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The Idea of Peace in the Qur’an

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The following is a guest post by Dr. Juan Cole, 2016 Kluge Chair in Countries and Cultures of the South.

In contemporary debates on the roots of Muslim radicalism and the character of the religion, it is important to go back to the Muslim scripture or Qur’an (sometimes spelled Koran). Like the Bible, the Qur’an has verses about war as well as peace, but those on peace have been insufficiently appreciated.

The Qur’an is believed by Muslims to have been revealed to Muhammad ibn Abdullah, a merchant of Mecca on the west coast of Arabia, between 610 and 632 of the Common Era. Muhammad was one in a long series of human prophets and messengers from the one God, standing in a line that includes Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth. Each apostle of God, Muslims hold, has reaffirmed God’s oneness and the need to have faith and live a moral life. In each of these religions, adherence to the basics in the Ten Commandments given to Moses is necessary, including avoiding sins such as theft, adultery, and murder.

Perhaps because it arose during a great seventh-century war between the Byzantine and Iranian empires, peace (al-salam) was a profound concern for the Qur’an. An early chapter (97) of the Qur’an comments on the first revelation given to the prophet, in 610, while he was meditating at a cavern at Mt. Hira near Mecca. It speaks of a descent of angels and of the Holy Spirit on the night of power when the revelation was sent down, ending with the verse “And peace it is, until the breaking of the dawn.” This verse identifies the night of revelation, and therefore the revelation itself, with peace. Peace in Semitic languages like Hebrew and Arabic is not only conceived of as an absence of conflict, but as a positive conception, of well-being. The revelation and recitation of scripture, Chapter 97 is saying, brings inner peace to the believer.

The Qur’an says that Muhammad was sent as a warner to his people and to the world, that the Judgment Day is coming, when people will be resurrected from their graves and judged by God. The good, or the people of the right hand, will go to heaven, while the wicked will be consigned to the torments of hell. Heaven, a repository of human aspirations, is depicted by the Qur’an as suffused by peace. In 50:34, the Qur’an says that the virtuous admitted to paradise are greeted by the angels with the saying, “‘Enter in peace!’ That is the day of eternity.” The Qur’an admits that most of those who will be resurrected are “ancients,” not “moderns, i.e. that most of the inhabitants of heaven will be Jews, Christians and members of other religions. This multi-cultural Muslim paradise is described as lush and verdant, with water flowing and a cornucopia of delights provided. Qur’an 56:25-26 assures the believers, “Therein they will hear no abusive speech, nor any talk of sin, only the saying, “Peace, peace.”

In heaven, Qur’an 56:90-91 promises “And they are among the companions of the right hand, then they will be greeted, ‘Peace be to you,’ by the companions of the right hand.” And 36:54-56 says that after the Resurrection, “The dwellers in the garden on that day will delight in their affairs; they and their spouses will repose on couches in the shade. They will have fruit and whatever they call for. “Peace!” The word will reach them from a compassionate Lord.” Commentators have noted that this verse seems to demonstrate a progression, from delight and repose to the heavenly fruit and finally to the highest level of paradise, where God himself wishes peace and well-being on the saved.

This word comes from the Lord because, in the Qur’an’s view, it expresses his own essence. Qur’an 59:23 discloses that peace is one of the names of God himself: “He is God, other than whom there is no god, the King, the Holy, the Peace, the Defender, the Guardian, the Mighty, the Omnipotent, the Supreme.”

In the period 613-622 when Muslim chroniclers maintain that powerful local Arab devotees of pagan deities were harassing the early believers in Muhammad’s message, the Qur’an 25:63 praised “the servants of the All-Merciful who walk humbly upon the earth—and when the ignorant taunt them, they reply, ‘Peace!’”   Wishing peace upon someone is a kind of prayer, both in the Qur’an and in the Bible. The Qur’an was clearly praising those believers who turned the other cheek in the face of insults and harassment from the pagans in Mecca.

In the period 622-632, Muhammad and the believers relocated to the nearby city of Medina because of persecution and felt constrained to go to war with the aggressive pagans of Mecca. Even in the midst of conflict, however, peace remained an overarching goal in the Qur’an. It forbade aggressive warfare in Qur’an 2:190: “And fight in the way of God with those who fight with you, but aggress not: God loves not the aggressors.” Muslim scholars have noted that this verse implicitly forbids killing non-combatants, including women and children. Qur’an 8:61 demanded that if the enemy sued for peace on just terms, the overture be accepted: “And if they incline to peace, then you should incline to it; and put your trust in God; He is the All-hearing, the All-knowing.”  And, indeed, the conflict with the Meccans was ultimately resolved by negotiations and a treaty. When the believers came to power in Mecca, there were no mass reprisals. The former enemy was welcomed into the fold, despite grumbling from Muslims who had lost dear friends in the fighting.

The ideal of peace therefore suffuses the religious concepts in the Qur’an. The revelation and the night on which it came down are peace. Peace is the pinnacle of the Muslim paradise. God is peace. While these verses treat spiritual ideals, they do have implications for the Qur’an’s view of proper human behavior. The Qur’an clearly sees its depiction of heaven, “in which there is no talk of sin,” as a model for how people should behave in this life. In that ideal community, both non-Muslims and Muslims greet each other with prayers for their peace and well-being. And in this world, even those who taunt and humiliate believers should receive prayers for peace. For those who quote the Qur’an partially or selectively to justify violence, it seems clear that they are leaving out some of the most important parts of the scripture.

Juan Cole is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan and the 2016 Chair in Countries and Cultures of the South at The John W. Kluge Center. The author or editor of more than 10 books on the Middle East, at the Library of Congress he is researching a forthcoming book project titled, “The Idea of Peace in the Qur’an.”

Editor’s note: the original version of this article used the term “Islamic radicalism” in the opening paragraph. It has been revised to “Muslim radicalism” at the request of the author.

Comments (20)

  1. I can can that this is the most delightful and well explained interpretation of the Quran.

    This article is amazing because it highlights something important about the understanding of the Quran which is linking. If you don’t link verses to each other and accompany that with the reason and situation of the verse, the place were the verse was sent, you’re most likely interpreting the whole things wrong.

    I’m a Muslim and I do have concerns about that, but since years and years before, whenever I find someone mentioning a verse that is “supposed” to be cited from the Quran I go check it all. I can say with confidence that all verses which get published online by some media are just out of context. All of them.

    Peace is one of the major things in Islam and everything is done in the name of God/Allah to reach peace. In Islam, praying and fasting for example is for inner peace, helping others is also for peace. Everything is done for peace and as mentioned, it’s one of God’s/Allah’s names.

    I’m happy after reading this article because as much as anyone disagree with Islam and no matter how you see it, you should be true it. In this article, Dr. Juan has said what every Muslim out there is trying to say but no one is listening.

    “For those who quote the Qur’an partially or selectively to justify violence, it seems clear that they are leaving out some of the most important parts of the scripture.”

    In Islam or Christianity, religion or culture, people can come up with millions of reasons to justify their actions and behaviour, but what remains true is the source itself.

    Thank you Dr. Juan for your words.

  2. religion is not as much of a driving force for violence as oil. The nations are gathering together in that place called Armageddon to fight over oil – read Genesis Ch. 14. The slime pits are oil. Russia, Iran, and China have entered Syria on one side, and the U.S. and NATO on the other. This isn’t about terrorism, its about oil. Furthermore, research Islams connection to Aladdin and the Jinn — the tank and black stone in the Kabaa.

  3. Dear Mr. Cole, I have read majority of your research articles on a variety of subjects, mostly at Your articles have helped me understand my religion (Islam) and appreciate the beliefs of others. I send you my prayers of peace and health.

  4. Almost all Christians believe in the he Triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus therefore is not a prophet but God. Dr. Cole is trying to lump together three religions without regard to the fundamental belief of each.

  5. The Koran, like most books of faith is only as good as the heart and intention of the person reading it.

    Aggress not? Islam began on the western coast of the Arabian Peninsula and aggressed quite a bit. The blood of tens of millions of African and Indian victims of aggression and slavery is a very real and undeniable part of world history.

    In the modern age, the Islamic world’s quest for stability and peace is the central challenge of our times. There is real failure and real wars and no sign of them ending any time soon. Syria appears to the be the collapse of Islamic civilization and a chapter of evil of unbelievable proportions.

    To say peace is long way off is a bitter truth; indeed, the nuclear arms race in the Islamic world does not bode well for the future. How Muslims find a road to peace in the Muslim world begins with leadership that speaks of peace first and demands an end to all this bloody history. A call to fundamentally recast the Islamic world into a truly peaceful future has never been more necessary or, sadly, further away.

  6. I’m reminded of the last verse of “The Walrus and The Carpenter:”

    “O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
    You’ve had a pleasant run!
    Shall we be trotting home again?”
    But answer there came none-
    And this was scarcely odd because
    They’d eaten every one.

    Islam believes that the world will be in permanent war until Allah is the only God worshipped – because Muslims will be attacking and killing or forcing conversion on all infidels. Peace will only come with the elimination, by whatever means necessary, of these infidels.

    A mistake infidels commonly make when trying to reassure themselves that Islam cannot possibly be as hideous as it seems is to interpret the milder Mecca verses as if they were as valid a part of the whole as the vicious Medina verses. They are not, and Islamic theology has “abrogated” these milder verses as not being the last, and therefore dominating, commands of Allah, and therefore invalid.

    Whatever Professor Cole thinks he’s read in the Koran justifying some goofily multi-religi idea of Islam is either a thoroughly abrogated passage or born of his own frightened imagination.

  7. Well researched and simply presented. This article is impressive and easily a reference material. I am impressed.

  8. I came across this article whilst looking for a Qur’an passage about peace of mind. It was my intent to send it to my buddy at work who is currently experiencing stress levels high enough to affect his physical health.
    Some of the comments which are made here are quite biased against Islam. Some of you are quoting the very origins of the religion, forgetting perhaps, that Christianity has quite bloodthirsty origins and foundations as well.
    I don’t think it is a matter of religion but a matter of what humanity was at the time. We aren’t perfect by any stretch, but our ancestors made us look like bunnies. They were brutal, across all races and religions.
    You cannot possibly judge a whole following (Islam) based on the actions of a few thousands (Islamic State, Al Qaeda, etc).
    If you chose to do so, remember, that various Christian kingdoms and nations took the lives of millions upon millions of Africans and American natives, invaded India, South East Asia, Polynesia, Oceania and continue to wage war in Middle East whilst bearing a cross symbolising the prophet who told the world we were all children of the same father.
    Be good to yourselves and be good to others, and you will not only achieve inner peace but outer peace. Our environments and our inner beings are symbiotic.

  9. Nice read!

  10. I thank the erudite professor for painting a picture of Islam with the colors picked from the Qur’an. Born, self-taught and always endeavoring to practice Islam in my daily life, I never thought or was told about the very primal question on Islam: Why is this religion’s official name is PEACE? That’s not only the whole world refers to it, but by the Qur’an itself! Is it not one of the many Signs that Allah speaks of in His Book — The Qur’an, that no matter how the Disbelievers and the Polytheists would hate the Religion of Allah, they cannot but “call” it but “Islam”, that is “Peace”?! This is as amazing as the worst Arab enemies of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ of his time, would nevertheless retain the epithet for him, “The Most Trustworthy” (Al-Ameen)?! They didn’t like his Religion because it called for end of Polytheism, Slavery, on which they built their fiefdoms, much like the present world where basis of regional and world power is exploiting human labor based on men’s greed, vanity and self-supremacy, which are contrary to the very essence of the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful Lord of the Universe’s proclaimed basis of His Creation:

    “He has prescribed Mercy for Himself” even as He addresses us, “Say, ‘To whom belongs all that is in the Firmaments and the Earth?’ “ (Qur’an 6:22)

    I shall ever remain thankful to Professor Juan Cole for this article, giving me both the question and the answer: “Why, and How Islam (Peace) is called the Religion of Peace?” for all humanity under God, and that this Peace is not confined to a sect, color, culture or civilization but for all, binding humanity from Adam and Hawa (Havva, Eve) through the last woman and man, as propagated by the Messengers and Prophet’s of God, most vivid in our time through the Abrahamic Creed of Absolute Peace taught by the One and Only Deity, Creator, and Sustainer Lord — Allah the Most Compassionate the Most Merciful.
    Thank you.

  11. Is good to research and know the real way to be as a mankind, plc read, mathew chapter5 verses 38 and chapter 7 verse15

  12. This is very well written scholarly work. Great respect to the author! Thank you.

  13. This is an undeniable fact that Islam is a religion of peace. There are so many verses in the Qur’an which describe peace being the ultimate goal of mankind. I have collected all the verses related to peace and published in a book. I would like to present the review on that book naming ” Qur’an Ka Shanti Sandesh ” written by a learned professor Mr. M. M. Goel and published in The Tribune (English Daily). I am sure, this will help you all understand the concept of peace described the Qur’an :

    Treading the path of peace
    Reviewed by M.M. Goel

    Quran ka Shanti Sandesh
    By Md Ibrahim Sajjad Taimi
    Publisher: Alhikmah Foundation, New Delhi. Pages 190. Rs 110.

    For world peace in the present times of materialist miseries, we need citizen-based organisations like the Alhikmah Foundation for multi-track diplomacy for preventing conflict of any kind at any level of operation in any economy of the world, including India with Global Peace Index based on 23 indicators. The measurement of the level of peace as an index of progress and happiness in every nation, state, district, village and city is the need of the day. We need to place peace above everything which is the sermon of all religions in the world.

    A close reading with rapt attention of the Hindi version of the bilingual Urdu book of 190 pages, developed in six chapters, removes many misconceptions in the mind of the reviewer about Islam as religion based on the Quran, which is full of sermons for peace and do not promote tmanagement.f any kind as wrongly perceived by some with vested interests. It can safely be said that there is evidence on the basis of which the learned writer has been able to prove Quran as a comprehensive religious book promoting peace. It is full of lessons for the Muslims to be kind hearted, humble and faithful citizens to become true ambassadors of peace. The comprehensive discussions on the concept of peace with similar meanings of peace are fully explained in the first and second chapter.

    The importance of peace which flows from the Quran is the subject matter of chapter three. The methods to achieve peace have been fully explained in chapter four. The knowledge of the obstacles, hurdles and impediments in the path of peace can be obtained from chapter five. We can make every possible effort to create a peaceful society with the cooperation of the sermons from the Quran in chapter six. The bilingual nature of the book is the unique feature which is its beauty for strengthening the Hindu-Muslim relationship.

    Peace by peaceful means is positive peace as a process of life enhancement.

    Peace is the wholeness created by the right relationship with oneself, others, cultures, earth and the larger whole of which all are a part.

    Peace in every head and heart is essential in the present world of stress and tensions caused by commercialisation and spiritual bankruptcy. The domain of peace starts from an individual to, family, city or village, district, state, nation and the world levels.

    There is a direct correlation between peace and performance of any economy at all levels of operation. The peaceful societies ensure intra-generation, inter-generation equity and wellbeing freedoms with high level of per capita income.

    The price and value of peace in the present scenario of inflation is more than anything else which is capable of reducing costs, expansion of market with strategic planning for investment leading to inclusive growth in India.

    To serve the people, we need transformation (change in the mindset) in a big manner with higher investments in education and health which is capable of reducing other expenditures on police and prison personnel and to be called static peace.

    Let us encourage peace as an essential input of growth in various sectors of the economy. Let peace economics be identified as a separate branch of economics which justifies Nobel Prize for Peace to an economist like Mohammad Yunus (2006) of Bangladesh providing micro finance with empathy ( not sympathy) for the vulnerable sections of the society consisting of women and beggars.

    To help the peace process in India-Pakistan relations, we need to strengthen Hindu- Muslim relations within India.

    We need to be objective, dependable to know or to tell the truth by becoming humane and learning relationship management from the Quran, Bible, Guru Granth Sahib, Ramayana and Bhagvad Gita which is a religion-free treatise on welfare economics and management.
    Hope that this review Will be useful for those who are interested to know the Qur’anic teachings on peace and reconciliation.

  14. Mashallah Very Nice & Beautiful Quran Quotes

  15. Hi!
    Dear colleagues!
    Many of the violences conducted in the name of religion is fake and forged.
    What remains authoritative is the source.

  16. I’m searching for Islam and Peace.

  17. Firstly, who wrote Quran? Quran was not there during Prophet’s time. But yet people claim it was given by God! But history tells who ACTUALLY wrote quran. So, when it was written few decades of Prophet by a commoner, what is the authenticity of the book?

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