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Ethics

Verbal Non-violence

As for verbal non-violence, it is far more difficult to manage than the physical non-violence. Therefore it can b e seen in many cases that someone is not prepared to hit anyone or to assault him physically but he is prepared to assault him verb ally and sland er him.

This is because often verbal (assault) is less prone to prosecution in this world, for the culprit to fear the outcome, and therefore the tongue is free to say anything unchecked. Fearing the consequences, the hand is tied since it is subject to more control then the tongue. More often than not, an individual verbally criticises the ruling regime endlessly but when in detention he receives the beatings, he does not return the assault.

Needless to say, there is a difference between non-violence on principle and for the protection of belief and mission, and that of fearing more violence and assault. The latter is the condition of any weak individual in the claws of a powerful one, with the exception that only the weak individual would respond if he loses his rational reasoning, since no one in their right mind would do anything to cause himself more harm. Whereas the former is a spiritual virtue which an individual uses to save his mission and not out of fear of punishment.

A non-violent individual will have a stronger character; a more composed, and in control of his conduct and has higher moral value and conscience than the aggressor. In any case, verbal non-violence is to curb one's tongue and check one's words in order to make sure one's words do not damage the aggressor, whether his aggression was physical or verbal.

This kind of non-vio lence is a great virtue and it is imperative that those involved in the invitation to (Islam) practice it however rough a ride it may prove to be and however difficult it may be to control. The strongest of all those who respond likewise to aggression is he who, when faced with a barrage of insults and accusation, seeks refuge in silence and abstains from responding likewise, in the interest of the cause and progress of Islam.

Allah states in the holy Qur'an:

"Respond with that which is better, so that he, between whom and you there was animosity, shall be like an intima te friend. And none shall be accorded this rank except those who have stood fast, and none shall be accorded it except one blessed with great good fortune." 79

Such a fortune is called a 'great fortune' by the Lord of existence. Otherwise how can an individual respond to insult with praise (for the o ffending individual concerned), and to slander with commendation, and to b elittlement with extolment, except if he was an individual who has stood fast, tolerated and persevered. Imam al-Sajjaad (A) in his prayer, known as Makaarem al-Akhlaaq, or the Most Noble of Ethics, says:

"O Lord have Mercy on Muhammad and his descendants . . . and help me to tender with sincerity whoever cheated me, and to reward with kindness whoever abandoned me, and to repay generously whoever denied me, and to recompense by making bond with whoever broke off with me, and to praise whoever backbite against me. Enable me to appreciate the good deed and forgive the bad deed." 80

That is, Islam commissions a Muslim, for being a muslim, to give good counsel to he who cheats him, be kind to he who boycotts him, to give generously and extensively to he who denies him, to bond with he who cut him off, to praise he who slanders him. This duty is more so for a Muslim reformer who wants to clean and revive his country from intellectual, military, economical, and cultural tyranny and corruption. He needs this weapon (of non-violence) more than any other p erson. In fact this is the only weapon for the unarmed who is confronted by those who have armed themselves to the extent that they have drowned themselves in metal, fire, nuclear and Hydrogen bombs.

It is reported that Jesus (A) along with some of his follower came across a group of Jews, the latter insulted Jesus (A). In response to them, Jesus (A) praised them. His followers said to Jesus, "O Spirit of Allah! They swear at you and you praise them!?" Jesus (pbuh) replied; "Yes. Every one gives whatever he has." What a great word and magnificent wisdom. He who is filled with insult and filth, nothing comes out of him except swearing and slander.

And he who embodies goodness, wisdom, virtue and high moral values, emits nothing but kindness, praise and compassion. Thus was the teaching of the prophets with no difference between Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad as well as all other prophets (peace be upon them).

With such a policy, their calls of reform succeeded and managed to open a way in the material wo rld of position and p ower and establish themselves for as long as man has existed. When wealth and power have vanished, those teachings remain as the torch of guidance for mankind in the dark world that the tyrant and arrogant powers bring about.

If the prophets were not to arm themselves with the weapon of non- violence, their calls and missions would have been buried in their infancy by the lords of wealth and power. Consider, for example, the well-known story of Imam Hassan (A) when a man from Shaam 81 came across the Imam and started swearing at and cursing the Imam and his father (A).

Imam Hassan (A) did not respond to the man and remained silent until he finished what he had started. When the man stopped his barrage of insults, Imam Hassan addressed the man a smile:

"O' Sheikh! I guess you are a stranger in this territory and you might have mistaken (me). For if you seek contentment from us, we would gratify you, and if you ask us for anything we shall give it to you, if you seek any guidance from us we shall guide you, and if you seek vehicle from us we shall arrange one for you, if you are hungry we shall feed you, if you need any clothes we shall give you them, if you are poor we shall give you money, if you have been expelled (from your hometown) we shall accommodate you, and if you have any need we shall fulfil your need."

On hearing this response from Imam Hassan (A), the man was so ashamed of his behaviour towards the Imam that he broke into tears and said: "I testify that you are Allah's Deputy on this earth, Allah knows best where He places His message 82".

Similar events have been reported in the traditions of the prophets and the infallible Imams (A) where they return insult and aggression with kindness, but are naturally beyond the scop e of this brief work.

However we can see the Qur'an puts forward a good framework for a philosophical and practical call to peace and non-violence:

"Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious." 83

"And when the ignorant address them, they say, "Peace!"" 84 "Do not dispute with the people of the Book but in the fairest way." 85

"And if they turn their backs, say: "Bear witness that we are Muslims" 86

"Hold to forgiveness; enjoin the good and turn away from the ignorant." 87

"Do not curse those [deities] whom they call up on besides Allah, lest they wrongfully curse Allah without knowledge." 88 "It is b y a mercy from Allah that you dealt leniently with them; for had you been hard-hearted, they would have dispersed from around you. So pardon them and ask Allah's forgiveness for them." 89

"Let them forgive and overlook: do you not wish that Allah should forgive you?" 90

Notes:

79. The holy Qur'an: Well-Expounded (41): 34-35.

80. Extracts from the supplications of Imam al-Sajjaad (pbuh) known as Makaarem al- Akhlaaq or "The most Noble of Ethics".

81. Shaam was the district that included today's Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Jordan.

82. The holy Qur'an: The Cattle (6): 124.

83. The holy Qur'an: The Bee (16): 125.

84. The holy Qur'an: The Criterion (25): 63.

85. The holy Qur'an: The Spider (29): 46.

86. The holy Qur'an: The Family of 'Amraan (3): 64.

87. The holy Qur'an: The Heights (7): 199.

88. The holy Qur'an: The Cattle (6): 108.

89. The holy Qur'an: The Family of 'Amraan (3): 159.

90. The holy Qur'an: The Light (24): 22.

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