Non-violence in the Muslim World:Jeffry Halverson

I attended a really great lecture series called Voices for Non-violence in the Muslim World, held by ASU’s Consortium for Strategic Communication last week.

The CSC is “an initiative of the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University. It is composed of an interdisciplinary group of scholars at ASU and partner institutions who are interested in applying knowledge of human communication to issues of countering ideological support for terrorism (CIST), diplomacy and public diplomacy. ”

The goal of the event was to forward paradigms of nonviolence and show its prevalence in the Muslim world though it’s not often shown that way in the media. The director of the CSC, Steve Corman, said that Western journalists usually tend towards fear-mongering when covering conflict in the Muslim world. The CSC was founded in 2005 by a group of scholars interested in the global struggle against violent extremism and notions of narratives. They were dismayed by how extremist narrative dominate media and sought to explore how to share alternative stories, deeply rooted and historically grounded to resist narratives we see today. The CSC is conducting research and producing media, such as a documentary on 5 Muslim non-violence promoters.

The first speaker was Jeffry Halverson, author of the forthcoming Master Narratives of Islamist Extremism, who spoke on the roots of Islamic non-violence. Here are my notes from his speech.

  • The Kharijates said the Quran only source of ruling, not through human intervention.

-Ali ibn Abu Talib, fourth caliph and cousin of the Prophet Muhammad said: the Quran is a book, it does not speak. It should have an interpreter.
-Not about who is correct or incorrect, rather persuasiveness or utility of Quran
-How do interpretative agents justify reading of Quran, courses of action
-How Muslim can and have approached Quran and hadith in nonviolence
-Growing sense in US that Islam is unique, inherently violent
-Nonviolence is certainly possible and exists in Islam

  • The religions of non-violent activists MLK Jr and Gandhi: Christianity and Hinduism have violence

-Yahweh encourages warfare in Bible, King David warrior, Jesus lashes money changers, disciples carry swords
-Hindu-Arjuna and Lord Krishna, didn’t want to go to war when he saw his family in battlefield, Krishna persuaded him to go fight
-Islamic text is not any more violent or problematic than Christianity and Hinduism

  • Source of problems

-Obstacles revolve around stories of Muhammad  with Meccans, fighting infidels in Medina period, violent extremists use this and abrogate other verses about peace
-Hadith is used in isolation, not in context in Quran, e.g. Sahih Bukhari- know that paradise is under the shade of swords
-Insulates from criticism must be negotiated by interpretations
-His book examines 5 figures in Muslim world-Sunni, Shiite and Sufi

  • There is a difference between Mecca and Medina surahs, Muslims prohibited from warfare then

-Nonviolence not a new creed
-Two stages of prophetic vision, Mecca: daw’ah, the call, then community established social order based on freedom, laws and military use to protect freedom
Muhammad and Musa (Moses) reached 2nd stage, Jesus didn’t reach that one
-No true Muslim society exists today, so nonviolence in first stage must be followed
-Taha believed Meccan surahs universal, eternal message, Medina punitive
Wahiudin: Peace treaty in Hudaibayah, cleared path for direct propagation of Islam, dawah not warfare that ultimately saved in Islam, helped them from Mongols
-Verse 31:34
-Met with anti-Muslim Hindu groups

  • -Emulation of Prophetic paradigms (Sunnah)

-Bacha Khan: nonviolence “weapon” of the Prophet, patience and righteousness
-Attacked in Ta’if, offered to see relics of Prophet, refused and wanted Prophet’s patience like when he was attacked and didn’t want to attack them
-Grand Ayatollah Shirazi: nonviolence is more effective than violence, soul is stronger than the body
-Points to Imam Hussein, quotes Mohandas Gandhi who learned from him
-Said’s treaty on nonviolence, Doctrine of Son of Adam
-Abul Ghaffar Khan, seen as nationalist Pashtun, spent time in Pakistani prisons, effort to suppress, attacked, died at 98

  • Historical signifance of jihad-struggle

-Ingrained in Islamic thought
-Articulated in Sharia, not always easy, proper intention (niyyah) must be present
-Jihad of sword, jihad of tongue(speaking truth), jihad of pen, jihad of soul
-Still limited, smaller lesser-military, better-that of the soul i.e. serving parents, pilgrimage,
ijitihad-legal reasoning, exertion of intellect
-Even just war with ethical qualifiers crude by extremists who use it, jihad obligatory, violence not
-Emphasis of sabr-patience
-Use jihad with Quran, struggle to conquer hearts and minds, Chapter 25, verse 52
-Extremism and nonviolence both use sacred text, though everyone has their own opinion which is more persuasive and what reading gives best resolution for sociopolitical problems

  • Tools of non-violence

-New media and films useful for illiterate
-Can we create a movement as an alternative to resolve grievances instead of going and destroying
-Core is education, nonviolence is counterintuitive, needs training and cultivation in order to pass off tribal, cultural, weakly based ideas
-It is active resistance, not passive

-For Palestinians, instead of suicide bombing, launching rockets into Israel, nonviolence would be effective
-Effective in colonial India and in the US, but not effective in case of genocide-if the goal is to wipe off a people from the face of Earth, nonviolence wouldn’t succeed. There are limitations but it is effective in face of subjugation
-Best strategy for Iraqis if they don’t want US occupation
-Non-violence is something all people can respect, because it’s difficult to empathize with violent people

  • Important questions:

-How can these voices for nonviolence be further amplified in Muslim communities, here and abroad?

-How can their methodologies from books and academic lectures be turned into larger sustained social movements?

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