Islam's Nonviolent Tradition

Discussion in 'Religion & Culture' started by ejazr, May 20, 2011.

  1. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    .:Middle East Online:.Islam's Nonviolent Tradition

    Americans conflate Islam with violence, but the concept of nonviolence is not foreign or new to Muslims, says Michael Shank.

    As the world witnesses revolution erupting throughout North Africa and the Middle East and watches autocrats give way to people power, there is increasing fascination in the West with the nonviolent nature of many of these movements. From policy-makers to the press, no one seems immune to the temptation to tease out the origins of this nonviolent protest. The Defense Department studied the “Clausewitz of nonviolent warfare,” Professor Gene Sharp, and his strategic thinking on nonviolent action to uncover lessons for the Pentagon’s Special Operations teams. The New York Times posited that this same professor created the playbook for the Arab revolutions. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claimed validation of Mahatma Gandhi’s principles on the streets of Cairo. Sadly, each action above carries an implicit disbelief that the Muslim streets could ever organize nonviolently, and an explicit belief that protests in the Muslim world were inspired by external, non-Muslim sources.

    The propensity in the United States to conflate Islam with violence precludes, in many Americans’ minds, the possibility of nonviolent Muslim protest motivated by an internal incentive, be it secular or religious (both of which characterize current revolts). However, the concept of nonviolence is not foreign or new to Muslims.

    This American proclivity is not simply attributable to post-9/11 panic, though it is certainly exacerbated by it. In March Representative Peter King, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, tapped into 9/11 sentiment by hosting McCarthyesque hearings on the “radicalization of the American Muslim community,” claiming there are too many mosques in America and that 80 percent are run by extremists. Conservatives like Somali-Dutch activist and writer Ayaan Hirsi Ali then queue to confirm King’s critique by citing Koranic scripture that aids in the characterization of Islam as inherently violent, ignoring that most religious texts -- Christian, Muslim, Hindu and other -- maintain a discomfiting mix of violent and nonviolent teachings. Muslim imams, mullahs and muftis respond to people like King and Ali by publicly condemning violence and promoting nonviolence but are crowded out by the cacophony of the fearmongering crowds.

    Although 9/11 made the proliferation of this prejudice possible, it pre-dated 9/11. The storytellers and narrators of history are equally culpable. Thumb through America’s lexicon of nonviolent leaders and you will find figures from other religions leading the fight -- like Christianity’s Martin Luther King Jr., Buddhism’s Dalai Lama, Hinduism’s Gandhi -- yet Islam is apparently left leaderless.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. It may surprise even some Muslims that Islam is replete with role models. It does not take too much digging to find them. Residing in what many consider the most dangerous place on earth -- now the Pakistani region bordering Afghanistan -- one nonviolent Muslim leader structured his entire revolution on Islamic principles of nonviolence. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, known as the “Frontier Gandhi,” built a 100,000-strong nonviolent resistance movement out of local tribal people.

    Not unlike the revolutions occurring in the Middle East and North Africa, Khan wanted to free his oppressed people from the yoke of the King Abdullahs and al-Khalifas of that day. In Khan’s case, it was the British Empire, which had divided his Pashtun community -- the world’s largest ethnically homogeneous tribal group, estimated now at 40 million -- with the arbitrarily drawn Durand Line, separating colonial British India (now Pakistan) and Afghanistan. As with today’s monarchies, this divide-and-conquer tactic was complemented by chronic neglect of basic services and needs, leaving the tribes severely impoverished and unemployed.

    In calling on his comrades to “arise and rebuild” their house, which had “fallen into ruin,” Khan tapped into a wellspring of discontent and formed the Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) in the 1920s. In fighting back, however, this band of red-shirted revolutionaries -- which eventually allied with Gandhi and the Indian National Congress in the fight for independence -- pledged not to spill one drop of British blood. The Khidmatgar oath was nonviolent; every possible thought, word or deed was included in their commitment to nonviolence.

    Khan’s campaign, while reinforced by religious rigor, was also strategically brilliant, quickly garnering global attention. Then, as now, the international community cried foul as it watched the British respond to the Red Shirts with a Qaddafi-like retribution: bombing, killing, torturing, castrating, raping, poisoning and drowning the Khidmatgars. Unsurprisingly, then, as now, a quizzical world questioned the relationship between Islam and nonviolence, to which Khan quickly countered, “There is nothing surprising in a Muslim or a Pathan [Pashtun] like me subscribing to the creed of nonviolence. It is not a new creed. It was followed fourteen hundred years ago by the Prophet all the time he was in Mecca.”

    Khan was intentional about sourcing his nonviolent teachings and inspiration in the Koran, a practice his grandson Asfandyar Wali Khan continues to this day as head of the Awami National Party in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier (recently renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkwa). The preamble to the party’s platform, in fact, is an unequivocal commitment to the principles of nonviolence, the teachings of Khan and the cause of the Khidmatgars.

    Beyond Pakistan, the raison d’être of Khan’s red-shirted revolution still resonates, as protests of equal proportion and principle pepper many Muslim streets today. What is critical to keep in mind, as Americans pay homage to the rolling wave of democracy washing over the Muslim world, is that the nonviolent nature of some protests is not foreign to Islam, its teachings or its culture. Khan was quick to make note of this. Mohammed, Khan quipped, taught that a Muslim is one “who never hurts anyone by word or deed,” a principle the Prophet repeats in his last sermon: “Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you.”

    Khan’s movement remains notable given its size and scope, but he was not alone in his mission. Fast-forward to Khan’s counterparts in more recent years, such as the nonviolent leadership of Syrian-born Sheik Jawdat Said, whose 1964 book The Doctrine of the First Son of Adam articulates for the modern Islamic movement the concept of nonviolence. Or prominent Muslim-American human rights lawyer and writer Arsalan Iftikhar, whose upcoming Islamic Pacifism: Confessions of a Muslim Gandhi highlights the legacies of Islam’s nonviolent leaders. Iftikhar’s book, due out around the tenth anniversary of 9/11, profiles numerous notables, including the “Chechen Mahatma Gandhi,” Kunta-haji Kishiev, an ideologue of nonviolence and passive resistance.

    The scribes chronicling history-in-the-making in the Arab and Muslim world would do well to make note of this. What is happening in the streets of Cairo and Sanaa and Damascus is not the work of Gene Sharp or Gandhi. As Americans angle to amplify nonviolent Muslim voices, a good start would be to give credit where credit is due: The seeds sprouting this Arab Spring are native born.

    Michael Shank, senior policy adviser for US Congressman Michael Honda, is the original co-author of the Afghanistan Study Group report and a doctoral candidate at George Mason University’s school for conflict analysis and resolution.
     
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  3. Bot

    Bot Non stop posting Banned

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    The entire nature of the article only speaks about the american mind set.

    For once i dont have too good an impression with the nature of mindset the Americans show at times.

    The entire nature of the thread should be judged in the wider context, i am not qualified enough about islam to make any comments or on its nature but certainly there is something wrong with the understanding of islam by the neutrals.

    More than anything else i am of the opinion Americans should stop giving speeches of such nature , as it does no good to the real followers and the rogue ones dont take these speeches seriously . The nature of such speech shows the confusion within the american ranks aswell.

    Everytime they drag these issues and talk about islam they are actually insulting the very followers whom they want to pacify.Let WOT continue without the mention of islam in every speech , after any major operation or any operation, it does no good really.
     
    Last edited: May 20, 2011
  4. JBH22

    JBH22 Senior Member Senior Member

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    I beg to differ but Muslims are themselves responsible for this stereotype because if you switch to media this what you can see no matter how minority radicals are they are the most vocal. I don't fully blame Americans moderate muslims must make themselves heard that yes they follow their religion and don't want to impose their lifestyle on others

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  5. The Messiah

    The Messiah Bow Before Me! Elite Member

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    What if media doesn't highlight them ? If im not mistaken thousands of imams in India rallied together and issued a fatwa against terrorism but the media didn't give it much attention.

    Dont be naive...you know vocal radical minority always gets attention rather than the moderate majority.

    And you know western media always has agenda! did you not witness the 'witch-hunt' they did on India during the commonwealth games ? questioning everything from toilet cleanliness of Indians to security loopholes to capability of having an infrastructure.
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2011
  6. ejazr

    ejazr Stars and Ambassadors Stars and Ambassadors

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    @JBH22

    The article is by a policy advisor to a Congressman and it his view that the media has not correctly explored and presented other aspects and histories of muslims.

    And a the example give about is Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan or Badshah Khan. Here is a man who started his non-violent Khudai Khitmatagar movement even before he met Mahatma Gandhi and became a close frieng of his, stated clearly that he drew his inpiration for his methods from the life of the Prophet and quoted Hadiths to prove his point and quoted the Quran. And if you read his speeches, he called this non-violent protests as Jihad(lit. struggle) proving his point theologically again why it was so.

    And remember that at a minimum he had a 100,000+ core group of followers. If you added sympathisers and supporters it would easily go into millions. This movement started in the 1900s is alive even today after a 100 years present even today India. And this is from the ethinic group - Pashtuns - that are stereotyped to be violent and barbaric.
    And how much media coverage or knowledge do people have about him or link his methods to Islamic teachings or him being a muslim?

    Compare that to OBL and Al Qaeda which at its peak was estimated to have about a 1000 core group of followers which jumped up to a high of 10,000 during the IRaq invasion and is currently estimated to be around 500 according to CIA in 2010.

    And posting photos of a few people as point to indicate that somehow majority or even a significant number of muslims would support that action is just not correct.

    Let me give you a contemporary example to explain my point. Recently there was a lot of outrage about an Australian designer wearing pictures of Hindu Goddess Laxmi on her swimsuit design. In Australia, there were newspaper and TV news coverage of the reaction of Indians with Australian flags being burnt. The impression that my collegues got here in Australia was as if all Indians are burning Australian flags and asked me why don't the Indians differentiate between the Australian govt. and a private swimsuit designer.

    I explained that those burning the Aussie flag were probably a few 50-60 people trying to make a political statement but the vast majority of Indians particularly Hindus although have a legitimate griveance of being offended by the swimsuit would not support burning the Aussie flag.

    So just looking at snapshots of what a small group of people or an individual man is saying or doing does not consitute what the entire ethinc group or religious group thinks. The non-violent protests against Arab dictators is another example of that non-violent tradition re-emerging and a rejection of AlQaeda style extremism and violence to change govt.s.

    It will be interesting to see what other examples Arsalan's upcoming book Islamic Pacifism: Confessions of a Muslim Gandhi will chronicle that will hopefully give a new direction and debate within and without the Muslim community as Michael Shank mentions in the above article.
     
  7. mattster

    mattster Respected Member Senior Member

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    Pacifism and Islam - Ejazr my DFI friend, may I be so bold as to suggest that you take a hiatus from Aussieland and spend some time in a Muslim majority country with a section of non-Muslim within their midst.

    Or better yet, you may wanna write to the policy advisor of that Congressman and ask him to spend some time studying the plight of non-Muslim minorities in Muslim countries.

    It's one thing for you to say that there are pacifists inthe wider Muslim intelligentsia.
    But it's a whole different thing to imply the Muslim societies are accepting, tolerant and respectful of other traditions.

    As someone on this forum recently said- people these days are a lot more travelled and sophisticated all over the world. It is not so easy to hide your skeletons in the closest.

    The problem is not that Americans don't really understand Islam - they see Islam and Islamic societies with all it's warts and it's not a pretty picture. No amount of PR is going to change that, unless the reality on the ground changes.
     
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  8. JBH22

    JBH22 Senior Member Senior Member

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    Whatever be the west agenda whether they report the news or not but its for Muslims themselves to come ahead and try change things or otherwise the terrorist tag will be always there for them. First Muslim countries themselves must be become democratic and secular however its easier said than done,take any Muslim country where there is freedom,tolerance,economic and social prosperity the answer is NIL so there must be a problem.
     
  9. S.A.T.A

    S.A.T.A Senior Member Senior Member

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    Cultures that have interacted with one another for any significant length of time,leave a lasting impression of that interaction in the cultural consciousness of the entities involved.This impression, as time recedes,mutates into a sort of cultural memory of that impression,this cultural memory effectively replaces,for the respective cultures,the absolute constituent identity of the other.

    This is why for Much of Europe(old and new worlds) and India's cultural consciousness ,Islam is not that of the Koran, hadiths and Kalifa's,rather that of marauding band of Barbarian warlords, iconoclasts and mass murderers and plunderers.

    One can argue upon the basis of this cultural impression, however to argue that this memory is not the dominant narrative of the interaction, is mere denial of the obvious.As Samuel Huntington states, the clash of civilization,which now has permeated into cultural consciousness,will be denied by the political establishment, for the sake of political expediency or the intelligentsia, because the scholar always prefers to focus on the other narrative, yet this 'clash' subsists on a cultural memory which defines the entire spectrum of the socio-political dialogues that takes place between these civilizations.

    The aforesaid cultural memory of Islam pervasive in west, India and elsewhere,has helped foist a Pseudo-identity of the former among the latter,which no amount of the adjustment and moderation, on behalf of Muslims will help dispel this identity.Notwithstanding all the new perspective that have been generated with regards to Islam,we can safely conclude that upon plain observation this Pseudo-identity of Islam has only gained greater prevalence.

    Surely Islam's legion of sympathizers would argue,as made in the opinion piece,that Islam has another,more peaceful narrative,its true because no system of social organization fostered on violence and bloodshed would have claimed widespread adherence,however this argument collapses when it is extended to non-Islamic societies,which have a pseudo-identity of Islam churned out from their cultural consciousness of a previous interaction,which is that of violence and vandalism.

    It wont be wrong to conclude that for Europe,America and India,Islam represents a adversary,the perception of threat from Islam is deeply inherent in all interactions,political or otherwise.When a non Islamic country like America or India deny Islam is threat,its just a political statement,what the statement implies is that the general impression is exactly opposite.
     
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  10. Aruni

    Aruni Regular Member

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    Correct SATA. In Britain, for example, pundits often come on television talk shows and urge people to not get swayed by what they call the "fringe extremist elements" amongst Muslims in this country, the ones that hurl abuse at the returning soldiers in Wootton Bassett, for example. They claim that the "silent majority" of the Muslims are in fact moderate and peace-loving. Whether that is the truth or not is irrelevant. A large chunk of the British people, even though they may not admit it openly (God forbid the British air such views in public), do feel a sense of apprehension towards their Muslim minority, and I am not sure they believe in the "silent peaceful majority" theory. A lot of it is borne out of a lack of interaction between the communities, but some of it is down to stereotyping.

    It is this feeling of hesitation that the far right parties such as the BNP exploit, with slogans such as "Are you thinking what we're thinking?"
     
  11. S.A.T.A

    S.A.T.A Senior Member Senior Member

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    There can be an argument about whether Muslims in host societies are peaceful,by and large perhaps they are,however there needs to be shed more light on the 'Moderate' aspect.When expressions such as extremist or moderates are used to describe a certain set of opinion makers,it is general presumed that they must occupy two opposite ends of a same 'opinion or thought process'.

    Its not difficult to see that this 'moderate','extremist' divide is rather tenuous and while they may differ in the approach or method,their ideological basis are not mutually exclusive.Muslims mostly live in countries which generally have a different memory of Islam,which was not always cordial,Muslims living in these host countries too are aware of this fact.

    This memory,among Muslims,Christians and Hindus, provides the backdrop for much of their daily interaction.Non Muslim societies would like the Muslim population to seamlessly merge into the host society,while the exhort on the virtues of multiculturalism.Non Muslim host societies think this is a ruse and feigned,largely because multiculturalism is a anti-thesis to an ideal Islamic society,which is predicated upon complete absence,or at best a miniscule presence,of non believers from their midst.

    This internal tension between Muslims and predominant non Muslim host country is further exacerbated by political tensions that the host country has with Islamic states in its extended neighborhood,with whom the Muslim of the host country have deep rooted ties.This situation is precisely why true multiculturalism involving Muslims,whether in minority or majority,is fraught with failure.

    The tug of war between moderate and extremist ends of an ideology won't matter in the end,when the very premise of that ideology itself is considered problematic.
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2011
  12. A chauhan

    A chauhan "अहिंसा परमो धर्मः धर्म हिंसा तथैव च: l" Senior Member

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    Title of the thread says it's a Tradition but through long history and experience Non-violence and Islam appears to be oxymoron. Secularism itself is against the Islam as it it based upon the principle of peaceful co-existence, where Islam takes others as Infidels.
     
  13. The Messiah

    The Messiah Bow Before Me! Elite Member

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    Do you think west will allow truly democratic govt's in the middle east ? That would mean no influence for uncle yankee in the region...of course they wont allow and didn't allow in the recent past by allying themselves with dictators and kings.

    After ww2 the middle east was heading towards democracy and was tilted towards socialism so that couldn't be allowed because the soviets would have too much influence so they allied and funded extremist wahabis (who didn't like non-believers i.e communists)....you know the rest.

    You cant expect the entire community to rally on the streets everytime...people have lives and jobs. I didn't see any protest rallies when that pastor burned the quran or when those australian priests were burned...but that doesn't mean they advocate burning the quran or killing priests.

    What if you were muslim ? would you waste your entire life on the streets protesting and not even get a mention in the media ?
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2011

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