The root of the word Islam, silm, refers to "making peace, being in a mutually peaceful environment, greetings, rescue, safety, being secure, finding peace, reaching salvation and well being or being far from danger, attaining goodness, comfort and favor, keeping away from troubles and disasters, submitting the self and obeying, respect, being far from wrong." The "submitting the self and obeying" here means "submitting to justice and righteousness in order to reach peace and safety and being in a peaceful environment by one's free will." In fact, salaam and salaamat, mean "to reach salvation," and their rubai form (with four radical letters) aslama means "submitted, became Muslim, and made peace." "Islam" as either a noun or a verb with these meanings is mentioned in many verses in the Qur'an.1
From this perspective, Islam is "submission to God, accepting His authority as well as obeying His orders"; "one's total submission to God and serving only Him"; "embracing the messages of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and abiding by them." In this sense, a Muslim is one who is under the peaceful and safe shade of Islam. God wants a Muslim to live in a safe and peaceful environment and to make efforts for the spread and continuity of peace.
Since Islam means living in a peaceful environment that emerges as a result of submission to God, the Qur'an asks that all humanity should embrace silm, that is, peace, and reminds us to avoid following Satan. As stated in the verse, O you who believe! Come in full submission to God, all of you, (without allowing any discord among you due to worldly reasons), and do not follow in the footsteps of Satan, for indeed he is a manifest enemy to you (seeking to seduce you to rebel against God, with glittering promises) (Qur'an, 2:208), Satan is the enemy of peace. This verse is followed by a reminder of God's All-Glorious with irresistible might if believers "stumble and fall back" from following God's way to realize peace and agreement.
In order to be able portray a fair image of Islam, we have to consider its divinely inspired purposes, which yield, as a result, a just worldly order. By applying preventive measures to ensure security of wealth, life, mind, religion, and reproduction, Islam aims to build a society in peace, serenity, friendship, collaboration, altruism, justice, and virtue.
According to the Qur'an, all Muslims are brothers and sisters to each other and if a disagreement appears among them they make peace and correct it (Qur'an, 49:10). They help each other to avoid what God forbids and to observe their religious awareness at every stage in their life (Qur'an, 5:2); they carry out important tasks after shura, that is, consultation (Qur'an, 3:159; 42:38); and they always witness truthfully and are just even if it is against their close relatives (Qur'an, 4:135).
Again, as mentioned in the Qur'an, a true Muslim follows the straight path. That means that he or she is faithful, honest, and just, is calm, lives to perfectly observe his or her religion and in guidance of reason.2 Pursuing the straight path can be understood as being absolutely truthful and honest in all circumstances, as well as embracing a moderate way of life that encourages good relations with everyone.
Living on the straight path is the most significant desire for any Muslim. Upon the revelation of the verse, Pursue, then, what is exactly right (in every matter of the Religion), as you are commanded (by God), and those who, along with you, have turned (to God with faith, repenting their former ways, let them do likewise); and do not rebel against the bounds of the Straight Path (O believers)! He indeed sees well all that you do (Qur'an, 11:112), the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, "The chapter Hud has made me older."3 In this sense, the Companions commented on the verse, "There was no verse revealed to the Prophet Muhammad that is more powerful than this." Such a verse that so powerfully enjoins "what is right" should have the power to eradicate all kinds of violence and oppression, which are obviously not the right path to follow in social relations.
Divine compassion and Prophetic mercy assign special importance to forgiveness and tolerance. As God the Most Gracious is merciful to all people, His Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is merciful and compassionate to all believers (Qur'an, 9:128). God's clear order to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is to embrace forgiveness. The verse Adopt the way of forbearance and tolerance, and enjoin what is good and right, and withdraw from the ignorant ones (Qur'an, 7:199) indicates this.
By the blessing of God, the Prophet succeeded in establishing unity among people by acting with compassion and mercy. If he had treated the people around him severely and rudely, they would have left him and their unity would have collapsed (Qur'an, 3:159).
Since God and the Messenger of God are merciful and compassionate to believers, those who take the divinely prescribed ethics and the prophetic character as their example should obviously treat one another with mercy and compassion. Therefore, those who have received the Prophet Muhammad's (peace be upon him) message can never be severe, arrogant, antagonistic, or hostile.
Furthermore, God Almighty advises His Messenger to be forgiving and to consult people by asking for their ideas (Qur'an, 3:159; 42:38) since exchanging ideas increases feelings of unity and cooperation while reducing tension between people. As a result, a desire for change that transforms hatred into peace and serenity appears in society.
According to the Messenger of God, people are equal before God as the teeth of a comb are equal. Characteristics like language, ancestry, race, wealth, and poverty are not signs of superiority.4 In the thirteenth verse of the chapter Al-Hujurat, the creation of humankind from a female and a male, the division of humanity into ethnic groups or nations and tribes in order to know one another, and the importance of fearing God in order to become valued in God's view are pointed out.
The verse approves having an identity and being known by an identity; nonetheless, it rejects the abuse of affiliation (to different gender, social or ethnic groups) as a means of superiority. Thus, it assesses a person's honor and value in terms of universal values that he or she gains through his or her own will and effort, and not in terms of gender or ethnic ties, which are not obtained through free will.5
In Islam, the individual is considered as a person that gains value within the society, as someone who is responsible to the community in a social context.
According to Islam, the life of a human being is a trust from God, irrespective of his or her ancestry, color, or language, and hence should be protected meticulously. The main idea in Islam is to praise God the Almighty (Qur'an, 1:1; 6:45), to show compassion to creation. Humankind is the best of all creations (Qur'an, 17:70) and is created of the best stature (Qur'an, 95:4). So, every human deserves respect by nature; approaching them with lenience, tolerance, and humility is certainly virtuous. Hence, staying away from hatred and having a tolerant attitude is essential for humanity.
God the Almighty asks from the Messenger of God (peace be upon him) in particular and from all Muslims in general to be forgiving (Qur'an, 42:37; 3:134). Thus, God loves good attitudes such as spending and serving for the sake of humankind at all times under all circumstances, forgiving people, and avoiding doing something wrong when we become angry.
Even if one has the right to retaliate in response to an evil action, forgiveness is more appropriate for those who are more pious. The Qur'an enlightens all humanity on this issue: The recompense of an evil deed can only be an evil equal to it; but whoever pardons and makes reconciliation, his reward is due from God. Surely He does not love the wrongdoers (Qur'an, 42:40; see also Qur'an, 42:43).
Besides, each of us lives on the path that God has ordained for him or her. For this reason, it is important to emphasize serving rather than fighting. God says in the Qur'an (5:48), Strive then together as if competing in good works, and also, Say: Every one acts according to his own character (made up of his creed, worldview and disposition), and your Lord knows best who is guided in his way (17:84). Therefore, individuals should not dispute and fight over their different ideas to satisfy their ambitions and self-interests. Rather, on the contrary, they should compete to show good character and to serve in the best way; they should support each other not in wrongdoing, but in doing good.
An important dimension of being a Muslim is trustworthiness. Every Prophet is introduced in the Qur'an with the attribute of trustworthiness.6 First and foremost, the Prophet Muhammad, the most trustworthy of the heavens and earth, and all the prophets preceding him, made efforts to promote trustworthiness in their societies.
In a place where trust does not exist, love, respect and solidarity are also absent. The lack of trust destroys family, as well as social, cultural, and economic life. For this reason, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) states that trustworthiness and treachery cannot exist together7 and asserts, "One, who betrays, harms, or deceives a Muslim, is not of us."8 He describes the ideal Muslim as thus: "A Muslim is one from whose hand and tongue people are safe. A believer is one from whom people know that their wealth and lives are safe."9
In one hadith, the Messenger of God describes those who are good and those who are bad: "The good amongst you is the one from whom good things are expected and by whom people are sure that they will not be harmed. The bad amongst you is the one from whom good things are not expected and from whose evil people do not feel safe."10 From this, it can be understood that a believer is one who is trustworthy, and therefore, no one would fear any danger from him or her under any circumstances.
In Islam, good morals, love and respect for God and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) are expected from believers. Appropriate love, mercy and compassion are to be shown, not only to people but also to every creature in nature since, according to Islam's core understanding, every creation is a blessing from God and the protection of a blessing is the most fitting behavior for a human being.
In Islam, the right to life is an absolute value: He who kills a soul unless it be (in legal punishment) for murder or for causing disorder and corruption on the earth will be as if he had killed all humankind; and he who saves a life will be as if he had saved the lives of all humankind (Qur'an 5:32).
When the Messenger of God (peace be upon him) explained Islam's potential to contribute to safety and peace in society, he specified one goal in his time as the following: "A rider will travel from Sana'a (a city in Yemen) to Hadhramaut (a region in the southwest of the Arabian peninsula) fearing none but God, or a wolf as regards his sheep."11
If we consider the troubles due to the extreme violence Muslims were exposed to both in the Medinan and Meccan periods, we can understand how meaningful was this message expressed by the Prophet. It does not include any desire for revenge against any person or any group; instead, it only expresses an ardent desire for a violence-free world for all.
The Prophet commanded us to maintain social solidarity and cooperation, to open our hearts to our fellows, and to help one another at all times. He said, "Do not cut relations between each other! Do not turn your backs on each other! Do not grow hatred between each other! O God's servants! Become brothers and sisters!"12
The Arabic terms islah (reform) and sulh (peace) are from the same root. Islah means one's reach of peace and serenity while leaving conflicts and deviations; in other words, it refers to leaving confusion by settling a dispute between two people or two sides.
Good deeds are actions that are beneficial for people and society, as well as actions that are taken to establish peace and serenity. This concept not only includes offering worship and spending in a good cause but also smiling, behaving warmly to others, establishing friendships, pleasing people by kind words, exchanging greetings, having warm conversation, and controlling bad feelings such as pride, arrogance, anger, envy, animosity, hypocrisy, rancor, and burning ambition. Thus, essentially, virtuous deeds are acts that purify humankind of aggression and bring them to peace.
In the Qur'an, it is recommended to cease disagreements by peace and not to commence further disputes, fights, confusion, and discord; in addition, people are asked to take a balanced approach and seek justice (Qur'an, 8:1; 49:9–10). It is forbidden to spoil peace and tranquility by corruption; there are penalties for those who do.13 It is possible to apply the verse, Peace is better (Qur'an, 4:128) which was specifically revealed to eradicate disagreements between couples, to all kinds of human relations. Islam recommends a united and mutually helpful society, and this vision does not only refer to the level of nation, but includes international relations, too. In this sense, from an Islamic perspective, international law should take the establishment of peace as a foundation.14
The Qur'an emphasizes peace and reconciliation as basic to all social and even international relations. As mentioned in the Qur'an, Paradise, which is the reward for the pious, is a place of serenity. One of the ninety-nine names of God is Salaam, which means peace. Throughout history, Muslims have made every effort to establish peace and serenity everywhere in all divergent fields, only taking military measures when their enemies tried to hinder these efforts for humankind. Over the course of history, the general approach of Muslims has been supportive of maintaining peace, spreading an environment of serenity and trust, and constructing a civilization of love, compassion, and mercy to share with other people in peace.
Professor Huseyin Algul is a Faculty member, specializing in Islamic History, in the Department of Theology at Uludag University, Bursa, Turkey.