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Peace in Islam: history, precept and practice

Peace in Islam: history, precept and practice

AHMED ZAOUI 

Delivered at University of Auckland, 21 September 2005

Introduction

I could not help but feel touched the first time a New Zealand friend said salaam aleikum to me. The familiarity of the greeting, and the warmth with which it was said, made me feel a little closer to home, my native country Algeria. Reflecting on that experience recently, it occurred to me how much that simple greeting says about Islam. Salaam aleikum means ‘peace be upon you’, to which one replies alaikum assalam, ‘peace be upon you too’.

This evening, I would like to speak to you about this question: what is the idea of peace in Islam? Put in a different, though perhaps less precise way, is Islam a religion of peace? My thesis is a simple one – that salaam, which means peace, is at the core of Islam. The Qu’ran, the Muslim Holy Book, and Hadith, the sayings of Prophet Mohammed, are replete with exhortations to non-violence over violence and forgiveness over retribution. The life and actions of the Prophet Mohammed are an example of the value in which Islam holds peace. Thus, when my friend says salaam aleikum to me, he expresses an idea which is central to the Islamic faith.

Whether Islam is a religion of peace is, of course, central to a critical assessment of whether Islam itself is culpable for acts of terrorism committed in its name. Today, Islam is on trial. Some are convinced of its guilt. To take an extreme example, after September 11, Robert A. Morey, a prominent evangelical cult-watcher, announced a spiritual crusade against Islam and invited Christians to sign a pledge affirming the belief that Islam is at the root of all “Muslim terrorism”. A lesser form of Morey’s claim seems to have popular credibility. In a poll conducted last year, 44 percent of Americans agreed with the view that Islam, more than other religions, is likely “to encourage violence among its believers”.1 Others are sceptical whether Islam is the proper defendant at all. For example, Edward Said, the Palestinian intellectual, viewed the September 11 attacks as “the capture of big ideas…by a tiny band of crazed fanatics for criminal purposes”.2

While I will argue that peace is as the core of Islam, it would be of course inadequate to leave the matter there.

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  • ENDS

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