Conflict resolution approaches are a part of the everyday traditional Islamic teachings and jurisprudence and are very accessible to the individual. In fact, reminders of peace are instilled in the everyday prescribed practices for Muslims, such as daily prayer and supplications, charity, fasting, recitation of the Qur’an, and so on.
These reminders appear to be an externally passive approach to peacebuilding, labeled as negative peace by Johan Galtung. Negative peace is defined as the absence of violence, in contrast to positive peace, which Galtung defines as the capacity to deal with conflict nonviolently and creatively. The Islamic approaches, while instances of negative peace, lead to positive peace.
Actively seeking internal peace inherently leads one to an active approach for external peace. In seeking internal peace, one undergoes an internal transformative process that allows one to view the world through a different lens and raise his/her consciousness. Consequently, (s)he interacts with the world more peacefully. In this way do these Islamic approaches lead to a quest for positive peace, not just negative peace. This is a key concept in the Islamic peacebuilding framework.
The Hajj is a prominent example of a peacebuilding tool that Muslims can utilize. Hajj is the required pilgrimage that all able Muslims must make at least once in their life. While it promotes exercising the inner consciousness, it does so in partnership with the masses. There are certain rituals to be performed at Hajj, but there are also many restrictions imposed on the individual’s behavior and disposition. For instance, it is prohibited to engage in an argument, gossip, get angry, and it is even prohibited to kill any insects.
The Hajj serves many purposes, but one of the main purposes is to raise one’s consciousness about existence and death from this world and to feel the imminence of bringing about internal peace and self-building. This level of consciousness stays with the individual even as (s)he leave Hajj and remembers his/her experiences (and possibly peak-experiences, as described by Abraham Maslow).
Ayatollah Shaikh Hussain Mazaheri, a prominent Islamic scholar, has described Hajj in three stages in his book Secrets of the Hajj:
The First Stage: Cutting off affinity from all things with the exception of Allah in order to reach Allah
The Second Stage: Continuing towards Allah and strengthening the alliance (with Him), until one reaches Allah and (the true) essence of worship
The Third Stage: Returning to the people to guide the creations of Allah towards Him.
What is described as reaching Allah is the internal struggle for peace and consciousness. However, the third stage becomes a responsibility of contributing to the peace and consciousness of society as a whole. Ayatollah Mazaheri says, “After returning from Mecca and Medina, the Hajji must convey that which he has brought with him (his self-building) to others through his actions. His speech, actions, manner and disposition must be an example for others, and this is truly the best gift that one can bring back for the rest of the people.” In other words, each individual who has performed the Hajj and re-enters society must then necessarily become a peace-builder and raise the consciousness of others through both passive and active action.
A recent Harvard University study found the impact on the pilgrims after performing the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. “We find that participation in the Hajj increases observance of global Islamic practices such as prayer and fasting. It increases belief in equality and harmony among ethnic groups and Islamic sects and leads to more favorable attitudes toward women, including greater acceptance of female education and employment.”
The study also found that feelings of “Increased unity within the Islamic world [are] not accompanied by antipathy toward non-Muslims. Instead, Hajjis show increased belief in peace, and in equality and harmony among adherents of different religions” (Clingingsmith, Khwaja, and Kremer, “Estimating the Impact of the Hajj: Religion and Tolerance in Islam’s Global Gathering”, April 2008).
The Hajj has been proven to be a key practice of helping others reach peace by first helping one’s inner self. None other than a peace-builder who has achieved a high level of consciousness can help others achieve it as well. The Islamic peacebuilding framework can help individuals reach those necessary levels through practice and habit.
Engaging in the internal struggle for peace and increasing one’s consciousness through the various Islamic practices such as meditation, prayer, fasting, charity, and the Hajj leads one through a transformative process that will inherently result in an active approach for external peace.
Sayedeh Kasmai-Nazeran studied her Masters of Science degree at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia. Her focus is on dialogue mediation, peacebuilding and human rights in Islamic philosophy and jurisprudence. She has also moderated and participated in many interfaith dialogues. Her most recent paper is entitled “Islamic Feminism: Women’s Rights in the Shi’a School of Thought”. You can read more about Sayedeh at her website www.sayedeh.com.