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Nonviolence in Islam

"If you stretch your hand against me to kill me, I shall never stretch my hand against you to kill you, for I fear Allah; the Lord of the worlds [all that exists]" (Chapter al-Maida, verse 28)

Calling people to God requires Muslims to convey the message of God clearly and refrain from passing judgment on people for their beliefs.

1.The Golden Rule of Islam

The Qur’an bases the treatment of others on a golden rule that brings together the principles of tolerance and virtuous conduct, which are themselves grounded in the values of forgiveness and the Islamic principle of al-amr bil ma’roof (encouraging virtue).

This rule does not allow the use of violence even with ignorant people who react violently when engaged in discussion and exceed all reasonable limits. This general rule is set out in the verse, "Show forgiveness, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the foolish" (Chapter al-A'raf, verse 199).

2.A Peaceful Approach to Preaching

Islam adopts a peaceful approach to calling people to believe in God and do good. The Almighty says, "The Messenger's duty is only to convey [the message] in a clear way [i.e. to preach in a plain way]" (Chapter al-Nur, verse 54).

This method requires the use of reasoning as a means of persuasion and advice as a way of addressing the conscience of the audience. As Allah says in the Qur’an, "Invite [all] to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for your Lord knows best who has strayed from His Path and who has received guidance" (Chapter al-Nahl, verse 125).

It is therefore not permissible to use arrogance with those who disagree, let alone compel them to follow your religion. That is what is meant in Allah’s statement, "And argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious" (Chapter al-Nahl, verse 125) and in the verse, "There is no compulsion in religion" (Chapter al-Baqarah, verse 256).

The Islamic approach to preaching requires merely communicating the message of God and requires us to completely refrain from passing judgment on people for their beliefs. It is only God who can pass judgment, not humans. God Almighty says to the Prophet in this regard, as an absolute order, "Your duty is only to convey [the Message] and on Us is the reckoning" (Chapter al-Ra’d, verse 40).

This utmost tolerance means that Islam concurs with the values of freedom of belief, tolerance and freedom of conscience as modern universal values.

3.Prohibition on Minor Forms of Violence to Prevent More Severe Forms

Islam teaches believers to adopt a peaceful approach to dealing with others and seeks to close all doors that could lead to violent practices. Islam stresses that all forms of verbal violence, even the smallest (e.g. through speech or even gestures) should be prohibited in order to prevent more serious forms of violence, namely physical violence.

Thus, the Qur’an warns against insulting those who disagree with one’s views. Allah says, “And insult not those whom they [disbelievers] worship besides Allah, lest they insult Allah wrongfully without knowledge” (Chapter al-An'am, verse 108). Allah praises those believers who avoid verbal violence and promises that they will be rewarded in the Hereafter, "And the slaves of the Most Merciful [Allah] are those who walk on the earth in humility and sedateness, and when the foolish address them [with bad words] they reply back with mild words of gentleness" (Chapter al-Furqan, verse 63).

The Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) forbade conduct that caused people fear or mental or emotional harm, even if only in jest, let alone when done in seriousness.

He said, "Whoever waves a stick at another believer, the angels curse him until he stops, even if it is his own brother" (Sahih Muslim). Thus, what can we say about those who take up arms against their fellow believers to fight for their interests or for power, or to promote a particular sect or group?

4.Purifying oneself from violent tendencies

The Prophet (peace be upon him) sought to remove violent and aggressive tendencies from our characters. This is why he forbade scaring or taunting animals, let alone human beings. One of his companions, Ibn Mas'ud, said, “We were with the Messenger (peace be upon him) on a journey and he went to relieve himself. We saw a hamra (a type of bird) with her two young ones. We took her nestlings and when the bird came, she started flapping her wings. The Prophet returned and said, ‘Who made this bird grieve for her children?’ Return her young ones to her” (Sunan Abi Dawood).

The Prophet peace be upon him warned that those who torture or mistreat animals will be punished in the Hereafter. He said, "A woman was put into Hellfire because of a cat that she had tied. Neither did she feed it nor did she let it go so that it could eat of the vermin of the earth, until it died [of starvation]” (Sahih). This highlights the principle of animal welfare in Islam.

5.The Sanctity of Human Life

If animal welfare is given such importance in Islam, the safety and rights of human beings, especially in relation to their lives, property and family, are given such importance that they are considered sacred.

This is expressed in a saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him), "Every Muslim’s life, property and honor are sacred and inviolable for another Muslim" (Narrated by Muslim). These are red lines that no Muslim should violate.

If the Universal Declaration of Human Rights placed the right to life at the forefront of human rights, Islam had preceded it in stating that human life is sacred. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "A person remains a Muslim unless he has unlawfully taken a life" (Narrated by al-Bukharion the authority of Ibn 'Umar). Thus, Islam holds out the possibility of forgiveness for human beings as long as they do not transgress by taking another’s life, whether a Muslim, a dhimmi (a non-Muslim fellow citizen, in today’s terms) a mu’ahid or a musta’man (all those who enter Muslim countries temporarily – e.g. for work, a visit - and are guaranteed safety). All Muslim scholars agree that their lives are inviolable and sacred.

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