Comparison of the Subject of Peace in Christianity and Islam
“There exist three forms of peace: interior peace, by which man is at peace with himself; the peace whereby man is at peace with God, submitting himself fully to God’s dispositions; and the peace relative to one’s neighbor, by which we live in peace with all men.’ St. Thomas Aquinas (‘Commentary on the Gospel of John,’ XIV, lect.VII, n.1962.)
Peace is a central virtue sought by both Christianity and Islam to establish a life of peace with all humanity. As Aquinas states, peace can exist between an individual and God and within that individual, ultimately leading to a peace among all men. This idea mirrors that seen in Matthew’s gospel “Love the Lord your God… Love your neighbour as yourself” (22:37-39), thus conveying that the Christian tradition is one that adheres to a peaceful existence with God, oneself and the world. Christ himself embodies peace, as described in Isaiah 9:6 as the “Prince of Peace”, implying that by being a follower of Christ, and hence a Christian, would be a follower of peace.
Similarly, the word Islam is derived from the Arabic word for peace, ‘salam’, again implying adherents are to embody the teachings of peace to fully submit to their faith and Allah. In both religions, peace is taught to be an overall sense of well-being, and not merely the absence of war and disaster. Both traditions also regard a union and submission to God highly to gain not only vital teachings of peace but also inner peace. Although there are vast differences between sources of principal teachings between traditions and variants within traditions, all contribute significant organisations, statements and ideas regarding peace with oneself and the world.
Peace was at the heart of Jesus’ life and ministry and thus, is sought after by the adherents that wish to follow Jesus. Through his ministry, Jesus taught Christians to live at peace with others, within their own communities and in the wider, global community. This is seen in his promise in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you”, as he reassures his disciples that peace is his parting gift, as it is something only God can offer, that the world cannot give. Henceforth, peace is clearly associated with God’s presence in Jesus and subsequently in the spirit. Early Principal teachings of peace imply the peaceful ministry Jesus lead with his life and teachings, and as a result, provide a foundation of all Christian life. Followers are to emulate Christ so that the peace they have through Jesus is reflected in the interaction with the world (Bulmer and Doret, 2008). By devoting themselves to listen to God and committing to following the example Jesus left, Christians can experience the peace of a union with God, which brings with it a requirement of prayer, communal life and commitment to the welfare of others in the wider community (Peace Booklet). Jesus also advocates this union as seen in the beatitudes “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God” (Mt 5:9). (Morrissey, 2007).
Principal teachings about peace also stem from Christian pacifism, as exemplified in Matthew’s gospel 5:39,
“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”
It implies that Christians must not retaliate or return violence with violence but allow for it and not seek revenge. This birthed a principal of pacifism that was followed by all Christians until 4CE, as they believed engaging with warfare would be contrary to their faith (Peace Booklet). When Emperor Constantine of Rome converted to Christianity it left the country vulnerable due to its pacifist approach and posed a philosophical challenge.
Hence, pacifism was sacrificed for safety and defence. To counteract the sacrifice of such a vital Christian principal teaching, St Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, created the ‘Just War’ theory, which was later modified by Thomas Aquinas and Bishops of America, demanding for lawful authority, right intention and a just cause in any war Christians are to be involved in. Jus Ad Bellum was the set of criteria to be consulted before engaging in war, while Jus In Bello is the law that governs the way in which Christians conducted warfare (International Committee of the Red Cross, 2019), allowing religious freedom whilst simultaneously offering protection of innocent people and property. It is a way to engage in warfare in the name of God, and thus achieves a peaceful society.
Despite this, denominations today still hold a strong pacifist approach, such as the Quakers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mennonites and Amish, influenced by the impact of teachings expressed in Matthews gospel, “You shall not murder” (5:21) and “… Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (5:44). This could be read to understand if one was to love their enemies, such enemies would cease to exist, and perhaps remove any intention or reason for war in the first place.
Principal teachings of peace are also involved in the tradition of pax Christi, meaning the peace of Christ. Primarily viewed as a way of life, it involves teachings of a reverence for life and non-violent actions and was developed to answer the secular Pax Romana (peace of Rome). Jesus’ disciples were to radiate the teachings that the organisation of Pax Christi encompassed to the ends of the earth, and thus implies that peace is not something that emerges when war is threatened, but a fundamental commitment to the values held and lives lead by Christians. (Peace Booklet).
Finally, by analysing the peaceful impact of St Francis of Assisi to the world of conflict he lived in, further principal teachings regarding peace evolved. Francis was a bearer of peace and regarded humility as an essential element of peacemaking. In his Later Rule, he encouraged his brothers to “not quarrel or fight with words or judge others; rather, let them be meek, peaceful and unassuming, gentle and humble…” (3. 10,11).
Francis not only preached this message, but vividly expressed it in a hostile world consumed by conflict between Christianity and Islam, similar to today. In 1219, he was captured by Saracen soldiers and taken to the Sultan, who became fascinated by Francis and profound interfaith dialogue occurred between the two. Furthermore, Francis discovered a spirit of submission and service created a presence of humility and peace, as they were to be ‘subject to every human creature’ just as Christ was. It was through this submission that the possibility arose for harmony and peace. Thus, it implies that when fear is absent from relationships, mutuality and engagement exists. (Peace Booklet- Francis of Assisi Article).
Islam emphasises the essential element and fundamental value of peace as central to its tradition. The word Islam itself means establishing peace in addition to submitting to the will of Allah, as read in the multitude of peace references in the Qur’an. The Qur’an itself refers to Islam as the “path to peace” and Allah as “Al Salaam” which is the Arabic word for peace as mentioned earlier (peace booklet). Furthermore, all Muslims understand these principal teachings of peace due to the high regard given to submission to Allah, ultimately creating a centrality of peace among adherents and variants.
Due to this centrality, this principal teaching can also be perceived as an obligation to participate in Hajj, as it represents the greatest annual peace gathering in the world. Embodied by Allah’s direction, “Come all of you into peace” (Qur’an 2:208), it allows adherents to enter a state of Ihram and peace with Allah, themselves and each other. This contributes to the community of peace formed not only on Hajj but represented in Islam as the tradition that exemplifies such an emphasis on the teaching of the centrality of peace in its community.
While Muslims believe in Allah’s desire for peace, they also acknowledge that in past, present and future worlds, there will be a tendency for war and aggression. Thus, a struggle is born within an individual to do Allah’s will and desire every day of their lives whilst simultaneously uphold and defend themselves and their communities. This is known as the greater Jihad, a central teaching of Islam, and represents the obstacles to submission to Allah. The lesser Jihad is that of the struggle against external evils, to make the choice to engage in warfare and violence or not. In order to submit to Allah, it becomes a Muslims duty in the world to do good and prevent harm and evil in every way. However, Jihad is commonly misrepresented as it can entail the use of force when all options of peace are exhausted without success, despite the fact that Jihad does not necessarily involve the waging of war (Morrissey, 2007). Permissible reasons for ‘military Jihad’ include self defence, strengthening Islam and protecting the freedom of Muslims to practice their faith (Bbc.co.uk, 2019), as directed,
“Fight in the way of Allah against those who fight against you, but begin not hostilities. Lo! Allah loveth not aggressors.” Qur’an 2:190
Therefore, the struggle of Jihad is ultimately to achieve a goal of peace and pacifism through unity with Allah and oneself, and similar to Christianity, Islam was formerly pacifist in the face of persecution and harassment. When this pacifist approach was abandoned following attacks by Meccans on Medina, force was only used as a self defence response to those who attacked the Muslims, as it was revealed through Muhammed that defence of oneself against acts of violence and war was permissible, “to those whom war is made, permission to fight is given” (Qur’an 22:39).
Thus, principal teachings of peace branch from both early Islam pacifism and the following detour of self defence, ultimately leading to teachings that highly regard both peace and protection.
It is evident that for Shia and Sunni Muslims, the Qur’an is of the highest status to inform principal teachings of peace. However, there still lies significant differences between the peace teachings of each school of thought due to the variation of emphasis on authorative figures. Shia Islam places great emphasis on finding principal teachings through historical and authorative figures and relies on the authority of the Ayatollah and Grand Ayatollah to provide clarity and guidance of issues such as achieving peace in times of uncertainty. This guidance can be seen in the actions of the Grand Ayatollah Sayed Ali Al-Sistani when faced with the occupation in Iraq, “Sistani’s calls for calm undoubtedly allowed American troops to avoid fierce resistance” (Kukis, 2008).
However, it is important to note that the role of the Ayatollah in this context is not to form new principal teachings on peace, but to apply the principal teachings found in the Qur’an (Peace Booklet). Thus, Shi’ite can gain a further developed insight into these principal teachings through the guidance and example led by the Ayatollah. Meanwhile, Sunni seek for principal teachings based on the philosophies of each of the four madhabs in Sunni Islam; Hanafi, Malaika, Shafi’i and Hanbali. In addition to this, Sunni Muslims also place great authority to the Imam, whom acts as a guardian of faith, and great emphasis on the Qur’an as the final revelation from God, followed by the Hadith and Sunna. Thus, the Qur’an remains the final authority that guides a Muslim to an understanding of Islamic peace, as seen in the Qur’ans reference to Islam as “the paths to peace” (5:16). (Peace Booklet).
The tradition of Christianity believes the primary way of focusing on inner peace is by returning to the sacred texts and Gospels in order to renew Christian knowledge and encourage an understanding of Jesus as the model peacemaker (Morrissey, 2007). In addition to this, it also leads to the development of strong personal values within an adherent based on the values exemplified by Christ and Christianity. Consequently, compromising these personal values can lead to turmoil and inner conflict which consequently makes reaching inner peace impossible. Thus, the most fundamental aspect of being at peace with oneself is to maintain a sense of integrity and fidelity to one’s vocation, as seen in Jesus’ resistance to succumb to temptation in Matthew 4:1-11. His example shows the importance of being true to the values of the gospels as any compromise of one’s vocation will erode a sense of inner peace. (Peace Booklet).
Furthermore, Jesus’ life and ministry also highlights the aspects of prayer and service to be vital to achieving inner peace. Throughout his life, prayer acted as a vehicle for the nurturing and sustaining of Jesus’ relationship with God which was the ultimate source of his wellbeing and inner peace. Subsequently, the active component of service flows out of the contemplative element of prayer (Peace Booklet), as the insight gained from prayer gives Christians the guidance to engage with the call to service, as well as gain strength and inspiration to face other challenges. Henceforth, by establishing a balance between prayer and service a Christian is provided with the important aids to sustain and nurture their relationship with God and thus, gain inner peace.
The element of community was also a significant element of Jesus’ model for Christian life, as it is an important source for help and support which provides mass amounts of assistance in the search for inner peace. Jesus encouraged peace among a community, as read in Matthews Gospel 22:39, and one of the most important commandments, “Love your neighbour as yourself”. Communities can support an individual by sharing, learning and providing a sense of purpose which benefits their wellbeing and inner peace. Consequently, the absence or disintegration of community leads to isolation and an erosion of wellbeing in an individual. Therefore, through the ministry and life Jesus led, a Christian can come to understand that a supportive community is vital to an individual’s search for inner peace, as it surrounds them with support and help.
Islam believes that individuals must obtain peace with themselves before a universal peace is established, and thus Jihad represents, as mentioned, this struggle. Jihad has been profoundly influenced by an ancient and diverse mystical movement within Islam called Sufism. It stresses that an individual must first abandon themselves to the Will of God before God’s peace will enter their heart (Morrissey, 2007), as read in the Qur’an 89: 27-30,
“O soul at peace, Come back unto thy Lord, well pleased, well-pleasing! Enter thou, then, among My Servants! Enter, though My Garden.”
Accordingly, it would not be possible to live at peace with others until there is a sense of peace and wellbeing within oneself given through submission to Allah.
The goal of Islam is submission to Allah, and thus, this submission brings great satisfaction and peace to an adherent. Muslims understand that peace is not possible outside this relationship with Allah, as submission is the only means of attaining peace with Allah. (Peace booklet).
However, the Qur’an sets out clear paths to peace for Muslims to follow in their desire to submit to Allah, the most significant being the Five Pillars of Islam; Shahadah, Salat, Zakat, Sawm, and Hajj. These beliefs are regarded as a means of spiritual development, which allows a person to become aligned with their purpose of creation innate nature, ultimately generating inner peace. Of these pillars, Hajj, Salat, and Zakat are the most relevant to attaining inner peace. Adherents that take part in Hajj reach a state of ihram, which is a form of neutrality towards the world and those surrounding, and thus ignites inner peace. This peace is exemplified in Malcolm X’s statement following his pilgrimage,
“People of all races, colours, from all over the world coming together as one! It has proved to me the power of the One God.”
Salat, the five daily prayers, are also a form of the individual submitting to the Will of Allah. It provides an utmost inner tranquility from correct performance and is a direct connection with God. This pillar gives believers a sense of hope, faith and trust in God and in the attainment of peace;
“…Muslims [in submission] to You and from our descendants a Muslim nation [in submission] to You…” (Qur’an 2:128).
Finally, the pillar of Zakat offers Muslims a disconnection from greed and freedom from becoming a slave to money by helping the poor around them. It is a recognition that all wealth is granted from God and belongs to God, and that humans are stewards of the less fortunate. This combined sense of good from giving and recognition of Allah provides an individual with a sense of well-being and thus, inner peace.
A salient feature of the Christian traditions contribution to world peace is the Churches, organisations and individuals involved in the journey to world peace. Pope John XXIII’s papal encyclical ‘Pacem In Terris’ addressed the importance of establishing peace and social rights in the world. It called upon the Churches to work towards building a culture of peace in a world pervaded by a culture of violence (Morrissey, 2007). This was a significant factor in the ‘Decade to Overcome Violence’ campaign launched by the World Council of Churches in 2001. Not only did this campaign provide an ecumenical dimension to the global search for peace but offer the Churches an opportunity to overcome the spirit, logic, and practice of violence, ultimately affirming the spirituality of reconciliation and active non-violence (Overcomingviolence.org, 2019). On a national scale, the National Council of Churches in Australia took up this initiative of overcoming violence in ‘Cultivating Peace- DOV in Australia’ as they state in their documentation,
“…Peacemaking and reconciliation must begin (though must certainly not end) with ourselves and with each person’s need for grace, forgiveness and renewal…”.
Thus, Christian churches, organisations and individuals all interact to fuel a contribution to the search for the world peace.
Similarly, in Islam, organisations and individuals collaborate to form a strong focus on disproving misconceptions of violence within the tradition, hence, contributing significantly to world peace. Following significant terrorist events enacted by a minority of Islamic extremists, the logic that attributed violent extremism to the core teachings of Islam rose to prominence. However,
“The fact that there is violence emanating from parts of the Muslim world does not mean that violence is a product of the religion.” (Omar, 2015).
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation works to protect the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting global peace and harmony. The organisation has taken various steps to remove misperceptions of a violent religion and have strongly advocated the elimination of discrimination against the Muslims. More significantly however, in 2014, more than 120 Muslim leaders and scholars wrote an open letter to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi which argued the groups practices are not legitimate in Islam,
“It is forbidden in Islam to kill the innocent… Jihad in Islam is defensive war. It is not permissible without right cause, the right purpose and without the right rules of conduct… It is forbidden in Islam to attribute evil acts to God.” (Open Letter to Baghdadi, 2014).
Through the impact made by the organisation and the open letter, Islamic individuals and organisations are vital features in Islam’s contribution to world peace.
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