In the last two to three decades, humanity has witnessed considerable increase in violence. As Gandhi had predicted in Hind Swaraj, people do not hesitate carrying pistols with many chambers and do not hesitate opening fire at the slightest provocation. The group wars have been provided with more potent weapons of destruction. ‘Formerly when people wanted to fight with one another, they measured between them bodily strength: now it is possible to take away thousands of lives by one man working behind a gun from a hill.’ Gandhi wrote this in 1909 in Hind Swaraj. Things have changed further and now vast human destruction is possible by one man sitting at his home in cosy comfort and just pressing a button that will release a missile and hit the target hundreds of kilometres away. Unfortunately, the violence is not limited only to wars between nations or geo-political units, but different groups within a country or state express dissent violently.
A substantial number of groups that uses violence to express their dissent follow Islam religion. Some of these groups have been attempting rare acts of dare devilry and have been attacking civilian targets all over the world. These groups are equipped with latest weaponry. A characteristic feature of most of these groups, which now operate all over the world, is that they claim to be staunch followers of Islam. They are also blessed and supported by some Muslim religious masters. They consider themselves to be the soldiers of God out to defend the religion and the humanity. Clearly these are reactionary forces. The violent acts committed by these dissent groups have received immense publicity all over the world. They have come to be known as religious fundamentalists terrorising civilians. It is not surprising that terrorisms have been linked with Muslim fundamentalism. This impression has received more exposure and acceptance in India and it has led to rise of Hindu fundamentalism in reaction. Obviously, this does not augur well for the people living in Indian sub continent and in other parts of the world.
We need to remember one of the great poets of the Indian sub continent Dr. Mohammad Iqbal here. Majhab nahi sikhaata aapas me Bair rakhna. Religion does not teach mutual hatred. Religion in its original form does not teach hatred and violence. This is also true for Islam. The book ‘Islam and Non-Violence’ by Dr. Mehboob Desai is topical and timely. It is not that the humanity did not know that Islam does not preach violence. It is just that there is a need to reaffirm this fact. Dr. Desai has attempted this in a modest way, but the message is conveyed. He has just gone to the basics. He tells readers that the basic principles of Islam do not suggest any violence. A good Muslim is one who believes and follows five fundamentals of Shahada (Creed), Salat (prayer), Saum (fasting), Zakat (paying annual Tax), and Hajj (Pilgrimage to Makkah). In following this there is no violence nor is there any scope for it. A rumour cannot be a historical fact or a theosophical truth says Dr. Desai. There is no truth in the statement that ‘Islam has spread by sword’. In fact he narrates the whole sequence of the Great War that was fought by the Mohammad Paygamber and his small army. The Paygamber was attacked and he sought guidance from the God and then instructed his supporters only to defend and not to attack.
Dr. Desai has recounted the basic sayings in the Holy Quran and says in Chapter 3 of part I, “All of them advise a Muslim to follow the right path, in right way, as gentle as possible, as righteous as possible.” In this there is no advice and scope for violence. The book helps the readers to understand that the life of Mohammad Paygamber was based on peace and non-violence. The Paygamber was self-restrained and he showed mercy upon all. One can draw a lot of parallel between the Paygamber and Gandhi. Both loved the humanity immensely and approached people with compassion and understanding. Both believed and preached that humanity can survive well only if lived frugally and without being greedy and acquisitive. Paygamber who brought the message of God through the Quran clearly preached and followed the path of non violence. It is important to note that nowhere in Quran or in the life of the Paygamber violence for its own sake has been ever justified. Jehad has been another word which has been greatly misused, misinterpreted and abused by some of the followers of Islam and others who want to generate misinformation among non-Muslim people. The book has once again and in simple way brought out the true meaning of Jehad. The author has tried to show that it is a concept similar to the one that has been preached in Geeta. It is the fight between the good and the bad inside us. Gandhi also has written about Geeta with similar understanding. The fight of good and the bad is within.
The word terror is not to be found in whole of Quran and in the preaching of the Paygamber. The author has devoted a chapter to explain to readers that the word Islam means ease and peace. The greeting Assalaam alaicum means ‘may peace be upon you’. These basic things should be ample for people to understand that violence has no place in Islam. The author has taken pains to tell the readers what Gandhi has selected from Quran to understand and show that Islam also was a religion that essentially preached peace, non violence and harmony with other fellow human beings and the nature.
Dr. Desai has planned this book more at a general plane than developing a scholarly thesis of Islam and non-violence. The book is in three parts. In Part I the author has provided basic tenets of Islam and tried to show how the religion came into being. It is clear in this part of the book that the basic religious text and other preaching by the Paygamber do not contain anything that justified violence in life and in practicing religion. In the second part, the author has used his training as a historian to recount in brief the life of Paygamber, his successful efforts to found the new religion, and the lives and times of Khalifas who carried the tradition forward. In this part Dr. Desai shows clearly that the Paygamber and his followers all preached and practiced a religion that was based on love and compassion and there was no scope for any kind of violence. Part III of the book contains stories from the lives of Paygamber and other famous Muslim saints. The anecdotes have been given in sufficiently large numbers to inform the readers that not only there is no violence in the basic tenets of Islam, but also the religious leaders who spread the message of Islam in the world followed lives that were based on non-violence and simplicity.
The common belief that Islam preaches violence and justifies for defending and spreading religion is a myth. Dr. Desai has made a good attempt to dispel it. I wish and hope that this book will receive wide attention and help in developing true understanding of Islam among both the believers and the non-believers.