The very word 'ISLAM' (from the Arabic silm) connotes peace. According to a tradition of the Prophet, "Peace is Islam" (Al-Bukhari). This means that peace is one of the prerequisites of Islam. Similarly, a Hadith states: A Muslim is one from whose tongue and hands people are safe. One of the attributes of God described in the Quran is 'As-Salam', which means peace and security. That is to say that God's Being itself is a manifestation of peace. Indeed, God is Peace (Al-Bukhari). In the Quran divine guidance is likened to the paths of peace.(5:16)
According to Islam, Paradise is the ideal human abode, and is thus called the 'Home of Peace'. It is also said that, the people of Paradise will wish peace to one another, indicating that the social culture of the people of Paradise will be based on peace. The Quran, avers that, 'reconciliation is beast' (4:128), and judging by the consequences, the way of peace is far better than that of confrontation. By the law of Nature, God has decreed that success will be met with only on a reconciliatory path, and not on a confrontation or a violent course of action.
Whenever the Prophet had an option between two courses of action, he always chose the easier (non-confrontation) one.(Bukhari)
This means that, violent activism should not be indulged in if peaceful activism is an option. For, peace is the easier course as compared to violence.
For instance, trying to change the status in the very first stage of a movement is a hard option, while launching one's activities in the available sphere without doing so is an easier option.
Going to war in confrontational situations is a hard option while following a conciliatory course in dealing with one's rival is easier. Countering aggression with aggression is a hard option, while countering aggression with patience and forbearance is an easier option. An agitational course of action is harder than employing quiet strategy. Adopting a radical method of reformation is harder than that of following a gradual method. Taking emotional, extreme steps without a thought for their consequences creates difficulties. While a well-considered method, keeping an eye on the consequences, gives much better results. The policy of confrontation with a ruler is a harder option, while initiating one's action; by sidestepping the ruler in the sphere of education and learning is an easier option. These instances show us the easier and harder options, as demonstrated by the Hadith.
The truth is that peace in Islam is the 'rule', while war is the 'exception'. This is borne out by all the teaching of Islam and the practical life of the Prophet of Islam.
The Example of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)
The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) received his first revelation in 610 A.D. in Makkah. God ordained that he carry out the mission of Tawheed (or oneness of God).
The house of the Kabah, which was built as the house of monotheism by the Prophet Abrahim and his son Ishmael (peace be upon them), later on became a center of polytheism with 360 idols in it. The first revelation night well have demanded the purification of the Kabah, which would have given rise to a serious problem. But the first revelation made in the Quran was:
Purify your vestments (74:4).
This means to purify moral character. If, in the first stage the Prophet had been commanded to purify the Kabah while Makkah was still under the domination of the idolaters, this would have surely precipitated clash and confrontation.
Therefore, according to the command of the first revelation, the Prophet continued to perform his peacefully in the Kabah for a period of 13 years, even though it housed several hundred idols.
Similarly, the Prophet and his companions circumambulted the Kabah on the occasion of Umrah Al-Hudaybiyya in 629, while the Kabah still housed 360 idols.
The Prophet Muhammad proceeded thus in order to avoid war and confrontation with the idolaters, and so that the atmosphere of peace should be maintained. The entire life of the Prophet is a practical demonstration of this peace-loving policy. At the time of migration from Makkah, the idolaters were all set to wage war, but the Prophet avoided this by quietly leaving his homeland for Madinah.
The mission of Islam is based on monotheism, its goal being to make people realize the existence of the one and only God and to strive to bring about a revolution in their hearts and minds of individuals in order that they may love God as is His due. And the greatest concern of man should be to fear and worship his Creator (2:165).
Such a mission cannot afford wars and violent confrontations. When a state of war and violence prevails, the normal atmosphere is vitiated and such circumstances as would foster intellectual movements and spiritual reformation cannot be effectively created. It cannot be denied that peaceful circumstances produce a propitious environment for Islam, while violent circumstances inevitably result in antagonism towards Islam.
WAR : A State Action
In Islam, war is not the prerogative of the individual but of an established government. Only an established government can declare war. In other words, individuals can pray on their own, but they cannot wage wars of their own accord. Only when a war is declared by the ruling government, can the public join in and support it, and not before that. Islam does not sanction individual actions on this issue. Therefore no Non Governmental Organization or NGO can declare a war.
As a general principle, the Quran tells us that, even where an external attack is feared, the common man should not act independently, but should take the matter to the ruler, and then under his guidance take proper counter measures.(4:83)
The Hadith also states that 'the ruler is shield, fighting is done under him, and security is attained through him.'
This clearly shows that the decision to do battle and its planning are the tasks of an established government. The common man can play his role as need be under government orders and not independently.
This Islamic principle shows that there is no room for non-state warfare, which is what we generally call guerilla war. A guerilla war is fought by individual organizations, not by the State. As far as the state is concerned, if it wants to wage a defensive war against any country it has first-in obedience to the Quran-to issue a proper declaration. Only then can it wage a lawful war (8:58). In Islam, there is only 'declared' war. Therefore, in accordance with this principle, no proxy war in Islam can be lawful.
Most Islamic actions are governed by certain conditions. The waging of war is also thus subject to certain principles, one being that, even when a defensive war has been declared by the State, it will be aimed only combatants. Targeting non-combatants will be unlawful. The Quran enjoins us not to do battle with those who are not at war. Such people have to be dealt with kindly and equitably. But you are free to do battle with those who are fighting against you. (60:8-9)