Prof. Dr. Mahmoud Hamdy Zaqzouq
President of Al-Azhar Center for Dialogue
Only the language of peace, i.e. a truly just action and the striving towards it, can lead to the rational development of man and to understanding among human beings and productive collaboration between them. It is the only language which is truly understood universally, for it speaks the words of Justice and of its necessary complement, Mercy. And since human beings can never be perfect however hard they may try, they need this complement.
From an Islamic point of view, we do not choose peace; rather, peace chooses us. Yet we can decide to follow the path toward peace, decide to act justly. Justice, in the eyes of Islam, is one of the attributes of God. The religious history of mankind clearly demonstrates how this is to be understood.
According to the teachings of the Qur'an, man was created for Paradise, the Garden of Peace. Yet he had to leave it because he did not obey God. Even today, when we spend some time in a peaceful place, we compare it with paradise. Paradise is not lost. The divine revelations show the way back to this place of all-embracing harmony to all those who seek the path. This is the path, which the sincere man follows. He is God's vicegerent on earth.
God calls human beings to the place of peace. He helps them along the path if they have faith in him. Whoever sets out upon the path of God receives from him his sakina, which means the tranquility of his presence. This sakina, peace in the heart of the believer, strengthens him in his faith. Thus it becomes possible for him to make greater efforts towards justice and peace. "It is He Who sent down Tranquility", says the Qur'an (48: 4)"into the hearts of the Believers, that they may add Faith to their Faith."
Throughout the history of mankind, all the various written statements on the subject of peace have taught that it is a spiritual talent, which is acquired through personal effort. It is something with which individual people or human communities, or whole nations or cultures are endowed.
From an Islamic point of view, religion has always, ever since the very beginning of humanity, been the act of man surrendering to God, i.e. Islam (Qur'an, 3:19).
One common characteristic of peace that emerges from all these statements is that it tends to be more difficult to achieve with worldly privileges than without them. In the last analysis, the question of peace decides what a human being is.
Islam teaches man that the source of peace is to be found not outside of himself but primarily within him. It teaches him to strive for independence and a critical attitude in his thinking. In this way he develops his intelligence. This is the divine spirit with which man was endowed upon being created (Qur'an, 15: 29) and it exists in potential form in every human being. It is this which makes it possible for him to decide to seek peace and, furthermore, to create peace. If we think about our experiences in an intelligent way and critically examine them, we see that peace cannot be found in the external world. However, as soon as we experience the world and ourselves not as a simple material fact but as creation, then the world of peace opens up to us. Material possession of the whole world could not, on its own, lead to peace. Peace is something which, from an Islamic point of view, is actually lived by the human being, or as the Qur'an puts it: "[…] in heaven is your Sustenance, as (also) that which ye are promised." (51: 22).
For, after all, one might well ask: what does man live from? just as the earth needs rain in order to bring forth fruit, the human being needs peace in order to live, peace which comes to him from above, if he gives it the chance to do so. From a Qur'anic standpoint man lives through the peace of heaven. This is just as true, says the Qur'an (51: 23), as the fact "that ye can speak".
In actual fact, human language is what has long distinguished man as an exceptional being in creation. This tact is not at all as self-evident as we might perhaps think it is, simply because we are so accustomed to speech. Like reason itself, language can convey certainty about the existence of the truth.
Convinced of the truth, man recognizes everywhere in the world as well as within himself the divine signs of which the Qur'an speaks (51: 20-22 etc.). God speaks to human beings who are ready to listen to him through his words, which cannot be limited (Qur'an, 18: 109). He leads people along the path which leads to Him and thus to their actual home, to peace.
Yet the Qur'an also stresses the fact that it is by no means enough to listen. One must also develop one's own power of reason and use it independently. Only by using his freedom in this way can man arrive at the decisive perceptions possible through his intelligence. This enables him to act in a conscious, responsible, and thus creative manner.
Which is why the famous Islamic thinker Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali says: “Only he who owns fire can warm himself with it, not he who has simply heard of it?" If we choose peace as a goal, the reality of peace itself, then the way to peace will be opened up to us.