The Time for Islamic Nonviolence Is Now

By Rabia Terri Harris

Excerpted from- WISE Up- Knowledge ends Extremism 2017



The Qur’an and the Hadith clearly call Muslims to struggle, and not all of that struggle is with our own egos. The lesser jihad, against social injustice, is our responsibility, too. How we understand that responsibility determines whether we will live in a world of beauty or in a world of pain.

Sadly, fighting “for Islam,” as it is commonly understood, almost always means nothing more than fighting for political power, vengeance, or glory. None of this qualifies as jihad. In emergencies, fighting is necessary, but not all forms of fighting are acceptable to God. Even if the motive is correct, if the means are abominable, that fighting is not jihad. If Muslims wish to regain our spiritual station, we must reclaim the nonviolent jihad.



Nonviolence is one of the most misunderstood words in the English language, and one of the most misunderstood ideas in the world. This confusion is not surprising, since the word means two things at the same time. And the one idea behind both meanings, though very simple, is not easy. It goes against the way many people think.

Here are the two different meanings of nonviolence.

1) Nonviolence is the life decision to live in harmony with the order of creation by giving up the domination of other people or the planet. Many wise instructions in this greatest of arts have been received by human beings over the millennia, under many names. Today, when put into community practice, the life decision for harmony is often called culture of peace or peacebuilding.

2) Nonviolence is the method of pursuing necessary social change by relying upon the real long-term power of justice rather than the apparent short-term power of injustice. Today, when put into community practice, the method of justice is often called unarmed struggle.

Both kinds of nonviolence rest on spiritual realities. The universe is a seamless whole of which humans are an inseparable part. The order of creation is ethical as well as physical. Ethical laws have necessary effects, just as physical laws have necessary effects. The flow of life is not chaos—something is in charge. By understanding, affirming, and moving with that which is in charge, we can reach whatever goals we have that are worth having.

Once we begin to grasp Qur’anic language, understanding nonviolence becomes much simpler. The Qur’anic term for nonviolence as a life decision is Islam (peace through surrender). The Qur’anic term for nonviolence as a method is jihad (struggle/striving). The Qur’anic term for the principle underlying both aspects of nonviolence is tawhid (unity).

The object of just struggle is the restoration of wholeness. Its strategic goal is to induce a lasting change of behavior in the opponent. Every human being is capable of change, whether willingly or unwillingly. If we aim to induce such change, then wisdom, patience, and subtlety are as necessary as courage. In a just struggle, the highest pinnacle of success is to turn enemies into friends. Highest success is never guaranteed. Nonetheless, highest success must always be our goal. What can we do so as to allow for such a breakthrough, and in fact encourage it? The Prophetic example gives us a consistent principle, summarized in the Qur’an: “The good and the evil are not alike. Repel (evil) with that which is better—then the one who was at enmity with you will become like an intimate friend” (41:34).

If the object is the restoration of wholeness, it is more important that those who oppose you admire you for what you stand for—even if grudgingly—than it is for them to fear you. That is the beginning. It is never true that “People understand nothing but violence.” It is incumbent upon us, however, to find out what they do understand, though it may require some study.

Unarmed struggle is not about “making nice.” The desire to go forth into the fray, to find out who wins and who loses, to try to be a winner, is a reliable dimension of human nature. Any attempt to suppress something so sturdy and intrinsic is bound to produce problems. That is not what the life of nonviolence requires, however. The struggle for justice is about earning, requiring, and obtaining respect. This is the battle worth winning.

What, then, should we do with our natural desire to be the best? The Qur’an tells us clearly: we can aim to be the best possible servants of God’s mercy.

If God had so willed He would have made you a single community, but He tests you (all) in what He has given you, so compete with each other in everything good. To God is your return altogether, and He will then inform you concerning those matters wherein you differed (5:48).

Violence is not a good. Whoever competes in it is sure to lose the real race.

This world will never be perfect. Until the end of time, there will always be injustice somewhere, and the struggle with injustice will always be necessary. But though the world cannot be perfect, there is nothing to prevent its being better than it is. The change does not depend on our opponent: to claim that it does merely hands our opponent our power. The change depends on us . . . and in our struggles, we must depend on God, who is our peace, and from whom peace comes.

Nonviolence is the core social teaching of all the prophets and the rightful inheritance of Muslims everywhere. To find peace, we must choose peace.There is no other way.