Realism is the Key to Peace

Today I came across a book which I read last year. It's called 'Simple Wisdom: A Daybook of Spiritual Living' by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan. I've seen this book lying around in my room for the past few months I've been back in Malaysia but it was only today the I felt the urge to pick it up. When I opened the book, it immediately opened to a chapter entitled Realism is the Key to Peace.

I think it complements my last post about the conflict between the Muslims and Christians who have started using the name 'Allah'. Recent news reports claim that the youngsters who were responsible for the church burnings and vandalisms were just being 'naughty and decided to take advantage of the whole situation'. I don't know about you but I think it takes a whole lot more than notorious behaviour to deface houses of worship. In fact I think it's devious and down right evil. I hate that they've just broadbrushed it as the acts of a few naughty youths, surely the cause of their actions is deeper than that.

My last few posts have been very intense lately and I swear I'm not like this as a person! I'm just dying to blog about something bright and cheery soon but for now, I want to share this chapter by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan. I think the points he is trying to make are something we can apply to a lot of situations, especially those that involve religious and cultural conflict in multicultural countries.

Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has Faith, verily, to him will We give a new Life, a life that is good and pure and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions. Surah An-Nahl, Verse 97


Peace is a must for the survival of our civilisation. Peace is a must for all kinds of constructive work. As such, it is the greatest concern to everyone. Everyone wants a peaceful society, a peaceful world. Yet, for the greater part of humanity, peace remains a distant dream. Why so? Why this sad state of affairs? Why this contradiction between ideal and practice? It is high time to go deeper into the matter. It is the duty of all sincere people to inquire into the real cause of this contradiction so that a viable peace formula may be evolved.

I have made an in-depth study of this problem from the historical as well as Islamic viewpoints. I should like to make a brief presentation of my findings. According to my study, basically, theer are two viewpoints in this matter: the concept of peace as defined by social scientists and the concept of peace as defined by the ideologists. The scientist's concept of peace is based on realities while the idealists' concept of peace is based on utopianism. In other words, on mere wishful thinking.

It is mainly the ideologists' concept of peace which has created the present crisis of peace throughout the world. The scientists' formula for peace is the only practicable one, for the idealists' formula is merely a formulation of people's own wishes.

Academicians define peace as an absence of war. But the idealists differ with this notion saying that the mere absence of war is nothing. They hold that peace and justice should go hand in hand. To them the only acceptable formula is that which restores justice in its ideal sense. But the building of such a utopian world is simply impossible.

This concept of peace is seemingly beautiful. Because of this apparent beauty, it has gained general popularity. The masses everywhere are obsessed with the idealistic concept of peace. But one has to differentiate between what is possible and what is impossible. There is no other alternative. One has to be practical rather than idealistic if one wants to achieve a positive result. The object of peace is only to normalise the situation between two warring sides.

Peace is not aimed at satisfying the concerned parties in terms of rights and justice. Rights and justice are totally different issues. Linking them with peace is unnatural as well as impratical. These are goals to be worked for separately and independently. Furthermore, in this world of competition, no one can receive peace and justice in terms of his own personal criteria. It is situations and circumstances which will dictate to what extent we can achieve these goals.

In fact, in this world of competition, it is not possible for anyone to receive perfect justice. So one has to be content with practical justice (pragmatic solutions). During my studies, I found that those people who seek peace with justice fail to achieve anything positive. Moreover, during this futile exercise they lose what they already had in their hand. Conversely, those who delink justice from peace are always successful in life. After making this study I have come to the conclusion that the scientific concept of peace is the only correct and practicable concept. Thus peace is not meant to establish justice (note: I think what he means by this is 'justice' is almost impossible to achieve because just like the concept of peace, the concept of justice varies according to different people and it's very hard to please everyone). The purpose of peace is only to normalise the situation so that one may uninterruptedly avail of the opportunities present at the time.

To illustrate my point, I cite here two examples from history, one from the early period of Islam and one from the modern history of Japan. It is a well-known fact that the Prophet of  Islam p.b.u.h. was repeatedly challenged by his opponents in ancient Arabia. There were several instances of wars and violence. Then the Prophet managed to finalise a peace treaty between the Muslims and their opponents. It was known as Al-Hudaybiyah Peace Treaty in Islamic history. Now how was this peace treaty finalised? If you examine historical records, you will find that, in terms of justice being done, several problems arose. The treaty could be concluded because the Prophet p.b.u.h. was able to delink the question of justice from the question of peace. This delinking of the two issues gave him the success which is described in the Qur'an as a clear victory (48:1).

Now, why does the Qur'an describe this as a victory, when in fact, it was the acceptance of all the conditions imposed by his enemies. The Qur'an called this a victory because, although the peace treaty itself was devoid of justice, it instantly normalised the situation, thus enabling the Prophet p.b.u.h. to avail of the opportunities present at the time. What the Prophet p.b.u.h. lost in Hudaybiyah, he gained on a far larger scale throughout the whole of Arabia.

Now let us look at the example of Japan. In World War II, Japan was defeated by the USA. Okinawa Island was occupied by the American army after the conclusion of a peace treaty, its terms were dictated by America. Japan, willingly or unwillingly, accepted a treaty in which justice was delinked from peace. But what was the result? Within a period of forty years the entire scenario had changed. Japan did lose the Okinawa Island, but it gained the entire USA (North American continent) as its industrial market. And now it enjoys the status of a world economic power.

Why is it that reason and religion both advocate the acceptance of reality or unilateral adjustment in times of conflict? It is because in every adverse situation a status quo exists between the two sides. If any party opts for a change in the status quo the result will be a breakdown. Instead, by accepting the status quo it will find room for advancement towards its goal. (note: I couldn't help but think about Palestine as I read this. What is the status quo on the Palestine issue? Not many countries, or their leaders shall I say, openly oppose the government of Israel. So does that mean the status quo is being indifferent and that should be accepted?)

The Qur'an says that of all courses reconciliation is the best (4:128). That is, in matters of controversy, the best policy is peaceful settlement rather than confrontation. This is because settlement gives one scope to make progress, whereas confrontation arrests the onward journey to success.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasise that peace is a must not only for our advancement but for our survival. But peace can only be attained only by accepting two simple precepts. Make all efforts to change what we can, and learn to live with the things which we cannot change. In matters which we change we should be dedicated activists. In matters which we cannot change we should become status quoists. Otherwise, peace for us will forever remain a distant dream.


Anonymous said…
I am not sure I agree with the author, simply because it is saying you can have peace without justice, possibly on a national level, but certainly not on an individual basis, at least not to me.

I have always been more on the side of "there can be no peace without justice."

I also was thinking of Palestine, as you were. I also think adopting this mentality could make people into habitual victims. I think of all the oppressed peoples, who, if accepting this mentality as a means for peace, would merely languish in their own repression.

On a national, or even global scale, possibly this is the key to peace, but this ultimately means over looking the individual. You know the notion of some people suffering in order for the rest to live on?... Well, that was obviously not thought up by those who are the ones suffering in injustice, eh?
Unknown said…
hi sha, indeed i agree with your thoughts as confrontation will aggravate the situation further. Most yang akal pendek dan bernafsu buas will resort to such actions. Our mother always remind us "jangan main api" and that saying really applies here. Obviously, they'll get burnt by their own desires and provocations. Just to share an Arab proverb, "Kesabaran adalah kunci kegembiraan, Terburu nafsu adalah kunci kesusahan."...take care xx
Khairi said…
ALamak. can't read, but love the header ;p
Shahirah Elaiza said…
Sarah: When I read this chapter a year ago it didn't really resonate with me. It didn't make sense... justice without peace sounds worthless, right? But I had to step outside the box for a minute and think about his notion on justice. It's true, there's no such thing as perfect justice (not in this life at least).

My idea of justice may not be the same as my friends'. Sometimes we want different things but what the author is saying is if we can find a middle ground then peace is achievable. I may think a certain solution is just and fair but only the Almighty knows what's best because He knows the full story to everything. The best thing is to do is always ask for guidance. My uncle is a former judge and he once told us that before every decision he prays to God and asks Him for guidance.

In the case of the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, when the Prophet p.b.u.h. accepted the conditions of his opponents his companions weren't happy and they feared he was being taken advantage of. He replied, "There is hikmah to what I did which only God knows."

I think what the author is saying is we can't live our lives thinking we always know what's right. Once we accept that, peace is possible on both the national and personal level. Of course, we should always try our best to do what we can to achieve peace but the only One who can be truly just and adil is Allah. Well, that's just my 2 cents anyway. Always great to get comments from you!
Shahirah Elaiza said…
Erni: I think peaceful confrontations are okay though! It's important to discuss and communicate otherwise that's when the problem starts. But as you said, people who provoke others are just playing with fire. And you can't fight fire with fire so you're right, it's also important to be patient. Thanks Erni!

Khairi: Eh can't read? Why? Something wrong with my blog ke, e.g. font?
Asielah said…
i've been going through ur blog for over 3hours now.. (al-maklumlah, follower baru!) and this is by far, the best entry i've read from you. i dunno. just so captivated by the writer's words.. kinda made me stop and think for a while about things.. sometimes we have to look at things from the outside, and see the bigger picture.

we might lose some things, but we'll gain a whole lot more, which will benefit lots of people. such as the concept of peace. i think that's what he means.. it needs a whole lot of sacrifice, faith and patience. but isn't that part of being a good muslim?

love this. a lot..