Islamic Nonviolence

Palestinian Nonviolence: The January 2015 Peace Magazine Interview with Mubarak Awad

by Meir Amor

Meir Amor: About 15 years ago you and I had a discussion that was published in Peace Magazine. The editors of Peace think it would be good to have another talk. So let me ask you first: Does your approach to nonviolence have a religious basis? Do Jewish or Muslim religious authorities consider it compatible with their teachings?

Photo of Mubarak Awad, 2014, by Meir Amor; courtesy

Mubarak Awad: Personally, I do it from a Christian perspective. For me, it’s time for us all to learn not to kill or destroy. But I did not push that belief on any Israelis or any Muslims. However, I did study Islam and nonviolence a lot, and I thought it would be great to have a Muslim who was interested in nonviolence so we could have a strong campaign. At that time I was interested in Faisal Husseini (1), a great Muslim who believed in nonviolence. I bought a lot of books about a Muslim who had been with Gandhi — Abdul Ghaffer Khan (2), who said that Islam is a nonviolent religion. I was doing that because the majority of Palestinians are Muslim. We held conferences studying Islam and nonviolence — discussing what jihad really means and Sufism in Islam. Sufis are like the Quakers in Christianity; they believe in peace.

There are many Sufis in Islam, who accept the challenge of nonviolence. It’s a big struggle for them — not only between the Palestinians and Israelis or Arabs and Israelis, but also between themselves, for them to be nonviolent at home and active in nonviolence in their community. They can see that we human beings have brains, not just guns, and can resolve any conflict, however big, by debating, by forgiveness, by conciliation.

But in the past twenty years the world has moved toward radical religion in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. That allows a minority within each religion to start dictating what religion means in a fundamentalist way. Many Muslims want to go back to a caliphate or to Mohammed. Some of them want to be more fundamentalist or more conservative.

Read the rest of this article »

Nonviolence in the Middle East: The Fall 2000 Peace Magazine Interview with Mubarak Awad

by Meir Amor

Palestinian nonviolence marchers, Bil'in Village. Credit: Creative Commons/Michael Loadenthal; courtesy

Meir Amor: Why did you become a leader in the nonviolent Palestinian struggle?

Mubarak Awad: Palestinians had hardly any understanding of nonviolence. Gandhi had not been given a lot of attention in the Muslim world because he was against the creation of Pakistan, an Islamic state. So in the Arab mind nonviolence is just surrendering to the one who has more power.

Before I was expelled from Israel in 1988, my first initiative with Palestinians was to try to develop an educational program of nonviolence in Islam. I went to India to find a Muslim who worked with Gandhi: Abdul Ghaffar Khan, (1) who brought his village of Pathans into a struggle, forming a nonviolent army to help Gandhi. I wrote a book about him and met with religious leaders in Palestine, Israel, and Egypt. I found interested Muslims — most of them Sufis. In Islam, the Sufis are like Quakers in Christianity. In some places they are regarded as heretics. They pray; they dance; they act as if they have oneness with God. In Islam you cannot do that, so the Sunnis and Shiites don’t accept them as real Muslims. They are the ones who started writing about Islam and nonviolence.

Read the rest of this article »

Active Nonviolence in Palestine and Israel

by David Hartsough

Cover art courtesy Cambridge University Press;

When people think of Palestine and Israel, they often picture Palestinians as suicide bombers and terrorists while the Israeli military are seen as bombing whole neighborhoods in Palestine. The violence and counter-violence and endless war has created a hopelessness about any peaceful future for the Holy Land.

However, during a month-long stay in Palestine and Israel recently, I found something else. I found something very positive and hopeful and perhaps the key to a peaceful resolution of this tragic conflict — and a possible path toward a peaceful future for both peoples.

I found that violence is not the whole story. Endless checkpoints, 26-foot high walls, and the great fear and mistrust between many Israelis and Palestinians are grimly persistent features of life there. But there is also an alternative to this cycle of destruction being forged on both sides. There is a larger story beyond the script of retaliatory violence – a story of a growing nonviolent movement that both Palestinians and Israelis are building.  It is this larger story that I would like to share.

Active Nonviolence is alive and well in Palestine and Israel! The interfaith delegation I co-led to this region witnessed, first hand, many Palestinians who are engaged in active nonviolent resistance to the occupation of their lands in the West Bank. Weekly nonviolent demonstrations have been held in many villages, including Bil’in, Nil’in, Al Ma’sara, Walaja, as well as in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, some for more than five years. Israelis (including Combatants for Peace and Anarchists Against the Wall), and Internationals, (including Christian Peacemaker Teams, Ecumenical Accompaniment Program and Michigan Peace Teams) actively participate in these weekly actions. There is a deeply inspiring commitment by Palestinians throughout the region to keep struggling nonviolently even when Israeli soldiers shoot powerful tear-gas canisters and grenades, rubber-coated steel bullets, concussion bombs and even live ammunition at the unarmed villagers.

Read the rest of this article »

Islam as a Violence-Free Religion: the Teachings of Jawdat Said

by Bashar Humeid

Editor’s Preface: The Syrian philosopher and theologian Jawdat Said (b. 1931) is one of the most important theorists of Islamic nonviolence. There is an English language website devoted to his life and work, and also posts an English translation of his Nonviolence: the Basis of Settling Disputes in Islam that you may download for free. JG

Al Jazeera screen capture; courtesy of

Jawdat Said’s book The Doctrine of the First Son of Adam: The Problem of Violence in the Islamic World (1966) was the first publication in the modern Islamic movement to present a concept of nonviolence. Now in its fifth edition, the book is still in print. Said was born in Syria in 1931, but moved to Egypt at a young age to study Arabic language at Azhar University in Cairo. While there, he took an active part in the cultural life of Egypt, and was also closely connected to the Islamic movement of that period. Even back then, Said was already warning about the negative effects of the violence being carried out by the Islamic movement in Egypt. He wrote his book as a direct response to the writings of Sayyid Qutb, who died in 1966 and is considered the father of militant Islam. (1)

Other intellectuals of the Islamic world also disagreed with Qutb, including Hasan al-Hudaybi, the leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. (2) In the early 1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria began – in spite of Said’s warnings – to rebel against the government of Hafez al-Assad. (3) However, the revolt was put down with much bloodshed, and ended in 1982 with a massacre in the city of Hama. Following this defeat, the Syrian movement began seriously entertaining the idea of demilitarization, and the writings of Jawdat Said became increasingly influential in Islamic activist circles.

Read the rest of this article »

Give Nonviolence a Chance in Syria

by Amitabh Pal

A nonviolent movement survives in Syria. Overshadowed by violence on both sides and ignored by the media, activists are still peacefully defying the Syrian regime.

Pacifism has a long lineage in Syria. One of the foremost philosophers of nonviolence in the Muslim world, Jawdat Said, is Syrian. The octogenarian, sometimes referred to as the “Syrian Gandhi,” is renowned for his attempts to conceptualize Islam as a pacifist religion. Using the parable of Cain and Abel (narrated in the Quran, too), Said urges Muslims to take their lead from the Prophet Muhammad (who cited Abel approvingly a number of times) and embrace “The Doctrine of the First Son of Adam,” the title of his most famous book. Said has been jailed a number of times since his work became publicly known in the 1960s. After spending six months touring the United States and Canada last year, he returned to Syria in an attempt to keep the flame of peace alive in his country.

Read the rest of this article »

The Syrian Revolution: Nonviolent Resistance and the Ensuing Armed Struggle

by Mohja Kahf

Logo of Syrian Nonviolence Movement; artist unknown; courtesy of SNM

Editor’s Preface: Syria commands the news daily, no less the atrocities of war committed there. Dr. Mohja Kahf’s courageous and comprehensive article chronicles an alternate, nonviolent resistance, overlooked or suppressed in the media. Since 2011, Quaker groups such as Friends for a Nonviolent World, have been “supporting Syrian nonviolent organizations and activists in their struggle for freedom, justice, inclusiveness, and democracy.” By 2012 the nonviolent movement was eclipsed by the armed struggle, but nevertheless carries on. If there are rebel groups with whom the UN can negotiate, there is also a nonviolent movement that can and must be engaged. The toll in Syria has been staggering and tragic. Now more than ever the efforts and courage of nonviolent resisters need also be supported and their stories told. JG

The Syrian uprising sprang from the country’s grassroots, especially from youth in their teens, and adults in their twenties and thirties. They, not seasoned oppositionists, began the uprising, and are its core population. They share, rather than a particular ideology, a generational experience of disenfranchisement and brutalization by a corrupt, repressive, and massively armed ruling elite in Syria.

The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions were empowering models for these Syrians. The uprising is characterized by wide geographic spread, significant rural and small-town involvement, and a basis in local communities organizing around local grievances, as well as in solidarity for each other. The protest movement did not mobilize around religious identity, showed a fundamental respect for the diversity of Syria, and included minority participants.

The Syrian uprising began nonviolently and the vast majority of its populace maintained nonviolence as its path to pursue regime change and a democratic Syria.

The uprising began nonviolently and the vast majority of its populace maintained nonviolence as its path to pursue regime change and a democratic Syria, until an armed flank emerged in August 2011. The Syrian Revolution has morphed. From midsummer to autumn 2011, armed resistance developed, political bodies formed to represent the revolution outside Syria, and political Islamists of various sorts entered the uprising scene. Since then, armed resistance has overshadowed nonviolent resistance in Syria.

Read the rest of this article »

On Islamic Nonviolence

by Rabia Terri Harris

“Peace”; logo of Muslim Peace Fellowship; courtesy of MPF

Nonviolence is one of the most misunderstood words in the English language, and one of the most misunderstood ideas in the world. This confusion is not surprising, since the word means two things at the same time. And the one idea behind both meanings, though very simple, is not easy. It goes against the way many people think.

Here are the two different meanings of nonviolence.

Nonviolence is the life decision to live in harmony with the order of creation by giving up the domination of other people or the planet. Today, when put into community practice, this life decision is called culture of peace or peace-building.

Read the rest of this article »

The Violence of Nonviolence: Problematizing Nonviolent Social Movements in the Middle East

by Sean Chabot and Majid Sharifi

We vividly remember our hopeful sentiments upon witnessing thousands of unarmed people taking to the streets in the Middle East, starting with Iran’s Green Movement in June 2009 and culminating with Egypt’s uprising in January 2011. Like others, we felt heartened by the promise of nonviolent social movements in countries with populations that have long suffered from oppressive domestic governments and destructive foreign interventions. Soon, though, we realized that the people’s courageous struggles were in danger of perpetuating, rather than transforming, the human relations and global paradigm at the root of their suffering. We feared that promising manifestations of nonviolence would end up reproducing various structures and forms of violence. Unfortunately, we were mostly right in both cases. Although the Green Movement displayed the Iranian population’s capacity for resistance in the face of repressive domination, it did not bring down the Ahmadinejad government or contribute to improved social and economic conditions. And while Egyptians successfully overthrew the Mubarak regime, they eventually brought to power a president and a political party that have failed to enhance the quality of life and dignity of poor people in Egypt. What happened?

Read the rest of this article »

“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi