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In this short video, Dr. Juan Cole, the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, talks about what the Qur’an, the scripture revered by the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims, says about peace and why this has never been more important.
What the Qur’an, the scripture revered by the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims, says about peace has never been more important. Yet very little attention has been paid to this crucial subject. In my book, “Muhammad: Prophet of Peace amid the Clash of Empires,” I fill this gap.
Let us picture the historical Muhammad SAW, who was born about 570 years after the death of Jesus Christ, whom he saw as his predecessor. As a merchant from the small shrine city of Makkah in western Arabia, he frequently traveled to cities like Jerusalem and Damascus in the Eastern Roman Empire. His trade would have been disrupted in the year 603 AD, when the Iranian Sasanian Empire invaded the Roman Near East, kicking off a brutal 26-year-long war.
It was a time of both Christianity and paganism. Most people in the Roman Empire had embraced Christianity, but at the fringes of civilization, Bedouin and villagers still worshipped the old Arabian gods. Muhammad’s SAW home town, Makkah, was the site of the Kaaba, a shrine to God. Some may have worshipped only this supreme deity, but most simply added him to a pantheon, with pagan goddesses depicted as his daughters.
Arab custom respected a major shrine to a deity—like the Kaaba—as a zone of peace. Muhammad’s SAW clan, the Banu Hashem, were caretakers of the Kaaba and its pilgrimage and in charge of settling feuds. Peacekeeping was Muhammad’s SAW ancestral vocation.
The Qur’an speaks, in chapter 97, of the descent on Muhammad SAW of the angel on the night of the first revelation, which occurred around the year 610 AD, or about seven years after the war between the Roman Empire and the Sassanids began. That chapter ends by saying, “and peace it is, until the breaking of the dawn.” 97:5. The revelation brings with it the peace of worship and spirituality.
Muhammad SAW began preaching a strict monotheism to Makkan pagans, who were outraged. They harassed and boycotted Muhammad’s SAW early Believers RA. In the face of this persecution, the Qur’an advises Muhammad in chapter 73: “Be patient with what they say and take your leave of them graciously.” 73:10. Another chapter (41) proclaims, “Good and evil are not equal. Repel the latter with the greater good, and behold, your enemy will become a devoted patron.” 41:34. The chapter (25) called “The Criterion” speaks of “the servants of the All-Merciful who walk humbly upon the earth—and when the unruly taunt them, they reply, ‘Peace.’” 25:63. Some sources allege that Muhammad SAW and the Believers RA supported the Roman Empire and that the pagans sided instead with the Iranian Sasanids.
The Qur’an tells Muhammad SAW of the year 622 AD, “Recall when the pagans were intriguing against you, to kidnap you, or murder you, or to expel you.” 8:30. Under pressure, the prophet SAW and his small community emigrated to the nearby city of Madina.
Pagan Makkah, however, launched three military campaigns in an attempt to take Madina and crush the new religion of Islam. In each case, the Believers RA and their allies in Madina, who included the city’s Jewish community, repelled these attacks. The Qur’an suggests that one goal of these defensive battles was to protect Roman Christian churches to the north from the pagan marauders.
The Qur’anic verses commanding self-defense have been cherry-picked by anti-Muslim writers and by small cells of extremists to depict the Prophet SAW and the community as militant. This is far from accurate—the Qur’an says, however, “Fight in the path of Allah those who enter into combat against you, but do not commit aggression. Allah does not love aggressors.” 2:190. The Qur’an instructs the Prophet SAW to forgive the enemy and to always seek peace: “Say to the pagans that if they desist they will be forgiven for what went before.” 8:38. It adds, “If they incline toward peace, you must incline toward it.” 8:61. By the year 629 AD, Rome had defeated the Iranians, who could no longer proffer any support to the pagans in Western Arabia.
Early in the year 630 AD, the Prophet SAW led the believers and a peaceful procession from Madina to the holy city of Makkah. There was some danger that the bellicose polytheists might massacre them. The Quran says, “Behold the pagans instilled in their hearts a war fever the war fever of the unruly but Allah sent down His peace on His messenger SAW and on the believers RA” 48.26.
Almost miraculously however the Makkans folded. The Quran recalls of Allah, “And it is He who withheld their hands from you and your hands from them in the heart of Makkah after He made you ascendant over them” 48.24. The final chapter of sacred history ended without a military confrontation it ended rather with peace.
One of the last passages of the Qur’an says, “God thereby guides those who follow his good-pleasure to the ways of peace, and delivers them from the shadows into light by his leave, and conducts them to the straight path.” 5:16. This passage resembles the description of John the Baptist in the Gospel of Luke. In both cases, a preacher arose in the wilderness, prophesying the advent of peace.
I’m Juan Cole for the Amir Stein Center.
|About the Speaker(s)/Author(s):|
Dr. Juan Cole is an American academic and commentator on the modern Middle East and South Asia. He is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. Since 2002, he has written a weblog, Informed Comment (Juan Cole – Bio).
For more details:
Juan Cole – Wikipedia
Juan Cole (@jricole) – Twitter
Juan Cole | U-M LSA History