus (A), as well as the teachings of the infallible imams (A), one should not return a slap with a slap; but if slapped on the right cheek, one should be ready to receive another on the left. Some might say that this may encourage the offender. The reply (to this argument) would be that this would deter him. Do you see what reaction this response creates in the offender himself? Imagine that you hit someone and in response to this action, an d with total tolerance, he says to you that you can hit him again if you wish. Imagine what psychological reaction would result.
For anyone who is doubtful about this great wisdom, needs to go no further than to consider the state of Jesus (A) who was surrounded by his adversaries while he had no option but to pursue his mission.
Furthermore, what do you say about the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (S)? Did he want to harm the people of Makkah? History bears witness that the Messenger of Allah (S) used to fully tolerate all the insults and deplorable treatments at the hands of his opponents. Abu Lahab used to pour sheep's fat on the Prophet's head while he was praying; another infidel spits in his face; another used to throw filth into his food. On one occasion, Abu Jahl's slave fractured the prophet's head with a bow; and another; and another; . .
. After all this the Messenger of Allah (S) used to pray for these people saying "O Allah, guide my people for they are ignorant." And this is how Noah, Lot, Abraham, and Ismael (A) were. Have you ever heard that Noah raised his hand to hit back at he who had beaten him unconscious?
Or have you seen anywhere in the pages of history books that Lot responded to his people's aggression with aggression? Or that Abraham hit back in response to his uncle's attack? Or that Ismael raised his hand to hit back at he who sliced off some of his scalp? This is none other than because their mission required the adoption of a non-violent approach, the first and most immediate manifestation of which is physical.
The physical non-violence is a weapon that attracts the hearts and minds to he who advocates it, and incites the people against his adversaries. Imagine that you see someone hitting another person but the latter does not respond likewise.
Who would your sympathies lie with? Siding with the oppressed is a universal reality that the great reformers have adopted in order to achieve their ultimate goal, which is reform.
Ghandi, one of the activists in the liberation of India, used to say: "I learnt from Imam Hussain (A) how to attain victory while being oppressed."
Not responding to an aggression on the reformer's side not only creates sympathy in the hearts of all other people, but it also brings about compassion in the heart of the aggressor. When someone assaults an individual and the aggressor does not see a similar response from his victim, his heart will be filled with mercy and leniency after being filled with anger and violence.
The invitation (to Islam) needs peace extensively, specially if superpowers opposed their call, whereas the movement possesses nothing but the truth.
Consider if an individual, who is armed with a sword, slaps an activist. If the latter were to respond in a similar manner, what is there to prevent the aggressor from using his sword to attack the activist? Which of the two scenarios are more desirable? To tolerate an assault in order to save his life and his mission, or to return the assault and lose his life and fail his mission?
Therefore we see that the Messenger of Allah (S) used to exemplify Bilaal, Sumayyah, Ammar, and others who tolerated numerous assaults from the pagans. This is not because it is wrong to return aggression, but since to return aggression for a man with a mission would defeat its cause. Therefore when Islam resorted to force, this was to prevent chaos and aggression, even though it normally offered forgiveness on many occasions when deemed not harmful.
It has been mentioned previously that this (forgiveness) is based on the question of priorities. Suppose that you are in dispute with an aggressive opponent who has taken over your house. If he assaults you and you know that if you respond similarly, you would lose your argument against him and with that the possibility of getting back your house. Would it not be more prudent to keep your nerve and deal with him rationally rather than returning his assault with an assault? Rational reasoning would certainly opt fo r the former. This is the common ground between the verses:
"There is no coercion in religion" 77 and "(This is) A declaration of immunity from Allah a nd His Messenger, to those of the Pagans with whom you have made trea ties." 78 as well as other verses concerning fighting.
When a system-of-belief (religion) does not possess power or it aims to progress (to spread its message) then it would be absurd if it were to compel anyone to accept that belief, as this will bring about its prompt failure. On the other hand if it possessed power or it were preoccupied with important issues, then it would also be absurd to ignore those who engage and encourage corruption and tyranny.
76. The holy Qur'an, The Heifer (2): 237.
77. The holy Qur'an: The Heifer (2): 256.
78. The holy Qur'an: Repentance (9): 1.
Adapted from the book: "War, Peace & Non-Violence" by: "Sayyid Muhammad Sadiq Shirazi"
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